back to listing index

milessabin/shapeless - Generic/Polytypic programming in Scala

[web search]
Original source (
Tags: scala generics types programming Generic Polytypic
Clipped on: 2012-08-14

shapeless : An exploration of generic/polytypic programming in Scala

shapeless is an exploration of generic (aka polytypic) programming in Scala derived from the various talks I (Miles Sabin) have given over the course of 2011 on implementing scrap your boilerplate and higher rank polymorphism in Scala.

In the new year I'll be posting a (long overdue) series of articles on the implementation techniques used: heavily type class based, with essential use of dependent types at various junctures, which together enable the relatively smooth encoding of type level functions. In the meantime you'll find Olivera, Moors and Odersky Type Classes as Object and Implicits useful background material.

There is a mailing list for discussion around generic programming in Scala in general and shapeless in particular.

Selected highlights of shapeless

(All the examples below assume you have previously imported shapeless._)

Polymorphic function values

A new encoding of polymorphic function values which optionally supports type specific cases, and which is interoperable with Scala's ordinary monomorphic function values.

    // choose is a function from Sets to Options with no type specific cases
    object choose extends (Set ~> Option) {
      def apply[T](s : Set[T]) = s.headOption

    // choose is convertible to an ordinary monomorphic function value
    val lo = List(Set(1, 3, 5), Set(2, 4, 6)) map choose
    lo == List(Option(1), Option(2))

    // size is a function from values of arbitrary type to a 'size' which is
    // defined via type specific cases
    object size extends Poly1 {
      implicit def default[T] = at[T](t => 1)
      implicit def caseInt = at[Int](x => 1)
      implicit def caseString = at[String](_.length)
      implicit def caseList[T] = at[List[T]](_.length)
      implicit def caseOption[T](implicit st : Pullback1[T, Int]) =
        at[Option[T]](t => 1+(t map size).getOrElse(0))
      implicit def caseTuple[T, U]
        (implicit st : Pullback1[T, Int], su : Pullback1[U, Int]) =
          at[(T, U)](t => size(t._1)+size(t._2))

    size(23) == 1
    size("foo") == 3
    size((23, "foo")) == 4

Scrap your Boilerplate

An implementation of Scrap your Boilerplate with Class which provides generic map and fold operations over arbitrarily nested data structures,

    val nested = List(Option(List(Option(List(Option(23))))))

    val succ = everywhere(inc)(nested)
    succ == List(Option(List(Option(List(Option(24))))))

Type safe cast

A Typeable type class which provides a type safe cast operation.

    val a : Any = List(Vector("foo", "bar", "baz"), Vector("wibble"))

    val lvs : Option[List[Vector[String]]] = a.cast[List[Vector[String]]]
    lvs.isDefined == true

    val lvi : Option[List[Vector[Int]]] = a.cast[List[Vector[Int]]]
    lvi.isEmpty == true

Heterogenous lists

The mother of all Scala HList's, which amongst other things,

  • is covariant.
    trait Fruit
    case class Apple() extends Fruit
    case class Pear() extends Fruit

    type FFFF = Fruit :: Fruit :: Fruit :: Fruit :: HNil
    type APAP = Apple :: Pear :: Apple :: Pear :: HNil

    val a : Apple = Apple()
    val p : Pear = Pear()

    val apap : APAP = a :: p :: a :: p :: HNil
    val ffff : FFFF = apap  // APAP <: FFFF 
  • has a map operation, applying a polymorphic function value (possibly with type specific cases) across its elements. This means that it subsumes both typical HList's and also KList's (HList's whose elements share a common outer type constructor).
    type SISS = Set[Int] :: Set[String] :: HNil
    type OIOS = Option[Int] :: Option[String] :: HNil

