Type Less, Do More - Programming Scala (2014)

Programming Scala (2014)

Chapter 2. Type Less, Do More

We ended the first chapter with a “teaser” example of an Akka actor application. This chapter continues our tour of Scala features, focusing on features that promote succinct, flexible code. We’ll discuss organization of files and packages, importing other types, variable and method declarations, a few particularly useful types, and miscellaneous syntax conventions.


Semicolons are expression delimiters and they are inferred. Scala treats the end of a line as the end of an expression, except when it can infer that the expression continues to the next line, as in this example:

// src/main/scala/progscala2/typelessdomore/semicolon-example.sc

// Trailing equals sign indicates more code on the next line.

def equalsign(s:String) =

println("equalsign: " + s)

// Trailing opening curly brace indicates more code on the next line.

def equalsign2(s:String) = {

println("equalsign2: " + s)


// Trailing commas, periods, and operators indicate more code on the next line.

def commas(s1:String,

s2:String) =Console.

println("comma: " + s1 +

", " + s2)

Compared to the compiler, the REPL is more aggressive at interpreting the end of a line as the end of an expression, so when entering a multiline expression, it’s safest to end each line (except for the last) with one of the indicators shown in the previous script.

Conversely, you can put multiple expressions on the same line, separated by semicolons.


Use the REPL’s :paste mode when semicolon inference is too aggressive or multiple expressions need to be parsed as a whole, not individually. Enter :paste, followed by the code you want to enter, then finish with Ctrl-D.

Variable Declarations

Scala allows you to decide whether a variable is immutable (read-only) or not (read-write) when you declare it. We’ve already seen that an immutable “variable” is declared with the keyword val (think value object):

val array:Array[String] =newArray(5)

Scala is like Java in that most variables are actually references to heap-allocated objects. Hence, the array reference cannot be changed to point to a different Array, but the array elements themselves are mutable, so the elements can be modified:

scala> valarray:Array[String]=newArray(5)

array:Array[String] =Array(null, null, null, null, null)

scala> array=newArray(2)


array =newArray(2)

scala> array(0)="Hello"

scala> array

res1:Array[String] =Array(Hello, null, null, null, null)

A val must be initialized when it is declared.

Similarly, a mutable variable is declared with the keyword var and it must also be initialized immediately, even though it can be changed later, because it is mutable:

scala> varstockPrice:Double=100.0

stockPrice:Double = 100.0

scala> stockPrice=200.0

stockPrice:Double = 200.0

To be clear, we changed the value of stockPrice itself. However, the “object” that stockPrice refers to can’t be changed, because Doubles in Scala are immutable.

In Java, so-called primitive types, char, byte, short, int, long, float, double, and boolean, are fundamentally different than reference objects. Indeed, there is no object and no reference, just the “raw” value. Scala tries to be consistently more object-oriented, so these types areactually objects with methods, like reference types (see Reference Versus Value Types). However, Scala compiles to primitives where possible, giving you the performance benefit they provide (we’ll discuss this in depth in Specialization for Value Types).

There are a few exceptions to the rule that you must initialize vals and vars when they are declared. For example, either keyword can be used with a constructor parameter, turning it into a field of the type. It will be immutable if val is used and mutable if var is used.

Consider the following REPL session, where we define a Person class with immutable first and last names, but a mutable age (because people age, I guess):

// src/main/scala/progscala2/typelessdomore/person.sc

scala> classPerson(valname:String,varage:Int)

defined classPerson

scala> valp=newPerson("Dean Wampler",29)

p:Person = Person@165a128d

scala> p.name

res0:String = DeanWampler // Show the value of firstName.

scala> p.age

res2:Int = 29 // Show the value of age.

scala> p.name="Buck Trends"

<console>:9:error:reassignmenttoval // Disallowed!

p.name = "Buck Trends"


scala> p.age=30

p.age:Int = 30 // Okay!


The var and val keywords only specify whether the reference can be changed to refer to a different object (var) or not (val). They don’t specify whether or not the object they reference is mutable.

Use immutable values whenever possible to eliminate a class of bugs caused by mutability.

For example, a mutable object is dangerous as a key in hash-based maps. If the object is mutated, the output of the hashCode method will change, so the corresponding value won’t be found at the original location.

More common is unexpected behavior when an object you are using is being changed by someone else. Borrowing a phrase from Quantum Physics, these bugs are spooky action at a distance, because nothing you are doing locally accounts for the unexpected behavior; it’s coming from somewhere else.

These are the most pernicious bugs in multithreaded programs, where synchronized access to shared, mutable state is required, but difficult to get right.

Using immutable values eliminates these issues.


We’re going to discuss method declarations next, but some of our examples will use the concept of a Range, so let’s discuss that first.

Sometimes we need a sequence of numbers from some start to finish. A Range literal is just what we need. The following examples show how to create ranges for the types that support them, Int, Long, Float, Double, Char, BigInt (which represents integers of arbitrary size), andBigDecimal (which represents floating-point numbers of arbitrary size).

You can create ranges with an inclusive or exclusive upper bound, and you can specify an interval not equal to one:

scala> 1to10 // Int range inclusive, interval of 1, (1 to 10)

res0:scala.collection.immutable.Range.Inclusive =

Range(1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)

scala> 1until10 // Int range exclusive, interval of 1, (1 to 9)

res1:scala.collection.immutable.Range = Range(1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)

scala> 1to10by3 // Int range inclusive, every third.

res2:scala.collection.immutable.Range = Range(1, 4, 7, 10)

scala> 10to1by-3 // Int range inclusive, every third, counting down.

res2:scala.collection.immutable.Range = Range(10, 7, 4, 1)

scala> 1Lto10Lby3 // Long

res3:scala.collection.immutable.NumericRange[Long] =NumericRange(1, 4, 7, 10)

scala> 1.1fto10.3fby3.1f // Float with an interval != 1

res4:scala.collection.immutable.NumericRange[Float] =

NumericRange(1.1, 4.2, 7.2999997)

scala> 1.1fto10.3fby0.5f // Float with an interval < 1

res5:scala.collection.immutable.NumericRange[Float] =

NumericRange(1.1, 1.6, 2.1, 2.6, 3.1, 3.6, 4.1, 4.6, 5.1, 5.6, 6.1, 6.6,

7.1, 7.6, 8.1, 8.6, 9.1, 9.6, 10.1)

scala> 1.1to10.3by3.1 // Double

res6:scala.collection.immutable.NumericRange[Double] =

NumericRange(1.1, 4.2, 7.300000000000001)

scala> 'a'to 'g'by3 // Char

res7:scala.collection.immutable.NumericRange[Char] =NumericRange(a, d, g)

scala> BigInt(1)toBigInt(10)by3

res8:scala.collection.immutable.NumericRange[BigInt] =

NumericRange(1, 4, 7, 10)

scala> BigDecimal(1.1)toBigDecimal(10.3)by3.1


=NumericRange(1.1, 4.2, 7.3)

I wrapped some of the output lines to fit the page.

Partial Functions

Let’s discuss the properties of PartialFunction. We learned that partial functions are partial in the sense that they aren’t defined for all possible inputs, only those inputs that match at least one of the specified case clauses.

Only case clauses can be specified in a partial function and the entire function must be enclosed in curly braces. In contrast, “regular” function literals can be wrapped in parentheses or curly braces.

