Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Expert F# by Don Syme Review

(Sorry if this sounds like a commercial, but I liked the book)...

Can a 650+ page book from 2007 on an evolving language be any good? There are only two or three other F# books available, so saying it's the best reference isn't a big commitment. But two years after its release, Expert F# continues to be a great reference and overview of the language. It has a number of good things going for it.

  1. The book's not a 650 page reference manual. Expert F# is really two books in one. The first 250 pages deals solely with the language, functional and OO programming techniques, and available libraries. Seemingly in its entirety. I find F# an incredibly clean, simple, and easy language to program in (at least from my reference points). The fact that it can be fully described in 250 pages speaks to its straight-forward nature and lack of weird edge cases. Compare that to your JVM/CLR language du jour.

  2. The Appendix is a 7 page language guide to the F# syntax and language features. I printed this out from the eBook copy early on and it never left my side. This was a great aide in learning the language and all programming books should steal the idea.

  3. The functional programming chapter clearly explains the idioms of FP and does not use OO as a point of reference. I don't want an OO/FP hybrid and this is a good introduction to recursion, immutable data types, pattern matching, et al, yet it strictly avoids the common "here is how to use a functional syntax with the standard Java/C# mutable HashMap". In fact, I suggest you skip the OO chapter. Let's learn FP first, and then decide when it's required to resort to OO.

  4. The eBook has a searchable index. The book is 2 years old and it's still easiest for me to find answers in the pdf rather than searching Google and HubFS.

  5. The downloadable code samples are a valuable resource for exploring the concepts beyond code snippets. I have fond memories of using the PalmOS code samples to learn the platform, and these are of the same caliber. But seriously, isn't there a better build system for .NET than build.bat files? Ugh.

  6. An entire chapter on fslex and fsyacc? Actually, there are two chapters. Awesome, especially when coupled with the code samples. Langauge oriented programming gets a very good treatment here.

  7. The asynchronous workflow and concurrency chapter is worth reading just to see how elegant they made thread manipulation and wait/join actions. Yes there is a difference between let and let!, and it's cool. And who doesn't want yet another monad tutorial? Not me.
And the bad...

This is really two books in one: a language guide and a set of case studies on advanced topics. I'd have bought this book long ago if it were just the first 250 pages. Can anyone read a book that's too heavy to carry out of the house? My advice: buy the eBook and print out the chapters you want. Save a tree. Appreciate F# even if you don't plan on shipping code with it.


James Moore said...

It's also available on Safari - that's where I've been reading it.

Jhon said...

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