    val sets : SISS = Set(1) :: Set("foo") :: HNil
    val opts : OIOS = sets map choose
    opts == Option(1) :: Option("foo") :: HNil 
  • has a set of fully polymorphic fold operations which take a polymorphic binary function value. The fold is sensitive to the static types of all of the elements of the HList,
    // Polymorphic binary function value with type-specific cases:
    //  (c : Char, s : String) => s.indexOf(c)
    //  (i : Int, b : Boolean) => if ((i >= 0) == b) "pass" else "fail")
    object combine extends Poly2 {
      implicit def caseCharString = at[Char, String]((c, s) => s.indexOf(c))
      implicit def caseIntBoolean =
        at[Int, Boolean]((i, b) => if ((i >= 0) == b) "pass" else "fail")

    val l1 = "foo" :: true :: HNil
    val f1 = l1.foldLeft('o')(combine)
    f1 == "pass"
  • has a zipper for traversal and persistent update.
    import Zipper._

    val l = 1 :: "foo" :: 3.0 :: HNil

    val l2 = l.toZipper.right.put("wibble", 45).reify
    l2 == 1 :: ("wibble", 45) :: 3.0 :: HNil

    val l3 = l.toZipper.right.delete.reify
    l3 == 1 :: 3.0 :: HNil

    val l4 = l.toZipper.last.left.insert("bar").reify
    l4 == 1 :: "foo" :: "bar" :: 3.0 :: HNil
  • has a unify operation which converts it to an HList of elements of the least upper bound of the original types.
    val ffff = apap.unify // type inferred as FFFF
  • supports conversion to an ordinary Scala List of elements of the least upper bound of the original types.
    val lf = apap.toList  // type inferred as List[Fruit]
    lf == List(a, p, a, p)
  • has a Typeable type class instance, allowing, eg. vanilla List[Any]'s or HList's with elements of type Any to be safely cast to precisely typed HList's.
    val ffff : FFFF = apap.unify               // discard precise typing 
    val apap2 : Option[APAP] = ffff.cast[APAP] // reestablish precise typing
    apap2.get == apap  

These last three bullets make this HList dramatically more practically useful than HList's are typically thought to be: normally the full type information required to work with them is too fragile to cross subtyping or I/O boundaries. This implementation supports the discarding of precise information where necessary (eg. to serialize a precisely typed record after construction), and its later reconstruction (eg. a weakly typed deserialized record with a known schema can have it's precise typing reestabilished).

Facilities for abstracting over arity

Conversions between tuples and HList's, and between ordinary Scala functions of arbitrary arity and functions which take a single corresponding HList argument.

    // Round trip from tuple to HList and back
    val t1 = (23, "foo", 2.0, true)

    val l1 = t1.hlisted
    h1 == 23 :: "foo" :: 2.0 :: true :: HNil

    val t2 = l1.tupled
    t1 == t2

One application of these is the liftO function which lifts an ordinary function of arbitrary arity into Option.

    // Lift these ordinary Scala function values into Option 
    val sum : (Int, Int) => Int = _ + _
    val prd : (Int, Int, Int) => Int = _ * _ * _

    // Nb. liftO abstracts over the arity of its function arguments 
    val sumO = liftO(sum) // (Option[Int], Option[Int]) => Option[Int]
    val prdO = liftO(prd) // (Option[Int], Option[Int], Option[Int]) => Option[Int]

    val s1 = sumO(Some(1), Some(2))
    s1 == Option(3)

    val s2 = sumO(Some(1), None)
    s2 == None

    val p1 = prdO(Some(2), Some(3), Some(4))
    p1 == Option(24)

    val p2 = prdO(Some(2), None, Some(4))
    p2 == None

Heterogenous maps

A heterogenous map which supports an arbitrary relation between key type and corresponding value type,

    // Key/value relation to be enforced: Strings map to Ints and vice versa
    class BiMapIS[K, V]
    implicit val intToString = new BiMapIS[Int, String]
    implicit val stringToInt = new BiMapIS[String, Int]

    val hm = HMap[BiMapIS](23 -> "foo", "bar" -> 13)
    val hm2 = HMap[BiMapIS](23 -> "foo", 23 -> 13)   // Does not compile

    val s1 = hm.get(23)        // Inferred type is Option[String]
    s1 == Some("foo")

    val i1 = hm.get("bar")     // Inferred type is Option[Int]
    i1 == Some(13)

