Today I Learned

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128 posts about #elixir

Checking that an association is loaded

Ecto will NOT load associations automatically, that is something that you must do explicitly and sometimes you might expect an association to be loaded but because of the code path travelled, it is not.

You can check to see if an association is loaded with Ecto.assoc_loaded?

case Ecto.assoc_loaded?( do
  true -> IO.puts('yep its loaded')
  false -> IO.puts('you do not have the data')

Mix tasks accessing the db with `Mix.Ecto`

When running reports or one-off data operations it might be necessary to create a mix task that can access the database. Ecto provides convenience functions in the Mix.Ecto module to help facilitate setting up and starting the Ecto repos.

The function parse_repo(args) will process the arguments used when calling the mix task. It looks specifically for -r MyApp.Repo but if you don’t pass anything it will return all the repos from the configuration.

The function ensure_started(repo) takes the repo as an argument ensures that the Repo application has been started. Without calling this function the Repo will throw an error when used.

Put it all together:

defmodule Mix.Tasks.MyApp.SayHi do
  use Mix.Task
  import Mix.Ecto

  def run(args) do
    repo = parse_repo(args) |> hd


    result = repo.query("select 'hi!';")

    |> hd
    |> hd
    |> IO.puts

Print Information about an Elixir Data Type

IEx ships with a neat feature, def i(term \\ v(-1)), which provides information about an argument. Here are two examples:

iex(1)> i ["one", "two"]
  ["one", "two"]
Data type
Reference modules
Implemented protocols
  IEx.Info, Collectable, Enumerable, Inspect, List.Chars, String.Chars
iex(1)> i "three"
Data type
Byte size
  This is a string: a UTF-8 encoded binary. It's printed surrounded by
  "double quotes" because all UTF-8 encoded codepoints in it are printable.
Raw representation
  <<116, 104, 114, 101, 101>>
Reference modules
  String, :binary
Implemented protocols
  IEx.Info, Collectable, Inspect, List.Chars, String.Chars

Use this to inspect an item, or learn more about Elixir.

`with` statement has an `else` clause

with statements are used to ensure a specific result from a function or series of functions, using the results of those functions to take actions within the with block. If a function does not return a specific result (think :error instead of :ok) then you can either define specific clauses for the things you expected to go wrong, or you can just return the result that did not conform to the with clause expectations.

This is the general form:

with {:ok, a} <- {:ok, 123} do
  IO.puts "Everythings OK"

A with with an else block:

with {:ok, a} <- {:error, 123} do
  IO.puts "Everythings OK"
  result -> IO.puts("Not OK")

A with else clause with pattern matching:

with {:ok, a} <- {:error, "something went wrong"} do
  IO.puts "Everythings OK"
  {:error, message} -> IO.puts(message)
  error -> IO.puts("I'm not sure what went wrong

A with without an else clause where the error is returned from the with block:

result = with {:ok, a} <- {:error, "something went wrong"} do
  IO.puts "Everythings OK"

{:error, message} = result
IO.puts "This went wrong #{message}"

Exit IEx Gracefully with `respawn()`

I love a debugger in my Elixir code. A pattern I follow is to load and call IEx in a Phoenix template or controller with:

require IEx; IEx.pry;

Then, I call functions and check data in the middle of an action, by starting my Phoenix server with the following command:

$ iex -S mix phx.server

Once finished, I usually end up just killing the server with CTRL-C.

Today I learned there’s a better way: respawn().

respawn() respawns the current shell by starting a new shell process. Which I think is a good thing. It lets me back out of my IEx session without killing my server, a much more graceful development experience.

