There are three ways you can start working with F# without any extra cost depending on your starting point. Depending on if you have a Macintosh or a Windows computer, you will have different choices. Also, if you already have Visual Studio Professional 2010 or 2012, then stop reading because you already have F#. Visual Studio 2010 comes with F# 2.0, and Visual Studio 2012 comes with F# 3.0. Microsoft also offers a 90-day free trial to Visual Studio 2012, so if you just need 3 months to play with F#, and don’t mind software that expires, download Visual Studio right now and get stated writing F# programs here. Finally if you are a student, you qualify for free licenses to the full Microsoft professional developer and designer tools through the Microsoft DreamSpark program found here. So if you are still reading than that means you are looking forward to finding out the additional three free ways to develop in F# 3.0.
#1 – TryFsharp.org
If you have a browser and a Mac or Windows computer, the Try F# is a web site that leverages Silverlight to offer you a web-based IDE for F# 2.0. This is the lowest impact on your system since you can run the IDE through a web browser such as Firefox, Chrome, and Internet Explorer (or Safari, Firefox, Chrome on the Mac). Also, there is a preview version of Try F# 3.0 available that works on all three browsers as well.
It is a full featured IDE, in fact the preview for 3.0 includes IntelliSense! You can upload files and download them to save them off somewhere safe like Dropbox. The great thing about Try F#, besides that you don’t need to install anything, is that it includes a full blown tutorial for getting started. So check it out and provide your feedback in the comments below.
#2 – MonoDevelop
If you are on a Macintosh running Mac OSX, simply download MonoDevelop 3.0 here and install it. There are also other operating systems to choose from including four flavors of Linux (openSUSE, SLE, Debian, and Ubuntu) as well as Windows, but I haven’t tried F# using MonoDevelop on those yet. Once you have installed MonoDevelop, go to the MonoDevelop menu and choose “Add-in Manager…”.
From the Add-in Manager, choose the 3rd tab called Gallery and expand Language bindings. From there you will find the “F# Language Binding”. Choose it and click the install button. And that’s it!
Now you can create a new F# Solution (there are four templates to choose from).
Also, the F# Interactive window is available through the View menu under “Pads”.
#3 – Visual Studio Express 2012 for Web
The final option is available if you have Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8 (it also works on Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 and Windows Server 2012) and at least 1 GB of RAM. See the Microsoft Visual Studio product page for full system requirements.
This option will give you the ability to build server based F# applications to drive analytics and other data intensive operations and expose it as a JSON based REST service or through a Web Interface using MVC for example.
F# is a powerful language that enables developers to leverage the power of the functional programming paradigm but still leverage the infrastructure and libraries that make up the .NET Framework ecosystem. F# comes built into Visual Studio Professional, but if you aren’t a student or already have a copy of Visual Studio through your employer, don’t let that stop you from developing in F#. There are many options as described in this article to start building the next greatest app. Also, because F# is open source, you can get full access to the source code but still get the stability of a large public company (Microsoft) running the language and its compiler through quality controls required to bundle it in their flagship development tool.