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Roadmap FAQ

People want to know what is going to happen with Elm. Hopefully this document helps!

If you are looking for ways to contribute, please check out the suggestions in this repo.

What is the timeline?

There is no timeline with exact dates.

A lot of people think that (1) languages are just features that need implementing, (2) these features should be placed on a calendar, and (3) we should throw people at the features until they are done early. This is not how Elm has developed!

First, when it comes to language design, I think doing things right is far more valuable than doing things right now. It is easy to think short term and rush features, but languages live for decades, and there are no take-backs on mistakes.

Second, looking back, playfulness and inspiration have been crucial parts of Elm’s development. For example, the friendly error messages began with a project to provide JSON output to code editors. There was no huge demand for JSON output, but after spending a bit of time on the project, it became clear that the error messages could be dramatically improved. No one knew that was possible! That means no one was asking for it either! So by any reasonable prioritization scheme, this was a “pointless” project, but it turned into an extremely valuable part of Elm.

Point is, I think scheduling progress is kind of a silly idea. “That conceptual breakthrough is scheduled for September!” Listening and experimenting are a part of the process. It has been extremely valuable to Elm so far, and I expect that to continue to be true.

Can I use Elm on servers?

No, but it is an area of interest.

Many users would really like to run Elm on servers in a direct way. "Take Elm code and have it run on servers." I think this naive path seems promising due to a couple common misconceptions about running the same language on the front-end and back-end:

  • Folks want to share types. No more JSON! That sounds amazing, but what happens when a user keeps a tab open for a while? If you share types directly, changing types will break their code. Creating a serialization format that can evolve with your product is a very hard problem, as elaborated upon here, and simply “having types” does not solve it.

  • People want server-side rendering of HTML. Running a server all in Elm does not really give you this. I mean, it can, but it is way more complicated than having a tool that can take Elm modules and spit out HTML. The simpler version can work with any existing server, which is why that is the approach being explored by various tools created by community members.

  • Folks like to think languages are “general-purpose” and if the language is good, it should be good at anything. People say C++ is a general-purpose language, but it is not so nice for web apps. People say Python is a general purpose language, but it is not so good for operating systems. And you cannot just “make Python good at operating systems” by compiling it to C. More notes on “general-purpose” as a questionable concept here.

All that said, I think there could be something very promising in this area if it is done in a very particular way. It is something that I have been thinking about for many years now, and I am exploring some compilation techniques that might make a project in this general area worthwhile.

When will Elm compile to X?

Compiling through X probably does not accomplish what you hope.

Many folks tell me “Elm should compile to X” where X is a thing they like. Here are people suggesting Go, Lua and Erlang. But why not go through OCaml or C# or Java or Scala or F# or Haskell or ES6 or C++ or Rust or node.js?

The hard part of supporting a domain is not the compiler. It is making a good ecosystem. Python is nice for scientific computing because of things like NumPy and SciPy, not because of whatever backend. Elm is nice for front-end because of the ecosystem, like the HTML library and The Elm Architecture, not the particulars of code generation. Just putting a typed functional language in a domain does not mean it will be fun and productive in practice!

So say we choose to go through Erlang to make Elm a server language too. Great. Now the question is “how do you write a typed server with no side-effects that is (1) true to the spirit of Elm and (2) feels nicer than other server languages?” That's the hard question, and the answer may be that it cannot be done. So writing a compiler backend is like 5% of what it takes to make a project like this worthwhile. The ideal form of a project like this probably has its own bespoke backend, possibly going to assembly directly, but I think the harder work is the API design of figuring out "how does Elm interact with a database in a nice way?" and "how is security handled?"

Point is, I think hacking some code generator together would be extremely time consuming and risky, but not very rewarding. Community members have figured out how to run projects like elm-optimize-level-2 and elm-spa that get at these considerations, but without embarking on a project that is intractable. I recommend trying something more like that, and looking through these projects for inspiration on ways to contribute to the Elm ecosystem through code.

Where is the localStorage package?

We ask that people use ports for aspects of the web platform that do not have Elm packages yet.

First, many people think expanding “web platform” support is easy. “Just copy the JS API into Elm as tasks!” The whole point of Elm is to rethink common problems and try to do better. Figuring out how to do it “the right way” in a typed functional language with no side-effects takes time. For example, Elm existed for more than two years before we added HTML support. Imagine what people were saying to me then! But now, rather than having a fragmented ecosystem of competing HTML libraries of varying quality, we have one library that is great. For many Elm users, the fact that there are clear defaults that work well within the ecosystem is a huge draw.

Second, the general policy is to prioritize things that cannot be done over things that could be done better. Obviously it would be great if the whole Web Platform was available in Elm today, but anything that is missing appears to be possible with ports or custom elements.

Third, a great deal of work has actually gone into localStorage and IndexedDB already, but the results were not good enough to be released. If a library like this is released, it will need to be supported forever because we cannot just switch to a better API when we figure it out. Programmers may store important information on thousands of computers out in the world, and losing that data could hurt their business. So until we can offer a really solid approach here (one that is cross-browser, will grow with your application, and can upgrade browser data with new releases) we prefer to be clear that we do not offer this yet. I suspect that work on the prior two questions may reveal something worthwhile, but it is still quite uncertain.

Maybe these prioritization choices do not appeal to your sensibility or today’s tradeoffs do not seem to work for your scenario. That is fine! It is totally reasonable to circle back to Elm after Web Platform support has expanded and see if it works better for you then.

Note: Many people wonder “why not have the community expand the web platform?” I have tried to address this question here and here and here. There are other languages out there that make different choices on this question, and I recommend checking them out. They may suit you better!