View your outdated packages

To see which packages in a mix app need updating, you can run mix hex.outdated

$ mix hex.outdated
Dependency           Current  Latest  Update possible
appsignal            1.3.2    1.3.3   Yes
basic_auth           2.1.4    2.1.4
cachex               2.1.0    2.1.0

It prints out a handy table letting you quickly view the current and latest versions and if they can be updated. If Update possible is No, check your semantic version lockdown of that package in mix.exs.

mix hex.outdated accepts a few arguments:

  • --all which shows all outdated packages, including children of packages defined in mix.exs
  • --pre which include pre-releases when checking for newer versions (be adventurous!)

Happy updating!

Generate New Phoenix App Without Brunch

By default when you create a new Phoenix app using, a set of files and configurations will be generated for Brunch. Though the Phoenix team decided to use Brunch, you don’t have to. You may not want Phoenix to handle asset building or you may just prefer another build tool. Either way, if you’d like to opt out, you can include the --no-brunch flag when generating the project.

$ mix --no-brunch my_app

If you have an existing project that you’d like to remove Brunch from, there is some information in Phoenix’s Static Assets documentation.

Visualize Your Elixir Dependencies

To visualize your Elixir dependencies, try this:

$ mix deps.tree

This prints a tree showing your dependencies (and their dependencies):

$ mix deps.tree
├── gettext ~> 0.13 (Hex package)
├── hackney 1.8.0 (Hex package)
│   ├── certifi 1.1.0 (Hex package)
│   ├── idna 4.0.0 (Hex package)
│   ├── metrics 1.0.1 (Hex package)
│   ├── mimerl 1.0.2 (Hex package)
│   └── ssl_verify_fun 1.1.1 (Hex package)

This is really handy when trying to track down where a deprecation warning or error is coming from.

h/t Dorian Karter

Serve Static Assets From Custom Phoenix Directory

When you new up a Phoenix project, an endpoint.ex file will be generated. This file is full of different plugs for handling incoming traffic. The Plug.Static declaration specifies how your application will handle and serve requests for static files.

  plug Plug.Static,
    at: "/", from: :my_app, gzip: false,
    only: ~w(css fonts images js favicon.ico robots.txt)

The from options declares where these static files are located. In this case it references our application (:my_app) as the target which will translate to its priv/static directory.

If you instead want to serve your files from a different, custom directory, you can replace it with the path to that directory.

  plug Plug.Static,
    at: "/", from: "priv/my_frontend/static", gzip: false,
    only: ~w(css fonts images js favicon.ico robots.txt)


Implied applications and `extra_applications`

In your mix file (mix.exs) the application function returns a keyword list. Two options in that list determine what applications are started at runtime.

The applications is by default implied based on your app’s dependencies. The default list is thrown away through if this option is set in your mix.exs file.

If you want to add an extra application without disrupting the default, implied list then you can add the optionextra_applications. This leaves the default, implied list of applications untouched.

H/T Jose Valim PR

def application do
  mod: {Tilex, []},
  extra_applications: [:logger]

Specifying The Digest Directory For Phoenix

By default, Phoenix targets priv/static when preparing digested assets for production. This process happens when running mix phx.digest.

If you are doing some custom work with your assets such that they are in a different location, you’ll need to tell Phoenix where to look. To do this, just include an optional path argument.

$ mix phx.digest path/to/my/assets

The digests will be put in that target directory. If you’d like to specify a different output directory, such as priv/static, include the -o flag.

$ mix phx.digest path/to/my/assets -o priv/static

Joining URI parts in Elixir

Elixir 1.3 introduced a standard way to join URIs.

For example, say we have a base URI for an API: and different endpoints on that URI: events, developers, applications.

To join the URI into one properly formatted string:

def endpoint_uri(endpoint) do
  |> URI.merge(endpoint)
  |> URI.to_string()

# then call it

endpoint_url("events") # => ""

URI.merge accepts both strings and URI structs as the first object so you can easily continue adding URI parts to the pipeline including query params:

|> URI.merge("events") 
|> URI.merge("?date=today") 
|> URI.to_string()

# => ""

Conditional Variables in Phoenix Templates

A common Ruby on Rails technique is setting instance variables in a controller action, then using them in the view layer:

# app/controllers/users_controller.rb
def show
  @show_button = true
# app/views/users/show.html.haml
- if @show_button

Doing the same thing in Elixir/Phoenix is a little different.

