This article outlines classes, objects, and traits, and Object-Oriented Programming in Scala.


In Scala, a class is not declared as public. A Scala file can contain multiple classes, and all of them have public visibility.


There are two ways to define fields for a class: after class name or in the class body:

class Counter(private var value: Int) {
	def increment() {value += 1}
	def current() = value

This produces a constructor with one parameter.

class Counter {
	private var value = 0 // must initialize the field
	def increment() {value += 1}
	def current() = value

This produces a constructor with 0 parameters.

Fields are private in Java’s sense. Their visibility is controlled by their accessors and mutators.

this.type field

There is a special field in every object in scala: this.type, which is the actual type of the object. It is very useful as return types to support method chaining and inheritance. Such methods always declare this.type as return type and this as return value.

def setInt(i: Int): this.type = {
    this.i = i

Accessors and Mutators

Java’s getters and setters are named after Java Bean convention. In Scala, they are named accessors and mutators. Scala will generate accessors and mutators to Java-type getter and setter with @BeanProperty quantifier.

The visibility of accessors and mutators depends on the type of fields and their visibility:

  • var field: its accessor and mutator are public. Its mutator is named as p_=. When obj.p = q is called, the mutator method is executed.
  • val field: only accessor is generated.
  • A field without a var or val modifier: no accessor or mutator is generated.
  • private val or private var: no accessor or mutator is generated.

Directly overriding generated accessors and mutators will result in compile-time error, as compiler confuses the field and method with the same name. However, one can mark the variable as private (to prevent compiler from generating accessors and mutators) with a different name (often with a leading underscore):

class Person(private var _name: String) {
    def name = _name
    def name_=(aName: String) { _name = name }


Methods are public by default. Methods are a special type of functions.

Object equality

Like Java, equals method is defined to compare two objects of the same type; but unlike Java, Scala uses == to compare, which delegates to the equals method. Any implementation of the equals method should be an equivalence relation, meaning:

  • It is reflexive: x.equals(x) == true
  • It is symmetric: x.equals(y) == y.equals(x)
  • It is transitive: for any instance of x, y, and z of type AnyRef, if x.equals(y) == true and y.equals(z) == true, then x.equals(z) = true.

There are several important notes when overriding equals method:

  • Argument type must be Any for Scala and Object for Java. Otherwise it is not overriding anything! Be sure to perform type check in the method body.
  • Hashcode must be overriden as well to ensure two objects are equal with the same hashcode.
  • Mutable fields should not be part of the equals method.


Primary Constructor

  • The parameters of the primary constructor are placed immediately after the class name. These parameters become fields of the class as well.
  • If no parameters are provided in class definition, this class has a primary constructor with no parameters.
  • All statements in class definition belong to the primary constructor.

Auxiliary Constructors

They are methods named this. Each auxiliary constructor must call a previously defined auxiliary constructor or the primary constructor. Note fields are declared in the primary constructor.

You can often eliminate auxiliary constructors by providing default values to the primary constructor.

Constructors in Inheritance

Only the primary constructor can call a superclass’ constructor, no matter it is primary or auxilliary. And the call is similarly intertwined into class definition:

class Employee(name: String, age: Int, val salary : Double) extends Person(name, age)

It calls the two-arg constructor of the Person class. Note that name and age are passed to the constructor of superclass, thus there is no need to declare its property like val or var again in the child class.

As it can invoke another constructor in the same class, an auxilliary constructor can never invoke a superclass constructor directly.

Private Primary Constructor

Sometimes e.g., to enforce the singleton pattern, the primary constructor must be made as private. Todo this, insert the private keyword in between the class name and any parameters of the constructor:

class Order private {} // private no-args primary constructor

class Order private (var name: String){} // private one-args primary constructor

To enforce the singleton pattern, put the class instance in its companion object and use a getInstance method to return it.

Scope Option

Fields and methods are public by default in Scala. However, there are several scope options available:

  • Object-private scope: private[this]. It is available only to the current instance of the current object.
  • Private scope: private. It is available to the current class and other instances of thet current class. This is the same as private in Java.
  • Protected scope: protected. In Scala, it is available to the current class and subclasses. But in Java, it is available to other classes in the same package.
  • Package scope: private[packageName]. It is availble to all members of the current package. packageName can at different levels in the package hierachy, and only that level (not all subsequent levels) have access. It can also be a class name.

Inner classes

In Java, inner classes are bouned to the outer class. In Scala, inner classes belongs to the object of the outer class.

You can include an object or a class inside a class or a object.


There are no static methods or fields in Scala. The object construct specifies a single instance of a class. It is used as singleton.

The constructor of an object is executed first time the object is used. However, you cannot provide constructor parameters.

An object can extend a class and/or one or more traits.

Companion objects

In Java a class can have both static and non-static methods. This can be done by have a class and its companion object with the same name in the same source file.

The class and object can access each other’s private members, but they’re not in the same scope. Thus access is done by or but not foo directly.

The apply Method

apply serves the purpose of closing the gap between Object-Oriented and Functional paradigms in Scala. Every function in Scala can be represented as an object. Every function also has an OO type: for instance, a function that takes an Int parameter and returns an Int will have OO type of Function1[Int,Int].

Now if we want to actually execute the function, or as mathematician say “apply a function to its arguments” we would call the apply method on the Function1[Int,Int] object.

Every function in Scala can be treated as an object and it works the other way too - every object can be treated as a function, provided it has the apply method. The apply method: f.apply(arg1, arg2, ...) is the same as f(arg1, arg2, ...).

The update method: f(arg1, arg2, ...) = value is the same as f.update(arg1, arg2, ..., value).

