A New Job, a New Language

06 Sep 2013

A New Start

I started a new job a couple weeks ago. As part of my duties I’ll be writing Scala.

I’ve only had a little bit of experience with Scala in the past, having completed a simple Connect Four implementation. Although basic, the experience gave me an opportunity to become accustomed to some of Scala’s unique syntax, as well as its preferred build tool, sbt.

Learning a new language is always fun for me, especially those that introduce me to new ideas about programming, and especially interesting language features.

There are several language features that I’ve found both interesting and mystifying that I’ll describe below.

obj() is obj.apply()

There’s syntactic sugar that converts a method invocation on an object into a invocation on its apply method, allowing for some nice DSL-goodness. Take, for example, the use of pattern as part of the Action DSL used in controllers in the Scala Play Framework (as of 2.1.3).

class MyController extends Controller {
  def index = Action {

This is implemented as a singleton object Action which inherits an apply method that returns a type of Action[AnyContent].


The syntax to create a curried function is as follows:

def add(x: Int)(y: Int) = x + y

This StackOverflow post and this Scala langauge reference article seem to suggest the syntax is more about having multiple parameter lists than the ability to curry.

In terms of partially applying a function, it is possible to do it without using the currying syntax in the definition by using an underscore as a placeholder variable. For an example (and a dizzying list of the uses of underscores) see Placeholder syntax.

Partial Function vs Partially Applied Function

This one is embarassing. Having used a few functional languages such as Haskell and Clojure, I was aware of the concept of currying and partial application. When I started using Scala, and noticed type defintiions like PartialFunction[A, B], I assumed these were somehow related to anonymous functions, specifically partially-applied functions, especially because of Scala’s syntax for creating partial functions:

  case x: Int if x < 10 => 1 + x
  case x: Int if x > 10 => 10

A couple of days ago, I realized that PartialFunctions were literally partial functions in that they are functions whose domain is restricted or unknown.


There are several types of “implicits”. For example, you can have implicit parameters which are automatically provided as arguments to methods if none are given. See the following example:

def p(implicit s:String) = println(s)
implicit val i: String = "Hello"
p // i is automatically supplied
// > Hello
// > Hi

There are also implicit conversions or views. If we try to concatenate an integer onto a list like so: List(1,2,3) ++ 1 we get a type mismatch error. We can definie a view that takes an Int to a List[Int].

implicit def intToList(x:Int): List[Int] = List(x)

Now, if intToList is in scope, the conversion will automatically be applied:

List(1,2,3) ++ 1
// > List[Int] = List(1, 2, 3, 1)


Learning Scala in more depth and using it with frameworks like play and Akka have been incredibly enlightening. Being able to program functionally daily is helping to strengthen concepts I’ve only been able to use academically or for toy projects, so I’m grateful for the opportunity!

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