Intro to Scala for Java Programmers: Part 2

In our previous post in this series we introduced the very basics of Scala. In this post we focus on Scala data structures.

Case Classes

As a Java programmer you might be accustomed to classes that can encapsulate both data and operations. Scala offers fully featured classes but in this section we are focusing on a subset of standard classes: case classes.

Let us define a simple class for bidimentional vectors:

case class Vector(x: Int, y: Int)

This case class can be written in Java as follows:

final class Vector {

  public final Integer x;
  public final Integer y;

  Vector(Integer x, Integer y) {
    this.x = x;
    this.y = y;

  String toString() {
    return "Vector(" + x + ", " + y + ")";

  boolean equals(Object o) {
    if (o instanceof Vector) {
      return (x.equals(o.x) && y.equals(o.y));
    } else {
      return false;

  boolean hashCode() {
    // standard hash code implementation

As you can see the case class is like a standard Java class but has a particular implementation.

  • It is a final class.
  • The class’s members are both public and final.
  • The toString method is implemented by default with the name of the class, followed by an array of parameters in paremtheses.
  • The equals and hashCode methods have a default implementation.

Using case classes we can also define methods. Methods are defined just like the functions we saw in the previous post.

Let us define a method to add two vectors:

case class Vector(x: Int, y: Int) {
  def + (v: Vector) = Vector(x + v.x, y + v.y)

Let us consider this definition. First, the name of the method is +. Indeed, in Scala method names can be any identifier, and identifiers can be of three forms:

  • a letter followed by an arbitrary sequence of letters and digits, for example normalIdentifier
  • an identifier as defined before followed by an underscore _ and another string another string composed of either letters and digits or of operator characters, for example x_=.
  • an operator followed by an arbitrary sequence of operator characters for example +, or +=.

The other particularity that you might notice when coming from Java is that the creation of the new Vector does not include the keyword new, which is a feature of case classes. To create a new instance it is not necessary to use the keyword new. Normal Scala classes (as we will see in a later post) require the usage of the new keyword.

Scala traits

We have seen Scala case classes, that are like their Java counterparts but much more compacts. Let us now learn about the Scala counterpart of Java interfaces.

Scala has its own version of interfaces called trait. A trait is like a Java interface but it has some extra features. The simplest trait can be defined as follows:

trait MyTrait

A trait can contain methods (implemented or not), and also variables. Let us look at an example:

import scala.math.sqrt

trait SimpleFigure {

  val height: Int
  val width: Int

  def area(): Double = height * width

  def perimeter(): Double


case class Square(height: Int, width: Int) extends SimpleFigure {
  override def perimeter(): Double = 2 * height + 2 * width

case class IsoscelesTriangle(height: Int, width: Int) extends SimpleFigure {

  override def area(): Double = height * width / 2.0

  override def perimeter(): Double = width + 2 * sqrt(width * width / 4.0 + height * height)


Let us start with the first trait definition. The trait defines two constants (val), one function with a default implementation, and another function whose definition is left to the subclasses.

Now, contrary to Java, Scala uses the extends keyword instead of implements. The syntax is the one showed in the aforementionned example. In our example, we have two case classes that extend the SimpleFigure class. For the Square class we have that it takes the default implementation for area method from the trait, but the IsoscelesTriangle overrides it with its own implementation. However, the perimeter() method is not implemented in the trait, thus each class needs to provide an implementation. This behaviour is the same that we find in Java interfaces.

Scala Objects

As we know from Java, sometimes we need a singleton or some methods that just don’t belong to any class. Where Java has static methods, Scala has object types.

As you have already seen, Scala tries to remove edge cases (e.g. instead of having some subroutines that don’t return a value and other subroutines that return a value, it has functions that always return a value). For the case of static methods in Java, which more or less don’t belong into the object oriented paradigm, Scala provides object types. Here we focus on case object s which, like case classes also provide a default hashCode and an improved toString implementation.

Object types are singletons. In our previous example we can create a new type of SimpleFigure: the dot. As we know, all dots are equal, height, width, perimiter, and area are all 0.

