An Introduction to Elm

Elm is a functional language that compiles to JavaScript. It helps you make websites and web apps. It has a strong emphasis on simplicity and quality tooling.

This guide will:

  • Teach you the fundamentals of programming in Elm.
  • Show you how to make interactive apps with The Elm Architecture.
  • Emphasize principles and patterns that generalize to programming in any language.

By the end I hope you will not only be able to create great web apps in Elm, but also understand the core ideas and patterns that make Elm nice to use.

If you are on the fence, I can safely guarantee that if you give Elm a shot and actually make a project in it, you will end up writing better JavaScript code. The ideas transfer pretty easily!

A Quick Sample

Here is a little program that lets you increment and decrement a number:

import Browser
import Html exposing (Html, button, div, text)
import Html.Events exposing (onClick)

main =
  Browser.sandbox { init = 0, update = update, view = view }

type Msg = Increment | Decrement

update msg model =
  case msg of
    Increment ->
      model + 1

    Decrement ->
      model - 1

view model =
  div []
    [ button [ onClick Decrement ] [ text "-" ]
    , div [] [ text (String.fromInt model) ]
    , button [ onClick Increment ] [ text "+" ]

Try it out in the online editor here.

The code can definitely look unfamiliar at first, so we will get into how this example works soon!

Why a functional language?

You can get some benefits from programming in a functional style, but there are some things you can only get from a functional language like Elm:

  • No runtime errors in practice.
  • Friendly error messages.
  • Reliable refactoring.
  • Automatically enforced semantic versioning for all Elm packages.

No combination of JS libraries can give you all of these guarantees. They come from the design of the language itself! And thanks to these guarantees, it is quite common for Elm programmers to say they never felt so confident while programming. Confident to add features quickly. Confident to refactor thousands of lines. But without the background anxiety that you missed something important!

I have put a huge emphasis on making Elm easy to learn and use, so all I ask is that you give Elm a shot and see what you think. I hope you will be pleasantly surprised!

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