FAQ: What are the other pits of successes of functional programming?

People who have seen my presentation Functional architecture: the pits of success occasionally write to ask: What are the other pits?

The talk is about some of the design goals that we often struggle with in object-oriented programming, but which tend to happen automatically in functional programming (FP). In the presentation I cover three pits of success, but I also mention that there are more. In a one-hour conference presentation, I simply didn't have time to discuss more than three.

It's a natural question, then, to ask what are the pits of success that I don't cover in the talk?

I've been digging through my notes and found the following:

  • Parallelism
  • Ports and adapters
  • Services, Entities, Value Objects
  • Testability
  • Composition
  • Package and component principles
  • CQS
  • Encapsulation

Finding a lost list like this, more than six years after I jotted it down, presents a bit of a puzzle to me, too. In this post, I'll see if I can reconstruct some of the points.

Parallelism #

When most things are immutable you don't have to worry about multiple threads updating the same shared resource. Much has already been said and written about this in the context of functional programming, to the degree that for some people, it's the main (or only?) reason to adopt FP.

Even so, I had (and still have) a version of the presentation that included this advantage. When I realised that I had to cut some content for time, it was easy to cut this topic in favour of other benefits. After all, this one was already well known in 2016.

Ports and adapters #

This was one of the three benefits I kept in the talk. I've also covered it on my blog in the article Functional architecture is Ports and Adapters.

Services, Entities, Value Objects #

This was the second topic I included in the talk. I don't think that there's an explicit article here on the blog that deals with this particular subject matter, so if you want the details, you'll have to view the recording.

In short, though, what I had in mind was that Domain-Driven Design explicitly distinguishes between Services, Entities, and Value Objects, which often seems to pull in the opposite direction of the object-oriented notion of data with behaviour. In FP, on the contrary, it's natural to separate data from behaviour. Since behaviour often implements business logic, and since business logic tends to change at a different rate than data, it's a good idea to keep them apart.

Testability #

The third pit of success I covered in the talk was testability. I've also covered this here on the blog: Functional design is intrinsically testable. Pure functions are trivial to test: Supply some input and verify the output.

Composition #

Pure functions compose. In the simplest case, use the return value from one function as input for another function. In more complex cases, you may need various combinators in order to be able to 'click' functions together.

I don't have a single article about this. Rather, I have scores: From design patterns to category theory.

Package and component principles #

When it comes to this one, I admit, I no longer remember what I had in mind. Perhaps I was thinking about Scott Wlaschin's studies of cycles and modularity. Perhaps I did, again, have my article about Ports and Adapters in mind, or perhaps it was my later articles on dependency rejection that already stirred.


The Command Query Separation principle states that an operation (i.e. a method) should be either a Command or a Query, but not both. In most programming languages, the onus is on you to maintain that discipline. It's not a design principle that comes easy to most object-oriented programmers.

Functional programming, on the other hand, emphasises pure functions, which are all Queries. Commands have side effects, and pure functions can't have side effects. Haskell even makes sure to type-check that pure functions don't perform side effects. If you're interested in a C# explanation of how that works, see The IO Container.

What impure actions remain after you've implemented most of your code base as pure functions can violate or follow CQS as you see fit. I usually still follow that principle, but since the impure parts of a functional code base tends to be fairly small and isolated to the edges of the application, even if you decide to violate CQS there, it probably makes little difference.

Encapsulation #

Functional programmers don't talk much about encapsulation, but you'll often hear them say that we should make illegal states unrepresentable. I recently wrote an article that explains that this tends to originate from the same motivation: Encapsulation in Functional Programming.

In languages like F# and Haskell, most type definitions require a single line of code, in contrast to object-oriented programming where types are normally classes, which take up a whole file each. This makes it much easier and succinct to define constructive data in proper FP languages.

Furthermore, perhaps most importantly, pure functions are referentially transparent, and referential transparency fits in your head.

Conclusion #

In a recording of the talk titled Functional architecture: the pits of success I explain that the presentation only discusses three pits of success, but that there are more. Consulting my notes, I found five more that I didn't cover. I've now tried to remedy this lapse.

I don't, however, believe that this list is exhaustive. Why should it be?

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Monday, 27 March 2023 05:36:00 UTC


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Published: Monday, 27 March 2023 05:36:00 UTC