Last year, the head of the Microsoft’s Developer Division, S. Somasegar, announced that Microsoft had begun investing in F# as one of Microsoft’s supported languages on the .NET platform. I am now thrilled to announce one result of this investment: F# will ship as part of Visual Studio 2010! Since the September 2008 CTP of F#, the F# team has been working hard on integrating F# into the main development branch of Visual Studio 2010. Below I show a screen shot of using the F# development tools in the 2010 shell, with the new editor and the new look-back-in-time “Debug History” window.
Over the last year we’ve seen amazing growth in the F# developer community, and great excitement at conferences and user groups. Two of the recent highlights have been the PDC presentation on F# by Luca Bolognese, and the live demo of F# and other new language technologies at JAOO by Anders Hejlsberg, Where are Programming Languages Going. If you’d like to learn why Microsoft is adding a functional programming language to its Visual Studio and .NET development tools, and the kind of scenarios where this language gives particular productivity benefits, then I can’t think of any better place to start than these two presentations by two of Microsoft’s most experienced development and language experts.
In this first supported release, our aim has to be to focus on the core strengths of F# for exploratory programming with F# Interactive, programming with data and implementing parallel and asynchronous components. As we’ve talked to people privately about adding F# to Visual Studio 2010, some questions naturally arise, and I’ve attempted to answer those below. If you have more questions, please ask on the comments below!
Q. When will the next release of F# be? Will I be able to continue to use F# with VS2008?
o Our next major release of F# will be as part of the first beta of Visual Studio 2010, and at around the same time we will make available a matching update release of the Visual Studio 2008/.NET2.0 F# compiler and tools.
Q. What about shared source?
Our plan is to make both the F# compiler and the core F# library available as shared source on CodePlex in the Visual Studio 2010 timeframe, most likely at the time Visual Studio 2010 ships. We also plan an active CodePlex project called the “F# Power Pack” which will contain tools such as the F# parser and lexer generators. We outlined these plans in a post to the F# mailing list in October.
Q. Is F# in .NET 4.0?
o The current plan of record is that the F# core libraries and compiler will ship as an additional component, not in the .NET Framework itself. We expect this to be available as an F# redistributable package. Referencing this package from a Visual Studio setup project will be sufficient to deploy the core library DLL(s) it to a client machine.
Q. What level of tool support should I expect?
o As outlined above, our focus in this release of F# is in areas I like to characterize as data-rich and control-flow-rich programming, tackled using a functional programming approach (think algorithms, data manipulations, data transformations, parallel programming, and reactive programming components). The tool support we plan is thus based around editing, scripting, interactive evaluation, the project system, debugging, profiling and great integration with C# and Visual Basic.
Q. Will this release include designer tools?
o Our focus on delivering high-quality F# core tools is designed to augment Visual Studio’s amazing strengths as a presentation-rich object-oriented programming environment. As a result, we have made an explicit decision to leverage the strengths of C# and Visual Basic as presentational and designer-rich programming languages in this release. This means that F# users should use the Visual Studio designer tools to generate C# or Visual Basic code and incorporate those components into their F# applications. In Visual Studio 2010, we expect F# applications which include components built with designers (e.g. WinForms, ASP.NET, Silverlight and WPF applications with a designer front-end) will normally be authored as mixed language applications. We’ll be providing templates that guide F# developers through this process.
Q. What about Mono?
o The F# compiler and tools will continue to provide a means for Mono users to develop F# applications, initiall through the Visual Studio 2008/.NET2.0 tool chain (see above).
Q. F# began as an “OCaml-like language for .NET”? Will it stay that way?
o F# shares core language constructs with the excellent OCaml language, from INRIA. This was an early design decision that acknowledged the importance of the Caml language family as a pragmatic realization of functional programming and as a basis for language innovation. F# itself has now matured to include constructs such as F# object oriented programming, units of measure in F#, F# reflective programming and F# computation expressions. Looking ahead, our plan of record is to continue to allow the use of F# in a mode that supports cross-compilation of a common subset of F# and OCaml, much as is done today. This will normally require the use of the F# Power Pack components, which will be available separately from the Visual Studio 2010 integration.
Q. Will Microsoft Research stay involved?
o Yes indeed! F# is a joint advanced development project between Microsoft Research, Cambridge and the Microsoft Developer Division. I am very glad to be staying involved as the language architect and will remain at Microsoft Research. Our awesome team includes people in Cambridge, Redmond, Vancouver and China, and some team members operate from Germany and New York. I am continually amazed at the people I get to work with on this project and the skills they bring, and we hope to make it a prime example of innovative development at Microsoft.
Many thanks to everyone in the F# and broader .NET, MSR and language communities for their support and assistance in getting F# to this point. We have exciting times ahead, and we trust this development will make the use of F# compelling and realistic in all its key usage domains.
Happy programming and development!