Slick vs Anorm – choosing a DB framework for your Scala application

Scala doesn’t offer many DB access libraries. Slick and Anorm seem to be the most popular – both being available in the Play framework. Despite both serving the same purpose, they present completely different approaches. In this post I’d like to present some arguments that might help when choosing between these two.

What is Slick?

Slick is a Functional Relational Mapper. You might be familiar with Object Relational Mappers such as Hibernate. Slick embraces Scala’s functional elements and offers an alternative. Slick authors claim that the gap between relational data and functional programming is much smaller than between object-oriented programming.

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SBT: how to build and deploy a simple SBT plugin?

Few weeks ago when I was working on my pet project, I wanted to make it an SBT plugin. Since I had to spend some time studying SBT docs, I decided to write a short tutorial explaining how to write and deploy a SBT plugin.

Make sure your project can be built with SBT

First of all, your project needs to be buildable with SBT. This can be achieved simply – any project that follows the specific structure can be built with SBT. additionally, we are going to need a build.sbt  file with the following contents at the top-level:

Note that we are using Scala version 2.10 despite that at the time of writing 2.11 is available. That’s because SBT 0.13 is build against Scala 2.10. You need to make sure that you are using matching versions, otherwise you might get compile errors.

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Scala-ts: Scala to TypeScript code generator

I have started using TypeScript a few weeks ago at work. It turns out to be a great language which lets you avoid many problems caused by JavaScript’s dynamic typing, facilitates code readibility and code refactoring and does that at relatively small cost thanks to modern, concise syntax.

Currently we are using TypeScript for writing the frontend part of a web application which communicates with backend in Scala. The backend part exposes a REST API. One of the drawbacks of such desing is the need for writing Data Transfer Objects definitions for both backend and frontend and making sure that they match each other (in terms of JSON serialization).

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Issues with asynchronous IO in web applications

Building servers with non-blocking IO has been quite popular these days. Tests have shown that it does actually improve scalability of web applications. However, my experience show that it comes at a cost. In this post I am going to discuss some negative aspects of writing asynchronous code based on Scala’s Futures.


Debugging exceptions in asynchronous programs is a pain. When issuing an asynchronous IO operation you provide a callback that should be executed when the operation returns. In most implementations, this callback might be executed on any thread (not necessarly the same thread that invoked the operation). Since call stack is local to the thread, the stacktrace that you get when handling an exception is not very informative. It will not trace back to the servlet so you may have hard time figuring out where what actually happened.

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Accessing request parameters from inside a Future in Scalatra

Scalatra is an awesome, lightweight web framework for Scala. It’s perfect for building REST APIs. One of its less known features is support for asynchronous programming using Scala’s Futures.

By mixing in the FutureSupport trait one can easily make their servlet asynchronous. Once this trait is mixed-in into your servlet class, you can return Futures in your post and get handlers and Scalatra will automagically take care of them.

Recently I encountered a minor issue with Scalatra’s support for Futures – it is not possible to access params or request values from code inside a Future. The below code throws a NullPointerException.

Scalatra exposes access to contextual data such as the current user or request parameters via members such as params or request. These values are implemeted as DynamicVariables. Dynamic variables is Scala’s feature which allows a val to have different values in different scopes. The point is that DynamicVariable implementation is based on Java’s ThreadLocal. Therefore, when executing code in a Future you may not rely on these values since you might be on another thread!

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Scala for C# developers – part III

I’m back from a rather lenghty break and would like to continue the Scala for C# developers series. So far I have covered the syntax, the basics of OO in Scala and functions. In this post I will look at the Option type and pattern matching.

Issues with null references

If you have programmed in C# (or Java, or any other language that supports null references) you must already know the pain of NullReferenceException. This exception is thrown whenever you are expecting that a variable points to an actual object but in reality it does not point to anything. Therefore, calling a method on such reference would result in the exception.

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Scala for C# developers – part II

This is the second post in the series. Click here to see the previous part.

In the previous post I covered the basics of Scala syntax as well as some comparison of OOP in Scala and C#. Today, I will focus on lambdas and higher-order functions.

Functions as function parameters

You are most likely familiar with lambda expessions in C#. Lambda expression is simply an anonymous function. Lambdas are useful when you want to pass a piece of code as a parameter to some other function. This concept is actually one of the cornerstones of functional programming.

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Scala for C# developers – part I

Recently, after three years of focusing mainly on the .NET platform, I’ve changed jobs. My current company uses Scala for server-side programming in their projects. I was very happy for this transition. Both Scala and C# can be considered hybrid functional and object-oriented programming languages. However, Scala seemed to feel more functional than C# – more built-in functional constructs, tighter syntax, default immutability, etc. While this is true, I was surprised how many similarities these languages. I concluded that as long as you have already seen the more functional side of C#, it is really easy to transition to Scala. This post series will discuss some of the similarities and differences between Scala and C#.

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Is array of Dogs an array of Animals? Covariance, contravariance and invariance explained – part 2

This post is a continuation of Is array of Dogs an array of Animals? Covariance, contravariance and invariance explained – part 1.

Method overriding

Type variance is not just relevant to generics but also to ineritance of regular, not generic, classes.

When overriding a method in a class you usually make sure that it has the same argument types and return type. Note that it is not always necessary.

For example, it makes sense for the overriding method to return a subtype of the return type of the original method.

The caller of getAnimal will expect an instance of Animal. Returning something more derived (a Dog) will be perfectly type safe. Therefore, we can say that return type of overriden method is covariant.

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Is array of Dogs an array of Animals? Covariance, contravariance and invariance explained – part 1

Welcome to the first post on my blog. I would like to dedicate it to a topic that sounds quite intimidating but is in fact quite simple to understand. There are already good explanations of type variance to be found on other blogs or Stack Overflow but I would like to take a broader approach and look at how different programming languages deal with it.

The problem

So, what is this cryptic title about? Let me start with this classic example in Java.

Would you expect this piece of code to compile? The answer depends on what operations are available on MyList. Let’s assume that MyList is very similiar to ArrayList and it allows you to get and add.

Now, assuming that the questioned piece of code would compile, it would be perfectly valid to add a Cat to the list of Animals which is in fact a list of Dogs. This is not something we would want the compiler to allow.

In this case, MyList<Dog> is not (does not inherit from) MyList<Animal>. We call MyList invariant. This is the kind of behaviour that we get in Java.

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