Getting Started with Standard ML

:: sml, programming, books

One of the two parallel tracks in my 2009 Programming Language Plan begins with the Standard ML programming language, so it’s time to get started.

Standard ML Resources


  1. Standard ML of New Jersey is highly recommended and comes with a REPL.
  2. Moscow ML
  3. MLKit
  4. PolyML
  5. MLton is a Standard ML compiler with excellent performance. However, as far as I know, it doesn’t have a REPL, which makes it less than ideal for learning.


Since I was unfamiliar with the Standard ML programming language, I was surprised to find there are a number of good books about the language. Following are just some of them:

Elements of ML Programming

ML for the Working Programmer

Purely Functional Data Structures

The Definition of Standard ML

The Standard ML Basis Library

Introduction to Programming using SML

Concurrent Programming in ML

Other Educational Materials

Programming in Standard ML – excellent online book by Robert Harper of Carnegie Mellon University. Since I don’t know if Standard ML will simply be a stepping stone to Haskell (which in turn may not be a primary language for me) or a language I invest a lot of time in, I’m going to restrict myself from my normal method of purchasing a book or two when learning a new language. Instead, I’ll be going through Harper’s online book initially.

Tips for Computer Scientists on Standard ML (Revised)

Hello World

There are a number of great compilers for Standard ML (listed above), but I only need one to get started, so I chose Standard ML of New Jersey despite the funky name. It’s a popular version, and it has a REPL, so it’s good enough for me for now.

I develop software on Mac OSX and deploy on Ubuntu Linux. On my Ubuntu server, installing SML/NJ was as simple as:

sudo apt-get install smlnj

On Mac OSX, there are a couple of options listed on this page. I could use a pre-built system or the generic Unix install, so naturally I chose the generic Unix install which installed easily according to the simple directions.

# Download config.tgz
tar xzf config.tgz

# Wait for install to complete

~/software/smlnj$ rlwrap bin/sml
Standard ML of New Jersey v110.69 [built: Sat May  2 12:04:08 2009]
- print "hello, worldn";
hello, world
val it = () : unit

Great, looks like everything is working fine. Note, I use the rlwrap utility to provide a nicer REPL experience, but it’s not required.

I’ll continue with a series of posts with notes from working through “Programming in Standard ML”.