Introduction to functional programming: benefits for software development

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Functional programming has gained popularity in recent years due to its ability to build robust, scalable, and easily testable systems. In this article, we will discuss its features, benefits and drawbacks, and mention some functional programming languages.

What is functional programming?

Functional programming is a programming paradigm that focuses on using mathematical functions and avoids the use of mutable state and side effects. Functional programs are often easier to test and debug, as they lack state that can change and cause unpredictable behavior.

It is often associated with the use of algebraic data types and type-driven programming; this helps increase compile-time safety and system stability.

Features of functional programming

  • Usage of pure mathematical functions that have no side effects and always return the same result given the same input parameters. 
  • Avoidance of state change and the use of global variables (instead, local variables and recursive functions are used to achieve the same purpose). 
  • Usage of higher-order functions such as map, filter, and reduce, which allow for concise manipulation of lists and other structured data. 
  • Utilization of functional design patterns, like the pure function pattern and immutability pattern, which aid in writing understandable and testable code.
  • Application of logic programming and theorems for demonstrating program properties.

What is it used for? Benefits

  • It enables writing more understandable and testable code, as it focuses on the use of pure mathematical functions with predictable behavior. 
  • By avoiding state changes and side effects, common errors in imperative programs can be prevented
  • Treating functions as values allows them to be passed as arguments to other functions, facilitating the construction of easily composable modular programs
  • Certain functional techniques, like logic programming and higher-order programming, allow for more concise and natural expression of solutions.

Functional programming is useful in problems requiring scalability, concurrency, and, in general, for building robust and reliable systems. It’s heavily utilized in the development of distributed applications and artificial intelligence.


  • It can be more challenging to learn and understand for programmers accustomed to other programming paradigms, such as imperative or object-oriented programming. 
  • It can be more complex to debug, as the lack of side effects and state changes can make tracing the causes of errors more difficult. 
  • It can be harder to scale in problems requiring heavy resource usage due to data immutability and the absence of global variables. 
  • It can lead to lower performance in certain cases due to the significant number of objects and copies created in some applications.

However, these drawbacks are becoming less significant in modern applications due to compiler optimization and functional language advancements. To determine whether functional programming is the best choice, it’s important to evaluate the problem at hand and the development team’s expertise.

Functional programming languages

Several functional programming languages are available, and some of the most well-known ones include: 

  • Lisp. One of the oldest functional programming languages, widely used in research and artificial intelligence applications. 
  • Haskell. A general-purpose language with numerous advanced features and a strong type system. 
  • ML. A general-purpose language with an inferential type system. 
  • Scheme. A dialect of Lisp with an emphasis on simplicity and portability. 
  • Erlang. A language designed for building distributed and concurrent systems. 
  • F#. A language developed by Microsoft, primarily used in artificial intelligence applications and enterprise development.

Many others are available; some are dialects of other languages like Python, Ruby, and JavaScript, while others are purpose-specific languages like Agda, Coq, and Idris.

In summary, functional programming is a valuable approach for solving complex problems and building robust systems. As technology continues to evolve, we are likely to see increased adoption of functional programming in the industry. More and more developers will gravitate toward this approach for building enterprise applications and high-performance systems.