Since Phoenix 0.14.0, the framework raises on missing assigns (link). Thus our conditional will fail on any loaded template whose controller function that does not define the variable.

One solution is to check if the variable is assigned:

# lib/my_app_web/templates/users/show.html.eex
<%= if assigns[:show_button] do %>
  <div class="button"></div>

If show_button is assigned in your controller function (via assign), the button will be displayed. If not, the button will not be displayed, and the application will not raise an error.

Run an Elixir function on Module load

If you want to run a function on Module load, you can turn to Modules @on_load hook.

defmodule Example do
  @on_load :hello_world

  def hello_world do
    IO.puts("Hello World!")
$ elixir hello_world.ex
Hello World!

Your function must return :ok otherwise the module load will be aborted.

Using @on_load can be an efficient way to run examples, quick scripts, setup requirements, benchmarking or load in libraries from other languages.

Converting strings to atoms safely

If your elixir system accepts any outside inputs and takes any part of those outside inputs and calls String.to_atom with the input as an argument then your elixir system is subject to a denial of service attack.

Malicious actors can submit input designed to dynamically create a large number of atoms until the atom limit is reached, knocking out your elixir applications.

Consider using String.to_existing_atom instead. If the argument to this function cannot be converted to an existing atom then an exception will be thrown.

> String.to_existing_atom("I don't exist")
** (ArgumentError) argument error
    :erlang.binary_to_existing_atom("nothere", :utf8)
> String.to_atom("I don't exist")
:"I don't exist"
> String.to_existing_atom("I don't exist")
:"I don't exist"

Current number of atoms in the atoms table

In Elixir and Erlang there is a hard limit on the number of atoms you can create. Atoms are not garbage collected so its important to ensure you don’t exceed the limit. You can check what the limit is with:

> :erlang.system_info(:atom_limit)

Likewise, you can check the current number of atoms in the atoms table with:

> :erlang.system_info(:atom_count)

On my system using Elixir 1.5.1 I use 9654 atoms just to start iex.

Magically insert `iex -S` in front of a command

Often times you need to execute an elixir function with iex to enable pry breakpoints.

I found that I was doing a lot of fumbling in zsh to go back to the previous command, jump to the beginning of it and type out iex -S.

Since I like to automate repeatitive processes, I came up with this:

bindkey -s "^Xi" "^[Iiex -S ^[A"

Dump this line in your .zshrc or .bashrc and then all you have to do is Ctrl+xi to insert iex -S in front of the previously ran command.


Magic. 🎩

Looking at the state of processes in Elixir

When debugging gen_server, gen_statem and gen_event processes it can be helpful to take a look at the state.

Its easy to do this in Elixir by calling out to Erlangs sys.get_state/1:

iex(1)> defmodule Example, do: use GenServer
iex(2)> {:ok, pid} = GenServer.start_link(Example, %{ping: "pong"})
iex(3)> :sys.get_state(pid)
%{ping: "pong"}

For more common sys debugging functions, take a look here

CamelCase to underscore and back again w/Elixir

If you have a mix project name with multiple words, then those multiple words are generally separated with underscores in the project directory name, like honey_bears. The module name for the project however is HoneyBears.

Converting a string from underscore to CamelCase is built into Elixir. Its in the Macro module:

> Macro.camelize("honey_bear")

The reverse case also can be solved with a Macro function.

> Macro.underscore("HoneyBear")

The Macro module has a number of convience functions for working with macros.

Configure max http header size in Elixir Phoenix

If you store lots of data in cookies, you may eventually run up against the maximum header value length in Cowboy which by default is 4096.