Extensible records

An implementation of extensible records modelled as HLists of associations. Keys are encoded using singleton types and fully determine the types of their corresponding values,

    import Record._

    object author  extends Field[String]
    object title   extends Field[String]
    object price   extends Field[Double]
    object inPrint extends Field[Boolean]

    val book =
      (author -> "Benjamin Pierce") ::
      (title  -> "Types and Programming Languages") ::
      (price  ->  44.11) ::

    // Read price field
    val currentPrice = book.get(price)  // Inferred type is Double
    currentPrice == 44.11

    // Update price field, relying on static type of currentPrice
    val updated = book + (price -> (currentPrice+2.0))

    // Add a new field
    val extended = updated + (inPrint -> true)

    extended ==
      (author -> "Benjamin Pierce") ::
      (title  -> "Types and Programming Languages") ::
      (price  ->  46.11) ::
      (inPrint -> true) ::

Representation of case classes as HLists

A type representing an isomorphism between an arbitrary case class an HList composed of the case classes components. This has many applications including,

  • almost automatic derivation of type class instances for case classes given the instances for their components,
    // Given an isomorphism between `C` and an `HList` `L`, construct a
    // monoid instance for `C` given the monoid instance for `L`, which is 
    // in turn derived from the monoid instances for its/`C`'s element types.
    implicit def ccMonoid[C, L <: HList](implicit iso : HListIso[C, L], ml : Monoid[L]) =
      new Monoid[C] {
        def zero = fromHList(
        def append(a : C, b : C) = fromHList(toHList(a) |+| toHList(b))

    // An ordinary case class
    case class Foo(i : Int, s : String, d : Double)

    // Publish its `HListIso`
    implicit def fooIso = HListIso(Foo.apply _, Foo.unapply _)

    // And now it's a monoid ...

    val f = Foo(13, "foo", 1.0) |+| Foo(23, "bar", 3.0)
    f == Foo(36, "foobar", 4.0)
  • boilerplate-free lenses for HList and tuple types, and almost boilerplate-free lenses for arbitrary case classes,
    // A pair of ordinary case classes ...
    case class Address(street : String, city : String, postcode : String)
    case class Person(name : String, age : Int, address : Address)

    // One line of boilerplate per case class ...
    implicit val addressIso = HListIso(Address.apply _, Address.unapply _)
    implicit val personIso = HListIso(Person.apply _, Person.unapply _)

    // Some lenses over Person/Address ...
    val nameLens     = Lens[Person] >> _0
    val ageLens      = Lens[Person] >> _1
    val addressLens  = Lens[Person] >> _2
    val streetLens   = Lens[Person] >> _2 >> _0
    val cityLens     = Lens[Person] >> _2 >> _1
    val postcodeLens = Lens[Person] >> _2 >> _2

    // Starting value
    val person = Person("Joe Grey", 37, Address("Southover Street", "Brighton", "BN2 9UA"))

    // Read a field
    val age1 = ageLens.get(person) // Type inferred is Int
    age1 == 37

    // Update a field
    val person2 = ageLens.set(person)(38)
    person2.age == 38

    // Transform a field
    val person3 = ageLens.modify(person2)(_ + 1)
    person3.age == 39

    // Read a nested field
    val street = streetLens.get(person3)
    street == "Southover Street"

    // Update a nested field
    val person4 = streetLens.set(person3)("Montpelier Road")
    person4.address.street == "Montpelier Road"

    // Cumulative result of above updates
    person4 == Person("Joe Grey", 39, Address("Montpelier Road", "Brighton", "BN2 9UA"))

Sized types

Collection types with statically known sizes. These can prevent runtime errors that would result from attempting to take the head of an empty list, and can also verify more complex and useful relationships.

