Using Erlang and Elixir for real-time communication in the cloud

Are you looking for a reliable and efficient way to build real-time communication systems in the cloud? Do you want to create applications that can handle massive amounts of users and data without breaking a sweat? Look no further than Erlang and Elixir.

Erlang and Elixir are two programming languages that excel at building distributed and concurrent systems. They were designed to handle telecommunications systems, which require high availability, fault-tolerance, and scalability. Today, they are widely used in industries like finance, gaming, healthcare, and logistics, where real-time communication and data processing are critical.

In this article, we'll explore how Erlang and Elixir can help you build real-time communication systems in the cloud. We'll discuss their key features, advantages, and use cases. We'll also walk you through some examples and best practices for using them in practice.

What is Erlang?

Erlang is a functional programming language that was created in the 1980s by Ericsson, a Swedish telecommunications company. It was designed to solve the problems of building telecommunication systems that require high availability, concurrency, and fault-tolerance.

Erlang is based on the actor model of computation, which means that it treats computations as independent, stateless entities (called actors) that communicate through message passing. This model makes it easy to build scalable and fault-tolerant systems since each actor can run on a separate process and can handle its own errors, without affecting the rest of the system.

Erlang also has features that make it perfect for building distributed systems, such as distributed message passing, transparent process migration, and hot code reloading. These features allow Erlang applications to run on multiple nodes, handle network failures, and upgrade their code without downtime.

What is Elixir?

Elixir is a programming language that was created in the 2010s by José Valim, a programmer from Brazil. Elixir was inspired by Erlang and its actor model, but it adds features that make it more expressive and extensible, such as metaprogramming, macros, and a modern syntax.

Elixir runs on the Erlang virtual machine (BEAM), which means that it inherits all the features and advantages of Erlang, such as concurrency, fault-tolerance, and distributed computing. However, Elixir also adds its own abstractions and libraries that make it easier to build high-level systems, such as web frameworks, databases, and machine learning algorithms.

Elixir also has a vibrant community and ecosystem, with thousands of libraries, plugins, and tools that help developers build, test, and deploy their applications. Some popular Elixir libraries and frameworks include Phoenix (for web development), Ecto (for database management), ExUnit (for testing), and Nerves (for embedded systems).

Advantages of Erlang and Elixir for real-time communication

Real-time communication systems require more than just low latency and high throughput. They also need to handle concurrent users, message queues, network failures, and other sources of stress. This is where Erlang and Elixir shine.

Some of the advantages of Erlang and Elixir for real-time communication systems include:

Use cases for Erlang and Elixir in real-time communication

Erlang and Elixir are used in a wide range of industries and applications that require real-time communication and data processing. Some common use cases include:

Instant messaging and chat applications

Erlang and Elixir are well-suited for building chat applications that require real-time messaging, presence detection, and scalability. Some popular chat applications built with Erlang and Elixir include WhatsApp, Telegram, and Riot.

Gaming and e-sports

Erlang and Elixir are used in gaming and e-sports for handling massive amounts of players, real-time updates, and event processing. Some popular gaming companies that use Erlang and Elixir include EA, Bet365, and Hi-Rez Studios.

Financial trading and data analysis

Erlang and Elixir are used in finance for handling complex data processing, event streaming, and real-time analytics. Some popular finance companies that use Erlang and Elixir include Nasdaq, Goldman Sachs, and Klarna.

IoT and embedded systems

Erlang and Elixir are used in IoT and embedded systems for handling sensor data, network communication, and device management. Some popular IoT and embedded systems that use Erlang and Elixir include Ericsson, GE Digital, and LiveView Technologies.

Telecom and network services

Erlang and Elixir are used in telecom and network services for building signaling protocols, load balancers, and fault-tolerant systems. Some popular telecom and network companies that use Erlang and Elixir include Ericsson, Cisco, and Nokia.

Example: Building a real-time chat application with Elixir and Phoenix

Let's walk through an example of building a real-time chat application with Elixir and Phoenix. We'll use Phoenix's built-in channels feature, which allows us to create real-time bidirectional communication between clients and servers.

First, we need to create a new Phoenix project:

$ mix chat_app --no-ecto

This command creates a new Phoenix project called chat_app without a database (since we don't need one for our chat application).

Next, we need to generate a new channel for our chat room:

$ mix ChatRoom

This command generates a new channel called ChatRoom, which includes a server-side module and a client-side JavaScript file that handle the communication between clients and servers.

Now, we need to define the behavior of our server-side module. We'll keep it simple for now and just forward incoming messages to all connected clients:

defmodule ChatAppWeb.ChatRoom do
  use Phoenix.Channel

  def join("room:lobby", _params, socket) do
    {:ok, socket}

  def handle_in("new_msg", %{"body" => body}, socket) do
    broadcast! socket, "new_msg", %{body: body}
    {:noreply, socket}

This module defines two functions:

Finally, we need to define the behavior of our client-side JavaScript file. We'll use Phoenix's built-in JavaScript library, which handles the communication with the server and updates the UI:

import {Socket} from "phoenix"

let socket = new Socket("/socket", {params: {user_id: "123"}})


let channel ="room:lobby", {})

  .receive("ok", resp => {
    console.log("Joined successfully", resp)
  .receive("error", resp => {
    console.log("Unable to join", resp)

channel.on("new_msg", payload => {
  let message = document.createElement("li")
  message.innerText = `[${Date()}] ${payload.body}`

document.getElementById("send").addEventListener("click", () => {
  let message = document.getElementById("message").value
  channel.push("new_msg", {body: message})

This file defines three parts:

That's it! We can now run our chat application with:

$ mix phx.server

And open our browser to http://localhost:4000. We should see a simple chat interface that allows us to send and receive messages in real-time.


Erlang and Elixir are two powerful programming languages that are well-suited for building real-time communication systems in the cloud. They offer features and advantages that make them ideal for handling concurrency, fault-tolerance, scalability, and real-time performance.

In this article, we've introduced Erlang and Elixir and explained their main features and advantages for building real-time communication systems. We've also walked through an example of building a real-time chat application with Elixir and Phoenix.

We hope that this article has inspired you to explore Erlang and Elixir further and to consider them for your next real-time communication project in the cloud. Happy coding!

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