While storing that much data in cookies is maybe not the best idea, there is a configuration setting that can help you work around this issue:

config :myapp, MyAppWeb.Endpoint,                                                                                                                 
  http: [protocol_options: [max_request_line_length: 8192, max_header_value_length: 8192]]

There ya go! Now you can accept http header values up to 8192 bytes in length!

Phoenix will watch your JS for you, just watch!

With es6 javascript ecosystems most compilation/transpilation is done with watchers, programs that watch for changes in your code and then trigger compilation based on the changes you’ve made.

Phoenix has a method of integrating those watchers into the server itself.

config :myapp, MyApp.Endpoint,
  watchers: [yarn: ["run", "watch", cd: Path.expand("../assets", __DIR__)]]

The above configuration goes in config/dev.exs and runs the watch command whenever you start the server/endpoint. The keyword option cd is as of yet undocumented, but does what you think it does, changes the directory to the path you configure, which by convention in Phoenix 1.3 would be the assets directory. cd is the only keyword option.

The watchers start when you run your server. Just make a change to your javascript and refresh the page!

Execute raw parameterized sql with Ecto in Elixir

Using sql directly is a good way to use some of the more interesting parts of sqlthat Ecto does not provide a ready abstraction for in its dsl. And parameterization is necessary to avoid sql injection and just to be able to deal with single quotes correctly. Its fairly straight forward once you find the right module (Ecto.Adapters.SQL) and function (query or query!). Parameters are indicated by $1.

sql = """
  select * from users where name = $1;

results = Ecto.Adapters.SQL.query!(MyApp.Repo, sql, ["chris"])

There is also a stream function on the Ecto.Adapters.SQL module with the same signature as query but the documentation doesn’t necessarily state the advantages or situations where it may be useful. More to learn.f8

Load all records for an association in Ecto

Lets say you get a collection of Posts with:

posts = Repo.all(Post)

If you try to access the associated developer for one of these posts, you get an error:

#Ecto.Association.NotLoaded<association :developer is not loaded>

The same is true for all posts in the collection, none of them have a loaded developer. You can load them one by one with:

developer =, :developer))

But if you need to do this for each developer you’ll get into an N+1 situation, making an additional trip to the database for each post.

Instead you can load all the developers at one time with:

posts = Repo.preload(posts, :developer)

Clearing Phoenix npm cache on Heroku

I recently encountered an issue where the solution, as found on the internet, was to remove all the npm_modules, re-install them and build again. My issue however was on Heroku rather than local.

If you’re using Elixier and Phoenix on Heroku then you’re likely using the heroku-buildpack-phoenix-static. This buildpack compiles the static assets for Phoenix.

This buildpack caches npm_modules by default, to clear the cache you must provide a configuration file at the root level of your project named phoenix_static_buildpack.config that looks like:


The buildpack will now download the npm_modules on each deployment.

What applications are running in your Elixir app?

Ever wonder what applications are running in your Elixir or Phoenix app?

Pop open IEx and take a look with Applications.started_applications/1

iex(1)> Application.started_applications
[{:tilex, 'tilex', '0.0.1'},
 {:ueberauth_google, 'An Uberauth strategy for Google authentication.',
 {:ueberauth, 'An Elixir Authentication System for Plug-based Web Applications',
  '0.4.0'}, {:oauth2, 'An Elixir OAuth 2.0 Client Library', '0.9.1'},
  'Timex is a rich, comprehensive Date/Time library for Elixir projects, with full timezone support via the :tzdata package.\nIf you need to manipulate dates, times, datetimes, timestamps, etc., then Timex is for you!\n',
 {:combine, 'A parser combinator library for Elixir projects.', '0.9.6'},
 {:tzdata, 'Tzdata is a parser and library for the tz database.\n', '0.5.12'},
 {:postgrex, 'PostgreSQL driver for Elixir.', '0.13.3'},
  'Database connection behaviour for database transactions and connection pooling\n',
 {:connection, 'Connection behaviour for connection processes\n', '1.0.4'},
  'Phoenix.HTML functions for working with HTML strings and templates',
  '2.10.2'}, {:phoenix_ecto, 'Integration between Phoenix & Ecto', '3.2.3'},
 {:ecto, 'A database wrapper and language integrated query for Elixir.\n',
  '2.1.4'}, {:poolboy, 'A hunky Erlang worker pool factory', '1.5.1'},
 {:decimal, 'Arbitrary precision decimal arithmetic.', '1.4.0'},

