Chapter 5. Strings

You can learn more about working with strings in Chapter 2 of Erlang Programming, Sections 2.11 and 5.4 of Programming Erlang, Section 2.2.6 of Erlang and OTP in Action, and Chapter 1 of Learn You Some Erlang For Great Good!.

Étude 5-1: Validating Input

The Erlang philosophy is "let it crash"; this makes a great deal of sense for a telecommunications system (which is what Erlang was first designed for). Hardware is going to fail. When it does, you just replace it or restart it. The person using the phone system is unaware of this; her phone just continues to work.

This philosophy, however, is not the one you want to employ when you have (atypical for Erlang) programs that ask for user input. You want to those to crash infrequently and catch as many input errors as possible.

In this étude, you will write a module named ask_area, which prompts you for a shape and its dimensions, and then returns the area by calling geom:area/3, which you wrote in Étude 4-1.

Your module will ask for the first letter of the shape (in either upper or lower case), then the appropriate dimensions. It should catch invalid letters, non-numeric input, and negative numbers as input. Here is some sample output.

1> c(ask_area).
2> c(geom).
3> ask_area:area().
R)ectangle, T)riangle, or E)llipse > r
Enter width > 4
Enter height > 3.7
4> ask_area:area().
R)ectangle, T)riangle, or E)llipse > T
Enter base > 3
Enter height > 7
5> ask_area:area().
R)ectangle, T)riangle, or E)llipse > x
Unknown shape x
6> ask_area:area().
R)ectangle, T)riangle, or E)llipse > r
Enter width > -3
Enter height > 4
Both numbers must be greater than or equal to zero.
7> ask_area:area().
R)ectangle, T)riangle, or E)llipse > e
Enter major axis > three
Enter minor axis > 2
Error in first number.

Here are the functions that I needed to write in order to make this program work.

Given a character parameter (R, T, or E in either upper or lower case), return an atom representing the specified shape (rectangle, triangle, ellipse, or unknown if some other character is entered).
Given a string as a prompt, displays the string "Enter prompt > " and returns the number that was input. Your function should accept either integers or floats. Fun fact: string:to_float/1 requires a decimal point; if you just enter input like "3", you will receive {error,no_float} for your efforts. That means that you should try to convert to float first, and if that fails, try a conversion to integer. It was at this point that I felt like the guy who is beating his head against a wall, and, when asked, "Why are you doing that?" responds, "Because it feels so good when I stop."
Takes two prompts as its parameters (one for each dimension), and calls get_number/1 twice. Returns a tuple {N1, N2} with the dimensions.
Takes a shape (as an atom) and two dimensions as its parameters. If the shape is unknown, or the first or second dimension isn’t numeric, or either number is negative, the function displays an appropriate error message. Otherwise, the function calls geom:area/3 to calculate the area of the shape.

See a suggested solution in Appendix A.

Étude 5-2: Using the re Module

Write a module named dates that contains a function date_parts/1, which takes a string in ISO date format ("yyyy-mm-dd") and returns a list of integers in the form [yyyy, mm, dd]. This function does not need to do any error checking.

You’ll use the re:split/3 function from Erlang’s regular expression (re) module to accomplish the task. How, you may ask, does that function work? Ask Erlang! The command erl -man re will give you the online documentation for the re module.

Scroll down the resulting page until you find split(Subject, RE, Options) → SplitList and read the examples.

When you write the -spec for this function (you have been writing documentation for your functions, haven’t you?), the type you will use for the parameter is string().

You can see a complete list of the built-in types at

Yes, I know this étude seems pointless, but trust me: I’m going somewhere with this. Stay tuned.

See a suggested solution in Appendix A.