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My background came from imperative languages, primarily C, C++, and Python. I picked up Scala, Erlang, and a bit of Haskell a few years later and have since become very interested in functional programming and the formalisms behind it.

I am also interested in concurrent and distributed programming and have been looking into formalisms behind that, especially those that have seen at least a tiny bit of the "light of day" (e.g. real world use, or at least an implementation somewhere). So far I know of Communicating Sequential Processes, the Actor model, Algebra of Communicating Processes, and the Calculus of Communicating Systems. Among these I know the Actor model has realized itself in languages like Erlang, Scala, and Haskell.

I am wondering if there are foundations I should learn and practice before tackling these fields, if there is a "classic" one that I should study first, and if there are any other popular ones that I may have missed?

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The most widely used formalism is the $\pi$-calculus by Milner, Parrow and Walker. It is an extension of CCS, and comes in many variants, some of which (the asynchronous $\pi$-calculus) attempt to be a formalisation of the actor model. There are now many typing disciplines for $\pi$-calculi, the simplest of which are probably Honda's session types. Such types are slowly diffusing from research papers to research implementations.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ah very interesting, thanks! What sort of mathematical background do you recommend before tackling such a field, or is it more or less self-contained? $\endgroup$ – adelbertc Apr 30 '13 at 6:10
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    $\begingroup$ It's more or less self-contained. At least the basics. Milner's Communicating and Mobile Systems is a friendly introduction. If you want to get into types for concurrency, I suggest to understand the untyped $\pi$-calculus first, and maybe also to be familiar with typed $\lambda$-calculi. $\endgroup$ – Martin Berger Apr 30 '13 at 19:50

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