Ceylon programming language - Introduction

This is the first of a post series where I’m going to talk about some new programming languages with a nice future ahead. During this series I’ll explore deeper the Ceylon, Dart, Elixir, Rust and Swift 2 languages.

The plan is to make a post a week until December 15 (or maybe a little more) and spend 2 weeks exploring each one of them. In the first week I’ll explore the general aspects of the language and make some comparisons with other very known and established languages. In the post of the second week I’ll go deeper inside each one of the languages and explore the individual advantages on use them.

All the posts

  1. Ceylon Introduction
  2. Ceylon Usage
  3. Dart Introduction
  4. Dart Usage
  5. Elixir Introduction
  6. Elixir Usage
  7. Rust Introduction
  8. Rust Usage


There are hundred of programming languages out there. Which one should we use? Which help do we have to choose well? How do they compare to each other? This document is an attempt to provide some answers to these questions. Naturally, it would not be possible to provide complete answers: as I mentioned, there are too many programming languages. Nevertheless, we chose five languages with a potential to grow in importance in the coming years. These programming languages are Elixir, Rust, Dart, Swift and Ceylon. During this project, we shall be talking about each one of them. These discussions will be in breath, not in depth. Their goal is to provide the reader with the minimum of information necessary to compare them, and who knows, to lure one or other interested person in learning them in a greater level of details. In any case, we hope to contribute a bit to the popularization of these programming languages, which - likely - will be paramount to the development of computer science in the next ten years.


How did it appear?

Red Hat1 is the world’s leading provider of open source software solutions and it has initiated and sponsored2 the development of the Ceylon programming language. Ceylon is first and foremost an open source community project.

According to the language’s F.A.Q3, Ceylon was designed to be a modern Java with better specification, as we can see in the excerpt:

Well, we’ve been designing and building frameworks and libraries for Java for ten years, and we know its limitations intimately. And we’re frustrated. The most recent releases of Java go some distance to alleviating some problems, but even the newest language features strain to accommodate past mistakes and the requirement for full backward compatibility.

But much of our frustration is not even with the Java language itself. The extremely outdated class libraries that form the Java SE SDK are riddled with problems. Developing a great SDK is a top priority of the project.

Why was it designed and implemented?

Ceylon has a lot of interesting features but, we can start with this definition on the homepage4: “Ceylon is a language for writing large programs in teams”. The language is deeply influenced by Java and it was designed and implemented by people who were hugely involved with Java. People like Gavin King, the lead of the Ceylon project in Red Hat and also the creator of Hibernate5 (the most popular Object Relational Mapper for Java) and other projects in the Oracle’s platform.

Modularity is in the very core of the Ceylon language. When a Ceylon’s code is compiled, it produces module archives. In fact is very similar to Java’s modules. It generates a *.car file, with *.class files zipped on it. Just like Java’s *.jar. You’ll never be exposed to unpacked *.class files in Ceylon. So here we got 2 conclusions. The first one is that the compiler really forces the modularity and facilitates the distribution of the generated code. The second one is that the Ceylon compiled code runs on the Java Virtual Machine (JVM). This second fact is very important because by running on the JVM, Ceylon’s code is fully interoperable with Java, the Java SDK and its libraries. In fact, this interoperability is a major priority of the project.

This is an example of the use of the Java’s HashMap data structure on a Ceylon program:

import java.util { HashMap }

value javaHashMap = HashMap<String,Integer>();
javaHashMap.put("zero", 0);
javaHashMap.put("one", 1);
javaHashMap.put("two", 2);

Ceylon runs on the Javascript virtual machine too. In fact the Ceylon’s compiler can generate Javascript code if told to do so. It generates modular Javascript in the CommonJS modules format. We’ll see more on Javascript generation in the future.

dynamic {
    dynamic req = XMLHttpRequest();
    req.onreadystatechange = void () {
        if (req.readyState==4) {
                    .innerHTML = req.status==200
                            then req.responseText
                            else "error";
    req.open("GET", "/sayHello", true);

Ceylon’s project always tells how important is the toolset for a complete and successful programing project so it ships with a really great Integrated Development Environment (IDE) built on a Eclipse plug-in. We’ll see more detailed information on the install and run section below.

How can we use it, e.g., install and run?

By running in the JVM, the Ceylon’s compiler got the advantage to run on every operating system which has a Java Virtual Machine implementation. It
runs both on Java 7 and Java 8 (prior versions are not supported). So before installing the Ceylon package, be sure to have the correct Java version installed. On this work, I’m using the 1.1 version of the language, released on 09 October 2014.

