Erlang is a concurrent functional programming language developed by Ericsson for use in telecom applications. Because they felt that it was unacceptable for a telecom system to have any significant downtime, Erlang was built to be (among other things):

  • distributed and fault-tolerant (a piece of failing software or hardware should not bring the system down)
  • concurrent (it can spawn many processes, each executing a small and well-defined piece of work, and isolated from one another but able to communicate via messaging)
  • hot-swappable (code can be swapped into the system while it's running, leading to high availability and minimal system downtime)

Erlang has been in development since 1986. It became Open Source in 1998 and is available today under the Apache Licence 2.0.


Erlang makes heavy use of recursion. Since data is immutable in Erlang, the use of while and for loops (where a variable needs to keep changing its value) is not allowed.

Here's an example of recursion, showing how a function repeatedly strips the first letter from the front of a name and prints it, only stopping when the last letter has been encountered.



print_name([RemainingLetter | []]) ->
  io:format("~c~n", [RemainingLetter]);
print_name([FirstLetter | RestOfName]) ->
  io:format("~c~n", [FirstLetter]),


> name:print_name("Mike").

There is also a heavy emphasis on pattern-matching, which frequently eliminates the need for an if structure or case statement. In the following example, there are two matches for specific names, followed by a catch-all for any other names.



say_hello("Mary") ->
  "Welcome back Mary!";
say_hello("Tom") ->
  "Howdy Tom.";
say_hello(Name) ->
  "Hello " ++ Name ++ ".".


> greeting:say_hello("Mary").
"Welcome back Mary!"
> greeting:say_hello("Tom").
"Howdy Tom."
> greeting:say_hello("Beth").
"Hello Beth."


Mnesia is a distributed database management system written in Erlang and highly compatible with Erlang processes. The following are some of the most important and attractive capabilities provided by Mnesia:

  • A relational/object hybrid data model.
  • Persistence. Tables can be coherently kept on disc and in the main memory.
  • Replication. Tables can be replicated at several nodes.
  • Atomic transactions. A series of table manipulation operations can be grouped into a single atomic transaction.
  • Extremely fast real-time data searches.

Try it out

There are websites where you can try running Erlang commands without having to install anything locally, like these:

If you'd like to install it on your (or a virtual) machine, you can find installation files at or on Erlang Solutions.

More Information:

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