Scala: using functional programming on the JVM – part 1


Hello, dear readers! Welcome to my blog. On this post, we will talk about Scala, a powerful language that combines the object paradigm with the functional paradigm. Scala is used on several modern solutions, such as Akka.

Scala is a JVM-based language, which means that Scala programs are transformed in Java bytecode and them are run with the JVM. This guarantees that the robust JVM is used on the background, leaving us to use the rich Scala language for programming.

This is a 3-part series focused on learning the basis of the language. On this first part we will set up our environment and learn about the Scala type system, vars, vals, classes, case classes, objects, companion objects and pattern matching. On the other parts, we will learn other features such as traits, optionals, error handling, inheritance on Scala, collection-related operations such as map, folder, reduce and more. Please don’t miss out!

So, without further delay, let’s begin our journey on the Scala language!

Setting up

In order to prepare our lab environment, first we need to install Scala. You can download the last version of Scala – this lab is using Scala 2.12.1 – on this link. If you are using Mac and homebrew, the installation is as simple as running the following command:

brew install scala

In order to test the installation, run the command:

scala -version

This will print something like the following:

Scala code runner version 2.12.1 -- Copyright 2002-2016, LAMP/EPFL and Lightbend, Inc.


The REPL is a interactive shell for running Scala programs. The name stands for the sequence of operations it realizes: Read-Eval-Print-Loop. It reads information inputed by the user, evaluates the instruction, prints the result and start over (loops). In order to use the Scala REPL, all we have to do is type scala on a terminal. This will open the REPL shell, like the following snippet:

Welcome to Scala 2.12.1 (Java HotSpot(TM) 64-Bit Server VM, Java 1.8.0_73).

Type in expressions for evaluation. Or try :help.


When we are done with the REPL, all we have to do is press Crtl+C. Another way of running Scala programs is by creating Scala scripts (.scala files). When using Scala scripts, we first compile the script using the scalac command.

This hints a important thing to notice about Scala: Scala is not dynamic typed. It has some similarities in syntax with languages like Python, but we have to remember that it is static typed, as we will see on the next section.

Scala type system

As we talked before, Scala is compiled, opposed to other languages such as Python, Clojure etc. This means that when we write programs on Scala, the interpreter infers the type of a variable (immutable or not) by the type of value that it is attributed to. Let’s see this in action.

Let’s open the Scala REPL. We type var number=0 and hit enter. The following will be printed on our console:

scala> var number=0

number: Int = 0

As we can notice, the variable was defined as a integer, since we attributed a number to it. The reader could be thinking “but this is exactly like a dynamic typed language!”. It appears so at first, but here is a catch: if we try to change the variable to another type of value, this happens:

scala> number="a string"

:12: error: type mismatch;

 found   : String("a string")

 required: Int

       number="a string"


The interpreter throws a error, saying that the variable we defined previously is a integer, so we can’t change to a string, for instance. This is fundamentally different from dynamic typed languages, where we can change the type of a variable as much as we like.

This could be seen as a weak point depending on the point of view, but must be more seeing as a design choice: using a strong typed scheme, we have more security about knowing what exactly to expect from each variable in use on the system.

This is particularly important on the functional paradigm, where we normally use more immutable variables them mutable ones, as we will talk about on the next section. One last thing before we go: although we can use the interpreter inference to create the variables, we can also explicitly define the type during the creation, like with the following variable:

scala> var number2: Int = 1

number2: Int = 1


Var vs. Val

On Scala, we can declare variables using 2 keywords: var and val. The creation code on the 2 options is essentially the same, but there’s a primary difference between the 2: vars can have theirs values changed during their lifecycles, while vals can’t.

That means vals are immutable. The closest equivalent example we can have on Java code is a constant, which means that once declared, his value will never be changed again.

When working with the functional programming paradigm, essentially we use immutables most of the time. With immutables, we have the security that our functions will always behave as intended, since a function won’t change the data, making new runs with the same parameters always returns the same results.

Let’s test if vals can’t really be changed. Let’s create a string typed val, with the following code:

val mystring = "this is a string"

Then, we try to change the string. When we do this, we will receive the following:

scala> mystring = "this is a new string"

:12: error: reassignment to val

       mystring = "this is a new string"



The interpreter has complained that we are trying to change a val, proving that vals are indeed immutable.