Enable history in IEX through #erlang (OTP 20) ⏳

If you are using the latest version of Erlang, OTP 20 now ships with shell history, so you can use Ctrl-p / Ctrl-n or the up/down arrow keys.

The shell history is turned off by default though, so you will have to turn it on by adding the following to your .zshrc/.bashrc etc.

export ERL_AFLAGS="-kernel shell_history enabled"

Once you do that make sure to source your bash config file or open a new window.

Every subsequent iex session will now have shell history. 🚀

Setting breaks in IEx for debugging

With the release of Elixir 1.5 comes some handy new IEx helpers, one of which is the ability to add break points throughout your code.

You can add a break to any function using break!/2 or break!/4:

defmodule MyModule do
  def hello(name) do
    "hello " <> name
iex(1)> break!(MyModule.hello/ 1)
iex(1)> break!(MyModule, :hello, 1)

Both break/2 and break/4 accept an additional argument for how many stops you want to make. Useful for recursive functions where you may want to stop multiple times.

To see what breaks you have use breaks/0

iex(1)> breaks()
 ID   Module.function/arity   Pending stops
---- ----------------------- ---------------
 1    MyModule.hello/1        1

Now when you call the function, you’ll be placed into the a debugger and you can inspect whats being passed in:

iex(4)> MyModule.hello("world")
Break reached: MyModule.hello/1 (lib/my_module.ex:2)
    1: defmodule MyModule do
    2:   def hello(name) do
    3:     "hello " <> name
    4:   end
pry(1)> name

To exit the break and start a new shell process use respawn/0

pry(2)> respawn
Interactive Elixir (1.5.0) - press Ctrl+C to exit (type h() ENTER for help)
"hello world"

GenServer child_spec/1 in Elixir 1.5

Elixir 1.5 GenServer introduces overridable child_spec/1. Now instead of, in your application supervisor, calling;

# MyExample.Application
def start(_type, _args) do
  children = [
    worker(MyExample.MyChild, [], restart: :permanent, shutdown: 5000)

You can now let the child decide how its supposed to be implemented by overriding child_spec/1 in the child.

def start(_type, _args) do
  children = [ 

# MyExample.MyChild
def child_spec(_args) do
    id: __Module__,
    start: { __Module__, :start_link, []},
    restart: :permanent,
    shutdown: 5000,
    type: :worker

You can view the defaults that child_spec/1 implements in the source code.

Arguments can be passed to child_spec/1 which can then be used for pattern matching and custom configurations based on the supervisor accessing it:

def start(_type, _args) do
  children = [ 
    {MyExample.MyChild, "temporary"}

# MyExample.MyChild
def child_spec("temporary") do
    id: __Module__,
    start: { __Module__, :start_link, []},
    restart: :temporary,
    shutdown: 5000,
    type: :worker

def child_spec(_) do
    id: __Module__,
    start: { __Module__, :start_link, []},
    restart: :permanent,
    shutdown: 5000,
    type: :worker

Terminate incomplete expression in IEx

Occasionally you get stuck in an incomplete expression while in IEx. Instead of figuring out which character you need to type to terminate the expression, you can terminate early with #iex:break

iex(1)> ["ab
...(1)> c"
...(1)> "
...(1)> ]
...(1)> #iex:break
** (TokenMissingError) iex:1: incomplete expression

Another shortcut to achieve the same result is hit ctrl-g (User switch command), i (interrupt job), c (connect to job). This puts you right back in IEx.

iex(1)> ["ab"
iex(1)>   <<<ctrl-g typed here>>>
User switch command
 --> i
 --> c
Bug Bug ..!!** (EXIT) interrupted

Require local package in mix.exs

In Elixir as you are writing your application it is recommended to split parts of it into smaller applications (also can be called micro-services if you want to be buzzword compliant).

