Sniffen Packets

With a name like Sniffen, it's got to smell good.

Concurrent Programming in Erlang, by J. Armstrong, R. Virding, C. Wikström, and M. Williams

I’ve been mostly ignoring gaming and technical books for these reviews before now, but I think the new format may let me range more broadly.

Concurrent Programming in Erlang is one of few books available documenting the functional language Erlang. Erlang is a development of Ericsson, used for programming some of their highly reliable telephone switches. It’s unusual in that it approaches concurrency not by Posix or Java-style threads sharing state, but by passing of messages between threads. Issues of locking and mutexes evaporate.
As a side effect, Erlang’s threads are very lightweight: a typical workstation can spawn tens of thousands of simultaneous threads without performance degradation. Try having 25000 Linux pthreads all reading and writing to the network some time and see what happens!

Erlang isn’t my preferred language, though, and this book couldn’t make it so. The syntax is odd, even for me. And the libraries are oriented very strongly towards networks and concurrency. There’s not much support for GUIs or interesting data structures (but see Mnesia). This is a great language for systems programming for comms companies, but not so great for hobbyist researchers.

You can read the first half of this book for free at Since the second half is only a set of case studies of interesting applications, casual readers are likely to miss it very little.

Books read this year: 24