So, since we know that there is only one possible instance for the dot, we can then create this instance as an object, and by definition it will be a singleton:

object Dot extends SimpleFigure {

  val height: Int = 0
  val width: Int = 0

  override def area(): Double = o

  override def perimeter(): Double = 0


The syntax to declare an object is the same as the definition of a class, except for the fact that it uses the keyword object instead of class.

Pattern Matching

Until now, we have seen that Scala is a sort of Java with more compact syntax and type inference, but the features are more or less the same. Now we will introduce a language feature that allows us to profit from case classes and objects.

Pattern matching is a feature that allows the extraction of data from case classes by matching a expression with the case class constructor. Let us consider the OptionInt type defined below:

trait OptionInt

case class SomeInt(n: Int) extends OptionInt

case object NoInt extends OptionInt

This data type allows us to represent a value that might not be there, like the Java optional type (in Scala we can have generics but we will be seeing them in the next section). We can then extract the value of such a type using pattern matching as follows:

def containsInteger(someInteger: OptionInt): Boolean = someInteger match {
  case SomeInt(n) => true
  case NoInt      => false

In this example, without defining any method in the object we can check if a value of type OptionInt contains an integer or not. Your inner Java programmer may be thinking that the way you would do this is something like this:

trait OptionInt {
  def containsInteger(): Boolean

case class SomeInt(n: Int) extends OptionInt {
  override def containsInteger() = true

case object NoInt extends OptionInt {
  override def containsInteger() = true

This is, in fact the object oriented solution, which is natural in Java. The solution using pattern matching is a functional programming (for lack of a better term) solution, which would be more natural in functional programming languages. Since Scala is an hibrid of both worlds, both solutions are equally valid.

The advantage of the object oriented solution is that extending it by adding a new data type (a new clase class for example) is very straightforward, you just need to add a class and you don’t need to modify anything else, however, to add a new operation, you need to modify all classes to add the new operation. The functional programming solution on the other hand makes adding a new operation very easy, but adding a new type requires modifying all existing operations (for more on this topic see the expression problem).

Pattern matching is a fundamental tool in the toolbox of Scala programmers. We will see more of it as we progress in this course.

Parametric Classes

The OptionInt class surely let you with a bad taste in the mouth, since you know that you can define the same class in Java using generics.

Scala offers parametric classes too, and much more powerful than its Java counterpart, but we will keep it simple for the moment. The thing to remember is that you can redefine the OptionInt function to be generic in the following way:

trait MyOption[+A] {
  def containsInteger(): Boolean

case class MySome[A](n: A) extends MyOption[A] {
  override def containsInteger() = true

case object MyNone extends MyOption[Nothing] {
  override def containsInteger() = true

Basically instead of using MyOption<A> like you’d create in Java, you have MyOption[A], and that’s it. We can notice two particularities in this code:

  • the + before the type parameter A
  • the Nothing type as parameter for MyOption in the definition of MyNone

Let us first consider the Nothing. The best way to understand the Nothing type is in the same way that we understand the Unit type. It is a special type to catch corner cases. The Nothing has two interesting properties:

  • it has no valid value, i.e. you cannot have a value of type Nothing
  • it is a subtype of all other Scala types

To understand the importance of this, let us consider the + that appears there before the type parameter A. This is to indicate that the type MyOption[A] is a variant type. Contrary to Java, where generics are invariant, Scala support variant, covariant, and invariant types. We leave covariant for another post and assume that you know what invariants are from Java. A variant type means that if type B is a subtype of B, then parametric types Type[B] is a subtype of parametric type Type[A]. This is important because it implies the following: since Nothing is subtype of A (for all A), then MyOption[Nothing] is subtype of MyOption[A] (foll all possible types A). This makes possible to write code like this:

val x: MyOption[Int]= MyNone
val y: MyOption[String]= MyNone
val z: MyOption[Double]= MyNone

As you can see, MyNone can be used independently of the type contained by the MyOption type.


We have seen case classes, objects, pattern matching and a short introduction to parametric types in Scala. These functionality is very close to Java, but you should start to see where Scala is different and the different types of programming styles that it enables you to use.

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