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Interop Between Java and Scala

Posted By Daniel Spiewak On February 9, 2009 @ 12:00 am In Java, Scala | 29 Comments

Sometimes, the simplest things are the most difficult to explain.  Scala’s interoperability with Java is completely unparalleled, even including languages like Groovy which tout their tight integration with the JVM’s venerable standard-bearer.  However, despite this fact, there is almost no documentation (aside from chapter 29 in Programming in Scala) which shows how this Scala/Java integration works and where it can be used.  So while it may not be the most exciting or theoretically interesting topic, I have taken it upon myself to fill the gap.

Classes are Classes

The first piece of knowledge you need about Scala is that Scala classes are real JVM classes.  Consider the following snippets, the first in Java:

public class Person {
    public String getName() {
        return "Daniel Spiewak";
    }
}

…and the second in Scala:

class Person {
  def getName() = "Daniel Spiewak"
}

Despite the very different syntax, both of these snippets will produce almost identical bytecode when compiled.  Both will result in a single file, Person.class, which contains a default, no-args constructor and a public method, getName(), with return type java.lang.String.  Both classes may be used from Scala:

val p = new Person()
p.getName()       // => "Daniel Spiewak"

…and from Java:

Person p = new Person();
p.getName();      // => "Daniel Spiewak"

In the case of either language, we can easily swap implementations of the Person class without making any changes to the call-site.  In short, you can use Scala classes from Java (as well as Java classes from Scala) without ever even knowing that they were defined within another language.

This single property is the very cornerstone of Scala’s philosophy of bytecode translation.  Wherever possible — and that being more often than not — Scala elements are translated into bytecode which directly corresponds to the equivalent feature in Java.  Scala classes equate to Java classes, methods and fields within those classes become Java methods and fields.

This allows some pretty amazing cross-language techniques.  For example, I can extend a Java class within Scala, overriding some methods.  I can in turn extend this Scala class from within Java once again with everything working exactly as anticipated:

class MyAbstractButton extends JComponent {
  private var pushed = false
 
  def setPushed(p: Boolean) {
    pushed = p
  }
 
  def getPushed = pushed
 
  override def paintComponent(g: Graphics) {
    super.paintComponent(g)
 
    // draw a button
  }
}
public class ProKitButton extends MyAbstractButton {
    // do something uniquely Apple-esque
}

Traits are Interfaces

This is probably the one interoperability note which is the least well-known.  Scala’s traits are vastly more powerful than Java’s interfaces, often leading developers to the erroneous conclusion that they are incompatible.  Specifically, traits allow method definitions, while interfaces must be purely-abstract.  Yet, despite this significant distinction, Scala is still able to compile traits into interfaces at the bytecode level…with some minor enhancements.

The simplest case is when the trait only contains abstract members.  For example:

trait Model {
  def value: Any
}

If we look at the bytecode generated by compiling this trait, we will see that it is actually equivalent to the following Java definition:

public interface Model {
    public Object value();
}

Thus, we can declare traits in Scala and implement them as interfaces in Java classes:

public class StringModel implements Model {
    public Object value() {
        return "Hello, World!";
    }
}

This is precisely equivalent to a Scala class which mixes-in the Model trait:

class StringModel extends Model {
  def value = "Hello, World!"
}

Things start to get a little sticky when we have method definitions within our traits.  For example, we could add a printValue() method to our Model trait:

trait Model {
  def value: Any
 
  def printValue() {
    println(value)
  }
}

Obviously, we can’t directly translate this into just an interface; something else will be required.  Scala solves this problem by introducing an ancillary class which contains all of the method definitions for a given trait.  Thus, when we look at the translation for our modified Model trait, the result looks something like this:

public interface Model extends ScalaObject {
    public Object value();
 
    public void printValue();
}
 
public class Model$class {
    public static void printValue(Model self) {
        System.out.println(self.value());
    }
}

Thus, we can get the effect of Scala’s powerful mixin inheritance within Java by implementing the Model trait and delegating from the printValue() method to the Model$class implementation:

public class StringModel implements Model {
    public Object value() {
        return "Hello, World!";
    }
 
    public void printValue() {
        Model$class.printValue(this);
    }
 
    // method missing here (see below)
}

It’s not perfect, but it allows us to use some of Scala’s more advanced trait-based functionality from within Java.  Incidentally, the above code does compile without a problem.  I wasn’t actually aware of this fact, but “$” is a legal character in Java identifiers, allowing interaction with some of Scala’s more interesting features.

There is, however, one little wrinkle that I’m conveniently side-stepping: the $tag method.  This is a method defined within the ScalaObject trait designed to help optimize pattern matching.  Unfortunately, it also means yet another abstract method which must be defined when implementing Scala traits which contain method definitions.  The correct version of the StringModel class from above actually looks like the following:

public class StringModel implements Model {
    public Object value() {
        return "Hello, World!";
    }
 
    public void printValue() {
        Model$class.printValue(this);
    }
 
    public int $tag() {
        return 0;
    }
}

To be honest, I’m not sure what is the “correct” value to return from $tag.  In this case, 0 is just a stub, and I’m guessing a safe one since StringModel is the only subtype of Model.  Can anyone who knows more about the Scala compiler shed some light on this issue?

Generics are, well…Generics

Generics are (I think) probably the coolest and most well-done part of Scala’s Java interop.  Anyone who has more than a passing familiarity with Scala will know that its type system is significantly more powerful than Java’s.  Some of this power comes in the form of its type parameterization, which is vastly superior to Java’s generics.  For example, type variance can be handled at declaration-site, rather than only call-site (as in Java):

abstract class List[+A] {
  ...
}

The + notation prefixing the A type parameter on the List class means that List will vary covariantly with its parameter.  In English, this means that List[String] is a subtype of List[Any] (because String is a subtype of Any).  This is a very intuitive relationship, but one which Java is incapable of expressing.