You don’t however need to publish those dependencies to the Hex package manager in order to load them, instead you can use the path argument when defining a dependency.

In this example we have our main application Foo and in the directory above it we have an application called Bar.

To make the Bar module available in Foo we can do it like so:


defp deps do
    {:bar, path: "../bar"},

Module attribute constants nil in Elixir

Module attributes in elixir (@something) can be used as constants and assigned a value, however one must make sure that the value assigned to the constant is available at compile time.

For example when using a constant that loads environment variables if the value is not available in compile time they will resolve to nil.

@salt System.get_env(:your_app_name, "AUTH_SALT")

So either export the environment variables before compiling, or don’t use module attributes, instead you can use a function:

defp salt do
  System.get_env(:your_app_name, "AUTH_SALT")


  • The downside to using a function is that it will be re-evaluated each time.
  • The downside of exporting env-vars before compile is that they you might forget and your app will crash in production. You can circumvent that by writing a script for compilation.
  • You can also call System.get_env from your config.exs but make sure to run mix clean after doing so since the compiler seems to cache the config compilation.

Remove, Get, And Compile a dependency

To get a better feel for how a dependency works I’ll do some IO.puts style debugging, but when I’m done I need to clean up all those IO.puts statements.

mix deps.clean ecto

The above command will remove two directories, the _build/dev/lib/ecto dir and the deps/ecto dir.

mix deps.get ecto

This command will resolve the dependency tree and get the appropriate version of ecto based on the information in your mix.exs file. It will not reach out to the internet if the package is already cached as a tar file in the .hex/packages/hexpm dir. It will unpack the tar file into the local deps/ecto dir but it will not compile it.

mix deps.compile ecto

Will compile ecto to the _build/dev/lib/ecto directory.

Compile time purge level

Elixir can conditionally remove log statements of the form Logger.debug/2 to Logger.error/2 at compile time.

config :logger, compile_time_purge_level: :info

In this configuration, logger statements like Logger.debug("something inconsequential happened") will be compiled out altogether.

Logging to a file in Elixir test environment

The default configuration for a logger in the test env is:

config :logger, level: :warn

That is, of the four logging levels (defug, info, warn and error) only log warnings and errors.

By default this logger logs to the console making the below redundant:

config :logger, level: :warn, backends: [:console]

:console is the only option available by default, but there are other backends available via hex package.

With hex package logger_file_backend you might have a different config:

config :logger, backends: [{LoggerFileBackend, :error_log}]

config :logger, :error_log, path: 'log/here.log'

Compile an Elixir dependency as you change it

In an Elixir project, the dependencies are one-time compiles. That makes sense when you know the dependency is not going to change. It stops making sense, however, when you need to explore how a dependency works by adding debug statements like IO.puts. Or when you find something in a dependency you want to change and need to test that change in an application.

In those cases Elixir provides the facility to compile a dependency each time it has a change in one of the component files just like how compilation in your mix app works. You can enable this by providing a path to the location of the dependency in the mix.exs file:

defp dep do
  {:wallaby, '~> 0.16.1', path: 'deps/wallaby'}

In this case the path is set to the local deps dir, where the dependency already exists, but you can also set it to a working directory for that library.

Create A List Of Atoms

The ~w sigil makes it easy to create a word list — a list of strings — where each word is separated by a space.

> ~w(bulbasaur charmander squirtle)
["bulbasaur", "charmander", "squirtle"]

By appending an a onto that sigil construct, you are instructing Elixir that you would instead like a list of atoms.