Extractor: unapply method that retrieves values from an object. For example,

val author = "Baihu Qian"
val Name(first, last) = author // call Name.unapply(author)
// first == "Baihu", last = "Qian"

Note Name is an object.


As in Java, you use extends keywords, and specify fields and methods that are new to the subclass or override methods in the superclass.

You can declare a class final so that it cannot be extended; you can declare individual methods or fields final so that they cannot be overriden.

In Scala you must provide the override keyword to override a method that is not abstract. This provides protection over misspelling, wrong parameter type, or name clashes. It is a good practice to use override keywords any time you override a concrete or abstract field, although it is not necessary for abstract fields.

Use super keyword to refer to the parent class. If a method is implemented in multiple traits that a class is inherited from, use super[TraitName] to refer to the trait. However, you cannot use this to refer to classes/traits that the class is not directly inherited from, e.g. parent of parent classes.

Scala objects cannot be inherited. Otherwise there will be multiple instances of the same object.


  • A def can only override another def.
  • A val can only override another val or a parameterless def.
  • A var can only override an abstract var. Thus a concrete var sticks with the class and all its subclasses.

Construction Order and Early Definition

Java allows constructor of superclass the call a function overridden by the subclass.

Early definition allows you to initialize val fields of a subclass before the superclass is executed.

class Ant extend {
	override val range = 2
} with Creature

Abstract class

You can use abstract keyword to denote a class that cannot be instantiated. Unlike traits, the constructor of abstract classes can have arguments.

Abstract methods

The abstract method does not need the abstract keyword. You simply omit the method body.

In child class, override keyword is not required to define the abstract method. However, an override keyword enforces check on method footprint to avoid typo.

Abstract fields

It is a field without an initial value, but there is no abstract keywords.

Depend on it is val or var, abstract (Java sense) getter and setter methods are generated, but the field is not present in the compiled byte code.

Same to abstract methods, no override methods is required when you define a field that is abstract in the superclass.


Like Java, Scala does not allow multiple inheritance. It is similar to Java interface as one class can extend multiple traits. It’s an enhancement of Java Interface, and allows both abstract methods (like in Java) and concrete methods to be defined.


trait Logger {
	def log(msg: String)
	def info(msg: String) { log("INFO: " + msg)

No abstract keywords are used for unimplemented method, thus when implementing them, no override keywords are necessary. Note concrete methods can refer to the abstract methods although they’re not implemented yet.

Use a trait by with or extend keyword:

class Console with Logger {
	def readlog(log: String) { } // do nothing

class Console extends Logger {
	def readlog(log: String) { } // do nothing

Generally, class extends first trait, if it has no base class (otherwise it extends the base class), and use with for other traits.

Concrete classes must implement all abstract fields and methods defined in all mixed in traits, otherwise they have to be declared as abstract.

Contents in the trait is mixed in the class. They’re with the class itself, not in a parent class or anywhere else.

Trait can also be mixed into objects.

Object with Traits

Traits can be extended, and overriding concrete methods requires override keywords.

Objects of a class with a base trait can use child traits when instantiating themselves:

Suppose we have a Logger trait, and ConsoleLogger, FileLogger extend Logger to provide different log functions. A class, called Console, with Logger in definition. But, we can do the following:

val console1 = new Console with ConsoleLogger
val console2 = new Console with FileLogger

Then when log method is called, it actually refers to the implementation in ConsoleLogger or FileLogger.


Concrete fields are fields with initial values. Concrete fields are added to the class that with the trait, unlike inheritance, contents of superclass is separated from those of subclass.

Abstract fields are those without initialization (thus type must be specified). When using a trait with abstract fields, they must be supplied: val absField = 10. Note the val quantifier.

It becomes handy when using object with traits:

val console1 = new Console with FileLogger {
	val filename = "log.txt"

Layered Traits

Multiple traits are invoked from the last one. These traits may have a common base trait, and modify the behavoir of methods in the base trait by calling super.someMethod. You cannot tell from the source code with method is invoked by super.someMethod, it depends on the order of traits.

However, if child trait overrides an abstract method in parent traits by calling super.someMethod (which may be implemented by layered traits or not), the result method is still abstract. The syntax is:

abstract override def someMethod() {

Trait Construction Order

Traits can have constructor, but no constructor parameters. It is statements inside the trait’s body.

Construction order of a class that uses the trait:

  1. Constructor in the superclass
  2. Trait constructor, from left to right. Within each trait, the parents get constructed first.
  3. The class is constructed.

Be careful when initializing trait fields. If concrete fields rely on abstract fields supplied in { } after the trait name, the concrete fields are constructed BEFORE abstract fields get the values.

Two solutions:

  • Use early definition: put the { } block between new and with ClassName.
  • Use lazy value for the concrete fields, but it is inefficient.

Traits Extending Classes

Traits can extend class, abstract class, or trait. Those classes become superclass of the classes that with the traits. In other words, This trait can only be added to classes that extend a superclass.

trait [TraitName] extends [SuperClass]

Then TraitName can only mixed in classes that extends SuperClass.

It is NOT a way to create multiple inheritance. In fact, if the class with the trait extends another unrelated class (that are not in inheritance hierachy of the class the trait extends), it is an error.

Limit the Extensibility of Trait

To allow trait to be mixed into classes with certain base class, use self types: the trait starts with

this: [Type] =>

This is known as self type. For example:

trait LoggedException {
	this: Exception =>
		def log() { log(getMessage()) }

Then this trait can only be mixed into subclasses of Exception. Note this trait does not extend Exception, but it can call methods in Exception since we know it is there.

Similarly, to only allow a trait to be mixed into a type that has a method with a given structure:

trait LoggedException {
	this: { def getMessage() : String } =>
		def log() { log(getMessage()) }

This is known as structural type.