Erlang/OTP - 17 Years of Open Source

December 09, 2015 · by Bruce Yinhe

December 8th 2015 marks the seventeenth year since Erlang/OTP was released as open source. 

What is Erlang/OTP and why was Erlang Open Sourced?

The Erlang programming language was created and implemented in the Ericsson Computer Science Laboratory, headed by Bjarne Däcker. Later, a separate organisation was created within Ericsson - the OTP unit. Its aim was to commercialise and stabilise the implementation of Erlang, its libraries, tools and documentation. This unit still continues today, headed by Kenneth Lundin.

Prior to being released as Open Source, Erlang and OTP was used to develop several commercial telecommunication products by Ericsson. Erlang/OTP was released as open source to encourage innovation and to spread the use of Erlang. The Open Source release was thus well tested and stable.

What has happened during the 17 years?

“Looking back, it was a beneficial decision for both Ericsson and the Open Source community,” says Kenneth Lundin, head of Erlang/OTP, who is one of the original staff members.

The characteristics of Erlang and OTP - fault tolerance, massive concurrency, scalable distribution and ease of software development - have found applications in many other innovative areas. In the mid 2000s, the introduction of support for multicore (Symmetric multiprocessing, SMP) gave Erlang/OTP a major boost in popularity. 

We are now seeing products developed in applications as diverse as banking, network supervision, gaming, cloud services, databases, messaging and Internet of Things to name but a few.

Where is Erlang going?

Erlang and OTP nowadays witness an increasing popularity across industries, used by companies such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Bet365 and Machine Zone. “It is exciting to see that what started as a small project an a software research laboratory has grown into the basis of commercial successes around the world,” says Mike Williams, one of the co-inventors.

In 2015, Erlang/OTP 18.0 was released under a less restrictive and OSI-approved Apache License 2.0. Behind the license change was the Industrial Erlang User Group, a group of enterprise users of Erlang/OTP collaborating with Ericsson in securing the future health, well being and commercial success of the Erlang outside of Ericsson.

Bruce Yinhe