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Using Clauses

Functional programming tends to express most dependencies as simple function parameterization. This is clean and powerful, but it sometimes leads to functions that take many parameters where the same value is passed over and over again in long call chains to many functions. Context parameters can help here since they enable the compiler to synthesize repetitive arguments instead of the programmer having to write them explicitly.

For example, with the given instances defined previously, a max function that works for any arguments for which an ordering exists can be defined as follows:

def max[T](x: T, y: T)(using ord: Ord[T]): T =
  if ord.compare(x, y) < 0 then y else x

Here, ord is a context parameter introduced with a using clause. The max function can be applied as follows:

max(2, 3)(using intOrd)

The (using intOrd) part passes intOrd as an argument for the ord parameter. But the point of context parameters is that this argument can also be left out (and it usually is). So the following applications are equally valid:

max(2, 3)
max(List(1, 2, 3), Nil)

Anonymous Context Parameters

In many situations, the name of a context parameter need not be mentioned explicitly at all, since it is used only in synthesized arguments for other context parameters. In that case one can avoid defining a parameter name and just provide its type. Example:

def maximum[T](xs: List[T])(using Ord[T]): T =

maximum takes a context parameter of type Ord[T] only to pass it on as an inferred argument to max. The name of the parameter is left out.

Generally, context parameters may be defined either as a full parameter list (p_1: T_1, ..., p_n: T_n) or just as a sequence of types T_1, ..., T_n. Vararg parameters are not supported in using clauses.

Class Context Parameters

To make a class context parameter visible from outside the class body, it can be made into a member by adding a val or var modifier.

class GivenIntBox(using val usingParameter: Int):
  def myInt = summon[Int]

val b = GivenIntBox(using 23)
import b.usingParameter
summon[Int]  // 23

This is preferable to creating an explicit given member, as the latter creates ambiguity inside the class body:

class GivenIntBox2(using usingParameter: Int):
  given givenMember: Int = usingParameter
  def n = summon[Int]  // ambiguous given instances: both usingParameter and givenMember match type Int

From the outside of GivenIntBox, usingParameter appears as if it were defined in the class as given usingParameter: Int, in particular it must be imported as described in the section on importing givens.

val b = GivenIntBox(using 23)
// Works:
import b.given
summon[Int]  // 23
usingParameter  // 23

// Fails:
import b.*
summon[Int]      // No given instance found
usingParameter   // Not found

Inferring Complex Arguments

Here are two other methods that have a context parameter of type Ord[T]:

def descending[T](using asc: Ord[T]): Ord[T] = new Ord[T]:
  def compare(x: T, y: T) = asc.compare(y, x)

def minimum[T](xs: List[T])(using Ord[T]) =
  maximum(xs)(using descending)

The minimum method's right-hand side passes descending as an explicit argument to maximum(xs). With this setup, the following calls are all well-formed, and they all normalize to the last one:

maximum(xs)(using descending)
maximum(xs)(using descending(using intOrd))

Multiple using Clauses

There can be several using clauses in a definition and using clauses can be freely mixed with normal parameter clauses. Example:

def f(u: Universe)(using ctx: u.Context)(using s: ctx.Symbol, k: ctx.Kind) = ...

Multiple using clauses are matched left-to-right in applications. Example:

object global extends Universe { type Context = ... }
given ctx : global.Context with { type Symbol = ...; type Kind = ... }
given sym : ctx.Symbol
given kind: ctx.Kind

Then the following calls are all valid (and normalize to the last one)

f(global)(using ctx)
f(global)(using ctx)(using sym, kind)

But f(global)(using sym, kind) would give a type error.

Summoning Instances

The method summon in Predef returns the given of a specific type. For example, the given instance for Ord[List[Int]] is produced by

summon[Ord[List[Int]]]  // reduces to listOrd(using intOrd)

The summon method is simply defined as the (non-widening) identity function over a context parameter.

def summon[T](using x: T): x.type = x


Here is the new syntax of parameters and arguments seen as a delta from the standard context free syntax of Scala 3. using is a soft keyword, recognized only at the start of a parameter or argument list. It can be used as a normal identifier everywhere else.

ClsParamClause      ::=  ... | UsingClsParamClause
DefParamClauses     ::=  ... | UsingParamClause
UsingClsParamClause ::=  ‘(’ ‘using’ (ClsParams | Types) ‘)’
UsingParamClause    ::=  ‘(’ ‘using’ (DefParams | Types) ‘)’
ParArgumentExprs    ::=  ... | ‘(’ ‘using’ ExprsInParens ‘)’