> ~w(bulbasaur charmander squirtle)a
[:bulbasaur, :charmander, :squirtle]


Serve static files/directories in Phoenix

Phoenix will by default server some files and directories from priv/static. More specifically css/, fonts/, images/, js/, favicon.ico and robots.txt. If you need to add a new directory however simply creating it in priv/static will not make Phoenix serve it. You need to explicitly add it.

Say your project is called ChicagoElixir you will need to go to your endpoint configuration, typically in: lib/chicago_elixir/web/endpoint.ex. There you will find the following configuration:

  plug Plug.Static,
    at: "/", from: :chicago_elixir, gzip: false,
    only: ~w(css fonts images js favicon.ico robots.txt)

Simply add the new folder or file name to the list in only and restart your Phoenix server.

Inspecting The Process Message Queue

A core tenant of Elixir is message passing between processes. So, if a process is sent a message, where does that message go? What happens if it gets sent many messages? The function allows us to inspect the message queue.

First, let’s send some messages (to ourself) and then keep an eye on the length of the message queue as we go.

> send self(), {:error, "this is bad"}
{:error, "this is bad"}
>, :message_queue_len)
{:message_queue_len, 1}
> send self(), {:hello, "world"}
{:hello, "world"}
>, :message_queue_len)
{:message_queue_len, 2}

Now, I am curious what those specific messages are. Let’s ask for the messages that are in the message queue.

>, :messages)
{:messages, [error: "this is bad", hello: "world"]}

There are a lot of other things that can tell us about a process. See the Erlang docs for process_info for more details.

Get the association with Ecto

In the schema of my post model I have this line:

belongs_to :developer

So a post is associated with a developer. When I have a post struct and try to access the developer I might see this:

> Tilex.Repo.get(Tilex.Post, 42).developer
#Ecto.Association.NotLoaded<association :developer is not loaded>

Getting the developer is now a two step process:

  1. Construct a query based on the association
  2. Use that query to acquire the struct

To construct a query based on the association we can use the Ecto.assoc/2 function:

query = Ecto.assoc(post, :developer)

Then this query is executed with the function:

developer =

There ya go!

erlang memory usage

You might be be curious how much memory your erlang vm is taking. You can get that and more from :erlang.memory. Below is what I get from running this after starting iex normally.

> :erlang.memory
[total: 18133840, processes: 4975616, processes_used: 4974616, system: 13158224,
 atom: 264529, atom_used: 256719, binary: 228728, code: 6640396, ets: 414904]

This list is confusing. All numbers are bytes, so in total 18133840 bytes are allocated to the erlang process. There are two subcategories processes and system and the values of those categories sum to equal the value of total.

The remaining categories are either a component of system or a component of processes.

Listing Files In IEx

When you start an IEx session, you do so in the context of some directory — the current working directory. This context can be important if you need to do something like import a file. In fact, you may want to know what files are available in the current working directory.

You can list them all out within IEx using ls/0.

iex(1)> ls()
           .git     .gitignore         _build         assets         config
           deps            lib        mix.exs       mix.lock           priv           test

You can also list the contents of some other specific directory by naming it when invoking ls/1.

See h() within IEx for more details.

Use Elixir plug for only some controller actions

Phoenix allows for a flexible request processing pipeline with plugs. Your controllers are basically plugs in the plug pipeline. You can specify plugs that will execute before your controller actions with the plug macro.

defmodule MyApp.ThingController do
  use MyApp.Web, :controller

  plug MyApp.InterestingPlug

You can also specify a guard for this macro that will only enable this plug to be run before certain actions:

plug MyApp.InterestingPlug when action in [:new, :create]

Defining Multiple Clauses In An Anonymous Function

Anonymous functions often take the approach of doing a single thing with the inputs, regardless of their shape or values. There is no need to limit ourselves though. The same pattern matching that we use all over our Elixir programs can be utilized to define multiple clauses in an anonymous function as well.

