Is Elixir Worthy of the Hype?

During RailsConf this year, a blog post made the rounds which suggested that, more or less, Rails was dying and Elixir and Clojure were the places to be. I was pretty skeptical. After all, there are still production systems running Fortran and COBOL — the odds that a framework as widespread as Rails is going to dry up any time soon is basically nil. Also, Rails is pretty good at what it does. Most of the “problems” Elixir proponents are solving with Rails are not things Rails was really built to do. It’s a bit like saying everyone is going to give up cars because they can’t make it to the moon.

Still, some people are pretty excited about Elixir, so I spent a few hours at the conference looking into it. At first glance, it’s not as easy to read or understand as Ruby. It’s probably way faster (but what isn’t?). Phoenix, Elixir’s answer to Rails, looked to be missing basic things that would be needed to supplant Rails (like a fully-capable ORM).

So, unsurprisingly, it looks like a bit of puffery from the Elixir community. That’s how these things work, though; the challengers have to make claims about the reigning champ to get some attention. It did get me thinking that I should write something in Elixir, to see how it is in the real world.

Fast-forward a few months. My employer is sending a handful of its engineers off into the wilderness for a week of free-form learning and experimentation1. This week, I’m going to be learning Elixir and trying to build a real application in it.

  1. This is something we do every year as a way to avoid burn-out, keep up to date, and have a little fun.