If the function is called with an input that doesn’t match one of the case clauses, a MatchError is thrown at runtime.

You can test if a PartialFunction will match an input using the isDefinedAt method. This function avoids the risk of throwing a MathError exception.

You can “chain” PartialFunctions together: pf1 orElse pf2 orElse pf3 …. If pf1 doesn’t match, then pf2 is tried, then pf3, etc. A MathError is only thrown if none of them matches.

The following example illustrates these points:

// src/main/scala/progscala2/typelessdomore/partial-functions.sc

val pf1:PartialFunction[Any,String] = { case s:String => "YES" } // 1

val pf2:PartialFunction[Any,String] = { case d:Double => "YES" } // 2

val pf = pf1 orElse pf2 // 3

def tryPF(x:Any, f:PartialFunction[Any,String]):String = // 4

try { f(x).toString } catch { case_:MatchError => "ERROR!" }

def d(x:Any, f:PartialFunction[Any,String]) = // 5


println(" | pf1 - String | pf2 - Double | pf - All") // 6

println("x | def? | pf1(x) | def? | pf2(x) | def? | pf(x)")


List("str", 3.14, 10) foreach { x =>

printf("%-5s | %-5s | %-6s | %-5s | %-6s | %-5s | %-6s\n", x.toString,

d(x,pf1), tryPF(x,pf1), d(x,pf2), tryPF(x,pf2), d(x,pf), tryPF(x,pf))



A partial function that only matches on strings.


A partial function that only matches on doubles.


Combine the two functions to construct a new partial function that matches on strings and doubles.


A helper function to try the partial function and catch possible MatchError exceptions. With either success or failure, a string is returned.


A helper function to try isDefinedAt and return a string result.


Try the combinations and output a table of results!

The rest of the code tries different values with the three partial functions, first calling isDefinedAt (the def? column in the output) and then trying the function itself:

| pf1 - String | pf2 - Double | pf - All

x | def? | pf1(x) | def? | pf2(x) | def? | pf(x)


str | true | YES | false | ERROR! | true | YES

3.14 | false | ERROR! | true | YES | true | YES

10 | false | ERROR! | false | ERROR! | false | ERROR!

Note that pf1 fails unless a string is given, while pf2 fails unless a double is given. Both fail if an integer is given. The combined function pf succeeds for both doubles and strings, but also fails for integers.

Method Declarations

Let’s continue our examination of method definitions, using a modified version of our Shapes hierarchy from before. (We’ll drop Triangle for simplicity.)

Method Default and Named Arguments

Here is an updated Point case class:

// src/main/scala/progscala2/typelessdomore/shapes/Shapes.scala


caseclassPoint(x:Double = 0.0, y:Double = 0.0) { // 1

def shift(deltax:Double = 0.0, deltay:Double = 0.0) = // 2

copy (x + deltax, y + deltay)



Define Point with default initialization values (as before).


A new shift method for creating a new Point offset from the existing Point. It uses the copy method that is also created automatically for case classes.

The copy method allows you to construct new instances of a case class while specifying just the fields that are changing. This is very useful for larger case classes:

scala> valp1=newPoint(x=3.3,y=4.4) // Used named arguments explicitly.

p1:Point = Point(3.3,4.4)

scala> valp2=p1.copy(y=6.6) // Copied with a new y value.

p2:Point = Point(3.3,6.6)

Named arguments make client code more readable. They also help avoid bugs when a long argument list has several fields of the same type. It’s easy to pass values in the wrong order. Of course, it’s better to avoid long argument lists in the first place.

Methods with Multiple Argument Lists

Next, consider the changes to Shape, specifically the changes to the draw method:

abstractclassShape() {


* Draw takes TWO argument LISTS, one list with an offset for drawing,

* and the other list that is the function argument we used previously.


def draw(offset:Point = Point(0.0, 0.0))(f:String => Unit):Unit =

f(s"draw(offset = $offset), ${this.toString}")


caseclassCircle(center:Point, radius:Double) extendsShape

caseclassRectangle(lowerLeft:Point, height:Double, width:Double)


Yes, draw now has two argument lists, each of which has a single argument, rather than a single argument list with two arguments. The first argument list lets you specify an offset point where the shape will be drawn. It has a default value of Point(0.0, 0.0), meaning no offset. The second argument list is the same as in the original version of draw, a function that does the drawing.

You can have as many argument lists as you want, but it’s rare to use more than two.

So, why allow more than one argument list? Multiple lists promote a very nice block-structure syntax when the last argument list takes a single function. Here’s how we might invoke this new draw method:

s.draw(Point(1.0, 2.0))(str => println(s"ShapesDrawingActor: $str"))

Scala lets us replace parentheses with curly braces around an argument list. So, this line can also be written this way:

s.draw(Point(1.0, 2.0)){str => println(s"ShapesDrawingActor: $str")}

Suppose the function literal is too long for one line? We might rewrite it this way:

s.draw(Point(1.0, 2.0)) { str =>

println(s"ShapesDrawingActor: $str")


Or equivalently:

s.draw(Point(1.0, 2.0)) {

str => println(s"ShapesDrawingActor: $str")


It looks like a typical block of code we’re used to writing with constructs like if and for expressions, method bodies, etc. However, the {…} block is still a function we’re passing to draw.

So, this “syntactic sugar” of using {…} instead of (…) looks better with longer function literals; they look more like the block structure syntax we know and love.

If we use the default offset, the first set of parentheses is still required:

s.draw() {

str => println(s"ShapesDrawingActor: $str")


To be clear, draw could just have a single argument list with two values, like Java methods. If so, the client code would look like this:

s.draw(Point(1.0, 2.0),

str => println(s"ShapesDrawingActor: $str")


That’s not nearly as clear and elegant. It’s also less convenient to use the default value for the offset. We would have to name the function argument:

s.draw(f = str => println(s"ShapesDrawingActor: $str"))

A second advantage is type inference in the subsequent argument lists. Consider the following example:

scala> defm1[A](a:A,f:A=>String)=f(a)

m1: [A](a:A, f:A => String)String

scala> defm2[A](a:A)(f:A=>String)=f(a)

m2: [A](a:A)(f:A => String)String

scala> m1(100,i=>s"$i + $i")


m1(100, i => s"$i + $i")


scala> m2(100)(i=>s"$i + $i")

res0:String = 100 + 100

The functions m1 and m2 look almost identical, but notice what happens when we call each one with the same arguments, an Int and a function Int => String. For m1, Scala can’t infer the type of the i argument for the function. For m2, it can.

A third advantage of allowing extra argument lists is that we can use the last argument list for implicit arguments. These are arguments declared with the implicit keyword. When the methods are called, we can either explicitly specify these arguments, or we can let the compiler fill them in using a suitable value that’s in scope. Implicit arguments are a more flexible alternative to arguments with default values. Let’s explore an example from the Scala library that uses implicit arguments, Futures.

A Taste of Futures

The scala.concurrent.Future API uses implicit arguments to reduce boilerplate in your code. They are another tool for concurrency provided by Scala. Akka uses Futures, but you can use them separately when you don’t need the full capabilities of actors.

When you wrap some work in a Future, the work is executed asynchronously and the Future API provides various ways to process the results, such as providing callbacks that will be invoked when the result is ready. Let’s use callbacks here and defer discussion of the rest of the API untilChapter 17.

