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Differences between Scalac and Dotty

Overview explanation how symbols, named types and denotations hang together: Denotations1


Comment with a few details: Denotations2

A Denotation is the result of a name lookup during a given period

  • Most properties of symbols are now in the denotation (name, type, owner, etc.)
  • Denotations usually have a reference to the selected symbol
  • Denotations may be overloaded (MultiDenotation). In this case the symbol may be NoSymbol (the two variants have symbols).
  • Non-overloaded denotations have an info

Denotations of methods have a signature (Signature1), which uniquely identifies overloaded methods.

Denotation vs. SymDenotation

A SymDenotation is an extended denotation that has symbol-specific properties (that may change over phases)

  • flags
  • annotations
  • info

SymDenotation implements lazy types (similar to scalac). The type completer assigns the denotation's info.

Implicit Conversion

There is an implicit conversion:

core.Symbols.toDenot(sym: Symbol)(implicit ctx: Context): SymDenotation

Because the class Symbol is defined in the object core.Symbols, the implicit conversion does not need to be imported, it is part of the implicit scope of the type Symbol (check the Scala spec). However, it can only be applied if an implicit Context is in scope.


  • Symbol instances have a SymDenotation
  • Most symbol properties in the Scala 2 compiler are now in the denotation (in the Scala 3 compiler).

Most of the isFooBar properties in scalac don't exist anymore in dotc. Use flag tests instead, for example:

if (sym.isPackageClass)         // Scala 2
if (sym is Flags.PackageClass)  // Scala 3 (*)

(*) Symbols are implicitly converted to their denotation, see above. Each SymDenotation has flags that can be queried using the is method.


  • Flags are instances of the value class FlagSet, which encapsulates a Long
  • Each flag is either valid for types, terms, or both
        ^     ^^
        flag  | \
              |  valid for term
              valid for type
  • Example: Module is valid for both module values and module classes, ModuleVal / ModuleClass for either of the two.
  • flags.is(Method | Param): true if flags has either of the two


  • Trees don't have symbols
    • tree.symbol is tree.denot.symbol
    • tree.denot is tree.tpe.denot where the tpe is a NamdedType (see next point)
  • Subclasses of DenotingTree (Template, ValDef, DefDef, Select, Ident, etc.) have a NamedType, which has a denot field. The denotation has a symbol.
    • The denot of a NamedType (prefix + name) for the current period is obtained from the symbol that the type refers to. This symbol is searched using prefix.member(name).


  • MethodType(paramSyms, resultType) from scalac => mt @ MethodType(paramNames, paramTypes). Result type is mt.resultType