Extension Methods

Note: The syntax of extension methods is about to change. Here is the doc page with the new syntax, supported from Dotty 0.22 onwards.

Extension methods allow one to add methods to a type after the type is defined. Example:

case class Circle(x: Double, y: Double, radius: Double)

def (c: Circle) circumference: Double = c.radius * math.Pi * 2

Like regular methods, extension methods can be invoked with infix .:

val circle = Circle(0, 0, 1)

Translation of Extension Methods

Extension methods are methods that have a parameter clause in front of the defined identifier. They translate to methods where the leading parameter section is moved to after the defined identifier. So, the definition of circumference above translates to the plain method, and can also be invoked as such:

def circumference(c: Circle): Double = c.radius * math.Pi * 2

assert(circle.circumference == circumference(circle))

Translation of Calls to Extension Methods

When is an extension method applicable? There are two possibilities.

As an example, consider an extension method longestStrings on Seq[String] defined in a trait StringSeqOps.

trait StringSeqOps {
  def (xs: Seq[String]) longestStrings = {
    val maxLength = xs.map(_.length).max
    xs.filter(_.length == maxLength)

We can make the extension method available by defining a given StringSeqOps instance, like this:

given ops1: StringSeqOps


List("here", "is", "a", "list").longestStrings

is legal everywhere ops1 is available. Alternatively, we can define longestStrings as a member of a normal object. But then the method has to be brought into scope to be usable as an extension method.

object ops2 extends StringSeqOps
import ops2.longestStrings
List("here", "is", "a", "list").longestStrings

The precise rules for resolving a selection to an extension method are as follows.

Assume a selection e.m[Ts] where m is not a member of e, where the type arguments [Ts] are optional, and where T is the expected type. The following two rewritings are tried in order:

  1. The selection is rewritten to m[Ts](e).
  2. If the first rewriting does not typecheck with expected type T, and there is a given instance i in either the current scope or in the implicit scope of T, and i defines an extension method named m, then selection is expanded to i.m[Ts](e). This second rewriting is attempted at the time where the compiler also tries an implicit conversion from T to a type containing m. If there is more than one way of rewriting, an ambiguity error results.

So circle.circumference translates to CircleOps.circumference(circle), provided circle has type Circle and CircleOps is given (i.e. it is visible at the point of call or it is defined in the companion object of Circle).


The extension method syntax also applies to the definition of operators. In each case the definition syntax mirrors the way the operator is applied. Examples:

def (x: String) < (y: String) = ...
def (x: Elem) +: (xs: Seq[Elem]) = ...

"ab" < "c"
1 +: List(2, 3)

The two definitions above translate to

def < (x: String)(y: String) = ...
def +: (xs: Seq[Elem])(x: Elem) = ...

Note that swap of the two parameters x and xs when translating the right-binding operator +: to an extension method. This is analogous to the implementation of right binding operators as normal methods.

Generic Extensions

The StringSeqOps examples extended a specific instance of a generic type. It is also possible to extend a generic type by adding type parameters to an extension method. Examples:

def [T](xs: List[T]) second =

def [T](xs: List[List[T]]) flattened =
  xs.foldLeft[List[T]](Nil)(_ ++ _)

def [T: Numeric](x: T) + (y: T): T =
  summon[Numeric[T]].plus(x, y)

If an extension method has type parameters, they come immediately after the def and are followed by the extended parameter. When calling a generic extension method, any explicitly given type arguments follow the method name. So the second method can be instantiated as follows:

List(1, 2, 3).second[Int]

Given Instances for Extension Methods

given extensions are given instances that define extension methods and nothing else. Examples:

given stringOps: (xs: Seq[String]) extended with {
  def longestStrings: Seq[String] = {
    val maxLength = xs.map(_.length).max
    xs.filter(_.length == maxLength)

given listOps: [T](xs: List[T]) extended with {
  def second = xs.tail.head
  def third: T = xs.tail.tail.head

given [T](xs: List[T])(given Ordering[T]) extended with {
  def largest(n: Int) = xs.sorted.takeRight(n)

If a given extension is anonymous (as in the last clause), its name is synthesized from the name of the first defined extension method.

The extensions above are equivalent to the following regular given instances where the implemented parent is AnyRef and the parameters in the extension clause are repeated in each extension method definition:

given stringOps: AnyRef {
  def (xs: Seq[String]) longestStrings: Seq[String] = {
    val maxLength = xs.map(_.length).max
    xs.filter(_.length == maxLength)
given listOps: AnyRef {
  def [T](xs: List[T]) second = xs.tail.head
  def [T](xs: List[T]) third: T = xs.tail.tail.head
given given_largest_of_List_T: AnyRef {
  def [T](xs: List[T]) largest (given Ordering[T])(n: Int) =


Here are the syntax changes for extension methods and given extensions relative to the current syntax. extension is a soft keyword, recognized only after a given. It can be used as an identifier everywhere else.

DefSig            ::=  ...
                    |  ExtParamClause [nl] id DefParamClauses
GivenDef          ::=  ...
                       [id ‘:’] ‘extension’ ExtParamClause {GivenParamClause} ExtMethods
ExtParamClause    ::=  [DefTypeParamClause] ‘(’ DefParam ‘)’
ExtMethods        ::=  [nl] ‘{’ ‘def’ DefDef {semi ‘def’ DefDef} ‘}’