The following example fires off five work items concurrently and handles the results as they finish:

// src/main/scala/progscala2/typelessdomore/futures.sc



def sleep(millis:Long) = {



// Busy work ;)

def doWork(index:Int) = {

sleep((math.random * 1000).toLong)



(1 to 5) foreach { index =>

val future =Future {



future onSuccess {

case answer:Int => println(s"Success! returned: $answer")


future onFailure {

case th:Throwable => println(s"FAILURE! returned: $th")



sleep(1000) // Wait long enough for the "work" to finish.


After the imports, we use a sleep method to simulate staying busy for an arbitrary amount of time. The doWork method simply calls it with a randomly generated number of milliseconds between 0 and 1000.

The interesting bit comes next. We iterate through a Range of integers from 1 to 5, inclusive, with foreach and call scala.concurrent.Future.apply, the “factory” method on the singleton object Future. In this case Future.apply is passed an anonymous function of work to do. We use curly braces instead of parentheses to wrap the no-argument anonymous function we pass to it:

val future =Future {



Future.apply returns a new Future object, which executes the doWork(index) body on another thread; control then immediately returns to the loop. We then use onSuccess to register a callback to be invoked if the future completes successfully. This callback function is aPartialFunction.

Similarly, we use onFailure to register a callback for failure handling, where the failure will be encapsulated in a Throwable.

A final sleep call waits before exiting to allow the work to finish.

A sample run might go like this, where the results come out in arbitrary order, as you would expect:

$ scalasrc/main/scala/progscala2/typelessdomore/futures.sc

Success! returned: 1

Success!returned: 3

Success!returned: 4

Success!returned: 5

Success!returned: 2


Okay, what does all this have to do with implicit arguments? A clue is the second import statement:


I’ve been cavalier when I said that each future runs on its own thread. In fact, the Future API lets us configure how these concurrent operations are performed by specifying an ExecutionContext. That import brings in a default ExecutionContext that uses Java’s ForkJoinPoolfacilities for managing pools of Java threads. Our example calls three methods that have a second argument list where an implicit ExecutionContext is expected. We aren’t specifying those three argument lists explicitly, so the default ExecutionContext is used.

Here is the declaration for one of the methods, apply, in the Future.apply Scaladocs:

apply[T](body: => T)(implicit executor:ExecutionContext):Future[T]

Note the implicit keyword in the second argument list.

Here are their declarations from the Future.onSuccess and Future.onFailure Scaladocs.

def onSuccess[U](func: (Try[T]) => U)(

implicit executor:ExecutionContext):Unit

def onFailure[U](callback:PartialFunction[Throwable, U])(

implicit executor:ExecutionContext):Unit

The Try construct is a tool for handling try {…} catch {…} clauses, which we’ll discuss later.

So how do you declare a value to be implicit? The import, scala.concurrent.ExecutionContext.Implicits.global, is the default ExecutionContext typically used with Futures. It is declared with the implicit keyword, so the compiler will use it when these methods are called without an ExecutionContext specified explicitly, as in our example. Only objects declared implicit and visible in the current scope will be considered for use, and only function arguments declared implicit are allowed to be unspecified and subject to this substitution.

Here is the actual declaration of Implicits.global in the Scala source code for scala.concurrent.ExecutionContext. It demonstrates using the implicit keyword to declare an implicit value (some details omitted):

objectImplicits {

implicitval global:ExecutionContextExecutor =



We’ll create our own implicit values in other examples later on.

Nesting Method Definitions and Recursion

Method definitions can also be nested. This is useful when you want to refactor a lengthy method body into smaller methods, but the “helper” methods aren’t needed outside the original method. Nesting them inside the original method means they are invisible to the rest of the code base, including other methods in the type.

Here is an implementation of a factorial calculator, where we call a second, nested method to do the work:

// src/main/scala/progscala2/typelessdomore/factorial.sc

def factorial(i:Int):Long = {

def fact(i:Int, accumulator:Int):Long = {

if (i <= 1) accumulator

else fact(i - 1, i * accumulator)


fact(i, 1)


(0 to 5) foreach ( i => println(factorial(i)) )

This is the output it produces:







The second method calls itself recursively, passing an accumulator parameter, where the result of the calculation is “accumulated.” Note that we return the accumulated value when the counter i reaches 1. (We’re ignoring negative integer arguments, which would be invalid. The function just returns 1 for i <= 1.) After the definition of the nested method, factorial calls it with the passed-in value i and the initial accumulator “seed” value of 1.


It’s easy to forget to call the nested function! If you get a compiler error that Unit is found, but Long is required, you probably forgot to call the function.

Did you notice that we use i as a parameter name twice, first in the factorial method and again in the nested fact method? The use of i as a parameter name for fact “shadows” the outer use of i as a parameter name for factorial. This is fine, because we don’t need the outer value of i inside fact. We only use it the first time we call fact, at the end of factorial.

Like a local variable declaration in a method, a nested method is also only visible inside the enclosing method.

Look at the return types for the two functions. We used Long because factorials grow in size quickly. So, we didn’t want Scala to infer Int as the return type. Otherwise, we don’t need the type annotation on factorial. However, we must declare the return type for fact, because it is recursive and Scala’s local-scope type inference can’t infer the return type of recursive functions.

You might be a little nervous about a recursive function. Aren’t we at risk of blowing up the stack? The JVM and many other language environments don’t do tail-call optimizations, which would convert a tail-recursive function into a loop. (The term tail-call means that the recursive call is the last thing done in the expression. The return value of the expression is the value returned by the call.)

Recursion is a hallmark of functional programming and a powerful tool for writing elegant implementations of many algorithms. Hence, the Scala compiler does limited tail-call optimizations itself. It will handle functions that call themselves, but not so-called “trampoline” calls, i.e., “a calls b calls a calls b,” etc.

Still, you want to know if you got it right and the compiler did in fact perform the optimization. No one wants a blown stack in production. Fortunately, the compiler can tell you if you got it wrong, if you add an annotation, tailrec, as shown in this refined version of factorial:

// src/main/scala/progscala2/typelessdomore/factorial-tailrec.sc


def factorial(i:Int):Long = {


def fact(i:Int, accumulator:Int):Long = {

if (i <= 1) accumulator

else fact(i - 1, i * accumulator)


fact(i, 1)


(0 to 5) foreach ( i => println(factorial(i)) )

If fact is not actually tail recursive, the compiler will throw an error. Consider this attempt to write a recursive Fibonacci function in the REPL:

scala> importscala.annotation.tailrec

scala> @tailrec


| if(i<=1)1L

| elsefibonacci(i-2)+fibonacci(i-1)



it contains a recursive call not in tail position

else fibonacci(i - 2) + fibonacci(i - 1)


That is, we make not one, but two recursive calls and then do something with the returned values, so this function is not tail recursive.

Finally, the nested function can see anything in scope, including arguments passed to the outer function. Note the use of n in count:

// src/main/scala/progscala2/typelessdomore/count-to.sc

def countTo(n:Int):Unit = {

def count(i:Int):Unit = {

if (i <= n) { println(i); count(i + 1) }




Inferring Type Information

Statically typed languages can be very verbose. Consider this typical declaration in Java, before Java 7:



HashMap<Integer, String> intToStringMap = new HashMap<Integer, String>();

We have to specify the type parameters <Integer, String> twice. Scala uses the term type annotations for explicit type declarations like HashMap<Integer, String>.

Java 7 introduced the diamond operator to infer the generic types on the righthand side, reducing the verbosity a bit:

HashMap<Integer, String> intToStringMap = new HashMap<>();

We’ve already seen some examples of Scala’s support for type inference. The compiler can discern quite a bit of type information from the context, without explicit type annotations. Here’s the same declaration rewritten in Scala, with inferred type information:

val intToStringMap:HashMap[Integer, String] =newHashMap

If we specify HashMap[Integer, String] on the righthand side of the equals sign, it’s even more concise:

val intToStringMap2 =newHashMap[Integer, String]

Some functional programming languages, like Haskell, can infer almost all types, because they can perform global type inference. Scala can’t do this, in part because Scala has to support subtype polymorphism (inheritance), which makes type inference much harder.

Here is a summary of the rules for when explicit type annotations are required in Scala.


In practical terms, you have to provide explicit type annotations for the following situations:

§ A mutable var or immutable val declaration where you don’t assign a value, (e.g., abstract declarations in a class like val book: String, var count: Int).

§ All method parameters (e.g., def deposit(amount: Money) = {…}).

§ Method return types in the following cases:

§ When you explicitly call return in a method (even at the end).

§ When a method is recursive.

§ When two or more methods are overloaded (have the same name) and one of them calls another; the calling method needs a return type annotation.

§ When the inferred return type would be more general than you intended, e.g., Any.

The last case is somewhat rare, fortunately.


The Any type is the root of the Scala type hierarchy (we’ll explore Scala’s types in The Scala Type Hierarchy). If a block of code returns a value of type Any unexpectedly, chances are good that the code is more general than you intended so that only the Any type can fit all possible values.

Let’s look at a few examples of cases we haven’t seen yet where explicit types are required.

Overloaded methods require an explicit return type when one such method calls another, as in this example:

// src/main/scala/progscala2/typelessdomore/method-overloaded-return-v1.scX

// Version 1 of "StringUtil" (with a compilation error).

// ERROR: Won't compile: needs a String return type on the second "joiner".

objectStringUtilV1 {

def joiner(strings:String*):String = strings.mkString("-")

def joiner(strings:List[String]) = joiner(strings :_*) // COMPILATION ERROR


println( StringUtilV1.joiner(List("Programming", "Scala")) )

In this contrived example, the two joiner methods concatenate a List of strings together, separated by "-", but the code won’t compile. They also illustrate a few useful idioms, but let’s fix the compilation error first.

If you run this script, you get the following error:



defjoiner(strings:List[String]) = joiner(strings :_*) // ERROR



Because the second joiner method calls the first, it requires an explicit String return type. It should look like this:

def joiner(strings:List[String]):String = joiner(strings :_*)

Now let’s return to the implementation idioms this script demonstrates. Scala supports methods that take variable argument lists (sometimes just called variadic methods). The first joiner method has this signature:

def joiner(strings:String*):String = strings.mkString("-")

The “*” after the String in the argument list says “zero or more Strings.” A method can have other arguments, but they would have to come before the variable argument and only one variable argument is allowed.

However, sometimes a user might already have a list of strings ready to pass to joiner. The second method is a convenience method for this case. It simply calls the first joiner method, but it uses a special syntax to tell the compiler to convert the input List into the variable argument list expected by the first joiner method:

def joiner(strings:List[String]):String = joiner(strings :_*)

The way I read this curious expression, strings :_*, is to think of it as a hint to the compiler that you want the list strings to be treated as a variable argument list (“*”) of some unspecified, but inferred type (“:_”). Scala doesn’t let you write strings :String*, even though that’s the actual type we need for the other joiner method.

We don’t actually need this convenience version of joiner. The user could also pass a list to the first joiner method, the one that takes a variable argument list, and use this same syntax to do the conversion.

The final scenario for return types can be subtle, especially when a more general return type is inferred than what you expected. You usually see this issue when you assign a value returned from a function to a variable with a more specific type. For example, you were expecting a String, but the function inferred an Any for the return type. Let’s see a contrived example that reflects a bug where this scenario can occur:

// src/main/scala/progscala2/typelessdomore/method-broad-inference-return.scX

// ERROR: Won't compile. Method actually returns List[Any], which is too "broad".

def makeList(strings:String*) = {

if (strings.length == 0)

List(0) // #1




val list:List[String] = makeList() // COMPILATION ERROR

Running this script triggers the following error:

...8: error: type mismatch;

found : List[Any]

required: List[String]

val list: List[String] = makeList() // ERROR


We intended for makeList to return a List[String], but when strings.length equals zero, we return List(0), incorrectly “assuming” that this expression is the correct way to create an empty list. In fact, we are returning a List[Int] with one element, 0.

Instead, we should return List.empty[String] or the special “marker” type for empty lists, Nil. Either choice results in the correct inference for the return type.

When the if clause returns List[Int] and the else clause returns List[String] (the result of strings.toList), the only possible inferred return type for the method is the closest common supertype of List[Int] and List[String], which is List[Any].

It’s important to note that the code compiled without error. We only noticed the problem at runtime because we cautiously declared the value list to have the type List[String].

In this case, adding an explicit return type of List[String] to the method would have triggered the compiler to catch the bug. Of course, a return type annotation also provides documentation for readers.

There are two other scenarios to watch for if you omit a return type annotation where you might get an unexpected inferred type. First, it could be that a function called by your function is triggering the unexpected inference. Perhaps that function was modified recently in a way that changed its return type, triggering a change in your function’s inferred type on recompilation.

A second, related scenario is more often seen as a project grows and different modules are built at different times. If you see a java.lang.NoSuchMethodError during integration testing—or worse, production runs—for a method call that you know exists in another module, it could be that the return type of that function has been changed, either explicitly or through type inference, and the calling module is out of date and expecting the obsolete return type.


When developing APIs that are built separately from their clients, declare method return types explicitly and use the most general return type you can. This is especially important when APIs declare abstract methods (see, e.g., Chapter 9).

Let’s finish this section by looking at a common typing mistake that is easy to make, especially when you’re new to Scala. Consider the following REPL session:

scala> defdouble(i:Int){2*i}

double: (i:Int)Unit

scala> println(double(2))


Why did the second command print () instead of 4? Look carefully at what the scala interpreter said about the method signature: double (Int)Unit. We thought we defined a method named double that takes an Int argument and returns a new Int with the value “doubled,” but it actually returns Unit. Why?

The cause of this unexpected behavior is a missing equals sign in the method definition. Here is the definition we actually intended:

scala> defdouble(i:Int)={2*i}

double: (i:Int)Int

scala> println(double(2))


Note the equals sign before the body of double. Now, the output says we have defined double to return an Int and the second command does what we expect it to do.

There is a reason for this behavior. Scala regards a method with the equals sign before the body as a function definition and a function always returns a value in functional programming. On the other hand, when Scala sees a method body without the leading equals sign, it assumes the programmer intended the method to be a “procedure” definition, meant for performing side effects only with the return value Unit. In practice, it is more likely that the programmer simply forgot to insert the equals sign!


When the return type of a method is inferred and you don’t use an equals sign before the opening curly brace for the method body, Scala infers a Unit return type, even when the last expression in the method is a value of another type.

