September 8, 2017

Programming Paradigms and the Procedural Paradox

Programming paradigms are different perspectives on solving a problem with software. Each of the paradigms is valuable. But they seem so hard to define. People will discuss endlessly what each paradigm means, trying to be inclusive of what they consider important and what they don't. To take an example, we get definitions of functional programming which are satisfying to the definer but not to everyone. And we get people pointing fingers, saying "that's not real object-oriented programming". These discussions are unsatisfying because they rehash the same tired ideas and never reach any firm conclusions.

I'd like to take a broader perspective and try to shed some light on why they are so hard to define. That might help me understand how to define them well.1

Most of the time, programming paradigms are described in terms of their features or constraints. I think this is a useful perspective. Languages associated with a paradigm often share many features. For instance, functional languages typically have first-class functions.

But there is a much better way to think of the paradigms that doesn't reduce them to lists of features. Each of the major paradigms is a wholistic approach to solving problems with code. The paradigms are frameworks containing basic assumptions, ways of thinking, and methodology


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