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Basic Erlang and Node.js interoperability

Erlang.js is a simple JavaScript library to support the standard Erlang data encoding format (term_to_binary).

If you send data to an Erlang program, and that program will run binary_to_term(), then you need Erlang.js.

Erlang.js was spun off from production code used at Iris Couch. Erlang.js is available as an npm module.

npm install erlang


So far, only term_to_binary is implemented. Pass a data structure to term_to_binary() and it will return a Node.js buffer of that data, encoded.

Data Types

Some data types encode as you would expect: numbers, arrays, and booleans.

But Erlang has foreign data types. Erlang.js supports a simple mechanism to represent those in JavaScript.


JavaScript strings are converted to Erlang strings (i.e. lists of integers).

term_to_binary("I am a string") // Encodes the Erlang string "I am a string" 


{atom:"Foo"} encodes as Erlang 'Foo'. You can also use a shorthand, {a:"Foo"}.

term_to_binary({a:"POST"}) // Encodes the atom 'POST' 


{binary:"Foo"} encodes as Erlang <<"Foo">>. You can also use a shorthand, {b:"Foo"}.

term_to_binary({b:"POST"}) // Encodes the binary <<"POST">> 


{tuple:["foo", "bar"]} encodes as Erlang {"foo", "bar"}. You can also use a shorthand, {t:["foo", "bar"]}.

var foo = {a:"foo"} // an atom 
term_to_binary({t:[foo, "bar"]}) // Encodes the tuple {foo, "bar"} 


In JavaScript, if an API has tons of options, it tends to use an object.

// An API with so many options it uses a single object argument: 
request({url:"", json:true}, my_callback)

Erlang does not have this (for one thing, all data is always immutable). Instead it uses option lists (optlists) of mostly atoms and tagged tuples.

Options = [set, public, {keypos, 1}, {write_concurrency, true}, compressed],
ets:new(my_table, Options).

Optlists are common in Erlang. You can build them manually with term_to_binary(), but the data structure is messy and distracting. Erlang.js provides an alternative, optlist_to_binary() which encodes more readable and obvious JavaScript data structures.

optlist_to_binary() encodes its arguments as an array. Each argument must be:

  1. A short string (all-lowercase, up to 255 characters): converted to an atom
  2. A 2-array where the first element is a short string: converted to a tagged tuple
  3. An object with only one key/val pair: converted to a tagged tuple

To encode the optlist from the above Erlang example:

optlist_to_binary('set', 'public', ['keypos', 1], {write_concurrency:true}, 'compressed')
/* Same as
term_to_binary([ { atom: 'set' }
               , { atom: 'public' }
               , { tuple: [ { atom: 'keypos' }, 1 ] }
               , { tuple: [ { atom: 'write_concurrency' }, true ] }
               , { atom: 'compressed' }


Apache 2.0

See the Apache 2.0 license.