Hello World in Erlang

Published on 04 October 2019 (Updated: 04 October 2019)

Hello World in Erlang

In this article we’ll show how to create a “Hello World” program in Erlang, let’s dive in!

How to Implement the Solution

Erlang looks scary when you first look at it, so we’ll show the full program and then we’ll break it down into parts to fully describe it.

-module(hello_world).
-export([start/0]).

start() ->
   io:format("Hello, World!~n").

Breaking it down

The first key part of an Erlang program is the -module(). preprocessor directive:

-module(hello_world).

Every Erlang file must start with this directive or you’ll get a compiler error like the following:

file.erl:2: no module definition

Next, to use functions from the module we’ve written we have to export them explicitly.

-export([start/0]).

This exports our start function, it takes no arguments so we reference the function as start/0. The number of arguments is called the “arity” of the function.

Functions in erlang start with an atom (for now, think of these as just lowercase letters + underscores), then the parameters, followed by an arrow ->. The following functions are both valid:

my_function() ->
  ok.

myfunction() ->
  ok.

Our start function only does one thing for this simple program, it calls the format function from the io module to print characters to standard output by default. io:format(). The string "Hello world!~n" includes the newline control sequence ~n - you can see a list of control sequences available for use in the documentation for io:fwrite here (scroll down to “Available control sequences”).

How to Run Solution

To run this example, you need to follow a few steps:

  1. Run erlc hello_world.erl in your terminal to compile the program to a BEAM file - this results in the file hello_world.beam
  2. In the same directory, open the erlang shell by typing erl.
  3. Type l(hello_world). - remember to end with a period! This is to load a module into the shell
  4. Run the start function from the module by calling hello_world:start(). - you should see Hello, World! printed to the shell.
  5. To exit the shell type q(). or Ctrl-C, a (abort).

References