Macros in Scala 3


This doc page is specific to Scala 3, and may cover new concepts not available in Scala 2. Unless otherwise stated, all the code examples in this page assume you are using Scala 3.

The reflection API provides a more complex and comprehensive view on the structure of the code. It provides a view of Typed Abstract Syntax Trees and their properties such as types, symbols, positions and comments.

The API can be used in macros as well as for inspecting TASTy files.

How to use the API

The reflection API is defined in the type Quotes as reflect. The actual instance depends on the current scope, in which quotes or quoted pattern matching is used. Hence, every macro method receives Quotes as an additional argument. Since Quotes is contextual, to access its members we either need to name the parameter or summon it. The following definition from the standard library details the canonical way of accessing it:

package scala.quoted

transparent inline def quotes(using inline q: Quotes): q.type = q

We can use scala.quoted.quotes to import the current Quotes in scope:

import scala.quoted.* // Import `quotes`, `Quotes`, and `Expr`

def f(x: Expr[Int])(using Quotes): Expr[Int] =
  import quotes.reflect.* // Import `Tree`, `TypeRepr`, `Symbol`, `Position`, .....
  val tree: Tree = ...

This will import all the types and modules (with extension methods) of the API.

How to navigate the API

The full API can be found in the API documentation for scala.quoted.Quotes.reflectModule. Unfortunately, at this stage, this automatically-generated documentation is not very easy to navigate.

The most important element on the page is the hierarchy tree which provides a synthetic overview of the subtyping relationships of the types in the API. For each type Foo in the tree:

  • the trait FooMethods contains the methods available on the type Foo
  • the trait FooModule contains the static methods available on the object Foo. Most notably, constructors (apply/copy) and the unapply method which provides the extractor(s) required for pattern matching are found here
  • For all types Upper such that Foo <: Upper, the methods defined in UpperMethods are also available on Foo

For example, TypeBounds, a subtype of TypeRepr, represents a type tree of the form T >: L <: U: a type T which is a super type of L and a subtype of U. In TypeBoundsMethods, you will find the methods low and hi, which allow you to access the representations of L and U. In TypeBoundsModule, you will find the unapply method, which allows you to write:

def f(tpe: TypeRepr) =
  tpe match 
    case TypeBounds(l, u) =>

Because TypeBounds <: TypeRepr, all the methods defined in TypeReprMethods are available on TypeBounds values:

def f(tpe: TypeRepr) =
  tpe match
    case tpe: TypeBounds =>
      val low = tpe.low
      val hi  = tpe.hi

Relation with Expr/Type

Expr and Term

Expressions (Expr[T]) can be seen as wrappers around a Term, where T is the statically-known type of the term. Below, we use the extension method asTerm to transform an expression into a term. This extension method is only available after importing quotes.reflect.asTerm. Then we use asExprOf[Int] to transform the term back into Expr[Int]. This operation will fail if the term does not have the provided type (in this case, Int) or if the term is not a valid expression. For example, an Ident(fn) is an invalid term if the method fn takes type parameters, in which case we would need an Apply(Ident(fn), args).

def f(x: Expr[Int])(using Quotes): Expr[Int] =
  import quotes.reflect.*
  val tree: Term = x.asTerm
  val expr: Expr[Int] = tree.asExprOf[Int]

Type and TypeRepr

Similarly, we can also see Type[T] as a wrapper over TypeRepr, with T being the statically-known type. To get a TypeRepr, we use TypeRepr.of[T], which expects a given Type[T] in scope (similar to Type.of[T]). We can also transform it back into a Type[?] using the asType method. As the type of Type[?] is not statically known, we need to name it with an existential type to use it. This can be achieved using the '[t] pattern.

def g[T: Type](using Quotes) =
  import quotes.reflect.*
  val tpe: TypeRepr = TypeRepr.of[T]
  tpe.asType match
    case '[t] => '{ val x: t = ${...} }


The APIs of Term and TypeRepr are relatively closed in the sense that methods produce and accept values whose types are defined in the API. However, you might notice the presence of Symbols which identify definitions.