However, this behavior is too subtle and the mistake is easy to make. Because it is easy enough to define a function that returns Unit, the “procedure” syntax is now deprecated as of Scala 2.11. Don’t use it!

I didn’t tell you where the () came from that was printed before we fixed the bug. It is actually the real name of the single instance of the Unit type! We said before that Unit behaves like void in other languages. However, unlike void, Unit is actually a type with a single value, named(), which is a historical convention in functional languages—we’ll explain why in Sum Types Versus Product Types.

Reserved Words

Table 2-1 lists the reserved keywords in Scala. Some of them we’ve seen already. Many are found in Java and they usually have the same meanings in both languages. For the keywords that we haven’t encountered already, we’ll learn about them as we proceed.

Table 2-1. Reserved words



See …


Makes a declaration abstract.

Class and Object Basics


Start a case clause in a match expression. Define a “case class.”

Chapter 4


Start a clause for catching thrown exceptions.

Using try, catch, and finally Clauses


Start a class declaration.

Class and Object Basics


Start a method declaration.

Method Declarations


Start a do…while loop.

Other Looping Constructs


Start an else clause for an if clause.

Scala if Statements


Indicates that the class or trait that follows is the parent type of the class or trait being declared.

Parent Types


Boolean false.

Boolean Literals


Applied to a class or trait to prohibit deriving child types from it. Applied to a member to prohibit overriding it in a derived class or trait.

Attempting to Override final Declarations


Start a clause that is executed after the corresponding try clause, whether or not an exception is thrown by the try clause.

Using try, catch, and finally Clauses


Start a for comprehension (loop).

Scala for Comprehensions


Used in existential type declarations to constrain the allowed concrete types that can be used.

Existential Types


Start an if clause.

Scala if Statements


Marks a method or value as eligible to be used as an implicit type converter or value. Marks a method parameter as optional, as long as a type-compatible substitute object is in the scope where the method is called.

Implicit Conversions


Import one or more types or members of types into the current scope.

Importing Types and Their Members


Defer evaluation of a val.

lazy val


Start a pattern-matching clause.

Chapter 4


Create a new instance of a class.

Class and Object Basics


Value of a reference variable that has not been assigned a value.

The Scala Type Hierarchy


Start a singleton declaration: a class with only one instance.

A Taste of Scala


Override a concrete member of a type, as long as the original is not marked final.

Overriding Members of Classes and Traits


Start a package scope declaration.

Organizing Code in Files and Namespaces


Restrict visibility of a declaration.

Chapter 13


Restrict visibility of a declaration.

Chapter 13


Deprecated. Was used for self-typing.

Self-Type Annotations


Return from a function.

A Taste of Scala


Applied to a parent type. Requires all derived types to be declared in the same source file.

Sealed Class Hierarchies


Analogous to this, but binds to the parent type.

Overriding Abstract and Concrete Methods


How an object refers to itself. The method name for auxiliary constructors.

Class and Object Basics


Throw an exception.

Using try, catch, and finally Clauses


A mixin module that adds additional state and behavior to an instance of a class. Can also be used to just declare methods, but not define them, like a Java interface.

Chapter 9


Start a block that may throw an exception.

Using try, catch, and finally Clauses


Boolean true.

Boolean Literals


Start a type declaration.

Abstract Types Versus Parameterized Types


Start a read-only “variable” declaration.

Variable Declarations


Start a read-write variable declaration.

Variable Declarations


Start a while loop.

Other Looping Constructs


Include the trait that follows in the class being declared or the object being instantiated.

Chapter 9


Return an element in a for comprehension that becomes part of a sequence.



A placeholder, used in imports, function literals, etc.



Separator between identifiers and type annotations.

A Taste of Scala



A Taste of Scala


Used in function literals to separate the argument list from the function body.

Anonymous Functions, Lambdas, and Closures


Used in for comprehensions in generator expressions.

Scala for Comprehensions


Used in parameterized and abstract type declarations to constrain the allowed types.

Type Bounds


Used in parameterized and abstract type “view bounds” declarations.

View Bounds


Used in parameterized and abstract type declarations to constrain the allowed types.

Type Bounds


Used in type projections.

Type Projections


Marks an annotation.


(Unicode \u21D2) Same as =>.

Anonymous Functions, Lambdas, and Closures

(Unicode \u2192) Same as ->.

Implicit Conversions

(Unicode \u2190) Same as <-.

Scala for Comprehensions

Notice that break and continue are not listed. These control keywords don’t exist in Scala. Instead, Scala encourages you to use functional programming idioms that are usually more succinct and less error-prone, as we’ll see.

Some Java methods use names that are reserved words by Scala, for example, java.util.Scan⁠ner.match. To avoid a compilation error, surround the name with single back quotes (“back ticks”), e.g., java.util.Scanner.`match`.

Literal Values

We’ve seen a few literal values already, such as val book = "Programming Scala", where we initialized a val book with a String literal, and (s: String) => s.toUpperCase, an example of a function literal. Let’s discuss all the literals supported by Scala.

Integer Literals

Integer literals can be expressed in decimal, hexadecimal, or octal. The details are summarized in Table 2-2.

Table 2-2. Integer literals





0 or a nonzero digit followed by zero or more digits (0–9)

0, 1, 321


0x followed by one or more hexadecimal digits (0–9, A–F, a–f)

0xFF, 0x1a3b


0 followed by one or more octal digits (0–7)[a]

013, 077

[a] Octal literals are deprecated as of Scala 2.10.

You indicate a negative number by prefixing the literal with a – sign.

For Long literals, it is necessary to append the L or l character at the end of the literal, unless you are assigning the value to a variable declared to be Long. Otherwise, Int is inferred. The valid values for an integer literal are bounded by the type of the variable to which the value will be assigned. Table 2-3 defines the limits, which are inclusive.

Table 2-3. Ranges of allowed values for integer literals (boundaries are inclusive)

Target type

Minimum (inclusive)

Maximum (inclusive)



263 − 1



231 − 1



215 − 1



216 − 1



27 − 1

A compile-time error occurs if an integer literal number is specified that is outside these ranges, as in the following examples:

scala> vali=1234567890123


val i = 12345678901234567890


scala> vali=1234567890123L

i:Long = 1234567890123

scala> valb:Byte=128


found :Int(128)


val b:Byte = 128


scala> valb:Byte=127

b:Byte = 127

Floating-Point Literals

Floating-point literals are expressions with an optional minus sign, zero or more digits, followed by a period (.), followed by one or more digits. For Float literals, append the F or f character at the end of the literal. Otherwise, a Double is assumed. You can optionally append a D or d for aDouble.

Floating-point literals can be expressed with or without exponentials. The format of the exponential part is e or E, followed by an optional + or –, followed by one or more digits.

Here are some example floating-point literals, where Double is inferred unless the declared variable is Float or an f or F suffix is used:
















Float consists of all IEEE 754 32-bit, single-precision binary floating-point values. Double consists of all IEEE 754 64-bit, double-precision binary floating-point values.

Before Scala 2.10, floating-point literals without a digit after the period were allowed, e.g., 3. and 3.e5. This syntax leads to some ambiguities, where it can be interpreted as the period before a method name. How should 1.toString be parsed? Is it 1 the Int or 1.0 the Double? Hence, literals without at least one digit after the period are deprecated in 2.10 and disallowed in 2.11.

