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Back End Development

Elixir Fundamentals

Elixir’s combination of modern language features, and a 30-year-old battle-tested foundation at its core, has made it increasingly popular over the past year.

This course provides a strong foundation for writing general-purpose functional code, and is intended for developers already proficient in another language.

Module 1 Duration: 120 minutes

1 — Liftoff

Elixir is in a fairly unique position as a programming language, in that it combines contemporary language features and excellent developer ergonomics with the established and battle-tested Erlang ecosystem.

Liftoff Duration: 30 minutes
Origins, Foundations & Core Principles

When setting off to learn a new programming language, it’s often incredibly useful to understand the language’s foundations. In this case, we’re dealing with a language built on top of another language, which runs on a virtual machine that supports other languages

Liftoff Duration: 30 minutes
Interactive Elixir

Elixir’s interactive shell (IEx) is one of the most powerful tools in your toolbox. We’ll outline some of the most useful features for beginners, including:

  • Running scripts
  • Getting metadata about a value
  • Accessing embedded documentation
  • Inspecting the state of a particular process
Liftoff Duration: 30 minutes
IO & Files

As with most programming languages, it’s useful to know how to interact with files and humans. We’ll take care of this early on, and notice a few things that foreshadow some interesting aspects of Elixir’s concurrency model.

Liftoff Duration: 30 minutes
EXERCISE: Reading a CSV File

We’re going to have to take a few things for granted, since we’re just starting out, but let’s use some existing well-documented code to read a CSV file into memory, and print some information about it to the console.

Module 2 Duration: 400 minutes

2 — Types, Operators & Control Flow

Our journey starts with basic types and procedural logic. Even if you’re experienced in a wide range of programming languages, there’s going to be a lot of stuff – even at this basic level – that may change the way you look at writing code forever.

Types, Operators & Control Flow Duration: 45 minutes
Math & Strings

There’s no getting away from these kinds of things. Eventually you’re going to need to work with numbers and text, so we’ll start with a crash course in some core APIs (including a dip in the Erlang pool) that will make life easy.

There’s a lot of capability here, but we’ll stay close to the commonly-useful and pragmatic path.

Types, Operators & Control Flow Duration: 30 minutes
EXERCISE: Projectile Motion

We’ll create a simple program that calculates an object’s projectile motion, given a launch angle and initial velocity.

Types, Operators & Control Flow Duration: 30 minutes
EXERCISE: String Acrobatics

We’ve got a bunch of functions that do various things to string values, but our tests are failing. Let’s fix that!

Types, Operators & Control Flow Duration: 45 minutes

Break for Lunch

Types, Operators & Control Flow Duration: 45 minutes

It stands to reason that functions are really important in a functional programming language. We’ll build and work with named and anonymous functions, combine functions together to form pipelines, and even map out some higher-order functions of our own.

Types, Operators & Control Flow Duration: 30 minutes
Tuples & Lists

Often times we find ourselves needing to work with several objects in a “collection”, and will need to choose between Elixir’s List and Tuple types. We’ll compare and contrast tuples and lists, and write a few programs highlighting the benefits of each.

Types, Operators & Control Flow Duration: 30 minutes
EXERCISE: Fibonacci Pyramid

Using our knowledge of functions and recursion in Elixir, let’s build a function that writes a Fibonacci pyramid to the console.

Fibonacci Numbers

20 levels deep!

Types, Operators & Control Flow Duration: 20 minutes
Associative Data Structures

We have two main associative data structures in Elixir: keyword lists and maps. Let’s learn more about them!

Types, Operators & Control Flow Duration: 25 minutes
EXERCISE: Building up a List

Assembling a bunch of items in a list is really fast, as long as we do it in a way that doesn’t involve moving existing items around in memory. We’ll write two programs, one which assembles a bunch of dictionary words into a tuple, and another that uses a list instead.

Types, Operators & Control Flow Duration: 30 minutes
Pattern Matching & Guards

This modern language feature allows destructed assignment, and is often used to define several variants of a function, each to handle a specific scenario. This application of pattern matching reduces what would otherwise be a lot of internal function complexity by huge amounts.

Types, Operators & Control Flow Duration: 30 minutes
EXERCISE: Function Refactoring

We’ve got an Elixir module that involves some code that could benefit from some pattern matching magic. Refactor the monolith function so all use of if/else are replaced by creating new functions oriented toward handling that specific pattern of arguments.

