Erlang turns 20: Tracing the journey from Ericsson to Whatsapp

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Just two days back, Erlang, a functional programming language turned twenty. Erlang has been one of the most popular open source languages with compelling features like concurrent processes, memory management, scheduling, distribution, networking, etc.WhatsApp, the most popular messaging platform’s server is almost completely implemented in Erlang.

Twenty years back, on 8th December 1998, Ericsson released its development environment, Erlang/OTP (Open Telecom Platform), as an open source. It was used to make the process of building telecommunications products easier with functionalities like speed, distribution, and concurrency. It also supports a number of processors and operating systems and can be easily integrated with different development languages. Erlang fosters Ericsson’s GPRS, 3, and 4G/LTE and it also powers the internet and mobile data networks.

How did Erlang become open source?

When Håkan Millroth, head of the Ericsson Software Architecture Lab suggested his team to try ‘open source’, Jane Walerud, an entrepreneur agreed to it and convinced the entire Ericsson management team to release the source code for the Erlang VM.

Erlang was released without any publicity, marketing buzz or media coverage. Ericsson just sent an email to Erlang’s mailing list and an announcement was posted on slashdot.


During the dot-com bust era, when an extreme growth in the usage and adaptation of the Internet was observed, Erlang/OTP was used in the creation of an XMPP based instant messaging server, ejabberd,developed by Alexey Shchepin. He chose Erlang over all the other languages as it was the most suitable language for implementing a Jabber server.

Ejabberd 1.0 was released in December 2005 and it formed a base for many platforms like WhatsApp. Ejabberd showed a 280% increase in throughput when it was compiled to the latest version of Erlang.

In May of 2005, a version of the BEAM VM also known as Erlang VM was released that proved the Erlang concurrency and programming models are ideal for multi-core architectures.

In May 2006, Erlang was also used to program RabbitMQ, an Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP). Post that, Erlang has become the language of choice for most of the messaging solutions and is now the backbone of thousands of systems.

In 2007, ‘Programming Erlang’ by Joe Armstrong got published by the Pragmatic Programmers. Further in June 2008, the first paper copy of Erlang Programming got publicly available.

In 2011, Elixir, a functional and concurrent programming language that runs on Erlang VM was released. In August 2015, Phoenix 1.0, a framework for web applications was released. Phoenix 1.0 uses Erlang VM capabilities to create the same effect as Rails did on Ruby, by bringing making Elixir, popular.

Read more about this news on Erlang’s blog post.

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