Boolean Literals

The Boolean literals are true and false. The type of the variable to which they are assigned will be inferred to be Boolean:

scala> valb1=true

b1:Boolean = true

scala> valb2=false

b2:Boolean = false

Character Literals

A character literal is either a printable Unicode character or an escape sequence, written between single quotes. A character with a Unicode value between 0 and 255 may also be represented by an octal escape, i.e., a backslash (\) followed by a sequence of up to three octal characters. It is a compile-time error if a backslash character in a character or string literal does not start a valid escape sequence.

Here are some examples:


'\u0041' // 'A' in Unicode


'\012' // '\n' in octal


The valid escape sequences are shown in Table 2-4.

Table 2-4. Character escape sequences




Backspace (BS)


Horizontal tab (HT)


Line feed (LF)


Form feed (FF)


Carriage return (CR)


Double quote (")


Single quote (’)


Backslash (\)

Note that nonprintable Unicode characters like \u0009 (tab) are not allowed. Use the equivalents like \t. Recall that three Unicode characters were mentioned in Table 2-1 as valid replacements for corresponding ASCII sequences, ⇒ for =>, → for ->, and ← for <-.

String Literals

A string literal is a sequence of characters enclosed in double quotes or triples of double quotes, i.e., """…""".

For string literals in double quotes, the allowed characters are the same as the character literals. However, if a double quote (") character appears in the string, it must be “escaped” with a \ character. Here are some examples:


"He exclaimed, \"Scala is great!\""


The string literals bounded by triples of double quotes are also called multiline string literals. These strings can cover several lines; the line feeds will be part of the string. They can include any characters, including one or two double quotes together, but not three together. They are useful for strings with \ characters that don’t form valid Unicode or escape sequences, like the valid sequences listed in Table 2-4. Regular expressions are a good example, which use lots of escaped characters with special meanings. Conversely, if escape sequences appear, they aren’t interpreted.

Here are three example strings:


"""He exclaimed, "Scala is great!" """

"""First line\n

Second line\t

Fourth line"""

Note that we had to add a space before the trailing """ in the second example to prevent a parse error. Trying to escape the second " that ends the "Scala is great!" quote, i.e., "Scala is great!\", doesn’t work.

When using multiline strings in code, you’ll want to indent the substrings for proper code formatting, yet you probably don’t want that extra whitespace in the actual string output. String.stripMargin solves this problem. It removes all whitespace in the substrings up to and including the first occurrence of a vertical bar, |. If you want some whitespace indentation, put the whitespace you want after the |. Consider this example:

// src/main/scala/progscala2/typelessdomore/multiline-strings.sc

def hello(name:String) = s"""Welcome!

Hello, $name!

* (Gratuitous Star!!)

|We're glad you're here.

| Have some extra whitespace.""".stripMargin

hello("Programming Scala")

It prints the following:


Hello, Programming Scala!

* (Gratuitous Star!!)

We're glad you're here.

Have some extra whitespace.

Note where leading whitespace is removed and where it isn’t.

If you want to use a different leading character than |, use the overloaded version of stripMargin that takes a Char (character) argument. If the whole string has a prefix or suffix you want to remove (but not on individual lines), there are corresponding stripPrefix and stripSuffixmethods:

// src/main/scala/progscala2/typelessdomore/multiline-strings2.sc

def goodbye(name:String) =

s"""xxxGoodbye, ${name}yyy

xxxCome again!yyy""".stripPrefix("xxx").stripSuffix("yyy")

goodbye("Programming Scala")

This example prints the following:

Goodbye, Programming Scalayyy

xxxCome again!

Symbol Literals

Scala supports symbols, which are interned strings, meaning that two symbols with the same “name” (i.e., the same character sequence) will actually refer to the same object in memory. Symbols are used less often in Scala compared to some other languages, like Ruby and Lisp.

A symbol literal is a single quote ('), followed by one or more digits, letters, or underscores (“_”), except the first character can’t be a digit. So, an expression like '1symbol is invalid.

A symbol literal 'id is a shorthand for the expression scala.Symbol("id"). If you want to create a symbol that contains whitespace, use Symbol.apply, e.g., Symbol(" Programming Scala "). All the whitespace is preserved.

Function Literals

We’ve seen function literals already, but to recap, (i: Int, s: String) => s+i is a function literal of type Function2[Int,String,String] (String is returned).

You can even use the literal syntax for a type declaration. The following declarations are equivalent:

val f1: (Int,String) =>String = (i, s) => s+i

val f2:Function2[Int,String,String] = (i, s) => s+i

Tuple Literals

How many times have you wanted to return two or more values from a method? In many languages, like Java, you only have a few options, none of which is very appealing. You could pass in parameters to the method that will be modified for use as the “return” values, which is ugly. (Some languages even use keywords to indicate which parameters are input versus output.) You could declare some small “structural” class that holds the two or more values, then return an instance of that class.

The Scala library includes TupleN classes (e.g., Tuple2), for grouping N items, with the literal syntax of a comma-separated list of the items inside parentheses. There are separate TupleN classes for N between 1 and 22, inclusive (though this upper bound may be eliminated eventually in a future version of Scala).

For example, val tup = ("Programming Scala", 2014) defines a Tuple2 instance with String inferred for the first element and Int inferred for the second element. Tuple instances are immutable, first-class values (because they are objects like any custom type you define), so you can assign them to variables, pass them as values, and return them from methods.

You can also use the literal syntax for Tuple type declarations:

val t1: (Int,String) = (1, "two")

val t2:Tuple2[Int,String] = (1, "two")

The following example demonstrates working with tuples:

// src/main/scala/progscala2/typelessdomore/tuple-example.sc

val t = ("Hello", 1, 2.3) // 1

println( "Print the whole tuple: " + t )

println( "Print the first item: " + t._1 ) // 2

println( "Print the second item: " + t._2 )

println( "Print the third item: " + t._3 )

val (t1, t2, t3) = ("World", '!', 0x22) // 3

println( t1 + ", " + t2 + ", " + t3 )

val (t4, t5, t6) =Tuple3("World", '!', 0x22) // 4

println( t4 + ", " + t5 + ", " + t6 )


Use the literal syntax to construct a three-element tuple of type Tuple3.


Extract the first element of the tuple (counting from 1, not 0). The next two lines extract the second and third elements.


On the fly declare three values, t1, t2, and t3, that are assigned the three corresponding fields from the tuple.


Use the Tuple3 “factory” method to construct a tuple.

Running this script produces the following output:

Print the whole tuple: (Hello,1,2.3)

Print the first item: Hello

Print the second item: 1

Print the third item: 2.3

World, !, 34

World, !, 34

The expression t._n retrieves the nth item from tuple t, starting at one, not zero, following historical conventions.

There are several ways to define a two-element tuple, which is sometimes called a pair for short. In addition to the syntax that uses a parenthesized list of values, you can also use the “arrow operator” between two values, as well as special factory methods on the tuple-related classes:

(1, "one")

1 -> "one"

1 → "one" // Using → character instead of ->

Tuple2(1, "one")

The arrow operator is only available for two-element tuples.

Option, Some, and None: Avoiding nulls

Let’s discuss three useful types that express a very useful concept, when we may or may not have a value.

