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This year in Scala (2013)

01.01.2014
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In place of the traditional This week in Scala, I give you This year in Scala. It is my take on what has happened in the Scala and the wider JVM world, and I will even throw in some of my “predictions” for 2014. (We’ll see next year how accurate I was.)

Overall, the Scala community and ecosystem has made great progress towards being enterprise ready, where enterprise means reliable, predictable and well-documented; not bloated and over-engineered. (Clojurists will claim otherwise, of course, but bah humbug to you!). Alongside the core language, we saw the rise of the Reactive Manifesto, which gives name and common patterns you need to follow to build modern applications. The patterns are applicable to any platform, but seem to fit the current state of the JVM and Scala rather well. Finally, the selection of the Scala libraries, frameworks and projects continued to grow; see the Takipi blog to to find the top 100 most popular ones.

The core

The core is the Typesafe stack. It bundles together the Scala language, Akka and Play, allowing Typesafe to deliver a complete package for all your enterprise programming needs. (Terms, conditions, support contracts & other goodies applying, of course!)

Scala language

2013 started on a high note following Scala 2.10.0 release, which brought very useful language features such as flexible string interpolation, value classes, futures and promises; all that on top of better bytecode emitter, more powerful matcher, Akka actors now part of the core distribution and much, much more. Check out http://www.scala-lang.org/download/changelog.html to see if you are truly making most of the 2.10 release.

During the rest of the 2013, we saw the 2.10.1, 2.10.2, and 2.10.3 releases, which brought numerous fixes and small features. Alongside the 2.10 branch, we had the chance to see the first milestones of 2.11. The whole Scala library is now split into components that you can pull in depending on what you need (parser-combinators, xml, …). Alongside these “user-level” changes, the compiler has seen big changes, too. To get a glimpse of what insides of 2.11 look like, check out the new macros and their expansion points. If you want to support the new macros in 2.10, be sure to check out macro-paradise. In fact, be sure to head over to http://docs.scala-lang.org/scala/2.11/ for the news on 2.11.

Akka, Play & Friends

Alongside the updates to the language, we have seen fantastic new features coming to Akka and Play and some of the related libraries. Just like the Scala language, we started off 2013 digesting the 2.1.0 release of Akka. In addition to Akka actors folded into Scala library, 2.1.0 brought experimental cluster support, Camel support and secure remoting. For those unfortunate enough to be using the Java API, TestKit brought support for that, too! Then came the 2.2.0 release, and it was good. The cluster support is no longer experimental, and we now have very powerful (and, of course, fully reactive) networking layer. That’s what spray.io uses to provide concise and powerful HTTP server for your actors, and the HTTP clients to be used within your actors.

If you’re after pretty HTML rather than REST APIs (why, oh why?), you were no doubt following the Play world. In February, you got your hands on Play 2.1.0; I will point out the really cool iteratee-based APIs, with some truly exciting and interesting articles to get your brains fired up. (Scalaz and Haskell, anyone?) Then came the 2.2.0 release, which upgraded Sbt, improved the Java API (by splitting the results structure) and added built-in gzip support.

Community

The community includes great minds behind the numerous libraries and frameworks–I cannot even begin to list names in fear of being unfair! Nevertheless, you can now get help at almost any level with your Scala problems; from the trivial to the very advanced.

In addition to the online forums, StackOverflow Scala “channel”, we have plenty of conferences to meet other Scala fans. Scala Days was an absolute blast in New York in May; Scala eXchange in London was an equal match (but without the transatlantic flight for many). Breaking the hegemony of the English language, there was the excellent Scala.IO in Paris, too!

Learning

As I noted above, the Scala ecosystem is maturing; and that includes the available learning resources. You can now get stuck in with the Typesafe Activator, and try out the Scala goodies for yourselves. If you are after something more juicy, you now have two Coursera programmes: Functional programming principles in Scala to start with, and Principles of Reactive Programming to learn & understand the drivers behind Akka.

Finally, there were a few exciting books for Scala in 2013. I’ll pick out Scala in Action, Design patterns in Scala, and the truly magnificent Functional programming in Scala. Get your credit cards ready!

What about 2014?

This is the Currency(1000000) with USD question! What we can expect for sure is Scala 2.11, Akka integrating Spray, Play being based on Spray. It will be interesting to watch the race in the NIO space: Netty versus Akka (IO). Netty, even if you don’t use it directly, is behind many non-blocking database drivers. Which brings me nicely to Java 8. Java 8 will bring baby-versions of the grown-up things we already have in Scala. Nevertheless, the improvements to the bytecode and the JVM may well be significant help to the internals of Scala.

Breaking out of the JVM box, we will have to accept and embrace the polyglot nature of most of our applications. The JVM will no longer be enough for the most complex tasks. Anecdotally, at Cake Solutions, we have already done a lot of C++/CUDA and Haskell code compiled to the machine code of the target platform. The computing power available to us is truly amazing. You must now learn to make most of the computing power available to you. Would your code keep a couple (a few hundred prehaps) cr1.8xlarge instance (32 64bit cores, 288 GiB memory) busy?

All in all, 2014 will be another excellent year for functional programming; the knowledge you will learn in Scala will give you excellent starting point to start exploring Haskell, F# or OCaml. If you take the time to understand the principles of Akka, you will have a great starting point for Erlang/OTP. (Either in the language of the devil itself–Erlang, or in the more humane Elixir.)

Embrace the Scala landscape on the JVM, explore Haskell and OCaml for strongly-typed functional native code, and Erlang/OTP for the concurrency. Keep learning and exploring and I can guarantee that 2014 will be a blast!

Published at DZone with permission of Jan Machacek, author and DZone MVB. (source)

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