    def row(cols : Seq[String]) = cols.mkString("\"", "\", \"", "\"")
    def csv[N <: Nat]
      (hdrs : Sized[Seq[String], N],
       rows : List[Sized[Seq[String], N]]) = row(hdrs) ::

    val hdrs = Sized("Title", "Author")
    val rows = List(
      Sized("Types and Programming Languages", "Benjamin Pierce"),
      Sized("The Implementation of Functional Programming Languages", "Simon Peyton-Jones")

    // hdrs and rows statically known to have the name number of columns
    val formatted = csv(hdrs, rows)                        // Compiles

    // extendedHdrs has the wrong number of columns for rows
    val extendedHdrs = Sized("Title", "Author", "ISBN")
    val badFormatted = csv(extendedHdrs, rows)             // Does not compile


A mostly unboxed approximation to Haskell's newtype,

    // MyString is a new type with String as its underlying representation
    // and with its operations provided by MyStringOps
    type MyString = Newtype[String, MyStringOps]

    // MyString constructor
    def MyString(s : String) : MyString = newtype(s)

    // Expose String#size as MyString#mySize. No other operations of String 
    // are accessible
    case class MyStringOps(s : String) {
      def mySize = s.size
    implicit val mkOps = MyStringOps

    val ms = MyString("foo")

    val s : String = ms        // Does not compile
    val ms2 : MyString = "foo" // Does not compile

    //ms.size                  // Does not compile
    ms.mySize == 3             // Compiles.

    // Verify that this is an unboxed representation
    ms.getClass == classOf[String]

Using shapeless

shapeless is published to the Sonatype OSS Repository Hosting Service (OSSRH) and will be synced to Maven Central. Release builds are published relative to Scala 2.9.1, 2.9.1-1, 2.9.2. Snapshot builds are also published relative to Scala 2.10.0-SNAPSHOT.

If your project is built with Scala 2.9.2, then to include the latest release of shapeless in your build add the following to your SBT configuration,

scalaVersion := "2.9.2"

scalacOptions += "-Ydependent-method-types"

resolvers ++= Seq(
  "Sonatype OSS Releases" at "",
  "Sonatype OSS Snapshots" at ""

libraryDependencies ++= Seq(
  "com.chuusai" %% "shapeless" % "1.2.2"

If you want to be able to build with Scala 2.10.0 milestone releases or snapshots then you'll need to use SBT 0.12.0-M1 or later and add the following to your SBT configuration,

scalaVersion := "2.10.0-SNAPSHOT"

resolvers ++= Seq(
  "Sonatype OSS Releases" at "",
  "Sonatype OSS Snapshots" at ""

libraryDependencies ++= Seq(
  "com.chuusai" % "shapeless" % "1.2.2" cross CrossVersion.full

Note that in this case there's no need (in fact it would be an error) to add the -Ydependent-method-types compiler flag. If you want to be able to support building relative to both 2.9.2 and 2.10.0 then you should use the 2.10.0 configuration above and add the following,

scalacOptions <++= scalaVersion map { version =>
  val Some((major, minor)) = CrossVersion.partialVersion(version)
  if (major < 2 || (major == 2 && minor < 10)) 
  else Nil

which will set the -Ydependent-method-types compiler flag conditionally on the actual Scala version in use.

Building shapeless

shapeless is built using SBT. On Linux and Mac OS run the sbt script and perform the compile task.

By default shapeless is built with Scala 2.10-SNAPSHOT, but it will build against any Scala 2.9.x release. You can build against Scala 2.9.2 by running the sbt script with the -29 command line switch or by executing ++ 2.9.2 at the SBT prompt.

Eclipse project metadata can be generated by performing the eclipse task followed by the compile-inputs task. If you're working with Eclipse I recommend using the nightly builds relative to Scala master.


shapeless comes with a collection of JUnit tests which exercise most of its features. To run, perform the sbt test task.