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Hacking Scala

#scala #hacking

April 28, 2013 at 3:07am

Introduction to Type Dynamic

In Scala 2.10 class Dynamic would be enabled by default, so I think that it’s the right time to look at it in more detail. This class can be used for many different purposes. I think, that an integration with dynamic languages is the most obvious one, but I would like to show you something different. I will demonstrate you how to create parameterizable extractors, that can be parametrized directly within case expressions.

Class Dynamic works very similar to Ruby’s method_missing or Groovy’s methodMissing/propertyMissing. So you can call non-existing methods on classes that extend Dynamic. Such calls would be rewritten by compiler to following method invocations: applyDynamic, applyDynamicNamed, selectDynamic, updateDynamic. I will describe each of these methods in the next sections.


It’s, probably, the most popular method. You can define it like this:

class DynamicTest extends Dynamic {
    def applyDynamic(methodName: String)(args: Any*) {
      println(s"You called '$methodName' method with " +
          s"following arguments: ${args mkString ", "}")

And as you can see, I can call non-exiting methods on instances of the DynamicTest class:

scala>  val test = new DynamicTest
test: DynamicTest = [email protected]

scala>  test.method1("a", "b", 123)
You called 'method1' method with following arguments: a, b, 123

scala>  test method2 "testing"
You called 'method2' method with following arguments: testing


I find it very nice, that named arguments are also supported. Each argument that you pass to the function is converted to the Tuple where the first element of the tuple is argument name and the second is value. Here is its signature:

class DynamicTest extends Dynamic {
    def applyDynamicNamed(name: String)(args: (String, Any)*) {
        println(s"You called '$name' method with " +
            s"following argiuments: ${args map (a => a._1 + "=" + a._2) mkString ", "}")

And its usage (as you can see, argument name would be empty string if you don’t use named argument):

scala>  test.createUser("abc", name = "John", age = 20)
You called 'createUser' method with following argiuments: =abc, name=John, age=20

By the way, in all examples above I have used Unit as return type, but you actually not limited to it. You can return anything you want from these methods, you can even have as many type parameters as you want.


Now comes setter/getter method (properties) support. If you want to handle method invocation, that does not involve any arguments or parenthesis, than you need selectDynamic - it’s probably the simplest of them (still it can be very useful as you will see later in my bigger example). You can define it like this:

class DynamicTest extends Dynamic {
    def selectDynamic(name: String) = s"value of $name"

And its usage:

scala>  test.firstName
res0: String = value of firstName

scala>  test.`some other property ?`
res1: String = value of some other property ?


This is setter part. You can use it to handle assignments. Its signature:

class DynamicTest extends Dynamic {
  def updateDynamic(name: String)(value: Any) {
    println(s"You have just updated property '$name' with value: $value")

Since the REPL generates code to report a value after an assignment, the following won’t work yet. (You can witness the generated code with the special show comment.)

scala>  test.firstName = "John" // show
      test.firstName = "bob";
      val $ires0 = test.firstName
:12: error: value selectDynamic is not a member of DynamicTest
val $ires0 = test.firstName

You can avoid this effect by using a local statement:

scala>  { = "bob" ; () }
You have just updated property 'name' with value: bob

Or by just supplying selectDynamic:

class DynamicTest extends Dynamic {
  var value: String = ""
  def updateDynamic(name: String)(value: Any) = this.value = s"$name is $value"
  def selectDynamic(name: String) = value

With the expected result:

scala> = "bob" String = name is bob

Parameterizable Extractors

This was my dream for a long time! Wouldn’t it be nice, if you can specify regexp directly in pattern matching expression instead of defining it elsewhere and then use your variable in pattern match or to extract specific elements of the Map? With type Dynamic you can actually archive this, and here is example its usage:

Map("firstName" -> "John", "lastName" -> "Doe") match {
    case p.firstName.lastName.Map(
          Some(p.`.*(\\w)$`.Regexp(lastChar))) =>
      println(s"Match! $fn ...$lastChar")
    case _ => println("nope")

As you see, I have provided parameters to the extractor and performed pattern match in the same case expression. One selectDynamic is enough to implement it:

class ExtractorParams(params: List[String]) extends Dynamic {
  val Map = new MapExtractor(params)
  val StartsWith = new StartsWithExtractor(params)
  val Regexp = new RegexpExtractor(params)

  def selectDynamic(name: String) =
    new ExtractorParams(params :+ name)

object p extends ExtractorParams(Nil)

As you can see, each call to the selectDynamic adds on parameter to the parameter List, and when I’m finished with parameters, I can call concrete extractor like StartsWith or Map. These extractor implementations are pretty straightforward:

class RegexpExtractor(params: List[String]) {
  def unapplySeq(str: String) =
    params.headOption flatMap (_.r unapplySeq str)

class StartsWithExtractor(params: List[String]) {
  def unapply(str: String) =
    params.headOption filter (str startsWith _) map (_ => str)

class MapExtractor(keys: List[String]) {
  def unapplySeq[T](map: Map[String, T]) =
    Some( get _))


I hope you enjoyed this small introduction to new type Dynamic. I also hope, that I was able to demonstrate you, that it can be used for pretty unexpected use-cases and not only for integration with dynamic languages. You can find more information about Dynamic type in the correspondent SIP-17.


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