Dotty Documentation


Context Queries

Edit this page on GitHub

Context queries are functions with (only) inferable parameters. Context query types are the types of first-class context queries. Here is an example for a context query type:

type Contextual[T] = given Context => T

A value of context query type is applied to inferred arguments, in the same way a method with inferable parameters is applied. For instance:

  implied ctx for Context = ...

  def f(x: Int): Contextual[Int] = ...

  f(2) given ctx   // explicit argument
  f(2)             // argument is inferred

Conversely, if the expected type of an expression E is a context query type given (T_1, ..., T_n) => U and E is not already a context query literal, E is converted to a context query literal by rewriting to

  given (x_1: T1, ..., x_n: Tn) => E

where the names x_1, ..., x_n are arbitrary. This expansion is performed before the expression E is typechecked, which means that x_1, ..., x_n are available as implied instances in E.

Like query types, query literals are written with a given prefix. They differ from normal function literals in two ways:

  1. Their parameters are inferable.
  2. Their types are context query types.

For example, continuing with the previous definitions,

  def g(arg: Contextual[Int]) = ...

  g(22)      // is expanded to g(given ctx => 22)

  g(f(2))    // is expanded to g(given ctx => f(2) given ctx)

  g(given ctx => f(22) given ctx) // is left as it is

Example: Builder Pattern

Context query types have considerable expressive power. For instance, here is how they can support the "builder pattern", where the aim is to construct tables like this:

  table {
    row {
      cell("top left")
      cell("top right")
    row {
      cell("bottom left")
      cell("bottom right")

The idea is to define classes for Table and Row that allow addition of elements via add:

  class Table {
    val rows = new ArrayBuffer[Row]
    def add(r: Row): Unit = rows += r
    override def toString = rows.mkString("Table(", ", ", ")")

  class Row {
    val cells = new ArrayBuffer[Cell]
    def add(c: Cell): Unit = cells += c
    override def toString = cells.mkString("Row(", ", ", ")")

  case class Cell(elem: String)

Then, the table, row and cell constructor methods can be defined in terms of query types to avoid the plumbing boilerplate that would otherwise be necessary.

  def table(init: given Table => Unit) = {
    implied t for Table

  def row(init: given Row => Unit) given (t: Table) = {
    implied r for Row

  def cell(str: String) given (r: Row) =
    r.add(new Cell(str))

With that setup, the table construction code above compiles and expands to:

  table { given $t: Table =>
    row { given $r: Row =>
      cell("top left") given $r
      cell("top right") given $r
    } given $t
    row { given $r: Row =>
      cell("bottom left") given $r
      cell("bottom right") given $r
    } given $t

Example: Postconditions

As a larger example, here is a way to define constructs for checking arbitrary postconditions using an extension method ensuringso that the checked result can be referred to simply by result. The example combines opaque aliases, context query types, and extension methods to provide a zero-overhead abstraction.

object PostConditions {
  opaque type WrappedResult[T] = T

  private object WrappedResult {
    def wrap[T](x: T): WrappedResult[T] = x
    def unwrap[T](x: WrappedResult[T]): T = x

  def result[T] given (r: WrappedResult[T]): T = WrappedResult.unwrap(r)

  def (x: T) ensuring [T](condition: given WrappedResult[T] => Boolean): T = {
    implied for WrappedResult[T] = WrappedResult.wrap(x)

object Test {
  import PostConditions.{ensuring, result}
  val s = List(1, 2, 3).sum.ensuring(result == 6)

Explanations: We use a context query type given WrappedResult[T] => Boolean as the type of the condition of ensuring. An argument to ensuring such as (result == 6) will therefore have an implied instance of type WrappedResult[T] in scope to pass along to the result method. WrappedResult is a fresh type, to make sure that we do not get unwanted implied instances in scope (this is good practice in all cases where inferable parameters are involved). Since WrappedResult is an opaque type alias, its values need not be boxed, and since ensuring is added as an extension method, its argument does not need boxing either. Hence, the implementation of ensuring is as about as efficient as the best possible code one could write by hand:

{ val result = List(1, 2, 3).sum
  assert(result == 6)


For more info, see the blog article, (which uses a different syntax that has been superseded).

More details