In several functional languages like Haskell and OCaml, functions are automatically curried. This means that a function taking two arguments (lambda x, y: x + y) is actually a function that returns a function (lambda x: lambda y: x + y).

But most programming languages, even many functional languages, like Elixir, don't do this.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of this approach to functions?


3 Answers 3


Some pros:

  1. Being concise. It has less arguments and is more readable. It also enables partial functions.
  2. Flexibility. It allows for more flexibility in function composition and permits creation of more complex functions.

Some cons:

  1. Complexity. Always important. Adding this makes the languge more complex to learn.

  2. Performance. Adding automatic currying worsens performance. In some situations, it is negligible; in others, it is a real problem.

  • $\begingroup$ In addition for at least Haskell's case, it might not be correct to consider it a "feature" since it's actually a side effect of Haskell functions not accepting multiple arguments. Every language that supports some sort of closures actually supports this, for example Javascript: javascript let fn = (a => (b => a+b)); console.log(fn(1)(2)); $\endgroup$
    – kouta-kun
    May 17, 2023 at 23:38
  • $\begingroup$ @kouta-kun Haskell could easily have not added dedicated syntax for defining curried functions, and people could write it just fine by passing multiple arguments through product types instead, like the ML family tends to prefer. The "automatic currying" that the question asks about is a very intentional feature. $\endgroup$ May 18, 2023 at 1:52
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ By "partial functions" do you mean "partially applied functions"? $\endgroup$
    – kaya3
    May 18, 2023 at 6:11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @kouta-kun I think it's worth talking about etymology when we discuss the language Haskell and the term "currying" and why the Haskell language decided to opt for it. There is a mathematician that came up with the concept of a function that only takes a single parameter and instead of multiple parameters, it just returns a function. This allows for using some nice properties that work on single parameter functions and makes computing them easier and more in some cases. The concept of "currying" is thus named after the mathematician: Haskell Curry. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    May 18, 2023 at 7:49

It introduces the limitation that a single function cannot take a variable number of arguments, since giving fewer than the maximum number of arguments will simply curry and return a function, rather than do the computation on the given number of arguments.

  • $\begingroup$ To be fair, you can do variadic functions in Haskell. But to be even more fair, Text.Printf is not really a shining example of good Haskell code. $\endgroup$ May 18, 2023 at 14:11

Most languages do allow this just not as concisely:

fn Add10(addMe: i32) -> i32:
  return Add(10, addMe)

So, why would you add the extra complexity to a language by having special operators when there is a much simpler method?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Isn't the point of OP that there's no operator or syntax involved? $\endgroup$
    – Adám
    May 18, 2023 at 14:30
  • $\begingroup$ Yes it is...@Adám $\endgroup$ Jul 5, 2023 at 11:02

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