Both Terms and TypeReprs (and therefore Exprs and Types) have an associated symbol. Symbols make it possible to compare two definitions using == to know if they are the same. In addition, Symbol exposes and is used by many useful methods. For example:

  • declaredFields and declaredMethods allow you to iterate on the fields and members defined inside a symbol
  • flags allows you to check multiple properties of a symbol
  • companionClass and companionModule provide a way to jump to and from the companion object/class
  • TypeRepr.baseClasses returns the list of symbols of classes extended by a type
  • Symbol.pos gives you access to the position where the symbol is defined, the source code of the definition, and even the filename where the symbol is defined
  • many others that you can find in SymbolMethods

To Symbol and back

Consider an instance of the type TypeRepr named val tpe: TypeRepr = .... Then:

  • tpe.typeSymbol returns the symbol of the type represented by TypeRepr. The recommended way to obtain a Symbol given a Type[T] is TypeRepr.of[T].typeSymbol
  • For a singleton type, tpe.termSymbol returns the symbol of the underlying object or value
  • tpe.memberType(symbol) returns the TypeRepr of the provided symbol
  • On objects t: Tree, t.symbol returns the symbol associated with a tree. Given that Term <: Tree, Expr.asTerm.symbol is the best way to obtain the symbol associated with an Expr[T]
  • On objects sym: Symbol, sym.tree returns the Tree associated to the symbol. Be careful when using this method as the tree for a symbol might not be defined. Read more on the best practices page

Macro API design

It will often be useful to create helper methods or extractors that perform some common logic of your macros.

The simplest methods will be those that only mention Expr, Type, and Quotes in their signature. Internally, they may use reflection, but this will not be seen at the use site of the method.

def f(x: Expr[Int])(using Quotes): Expr[Int] =
  import quotes.reflect.*

In some cases, it may be inevitable that some methods will expect or return Trees or other types in quotes.reflect. For these cases, the best practice is to follow the following method signature examples:

A method that takes a quotes.reflect.Term parameter

def f(using Quotes)(term: quotes.reflect.Term): String =
  import quotes.reflect.*

An extension method for a quotes.reflect.Term returning a quotes.reflect.Tree

extension (using Quotes)(term: quotes.reflect.Term)
  def g: quotes.reflect.Tree = ...

An extractor that matches on quotes.reflect.Terms

object MyExtractor:
  def unapply(using Quotes)(x: quotes.reflect.Term) =

Avoid saving the Quotes context in a field. Quotes in fields inevitably make its use harder by causing errors involving Quotes with different paths.

Usually, these patterns have been seen in code that uses the Scala 2 ways to define extension methods or contextual unapplies. Now that we have given parameters that can be added before other parameters, all these old workarounds are not needed anymore. The new abstractions make it simpler both at the definition site and at the use site.


Runtime checks

Expressions (Expr[T]) can be seen as wrappers around a Term, where T is the statically-known type of the term. Hence, these checks will be done at runtime (i.e. compile-time when the macro expands).

It is recommended to enable the -Xcheck-macros flag while developing macros or on the tests for the macro. This flag will enable extra runtime checks that will try to find ill-formed trees or types as soon as they are created.

There is also the -Ycheck:all flag that checks all compiler invariants for tree well-formedness. These checks will usually fail with an assertion error.

Printing the trees

The toString methods on types in the quotes.reflect package are not great for debugging as they show the internal representation rather than the quotes.reflect representation. In many cases these are similar, but they may sometimes lead the debugging process astray, so they shouldn’t be relied on.

Instead, quotes.reflect.Printers provides a set of useful printers for debugging. Notably the TreeStructure, TypeReprStructure, and ConstantStructure classes can be quite useful. These will print the tree structure following loosely the extractors that would be needed to match it.

val tree: Tree = ...
println( Printer.TreeStructure))

One of the most useful places where this can be added is at the end of a pattern match on a Tree.

tree match
  case Ident(_) =>
  case Select(_, _) =>
  case _ =>
    throw new MatchError( Printer.TreeStructure))

This way, if a case is missed the error will report a familiar structure that can be copy-pasted to start fixing the issue.

You can make this printer the default if desired:

  import quotes.reflect.*
  given Printer[Tree] = Printer.TreeStructure


Coming soon

Contributors to this page: