The Evolution Of Scala Martin Odersky EPFL and Typesafe

The Evolution of Scala

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Slides of the keynote given at the Programming Language Evolution Workshop and the Scala Symposium, July 28th, Uppsala, Sweden.

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Page 1: The Evolution of Scala

The Evolution Of ScalaMartin Odersky

EPFL and Typesafe

Page 2: The Evolution of Scala

10 Years of Scala

Page 3: The Evolution of Scala

Pre History

1980s Modula-2, Oberon

1990-95 Functional Programming1995-98 Pizza1998-99 GJ, javac

2000-02 Functional Nets, Funnel


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Minimal programming language based on type members and functional nets (a variant of join calculus)

Analogous to Pict (Pierce and Turner 2001) for Pi-calculus.

Page 5: The Evolution of Scala

A Minimal Language

• Idea of Funnel: Show that we can build a general programming language that can be understood as thin syntactic sugar over a core calculus.– General: OO, functional + imperative, concurrent– Core calculus: Functional nets– Sugar: Records, Lambdas, Type members.

• Wrote some programs (including parts of the Funnel library) in Funnel.

• Quickly became apparent that encodings suck:– Confusing for beginners– Boring to do them over and over again for experts


Page 6: The Evolution of Scala

Motivation for Scala

• Grew out of Funnel• Wanted to show that we can do a practical combination

of OOP and FP.• What got dropped:

– Concurrency was relegated to libraries– No tight connection between language and core calculus

(fragments were studied in the νObj paper and others.)• What got added:

– Native object and class model, Java interop, XML literals (!).


Page 7: The Evolution of Scala

Why a New Language?

• The OO dogma ruled then: Encapsulate mutable data with methods.– Infamous example: Java beans.– There was no place for functional

programming in this.• New at the time: Webservices that

process immutable (semi-)structured data.– Service sees the data “from the outside”.– Functional programming supports that view,

e.g. using pattern matching, recursion.• Rationale given: Would be good to have

a new FP language for webservices


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Really, Why a new Language?The work on Scala was motivated by two hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1: A general-purpose language needs to be scalable; the same concepts should describe small as well as large parts.

Hypothesis 2: Scalability can be achieved by unifying and generalizing functional and object-oriented programming concepts.

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How That Worked Out


(from:James Iry: A Brief, Incomplete, and Mostly Wrong History of Programming Languages)

Page 10: The Evolution of Scala

Scala and Pizza

• Pizza (Odersky and Wadler 96) was another language on the JVM that added functional elements to Java:– algebraic datatypes and pattern matching– function values – generics

• Scala was more ambitious:– More innovation on the OOP side– More functional, e.g. immutable values, by-name parameters,– Better integration of functional/oop, e.g. case classes.– Not backwards compatible with Java


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Java Features Not kept in Scala

publicstaticvoidEnumerationsAnnotation SyntaxWildcard typesRaw typesPrimitive typesArray typesDefinite assignment rules


Statements:breakcontinuesynchronizedassertfor (C-style)try (resource)super(...)

Expressions:primitive operatorscast syntaxconditional x ? y :

zarray selection a[i]

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Scala Beginnings

2003: First internal use– to teach “Functional and Logic Programming Course” at EPFL.

(2nd year, ~ 150 participants),– despite being not really ready for the task.

2004: Official announcement of Scala 1.0– First vocal outside users: Miles Sabin, John Pretty @ Sygneca– Together with Iulian Dragos and myself these are probably the

only people who have used Scala continuously for 10 years.


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Scala Reloaded

2006: Scala 2.0 released– Compiler written in Scala– Followed the cake-pattern described “Scalable Component

Abstractions [Odersky&Zenger 05].

A few new features:– Semicolon inference (!)– Generalization of implicits and traits– Automatically added empty parameter lists ()

Additions in 2.1, 2.2:– Qualified access: private[C], protected[C]– Multi-line string literals: ”””this is a line

and this is another””” – Procedure syntax: def sort(xs: Array[T]) {...}


Page 14: The Evolution of Scala

Scala Reloaded

2006: Scala 2.0 released– Compiler written in Scala– Followed the cake-pattern described “Scalable Component

Abstractions [Odersky&Zenger 05].

A few new features:– Semicolon inference (!)– Generalization of implicits and traits– Automatically added empty parameter lists ()

Additions in 2.1, 2.2:– Qualified access: private[C], protected[C]– Multi-line string literals: ”””this is a line

and this is another””” – Procedure syntax: def sort(xs: Array[T]) {...}


Page 15: The Evolution of Scala

Learning from Experience

Scala 1.x had– Parameterless methods supporting the uniform access principle.

def length: Int = ...

– Partially applied functions that are always eta-expanded:def sum(f: Int => Int)(bounds: Range) = ...val sumSquares = sum(x => x*x)

The combination of these two was a source of common pitfalls:

println(“abc”.length) // prints: <function>


Page 16: The Evolution of Scala

Avoiding the Pitfalls

1. Auto-add () for references f is to nullary functions def f() = ...

2. Eta-expand only if – expected type is a functionor– missing parameters are specified with `_’


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The Growth Year

2007: Scala 2.3-2.7 add lots of new features:Extractors object Email { def unapply ... } case Email(name, domain) => ...Tuples (1, “a”, true)Assignment operators +=, *=, ...“_” notation for functions (_ + 1)Early initialization object Foo extends {

val x = 3 } with SomeTrait

Lazy values lazy val rest = f()Higher-kinded types class Functor[F[_]] { ... }Structural types { val key: String }Existential types Map[T, T] forSome { type T }


Page 18: The Evolution of Scala

Why The Rapid Growth?

• People asked for it– “If Scala only had this one new feature, I could use it in my


• People volunteered to do it– Lots of thoughtful suggestions on the mailing list.– PhD students were keen to see their thesis work applied.


Page 19: The Evolution of Scala

Community Formation

2007: Lift web framework launched. 2008: First Scala liftoff unconference (50 particants)

– Twitter goes public with Scala, hype starts

2009: More Scala liftoffs.2010-14: Scala Days

– 2010 EPFL 180 participants– 2011 Stanford 280 – 2012 London 400– 2013 New York 500 Scala Workshop Montellier– 2014 Berlin 800 Scala Symposium Uppsala

Lots of other meetups and conferences


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Scala 2.8 and 2.9: Consolidation

2010: Scala 2.8, with– New collections with bitrot prevention.– Fixed leaky array model.– New semantics of nested packages.– Better type inference for implicit resolution– Lots of bug-fixes

2011: Scala 2.9, with– Parallel collections– Special trait DelayedInit, used in App– Trait Dynamic, to interface with dynamic languages


Page 21: The Evolution of Scala

Scala 2.10: Differentiation

2012: Scala 2.10, with• New features, added through the Scala Improvement

Process (SIPs):– Value classes class Meter(x: Long)

extends AnyVal– Implicit classes implicit class StringOps(s: String)– String interpolation s”you have $n new calls”

• Experimental features– Macros def await(x: Future[T]) = macro ...– ReflectionThese are only enabled when compiling with –Xexperimental

• Language imports require explicit enabling of some features available previously.


Page 22: The Evolution of Scala

Scala Improvement Process


Page 23: The Evolution of Scala

Design Tradeoffs

The Scala way: Provide few constructs of maximal generality.

Implicit conversions > implicit classes

> extension methods

where “>” means more general.

Implicit conversions are very powerfulBut they can be misused,

in particular if there are too many of them.


Page 24: The Evolution of Scala

General Problem

• Scala is geared for orthogonality and expressiveness• I believe that in the end, that’s the most productive

combination.• But there are challenges.

– Some combinations of language features might be less desirable than others.

– How to avoid feature misuse?• Idea: Have a mechanism that demands that some

problematic features are explicitly imported (Haskell uses something similar).


Page 25: The Evolution of Scala

SIP 18: Language Imports

• Say you have:

object letsSimulateJS { implicit def foo(x: String): Int = Integer.parseInt(x)}

• Compiling gives:

warning: there were 1 feature warnings; re-run with -feature for details

one warning found


Page 26: The Evolution of Scala

SIP 18: Language Imports

Say you have:

object letsSimulateJS { implicit def foo(x: String): Int = Integer.parseInt(x)}

Compiling with –feature gives:letsSimulateJS.scala:8: warning: implicit conversion method foo should be

enabledby making the implicit value language.implicitConversions visible.This can be achieved by adding the import clause 'import

scala.language.implicitConversions'or by setting the compiler option -language:implicitConversions.See the Scala docs for value scala.language.implicitConversions for a

discussionwhy the feature should be explicitly enabled. implicit def foo(x: String): Int = Integer.parseInt(x) ^one warning found


Page 27: The Evolution of Scala

Turning off the Warnings

You turn off the warning by bringing the identifier


into scope, usually, using an import:

import language.implicitConversions


Page 28: The Evolution of Scala

Features Controlled by SIP-18

From language:– Implicit Conversions– Dynamic– Postfix Operators– Dynamic dispatch on structural types– Existential types– Higher-kinded types

From language.experimental– Macros


Page 29: The Evolution of Scala

Now: Scala 2.11

• Smaller:– broke out parts of libraries into separate modules

• Faster– Better incremental compilation

• Stronger:– Lots of bug fixes, tooling improvements


Page 30: The Evolution of Scala

Now: Scala.JS

Why a Scala for Javascript?– JS is becoming ubiquitous.– Desire to use the same language on

client and server.– But not everybody likes Javascript or

dynamic languages.

Scala.JS profits from Scala’s tradition of interoperating with a host language through very general abstractions.Can combine JS DOM and Scala collections.For the young age of the project, very mature and well-received.


Page 31: The Evolution of Scala


In all this evolution, what stays constant?

What are some of the essential traits that make Scala what it is?


Page 32: The Evolution of Scala

1st Invariant: A Scalable Language

• Instead of providing lots of features in the language, have the right abstractions so that they can be provided in libraries.

•This has worked quite well so far.• It implicitly trusts programmers and library designers to

“do the right thing”, or at least the community to sort things out.


Page 33: The Evolution of Scala

Libraries on top of Scala


SBTChisel Spark







Page 34: The Evolution of Scala

Growable = Good?

In fact, it’s a double edged sword.

– DSLs can fracture the user community (“The Lisp curse”)

– Besides, no language is liked by everyone, no matter whether its a DSL or general purpose.

– Host languages get the blame for the DSLs they embed.

Growable is great for experimentation. But it demands conformity and discipline for large scale production use.


Page 35: The Evolution of Scala

• Scala’s core is its type system.• Most of the advanced types concepts are about

flexibility, less so about safety.

2nd Invariant: It’s about the Types

35Flexibility / Ease of Use



Trend in Type-systems

Goals of PL design

Page 36: The Evolution of Scala

Stunted Evolution

null - “The Million Dollar Mistake”

• Why does Scala not have null-safety?• We had plans to do it

you can see the traces in the stdlib with marker trait NotNull.

• But by then everybody was using already Option.• So NPEs are actually quite rare in Scala code.• Don’t want two ways to do the same thing.


Page 37: The Evolution of Scala

What’s Next?

• Scala 2.12 will be a fairly conservative evolution of 2.11

• Main feature: Java 8 interop.– Scala and Java lambdas can understand each other– SAM method convention added to Scala– Should make use of Java 8 streams– Default methods for traits?


Page 38: The Evolution of Scala

And After That?

Main Goals: Make the language and its libraries• simpler to understand, • more robust,• better performingWant to continue to make it the language of choice for smart kids.


Page 39: The Evolution of Scala

Scala “Aida”

Will concentrate on the standard library.– Reduce reliance on inheritance– Make all default collections immutable (e.g. scala.Seq will be an

alias of scala.immutable.Seq)– Other small cleanups that are possible with a rewriting step (e.g.

rename mapValues)

Projects which might make it if they mature fast enough:

– scala.meta, the new, simplified approach to macros and reflection.

– Collection fusion in the style of ScalaBlitz– Better specialization through miniboxing.


Page 40: The Evolution of Scala

Scala “Don Giovanni”

Concentrates on the language

• Simple foundations:– A single fundamental concept - type members – can give precise

meaning to generics, existential types, and higher-kinded types.– Intersection and union types.– Theoretical foundations given by minimal core calculus (DOT).

• Cleaned-up syntax: – Trait parameters instead of early definition syntax– XML string interpolation instead of XML literals– Procedure syntax is dropped.– Simplified and unified type syntax for all forms of information

elision, forSome syntax is eliminated.


Page 41: The Evolution of Scala

Scala “Don Giovanni”

• Removing puzzlers: – Result types mandatory for implicit definitions.– Inherited explicit result types take precedence over locally-

inferred ones.– String “+” needs explicit enabling.– Avoid surprising behavior of auto-tupling.

• Backwards compatibility:– A migration tool will upgrade sources automatically.– Should work for almost all commonly used code.– Will not generally work for code using –Xexperimental– But we aim to have features that can support analogous



Page 42: The Evolution of Scala

The Growth Year, Revisited

Extractors object Email { def unapply ... } ✔ case Email(name, domain) => ...Tuples (1, “a”, true) ✔Assignment operators +=, *=, ++= ✔Annotations @volatile, @deprecated ✔“_” notation for functions (_ + 1) ✔Early initialization object Foo extends { ✗

val x = 3 } with SomeTrait

Higher-kinded types class Functor[F[_]] { ... } ≈Structural types { val key: String } ≈Lazy values lazy val rest = f() ✔Existential types Map[T, T] forSome { type T }


Page 43: The Evolution of Scala


• Languages are not cast in stone; they evolve whether you like it or not.

• Community matters• Community will take a language where you never

expected it to go.

In the end languages are as much social phenomena as technical ones.