On Scala, everything runs on a object. That’s why despite the fact that Scala allows us to develop using the functional paradigm, we can’t say that Scala is a pure functional programming language, like Haskell, for example.

On Scala’s object hierarchy, the root class for all classes is called Any. This class has 2 subclasses: AnyValue and AnyRef. AnyValue is the root class for primitive values such as integers, floats etc – all primitives on Scala are internally wrappers. AnyRef is for classes that are not primitives, like the classes we will develop on the lab, for example.

So, let’s create our first class! to do this, let’s create a file called Myclass.scala and enter the following code:

class Myclass(val myvalue1: Int, val myvalue2: String)

That’s right. All we have to do is this one line of code, and we have a complete class at our disposal! On this line, we created a class called Myclass, with 2 attributes: myvalue1 and myvalue2. Not only that, with this line we created a constructor that receives the 2 attributes as parameters and getter accessors. All of this with just one line!

The reason because Scala created the attributes to be set at object creation is because we declared the attributes as immutables. If we had declared them as vars, then Scala would have created setter accessors as well.

Since we are talking about constructors, it is important to know that we can also overload the constructor, by defining the constructor with the keyword this. For example, if we would like to have the option of a constructor that don’t need to pass the attributes, instead using default values, we could change the class like this:

class Myclass(val myvalue1: Int, val myvalue2: String) {

  def this() = this("", "")


Case classes

Another interesting thing about classes are case classes. With case classes, we have a class that has already coded the hashCode, equals and toString methods. How do we do this? Simple, by modifying our class as follows:

case class Myclass(val myvalue1: Int, val myvalue2: String) {

  def this() = this("", "")


That’s all we have to do, we just have to include the keyword case and the methods are implemented with a default implementation. That is another good example of how Scala can simplify the developer’s life.


We talked earlier about how everything on Scala are classes. However, there are cases when we want a class to have only one instance on the entire system. We commonly call this type of class Singletons. To achieve this on Scala, we declare objects.

Objects are like classes on their body, just that they can’t be instantiated, since they already are instances. Let’s create a simple Hello World script in order to learn how to create objects.

Let’s create a file called Myscript.scala. On the file, we code this:

object Myscript extends App {

print("Hello World!")


And then we compile with scalac Myscript.scala. When running with scala Myscript, we get the following on the console:

Hello World!%

The App that we extended with is the hint for Scala that this object is the main script for our Scala application to run. We will see more about inheritance on future parts of this series.

Companion objects

Companion objects are like the ones we just saw previously, with just one big difference: this objects must have the same name of a class, be declared on the same file of that class and they have access to attributes and methods from that class, even the private ones.

The use of companion classes could be to create factory methods. One example of this use is the case classes we saw before, that create methods such as toString for us. Internally, when we declare case classes, Scala creates a companion object for that class.

Pattern matchers

The last feature we will talk about are pattern matchers. With pattern matchers, we can run pieces of codes by case statements, similar with switch clauses on Java. Let’s see a example.

We will use the Myclass class we created earlier. Let’s suppose we have a scenario where we want to perform a different print depending on the value of the myvalue1 attribute and print the value itself if it doesn’t fit on any of the clauses. We can do this by coding the following:

object Myscript extends App {

case class Myclass(val myvalue1: Int, val myvalue2: String)

val myclass = new Myclass(1,"Myvalue2")

val result = myclass match {
 case Myclass(1, _) => "this is value 1"
 case Myclass(2, _) => "this is value 2"
 case m => s"$m"



On the code above, we stated that if we have a class with the value 1 as first attribute – the second one is defined with the “_” keyword, which means that we are accepting any value for that attribute – we output the string “this is value 1”, the string “this is value 2” for the 2 value and we will output the values from the class itself for any other value. If we run the code above, we will receive this message on the terminal:

this is value 1%

Showing that our code is correct. One important thing to notice, due to good practices recommended for Scala, is that when using pattern matchers, when you get the content from the variable been matched – the case of our last clause – always use lower-case only names. That is because when declaring the name starting with a upper-case letter, the Scala interpreter will try to find a variable with that name, instead of creating a new one. So, always remember to use lower-case variables on this cases.


And that concludes our first trip to the Scala language. On our next parts, we will see more interesting features of the language, such as traits, inheritance and optionals. Stay tuned!

Thanks you for your attention, until next time.

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