3 minute read

Records Records are, first of all, a hack. They are more or less an afterthought to the language and can have their share of inconveniences.They’re still pretty useful whenever you have a small data structure where you want to access the attributes by name directly. As such, Erlang records are a lot like structs in C (if you know C.). Here is how they are declared.

-record(robot, {name,

And below is how it is used in the code.

first_robot() ->
     details=["Moved by a small man inside"]}.

Running the code you the following:

  1> c(records).
  2> records:first_robot().
    ["Moved by a small man inside"]}

Erlang records are just syntactic sugar on top of tuples. The Erlang shell has a command rr(Module) that lets you load record definitions from Module.

  3> rr(records).
  4> records:first_robot().        
   #robot{name = "Mechatron",type = handmade,
     hobbies = undefined,
    details = ["Moved by a small man inside"]}

You can extract values from records through using a dot syntax:

  5> Crusher = #robot{name="Crusher", hobbies=["Crushing people","petting cats"]}.
    #robot{name = "Crusher",type = industrial,
      hobbies = ["Crushing people","petting cats"],
      details = []}
  6> Crusher#robot.hobbies.
    ["Crushing people","petting cats"]

Key-Value Stores For small amounts of data, there are basically two data structures that can be used. The first one is called a proplist. A proplist is any list of tuples of the form [{Key,Value}]. To work with proplists, you can use the proplists module. It contains functions such as proplists:delete/2, proplists:get_value/2, proplists:get_all_values/2, proplists:lookup/2 and proplists:lookup_all/2. If you do want a more complete key-value store for small amounts of data, the orddict module is what you need. Orddicts (ordered dictionaries) are proplists with a taste for formality. Each key can be there once, the whole list is sorted for faster average lookup, etc. Common functions for the CRUD usage include orddict:store/3, orddict:find/2

There are basically two key-value structures/modules to deal with larger amounts of data: dicts and gb_trees. Dictionaries have the same interface as orddicts: dict:store/3, dict:find/2, dict:fetch/2, dict:erase/2 and every other function, such as dict:map/2 and dict:fold/2 (pretty useful to work on the whole data structure!) Dicts are thus very good choices to scale orddicts up whenever it is needed.

Arrays Arrays allow you to access elements with numerical indices and to fold over the whole structure while possibly ignoring undefined slots.

A Set of Sets Sets are groups of unique elements that you can compare and operate on: find which elements are in two groups, in none of them, only in one or the other, etc. To work with sets in Erlang there are four modules, that is ordsets, sets, gb_sets and sofs (sets of sets). Despite a variaety of ways of using sets it is recommended that one should use gb_sets in most circumstances, using ordset when you need a clear representation that you want to process with your own code and sets when you need the =:= operator.

Directed Graphs Directed graphs in Erlang are implemented as two modules, digraph and digraph_utils. The digraph module basically allows the construction and modification of a directed graph: manipulating edges and vertices, finding paths and cycles, etc. On the other hand, digraph_utils allows you to navigate a graph (postorder, preorder), testing for cycles, arborescences or trees, finding neighbors, and so on.

Because directed graphs are closely related to set theory, the ‘sofs’ module contains a few functions letting you convert families to digraphs and digraphs to families.

Queues The queue moduleimplements a double-ended FIFO (First In, First Out) queue. They’re implemented a bit as two lists (in this context, stacks) that allow to both append and prepend elements rapidly.The queue module basically has different functions in a mental separation into 3 interfaces (or APIs) of varying complexity, called Original API, Extended API and Okasaki API.You’ll generally want to use queues when you’ll need to ensure that the first item ordered is indeed the first one processed.


For more information on this topic you can checkout the following amazing posts:

  1. A Short Visit to Common Data Structures