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A blog about all things code

Functional creative coding

Every once in a while I find myself returning to creative coding. Previously I used p5js with TypeScript for this. Browsersync’s hot reloading combined with the excellent Processing environment makes for a really pleasant developer experience.

This time, however, I wanted to use creative coding as a way to learn and improve my knowledge of functional programming. There are a number of options out there:

  • Haskell’s most promising library for creative coding seems to be gloss. It is stable and maintained, and has a few examples to get you started. Closely related is Shine, which brings gloss to the browser.
  • PureScript has a nice library that provides p5js bindings. The author even published a boilerplate project that includes hot reloading.
  • Another nice sketching library is Clojure’s Quil. It’s intuitive, has good documentation, and is pleasant to work with. Coding is interactive, with changes being compiled quickly.
  • For Common Lisp I can wholeheartedly recommend trivial-gamekit. It’s technically a library to create 2D games, but it lends itself really well for creating sketches. You get an easy-to-use library combined with all the power Lisp has to offer.
  • For a lightweight Haskell-like experience, there’s Elm. Elm-canvas provides a nice wrapper around the HTML5 canvas, which is enough to get you started.

After briefly trying all these options I decided to spend some time to learn Elm. It’s extremely beginner friendly, allowing me to pick up functional concepts at my own pace. Elm-live provides hot reloading, which makes for a very satisfying development workflow combined with the always helpful compiler. Elm does lack some powerful and intriguing concepts that are present in Haskell and PureScript, so at some point I’ll probably find myself wanting to dig deeper into those. But until then Elm has plenty of learning opportunities to offer.

A thing I like to do when learning a language is to follow along with Nature of Code. Not only do you need to familiarize yourself with the syntax, it forces you to explore various libraries as well. It’s been a very pleasant learning experience so far; you can follow the progress here.