Most languages have a special keyword or type instance that’s assigned to reference variables when there’s nothing else for them to refer to. In Java, it’s null, which is a keyword, not an instance of a type. Thus, it’s illegal to call any methods on it. But this is a confusing choice on the language designer’s part. Why return a keyword when the programmer expects an instance of a type?

Of course, the real problem is that null is a giant source of nasty bugs. What null really signals is that we don’t have a value in a given situation. If the value is not null, we do have a value. Why not express this situation explicitly with the type system and exploit type checking to avoidNullPointerExceptions?

Option lets us express this situation explicitly without the null “hack.” Option is an abstract class and its two concrete subclasses are Some, for when we have a value, and None, when we don’t.

You can see Option, Some, and None in action in the following example, where we create a map of state capitals in the United States:

// src/main/scala/progscala2/typelessdomore/state-capitals-subset.sc

val stateCapitals =Map(

"Alabama" -> "Montgomery",

"Alaska" -> "Juneau",

// ...

"Wyoming" -> "Cheyenne")

println( "Get the capitals wrapped in Options:" )

println( "Alabama: " + stateCapitals.get("Alabama") )

println( "Wyoming: " + stateCapitals.get("Wyoming") )

println( "Unknown: " + stateCapitals.get("Unknown") )

println( "Get the capitals themselves out of the Options:" )

println( "Alabama: " + stateCapitals.get("Alabama").get )

println( "Wyoming: " + stateCapitals.get("Wyoming").getOrElse("Oops!") )

println( "Unknown: " + stateCapitals.get("Unknown").getOrElse("Oops2!") )

Notice what happens when we run the script:

Get the capitals wrapped in Options:

Alabama: Some(Montgomery)

Wyoming: Some(Cheyenne)

Unknown: None

Get the capitals themselves out of the Options:

Alabama: Montgomery

Wyoming: Cheyenne

Unknown: Oops2!

The Map.get method returns an Option[T], where T is String in this case. In contrast, Java’s Map.get returns T, where null or a real value will be returned. By returning an Option, we can’t “forget” that we have to verify that something was returned. In other words, the fact that a value may not exist for a given key is enshrined in the return type for the method declaration.

The first group of println statements invoke toString implicitly on the instances returned by get. We are calling toString on Some or None instances because the values returned by Map.get are automatically wrapped in a Some, when there is a value in the map for the specified key. Conversely, when we ask for a map entry that doesn’t exist, the None object is returned, rather than null. This occurred in the last println of the three.

The second group of println statements goes a step further. After calling Map.get, they call get or getOrElse on each Option instance to retrieve the value it contains.

Option.get is a bit dangerous. If the Option is a Some, Some.get returns the value. However, if the Option is actually None, then None.get throws a NoSuchElementException.

We also see the alternative, safer method, getOrElse, in the last two println statements. This method returns either the value in the Option, if it is a Some instance, or it returns the argument passed to getOrElse, if it is a None instance. In other words, the getOrElse argument behaves as the default return value.

So, getOrElse is the more defensive of the two methods. It avoids a potential thrown exception.

To reiterate, because the Map.get method returns an Option, it automatically documents for the reader that there may not be an item matching the specified key. The map handles this situation by returning a None. Most languages would return null (or the equivalent). It’s true that you learn from experience to expect a possible null in these languages, but using Option makes the behavior more explicit in the method signature and more self-documenting.

Also, thanks to Scala’s static typing, you can’t make the mistake of “forgetting” that an Option is returned and attempting to call a method supported by the type of the value inside the Option (if there is a value). In Java, when a method returns a value, it’s easy to forget to check for nullbefore calling a method on the value. When a Scala method returns Option, the type checking done by the compiler forces you to extract the value from the Option first before calling a method on it. That “reminds” you to check if the Option is actually None. So, the use of Optionstrongly encourages more resilient programming.

Because Scala runs on the JVM and it must interoperate with other libraries, Scala has to support null. Some devious soul could hand you a Some(null), too. Still, you now have an alternative and you should avoid using null in your code, except for interoperating with Java libraries that require it. Tony Hoare, who invented the null reference in 1965 while working on a language called ALGOL W, called its invention his “billion dollar” mistake. Use Option instead.

Sealed Class Hierarchies

While we’re discussing Option, let’s discuss a useful design feature it uses. A key point about Option is that there are really only two valid subtypes. Either we have a value, the Some case, or we don’t, the None case. There are no other subtypes of Option that would be valid. So, we would really like to prevent users from creating their own.

Scala has a keyword sealed for this purpose. Option is declared like this (eliding some details):

sealedabstractclassOption[+A] ... { ... }

The sealed keyword tells the compiler that all subclasses must be declared in the same source file. Some and None are declared in the same file with Option in the Scala library. This technique effectively prevents additional subtypes of Option.

You can also declare a type final if you want to prevent users from subtyping it.

Organizing Code in Files and Namespaces

Scala adopts the package concept that Java uses for namespaces, but Scala offers more flexibility. Filenames don’t have to match the type names and the package structure does not have to match the directory structure. So, you can define packages in files independent of their “physical” location.

The following example defines a class MyClass in a package com.example.mypkg using the conventional Java syntax:

// src/main/scala/progscala2/typelessdomore/package-example1.scala


classMyClass {

// ...


Scala also supports a block-structured syntax for declaring package scope, which is similar to the namespace syntax in C# and the use of modules as namespaces in Ruby:

// src/main/scala/progscala2/typelessdomore/package-example2.scala

packagecom {

packageexample {

packagepkg1 {

classClass11 {

def m = "m11"


classClass12 {

def m = "m12"



packagepkg2 {

classClass21 {

def m = "m21"

def makeClass11 = {

new pkg1.Class11


def makeClass12 = {

new pkg1.Class12




packagepkg3.pkg31.pkg311 {

classClass311 {

def m = "m21"





Two packages, pkg1 and pkg2, are defined under the com.example package. A total of three classes are defined between the two packages. The makeClass11 and makeClass12 methods in Class21 illustrate how to reference a type in the “sibling” package, pkg1. You can also reference these classes by their full paths, com.example.pkg1.Class11 and com.example.pkg1.Class12, respectively.

The package pkg3.pkg31.pkg311 shows that you can “chain” several packages together in one statement. It is not necessary to use a separate package statement for each package.

However, there is one situation where you might use separate statements. Let’s call it the successive package statement idiom:

// src/main/scala/progscala2/typelessdomore/package-example3.scala

// Bring into scope all package level declarations in "example".


// Bring into scope all package level declarations in "mypkg".


classMyPkgClass {

// ...


If you have package-level declarations, like types, in each of several parent packages that you want to bring into scope, use separate package statements as shown for each level of the package hierarchy with these declarations. Each subsequent package statement is interpreted as a subpackage of the previously specified package, as if we used the block-structure syntax shown previously. The first statement is interpreted as an absolete path.

Following the convention used by Java, the root package for Scala’s library classes is named scala.

Although the package declaration syntax is flexible, one limitation is that packages cannot be defined within classes and objects, which wouldn’t make much sense anyway.


Scala does not allow package declarations in scripts, which are implicitly wrapped in an object, where package declarations are not permitted.

Importing Types and Their Members

To use declarations in packages, you have to import them, just as you do in Java. However, Scala offers additional options, as shown in the following examples that import Java types:




importjava.util.{Map, HashMap}

You can import all types in a package, using the underscore ( _ ) as a wildcard, as shown on the first line. You can also import individual Scala or Java types, as shown on the second line.