Consider the following example:

iex> my_function = fn
  {:ok, x} -> "Everything is ok: #{x}"
  {:error, x} -> "There was an error: #{x}"
#Function<6.52032458/1 in :erl_eval.expr/5>

We can then invoke our anonymous function using the bound variable to see what results we get with different kinds of inputs.

iex> my_function.({:ok, 123})
"Everything is ok: 123"
iex> my_function.({:error, "be warned"})
"There was an error: be warned"


The Registry is back

“The Registry” is a bad Windows dream, something left behind when I switched off Windows for good circa 2011.

It’s back. It’s a new Elixir 1.4 module where you can store values that you’d like to access globally. Potentially, you want to store a pid of a worker you started. You can store that in the registry like so.

{:ok, pid} = MyWorker.start_link()
supervisor(Registry, [:unique, Registry.WorkerPids])
Registry.register(Registry.WorkerPids, :my_worker, worker_pid)
[{_, found_worker_pid}] = Registry.lookup(Registry.WorkerPids, :my_worker)

A lot is going on here.

  • We start a worker
  • We start the registry process for register Registry.WorkerPids
  • We register the key/value in a specific register (Registry.WorkerPids)
  • We lookup the value in that register with that key

Its important to note that the Registry.WorkerPids symbol is just an atom, not a module. There is no WorkerPids module implementing any special functionality anywhere.

Definitely a lot of ceremony for a key/value store. I expect to find practical uses for it as I experience more complex Elixir systems.

Erlang documentation with `erl -man`

Erlang can be tricky, so documentation is a must, but when you’re 30,000 feet high in an airplane with no internet you might regret not having downloaded DashApp and with it all the Erlang documentation.

But it was on your machine the whole time! You have access to all the Erlang documentation with erl -man used like so:

erl -man calendar

Which pops open a man page for the calendar module.

When you are learning Erlang the docs are at your fingertips.

Remove One List From Another

The --/2 operator allows you to subtract two lists, that is, remove all elements in the right list from the left list. Each occurrence of an element is removed if there is a corresponding element. If there is no corresponding element, it is ignored.

Here are some examples.

> [1, 2, 3] -- [2, 4]
[1, 3]
> [:a, :b, :c, :a, :d, :a] -- [:a, :a]
[:b, :c, :d, :a]

This kind of list operation is not particularly efficient, so for large lists it can be quite slow. The following example took several minutes to run.

> Enum.into(1..1000000, []) -- Enum.into(2..1000000, [])

To achieve a true set difference, you’ll note that the docs for this operator recommend checking out MapSet.difference/2.

See h Kernel.-- for more details.

Inspect with Label

IO.inspect returns the value you pass in as the first argument. This is great when you want to debug the middle state of a series of piped calls.

|> String.graphemes
|> Enum.each_with_index
|> IO.inspect
|>{letter, i}) -> "#{letter}#{i}" end)
|> Enum.join

Here, inspect will write to stdout the values [{"A", 1}, {"B", 2"}...].

IO.inspect also takes a label option, which decorates the values written to stdout but does not disrupt the piped calls.

|> String.graphemes
|> Enum.each_with_index
|> IO.inspect(label: "Letters with index:")
|>{letter, i}) -> "#{letter}#{i}" end)
|> Enum.join

Which outputs Letters with index: [{"A", 1}, {"B", 2"}...] to stdout.

Jaro Distance determines "closeness" of 2 strings

In Elixir, the String module includes a function named jaro_distance that determines the similarity between two strings:

iex> String.jaro_distance("Chris", "Crhis")
iex> String.jaro_distance("Chris", "Bob")
iex> String.jaro_distance("Chris", "Dennis")

The docs say this works best with short strings. The Jaro distance article on wikipedia has lots of math if you’re into that.