Fortunately, Scala is able to exploit one of the JVM’s most maligned features to support things like variance and higher-kinds without sacrificing perfect Java interop.  Thanks to type erasure, Scala generics can be compiled to Java generics without any loss of functionality on the Scala side.  Thus, the Java translation of the List definition above would be as follows:

public abstract class List<A> {
    ...
}

The variance annotation is gone, but Java wouldn’t be able to make anything of it anyway.  The huge advantage to this translation scheme is it means that Java’s generics and Scala’s generics are one and the same at the bytecode level.  Thus, Java can use generic Scala classes without a second thought:

import scala.Tuple2;
 
...
Tuple2<String, String> me = new Tuple2<String, String>("Daniel", "Spiewak");

Obviously, this is a lot more verbose than the Scala equivalent, “("Daniel", "Spiewak")“, but at least it works.

Operators are Methods

One of the most obvious differences between Java and Scala is that Scala supports operator overloading.  In fact, Scala supports a variant of operator overloading which is far stronger than anything offered by C++, C# or even Ruby.  With very few exceptions, any symbol may be used to define a custom operator.  This provides tremendous flexibility in DSLs and even your average, every-day API (such as List and Map).

Obviously, this particular language feature is not going to translate into Java quite so nicely.  Java doesn’t support operator overloading of any variety, much less the über-powerful form defined by Scala.  Thus, Scala operators must be compiled into an entirely non-symbolic form at the bytecode level, otherwise Java interop would be irreparably broken, and the JVM itself would be unable to swallow the result.

A good starting place for deciding on this translation is the way in which operators are declared in Scala: as methods.  Every Scala operator (including unary operators like !) is defined as a method within a class:

abstract class List[+A] {
  def ::[B >: A](e: B) = ...
 
  def +[B >: A](e: B) = ...
}

Since Scala classes become Java classes and Scala methods become Java methods, the most obvious translation would be to take each operator method and produce a corresponding Java method with a heavily-translated name.  In fact, this is exactly what Scala does.  The above class will compile into the equivalent of this Java code:

public abstract class List<A> {
    public <B super A> List<B> $colon$colon(B e) { ... }
 
    public <B super A> List<B> $plus(B e) { ... }
}

Every allowable symbol in Scala’s method syntax has a corresponding translation of the form “$trans“.  A list of supported translations is one of those pieces of documentation that you would expect to find on the Scala website.  However, alas, it is absent.  The following is a table of all of the translations of which I am aware:

Scala Operator Compiles To
= $eq
> $greater
< $less
+ $plus
- $minus
* $times
/ div
! $bang
@ $at
# $hash
% $percent
^ $up
& $amp
~ $tilde
? $qmark
| $bar
\ $bslash
: $colon

Using this table, you should be able to derive the “real name” of any Scala operator, allowing its use from within Java.  Of course, the idea solution would be if Java actually supported operator overloading and could use Scala’s operators directly, but somehow I doubt that will happen any time soon.

Odds and Ends

One final tidbit which might be useful: @BeanProperty.  This is a special annotation which is essentially read by the Scala compiler to mean “generate a getter and setter for this field”:

import scala.reflect.BeanProperty
 
class Person {
  @BeanProperty
  var name = "Daniel Spiewak"
}

The need for this annotation comes from the fact that Scala’s ever-convenient var and val declarations actually generate code which looks like the following (assuming no @BeanProperty annotation):

// *without* @BeanProperty
public class Person {
    private String name = "Daniel Spiewak";
 
    public String name() {
        return name;
    }
 
    public void name_$eq(String name) {
        this.name = name;
    }
}

This works well from Scala, but as you can see, Java-land is not quite paradise.  While it is certainly feasible to use the _$eq syntax instead of the familiar set/get/is triumvirate, it is not an ideal situation.

Adding the @BeanProperty annotation (as we have done in the earlier Scala snippet) solves this problem by causing the Scala compiler to auto-generate more than one pair of methods for that particular field.  Rather than just value and value_$eq, it will also generate the familiar getValue and setValue combination that all Java developers will know and love.  Thus, the actual translation resulting from the Person class in Scala will be as follows:

public class Person {
    private String name = "Daniel Spiewak";
 
    public String name() {
        return name;
    }
 
    public String getName() {
        return name();
    }
 
    public void name_$eq(String name) {
        this.name = name;
    }
 
    public void setName(String name) {
        name_$eq(name);
    }
}

This merely provides a pair of delegates, but it does suffice to smooth out the mismatch between Java Bean-based frameworks and Scala’s elegant instance fields.

Conclusion

This has been a whirlwind, disjoint tour covering a fairly large slice of information on how to use Scala code from within Java.  For the most part, things are all roses and fairy tales.  Scala classes map precisely onto Java classes, generics work perfectly, and pure-abstract traits correspond directly to Java interfaces.  Other areas where Scala is decidedly more powerful than Java (like operators) do tend to be a bit sticky, but there is always a way to make things work.

If you’re considering mixing Scala and Java sources within your project, I hope that this article has smoothed over some of the doubts you may have had regarding its feasibility.  As David Pollack says, Scala is really “just another Java library”.  Just stick scala-library.jar on your classpath and all of your Scala classes should be readily available within your Java application.  And given how well Scala integrates with Java at the language level, what could be simpler?


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