Types, Operators & Control Flow Duration: 30 minutes
EXERCISE: A world without if/else

You’ll be given an Elixir module that’s currently a little messy and confusing. Untangle it by replacing all of the if/else logic with cond statements, case.statements and by applying pattern matching in function clauses.

Remember: your goal is to make your code as easy to read and maintain as possible: be clever, but not confusing.

Types, Operators & Control Flow Duration: 15 minutes
Recap & Wrap Up

We’ll go over everything we’ve covered today, and connect them back to the big picture. This is a great time for Q&A that’s broader than the specific topics we’ve covered so far.

Module 3 Duration: 240 minutes

3 — Writing Modular Programs

Elixir’s module system allows us to define layers of related functions. In this part of the course, we’ll explore the concepts of modules, and the ability to reference code in one module from another.

Writing Modular Programs Duration: 15 minutes
Welcome Back

We’ll recap the ground we covered in day 1 of this training, so it’s fresh in your mind, as we continue building up toward Elixir proficiency!

Writing Modular Programs Duration: 30 minutes
Modules & Three Important Directives

Modules are just a group of several functions, some of which may be private and some of which may be public. Modules give us the ability to define named functions using the def macro, which offer a few other features that were unavailable in the world of anonymous functions.

Writing Modular Programs Duration: 30 minutes
EXERCISE: Mission Control

We’ve got a set of tests for a couple of Elixir modules that are used to control a space ship. Alter the code to make the unit tests pass, and ensure that you’ve kept as much of each module’s internal functionality private as possible.

Writing Modular Programs Duration: 30 minutes
Basic Metaprogramming

While the use macro is not strictly a directive, it’s of particular importance when considering “mixins” for common functionality, shared across multiple concrete modules.

Writing Modular Programs Duration: 30 minutes
EXERCISE: Extending a Module

The use macro can essentially be used to decorate a module with some code from another module.

Writing Modular Programs Duration: 45 minutes
Protocols & Behaviors

Protocols are a mechanism for polymorphism in Elixir, where an implementation of a certain contract is defined on a per-type basis. In other languages, this contract would be called an interface (Java), or a pure abstract class (C++)

Under the hood, part of how this works is by way of a Behavior: a definition of a set of functions that modules who adopt this behavior must implement.

Writing Modular Programs Duration: 30 minutes
EXERCISE: Serializer Protocol

Given a list of values, we want to be able to generate a string representation, either in CSV or JSON array format. Design a protocol, and adopt that behavior in each of two modules: CSVSerializer and JSONSerializer.

Writing Modular Programs Duration: 60 minutes

Break for Lunch

Module 4 Duration: 210 minutes

4 — Working With Data Structures

Earlier we outlined and worked with several different types of data structures. Let’s take a closer look at some of these methods.

Working With Data Structures Duration: 45 minutes
Enum & Map

We’ve learned about how to create and work with list and map literals in very basic ways. Let’s take a look into some of the tooling that Elixir provides as core language features, for working with these data structures.

Working With Data Structures Duration: 30 minutes
EXERCISE: Map, Filter, Reduce

We have a program that starts with a list of objects read from a file. Using the built-in functions available in the Enum and Map modules, filter out “inactive” items (objects where the “active” attribute is not true), and then log a list of object names to the console.

Working With Data Structures Duration: 30 minutes
Taming List Enumeration with Comprehensions

Often we find ourselves looping over something enumerable; mapping values into another list; and potentially filtering out some unwanted items. Comprehensions use a generator and a filter to provide some excellent syntactic sugar for this kind of task.

Working With Data Structures Duration: 30 minutes
EXERCISE: Comprehensions

Take another pass at the previous exercise, and use a comprehension to devise a concise solution.

Working With Data Structures Duration: 30 minutes
Lazy Operations with Streams

Elixir’s Stream module offers some of the same capabilities that we enjoy in the Enum module, but when working with Streams, computations are performed lazily. This is particularly useful for dealing with huge (or infinitely huge) collections.

Working With Data Structures Duration: 30 minutes
EXERCISE: Skimming a good book

Given the entire text of the book ~Gulliver’s Travels~, find the highest- Scrabble-scoring word within the first 1000 lines.

Working With Data Structures Duration: 15 minutes
Recap & Wrap Up

We’ll round out the course by recapping everything we’ve learned, and finish with some tips for next steps in your mission to become an ace Elixir developer!

Do you Have a Project in Mind?