Java uses the “star” character (*) as the wildcard for imports. In Scala, this character is allowed as a method name, so _ is used instead to avoid ambiguity. For example, if object Foo defined a * method, as well as other methods, then what should import Foo.* mean?

The third line imports all the static methods and fields in java.io.File. The equivalent Java import statement would be import static java.io.File.*;. Scala doesn’t have an import static construct because it treats object types uniformly like other types.

Selective importing has a very handy syntax, as shown on the fourth line, where we import just java.util.Map and java.util.HashMap.

Finally, you can put import statements almost anywhere, so you can scope their visibility to just where they are needed, you can rename types as you import them, and you can suppress the visibility of unwanted types:

def stuffWithBigInteger() = {





// println( "ONE: "+ONE ) // ONE is effectively undefined

println( "TEN: "+TEN )

println( "ZERO: "+JAVAZERO )


Because this import statement is inside stuffWithBigInteger, the imported types and values are not visible outside the function.

Renaming the java.math.BigInteger.ONE constant to underscore (_) makes it invisible and unavailable. Use this technique when you want to import everything except a few items.

Next, the java.math.BigInteger.TEN constant is imported without renaming, so it can be referenced simply as TEN.

Finally, the java.math.BigInteger.ZERO constant is given the “alias” JAVAZERO.

Aliasing is useful if you want to give an item a more convenient name or you want to avoid ambiguities with other items in scope that have the same name. It is used a lot to rename imported Java types so they don’t conflict with Scala types of the same name, e.g., java.util.List andjava.util.Map, for which we have Scala library types with the same names.

Imports Are Relative

Another important difference compared to Java imports is that Scala imports are relative. Note the comments for the following imports:

// src/main/scala/progscala2/typelessdomore/relative-imports.scala


importcollection.immutable._ // Since "scala" is already imported

import_root_.scala.collection.parallel._ // full path from real "root"

It’s fairly rare that you’ll have problems with relative imports, but sometimes surprises occur. If you get a mystifying compiler error that a package wasn’t found, verify that you are using relative versus absolute import statements correctly. On rare occasions, you’ll need the _root_ prefix. Usually the top-level package, like com, org, or scala will suffice. Also, be sure that the library in question is visible on the CLASSPATH.

Package Objects

A design decision for library writers is where to expose public entry points for APIs that clients will import and use. As for Java libraries, it’s common to import some or all of the types defined within a package. For example, the Java statement import java.io.*; imports all the types in the io package. Java 5 added “static imports” to allow individual static members of classes to be imported. Though convenient, it still presents a slightly inconvenient syntax. Consider a fictitious JSON parsing library you might use with a top-level package json and static API access methods in a class named JSON:


In Scala, you can at least omit the static keyword, but wouldn’t it be nice to write something like the following, which can expose with a single import statement all the types, methods, and values needed by the API user:


Scala supports package objects, a special kind of object scoped at the level of the package, json in this case. It is declared just like a normal object, but with with the differences illustrated by the following example:

// src/com/example/json/package.scala 1

packagecom.example // 2

packageobject json { // 3

classJSONObject {...} // 4

def fromString(string:String):JSONObject = {...}




The name of the file must be package.scala. By convention, it is located in the same package directory as the package object it is defining, com/example/json in this case.


The parent package scope.


Use the package keyword and name the object after the package, json in this case.


Appropriate members to expose to clients.

Now the client can import all these definitions with import com.example.json._ or import individual elements in the usual way.

Abstract Types Versus Parameterized Types

We mentioned in A Taste of Scala that Scala supports parameterized types, which are very similar to generics in Java. (We could use the two terms parameterized types and generics interchangeably, but it’s more common to use parameterized types in the Scala community and generics in the Java community.) Java uses angle brackets (<…>), while Scala uses square brackets ([…]), because < and > are often used for method names.

For example, here is a declaration of a list of strings:

val strings:List[String] =List("one", "two", "three")

Because we can plug in almost any type for a type parameter A in a collection like List[A], this feature is called parametric polymorphism, because generic implementations of the List methods can be used with instances of any type A.

Let’s discuss the most important details to learn about parameterized types, especially when you’re trying to understand type signatures in Scaladocs, such as the entry for List, where you’ll see that the declaration is written as sealed abstract class List[+A].

The + in front of the A means that List[B] is a subtype of List[A] for any B that is a subtype of A. This is called covariant typing. It is a reasonably intuitive idea. If we have a function f(list: List[Any]), it makes sense that passing a List[String] to it should work fine.

If there is a – in front of a type parameter, the relationship goes the other way; Foo[B] would be a supertype of Foo[A], if B is a subtype of A and the declaration is Foo[-A] (called contravariant typing). This is less intuitive, but we’ll wait until Parameterized Types to explain it along with the other details of parameterized types.

Scala supports another type abstraction mechanism called abstract types, which can be applied to many of the same design problems for which parameterized types are used. However, while the two mechanisms overlap, they are not redundant. Each has strengths and weaknesses for certain design problems.

These types are declared as members of other types, just like methods and fields. Here is an example that uses an abstract type in a parent class, then makes the type member concrete in child classes:

// src/main/scala/progscala2/typelessdomore/abstract-types.sc


abstractclassBulkReader {


val source:In

def read:String // Read source and return a String


classStringBulkReader(val source:String) extendsBulkReader {

typeIn = String

def read:String = source


classFileBulkReader(val source:File) extendsBulkReader {

typeIn = File

def read:String = {

val in =newBufferedInputStream(newFileInputStream(source))

val numBytes = in.available()

val bytes =newArray[Byte](numBytes)

in.read(bytes, 0, numBytes)




println(newStringBulkReader("Hello Scala!").read)

// Assumes the current directory is src/main/scala:



It produces the following output:

Hello Scala!

// src/main/scala/progscala2/typelessdomore/abstract-types.sc

import java.io._

abstract class BulkReader {


The BulkReader abstract class declares three abstract members: a type named In, a val field source of type In, and a read method.

The derived classes, StringBulkReader and FileBulkReader, provide concrete definitions for these abstract members.

Note that the type field works very much like a type parameter in a parameterized type. In fact, we could rewrite this example as follows, where we show only what would be different:

abstractclassBulkReader[In] {

val source:In



classStringBulkReader(val source:String) extendsBulkReader[String] {...}

classFileBulkReader(val source:File) extendsBulkReader[File] {...}

Just as for parameterized types, if we define the In type to be String, the source field must also be defined as a String. Note that the StringBulkReader’s read method simply returns the source field, while the FileBulkReader’s read method reads the contents of the file.

So what’s the advantage here of using type members instead of parameterized types? The latter are best for the case where the type parameter has no relationship with the parameterized type, like List[A] when A is Int, String, Person, etc. A type member works best when it “evolves” in parallel with the enclosing type, as in our BulkReader example, where the type member needed to match the “behaviors” expressed by the enclosing type. Sometimes this characteristic is called family polymorphism or covariant specialization.

Recap and What’s Next

We covered a lot of practical ground, such as literals, keywords, file organization, and imports. We learned how to declare variables, methods, and classes. We learned about Option as a better tool than null, plus other useful techniques. In the next chapter, we will finish our fast tour of the Scala “basics” before we dive into more detailed explanations of Scala’s features.