Elm (programming language)

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Paradigm functional reactive, functional
Designed by Evan Czaplicki
First appeared 2012
Stable release 0.16 / November 19, 2015; 2 months ago (2015-11-19)
Typing discipline static, strong, inferred
License Permissive (Revised BSD) [1]
Filename extensions .elm
Website elm-lang.org
Influenced by
Haskell, Rust, Standard ML, OCaml, F#

Elm is a functional programming language for declaratively creating web browser-based graphical user interfaces. Elm uses the functional reactive programming style and purely functional graphical layout to build user interface without any destructive updates.


Elm was designed by Evan Czaplicki as his thesis in 2012.[2] The first release of Elm came with many examples and an online editor that made it easy to try out in a web browser.[3] Evan Czaplicki joined Prezi in 2013 to work on Elm,[4] and in 2016 moved to NoRedInk as an Open Source Engineer, also starting the Elm Software Foundation.[5]

The initial implementation of the Elm compiler targets HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.[6] The set of core tools has continued to expand, now including a REPL,[7] package manager,[8] time-traveling debugger,[9] and installers for Mac and Windows.[10] Elm also has an ecosystem of community created libraries.[11]


Elm has a small but expressive set of language constructs, including if-expressions, let-expressions, case-expressions, anonymous functions, and list interpolation.[12][13] From there the key features include signals, immutability, static types, and interoperability with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.


The key abstraction in Elm is called a Signal. It is a value that changes over time.[14] For example, the Mouse.position signal in the following code acts on "the current position of the mouse", so the programmer does not need to manually handle an event each time the mouse moves:[15] Signal.map refers to the map function in the Signal module, which applies show to each mouse position to transform it into a DOM element onscreen.

import Mouse
import Graphics.Element exposing (show, Element)

main : Signal Element
main =
    Signal.map show Mouse.position

The Signal library allows users to model change over time without resorting to callbacks and shared mutable memory.[16] This leads to an architecture that centralizes state, making it much harder for parts of the model to get out of sync.[17]


All values in Elm are immutable, meaning that a value cannot be modified after it is created. Elm uses persistent data structures to implement its Array, Dict, and Set libraries.[18]

Static Types[edit]

Elm is statically typed. Every definition in Elm can be given a type annotation that describes the exact shape of the value. Types include:

  • primitive types such as integers and strings
  • basic data structures such as lists, tuples, and extensible records
  • custom types called ADTs that let you build entirely new types[19]

Elm also supports full type inference, so the compiler can verify that a program is type-safe without any type annotations.

Module System[edit]

Elm has a module system that allows users to break their code into smaller parts called modules. Users can import and export values, making it possible to hide implementation details that other programmers do not need to think about. Modules form the basis of Elm's community library website, the Elm Public Library.

Interoperability with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript[edit]

Elm uses an abstraction called ports to communicate with JavaScript.[20] It allows values to flow in and out of Elm programs, making it possible to communicate between Elm and JavaScript.

Elm also has a library called elm-html which lets users use HTML within Elm and style it with CSS.[21] It uses a virtual DOM approach to make updates efficient.[22]


Unlike Haskell, Elm has no support for higher-kinded types, and thus cannot provide generic abstractions for many common operations.[23] For example, there is no generic map, apply, fold, or filter function. Instead, such names are used prefixed by their module, such as List.map and Dict.map.


Example Code[edit]

-- This is a single line comment

{- This is a multi-line comment.
   It can span multiple lines.

{- It is possible to {- nest -} multi-line comments -}

-- Here we define a value named `greeting`. The type will be inferred as a String.
greeting =
    "Hello World!"

 -- It is best to add type annotations to top-level declarations.
hello : String
hello =
    "Hi there."

-- Functions are declared the same way, with arguments following the function name.
add x y =
    x + y

-- Again, it is best to add type annotations.
hypotenuse : Float -> Float -> Float
hypotenuse a b =
    sqrt (a^2 + b^2)

-- If-expressions are used to branch on values
absoluteValue : Int -> Int
absoluteValue number =
    if number < 0 then -number else number

 -- Records are used to hold values with named fields
book : { title:String, author:String, pages:Int }
book =
    { title = "Steppenwolf"
    , author = "Hesse"
    , pages = 237 

-- We can create entirely new types with the `type` keyword.
-- The following value represents a binary tree.
type Tree a
    = Empty
    | Node a (Tree a) (Tree a)

-- It is possible to inspect these types with case-expressions.
depth : Tree a -> Int
depth tree =
    case tree of
      Empty -> 0
      Node value left right ->
          1 + max (depth left) (depth right)


External links[edit]