For installation on a Mac, you can use the Homebrew installer:

brew update
brew install ceylon

There are packages for both Debian and Fedora/Red Hat GNU/Linux flavors on the project’s download page: http://ceylon-lang.org/download/.

For a platform agnostic installation, download the zip archive (http://ceylon-lang.org/download/dist/1_1_0), unzip on your system’s prefered folder and add the /ceylon-1.1.0/bin folder to the path of your system. In a unix-like system you can do that by adding the line below on the ~/.bashrc file of you user’s directory:

export PATH="/path/to/ceylon-1.1.0/bin:$PATH"

Now let’s check if the installation works. By forcing the modularity, Ceylon implies some conventions on the compilation process. At first the code we’ll write must be on a “source” directory. So place the following code on a file called ”./source/hello.ceylon”:

shared void hello() {
  print("Hello Ceylon!");

Outside the source’s folder, run the command:

ceylon compile source/hello.ceylon

Checkout the module folder created on the same level as the source folder. Check it’s content for the *.car file and some others. To run the compiled source, run the following command:

ceylon run --run hello default

Simple programs

I will demonstrate some features of the language by writing some simple programs and analysing some points right after it.

The treelike structure, simple classes and visibility

I’ll use this example to illustrate the treelike structure that Ceylon has. Ceylon’s named argument lists provide an elegant way for initializing objects and collections. The goal of this facility is to replace the use of XML for expressing hierarchical structures such as documents, user interfaces, configuration and serialized data.

I’ll use this notation to create a binary search tree and make a depth-first in-order traversal.

shared class Node(val, left = null, right = null) {
	shared Integer val;
	shared Node? left;
	shared Node? right;

shared void caminhamento_central(Node b) {
	if(exists next = b.left) {
	process.write(b.val.string + " ");
	if(exists next = b.right) {

shared void run() {
	Node arvore = Node {
		val = 1;
		left = Node {
			val = 2;
			left = Node {
				val = 4;
				left = Node { val = 8; };
				right = Node { val = 9; };
			right = Node {
				val = 5;
				left = Node { val = 10; };
				right = Node { val = 11; };
		right = Node {
			val = 3;
			left = Node {
				val = 6;
				left = Node { val = 12; };
				right = Node { val = 13; };
			right = Node {
				val = 7;
				left = Node { val = 17; };
				right = Node { val = 15; };


The result of this program must be:

8 4 9 2 10 5 11 1 12 6 13 3 17 7 15

Look at the word shared on some points of the example. This shared annotation marks a declaration as being visible outside the scope in which it is defined, or a package as being visible outside the module to which it belongs6.

It’s all about visibility7. Classes, interfaces, functions, values, aliases, and type parameters have names. Occurrence of a name in code implies a hard dependency from the code in which the name occurs to the schema of the named declaration. We say that a class, interface, value, function, alias, or type parameter is visible to a certain program element if its name may occur in the code that belongs to that program element. The visibility of a declaration depends upon where it occurs, and upon whether it is annotated shared.

Random numbers and Java interoperability

Ceylon’s SDK is under constant development8 and there aren’t a random numbers implementation yet. But Ceylon can use the Java SDK, so I’ll use the Java random numbers interface to work on a Ceylon’s simple example.

// Import from Java SDK
import java.util { Random }

shared Integer getRandomInteger(Integer a, Integer b, Random r) {
	value range = b - a + 1;
	value fraction = (range * r.nextDouble());
	return (fraction + a).integer;

shared void run() {
    Random random = Random();
    for(number in 1..100) {
        print(getRandomInteger(1, 100, random));

To use the Java SDK (and other libraries from outside the language’s SDK) you must use the module structure that is conventioned in the language. I’ll use this example to show it.

Save the code above on a file called random.ceylon inside of the following structure of directories: ./source/example/random/. This structure corresponds to the namespace of the module we are creating. It’s just like Java always did.

Inside this same folder, create the file module.ceylon. It is the file that will specify the dependencies our module have with external resources (like Java libraries) and formalize it’s namespace. The content of this file must be:

module example.random "1.0.0" {
    import java.base "8";

The java.base module in JDK has Java base packages such as java.lang, java.util, java.io, java.net, java.text, NIO and security9. All done, inside of the project’s root, run the command:

ceylon compile

The module will be compiled with the correct dependencies and the files will be generated in the correspondent directory of the module (in our example, it would be ./modules/example/random/1.0.0/). Then we can run the code with the command:

ceylon run example.random

The program will execute calling the method run (like the main method in Java) inside the package example.random.



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