Program a simple game with Elixir

Learn Elixir by programming a "guess the number" game and comparing the language against ones you know.
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To you learn a new programming language, it's good to focus on the things most programming languages have in common:

  • Variables
  • Expressions
  • Statements

These concepts are the basis of most programming languages. Because of these similarities, once you know one programming language, you can start figuring another one out by recognizing its differences.

Another good tool for learning a new language is starting with a standard program. This allows you to focus on the language, not the program's logic. We're doing that in this article series using a "guess the number" program, in which the computer picks a number between one and 100 and asks you to guess it. The program loops until you guess the number correctly.

The "guess the number" program exercises several concepts in programming languages:

  • Variables
  • Input
  • Output
  • Conditional evaluation
  • Loops

It's a great practical experiment to learn a new programming language.

Guess the number in Elixir

The Elixir programming language is a dynamically typed functional language designed for building stable and maintainable applications. It runs on top of the same virtual machine as Erlang and shares many of its strengths—but with slightly easier syntax.

You can explore Elixir by writing a version of the "guess the number" game.

Here is my implementation:

defmodule Guess do
  def guess() do
     random = Enum.random(1..100)
     IO.puts "Guess a number between 1 and 100"
  def guess_loop(num) do
    data =, :line)
    {guess, _rest} = Integer.parse(data)
    cond do
      guess < num ->
        IO.puts "Too low!"
      guess > num ->
        IO.puts "Too high!"
      true ->
        IO.puts "That's right!"


To assign a value to a variable, list the variable's name followed by the = sign. For example, the statement random = 0 assigns a zero value to the random variable.

The script starts by defining a module. In Elixir, only modules can have named functions in them.

The next line defines the function that will serve as the entry point, guess(), which:

  • Calls the Enum.random() function to get a random integer
  • Prints the game prompt
  • Calls the function that will serve as the loop

The rest of the game logic is implemented in the guess_loop() function.

The guess_loop() function uses tail recursion to loop. There are several ways to do looping in Elixir, but using tail recursion is a common one. The last thing guess_loop() does is call itself.

The first line in guess_loop() reads the input from the user. The next line uses parse() to convert the input to an integer.

The cond statement is Elixir's version of a multi-branch statement. Unlike if/elif or if/elsif in other languages, Elixir does not treat the first nor the last branch in a different way.

This cond statement has a three-way branch: The guess can be smaller, bigger, or equal to the random number. The first two options output the inequality's direction and then tail-call guess_loop(), looping back to the beginning. The last option outputs That's right, and the function finishes.

Sample output

Now that you've written your Elixir program, you can run it to play the "guess the number" game. Every time you run the program, Elixir will pick a different random number, and you can guess until you find the correct number:

$ elixir guess.exs
Guess a number between 1 and 100
Too high
Too high
Too high
Too low
Too high
Too low
That's right!

This "guess the number" game is a great introductory program for learning a new programming language because it exercises several common programming concepts in a pretty straightforward way. By implementing this simple game in different programming languages, you can demonstrate some core concepts of the languages and compare their details.

Do you have a favorite programming language? How would you write the "guess the number" game in it? Follow this article series to see examples of other programming languages that might interest you.

What to read next
Moshe sitting down, head slightly to the side. His t-shirt has Guardians of the Galaxy silhoutes against a background of sound visualization bars.
Moshe has been involved in the Linux community since 1998, helping in Linux "installation parties". He has been programming Python since 1999, and has contributed to the core Python interpreter. Moshe has been a DevOps/SRE since before those terms existed, caring deeply about software reliability, build reproducibility and other such things.

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