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Better Support for Type Classes

Martin Odersky, 8.1.2024, edited 5.4.2024

A type class in Scala is a pattern where we define

  • a trait with one type parameter (the type class)
  • given instances at specific instantiations of that trait,
  • using clauses or context bounds abstracting over that trait.

Type classes as a pattern work overall OK, but if we compare them to native implementations in Haskell, or protocols in Swift, or traits in Rust, then there are some idiosyncrasies and rough corners which in the end make them a bit cumbersome and limiting for standard generic programming patterns. Much has improved since Scala 2's implicits, but there is still some gap to bridge to get to parity with these languages.

This note shows that with some fairly small and reasonable tweaks to Scala's syntax and typing rules we can obtain a much better scheme for working with type classes, or do generic programming in general.

The bulk of the suggested improvements has been implemented and is available under source version future if the additional experimental language import modularity is present. For instance, using the following command:

  scala compile -source:future -language:experimental.modularity

It is intended to turn features described here into proposals under the Scala improvement process. A first installment is SIP 64, which covers some syntactic changes, names for context bounds, multiple context bounds and deferred givens. The order of exposition described in this note is different from the planned proposals of SIPs. This doc is not a guide on how to sequence details, but instead wants to present a vision of what is possible. For instance, we start here with a feature (Self types and is syntax) that has turned out to be controversial and that will probably be proposed only late in the sequence of SIPs.

Generalizing Context Bounds

The only place in Scala's syntax where the type class pattern is relevant is in context bounds. A context bound such as

def min[A: Ordering](x: List[A]): A

requires that Ordering is a trait or class with a single type parameter (which makes it a type class) and expands to a using clause that instantiates that parameter. Here is the expansion of min:

def min[A](x: List[A])(using Ordering[A]): A

Proposal Allow type classes to define an abstract type member named Self instead of a type parameter.


trait Ord:
    type Self

  trait SemiGroup:
    type Self
    extension (x: Self) def combine(y: Self): Self

  trait Monoid extends SemiGroup:
    def unit: Self
  object Monoid:
    def unit[M](using m: Monoid { type Self = M}): M

  trait Functor:
    type Self[A]
    extension [A](x: Self[A]) def map[B](f: A => B): Self[B]

  trait Monad extends Functor:
    def pure[A](x: A): Self[A]
    extension [A](x: Self[A])
      def flatMap[B](f: A => Self[B]): Self[B]
      def map[B](f: A => B) = x.flatMap(f `andThen` pure)

  def reduce[A: Monoid](xs: List[A]): A =
    xs.foldLeft(Monoid.unit)(_ `combine` _)

  trait ParserCombinator:
    type Self
    type Input
    type Result
    extension (self: Self)
      def parse(input: Input): Option[Result] = ...

  def combine[A: ParserCombinator, B: ParserCombinator { type Input = A.Input }] = ...


  • Avoids repetitive type parameters, concentrates on what's essential, namely the type class hierarchy.
  • Gives a clear indication of traits intended as type classes. A trait is a type class if it has type Self as a member
  • Allows to create aggregate type classes that combine givens via intersection types.
  • Allows to use refinements in context bounds (the combine example above would be very awkward to express using the old way of context bounds expanding to type constructors).

Self-based context bounds are a better fit for a dependently typed language like Scala than parameter-based ones. The main reason is that we are dealing with proper types, not type constructors. Proper types can be parameterized, intersected, or refined. This makes Self-based designs inherently more compositional than parameterized ones.


When a trait has both a type parameter and an abstract Self type, we resolve a context bound to the Self type. This allows type classes that carry type parameters, as in

trait Sequential[E]:
  type Self


[S: Sequential[Int]]

should resolve to:

[S](using Sequential[Int] { type Self = S })

and not to:

[S](using Sequential[S])


Why not use This for the self type? The name This suggests that it is the type of this. But this is not true for type class traits. Self is the name of the type implementing a distinguished member type of the trait in a given definition. Self is an established term in both Rust and Swift with the meaning used here.

One possible objection to the Self based design is that it does not cover "multi-parameter" type classes. But neither do context bounds! "Multi-parameter" type classes in Scala are simply givens that can be synthesized with the standard mechanisms. Type classes in the strict sense abstract only over a single type, namely the implementation type of a trait.

Auxiliary Type Alias is

We introduce a standard type alias is in the Scala package or in Predef, defined like this:

infix type is[A <: AnyKind, B <: {type Self <: AnyKind}] = B { type Self = A }

This makes writing instance definitions and using clauses quite pleasant. Examples:

given Int is Ord ...
  given Int is Monoid ...

  type Reader = [X] =>> Env => X
  given Reader is Monad ...

  object Monoid:
    def unit[M](using m: M is Monoid): M

(more examples will follow below)

Naming Context Bounds

Context bounds are a convenient and legible abbreviation. A problem so far is that they are always anonymous, one cannot name the using parameter to which a context bound expands.

For instance, consider a reduce method over Monoids defined like this:

def reduce[A : Monoid](xs: List[A]): A = ???

Since we don't have a name for the Monoid instance of A, we need to resort to summon in the body of reduce:

def reduce[A : Monoid](xs: List[A]): A =
  xs.foldLeft(summon Monoid[A])(_ `combine` _)

That's generally considered too painful to write and read, hence people usually adopt one of two alternatives. Either, eschew context bounds and switch to using clauses:

def reduce[A](xs: List[A])(using m: Monoid[A]): A =
  xs.foldLeft(m)(_ `combine` _)

Or, plan ahead and define a "trampoline" method in Monoid's companion object:

trait Monoid[A] extends SemiGroup[A]:
    def unit: A
  object Monoid:
    def unit[A](using m: Monoid[A]): A = m.unit
  def reduce[A : Monoid](xs: List[A]): A =
    xs.foldLeft(Monoid.unit)(_ `combine` _)

This is all accidental complexity which can be avoided by the following proposal.

Proposal: Allow to name a context bound, like this:

def reduce[A : Monoid as m](xs: List[A]): A =
    xs.foldLeft(m.unit)(_ `combine` _)

We use as x after the type to bind the instance to x. This is analogous to import renaming, which also introduces a new name for something that comes before.

Benefits: The new syntax is simple and clear. It avoids the awkward choice between concise context bounds that can't be named and verbose using clauses that can.

New Syntax for Aggregate Context Bounds

Aggregate context bounds like A : X : Y are not obvious to read, and it becomes worse when we add names, e.g. A : X as x : Y as y.

Proposal: Allow to combine several context bounds inside {...}, analogous to import clauses. Example:

    def showMax[X : {Ordering, Show}](x: X, y: X): String
  class B extends A:
    def showMax[X : {Ordering as ordering, Show as show}](x: X, y: X): String =
      show.asString(ordering.max(x, y))

The old syntax with multiple : should be phased out over time.

Benefits: The new syntax is much clearer than the old one, in particular for newcomers that don't know context bounds well.

Better Default Names for Context Bounds

So far, an unnamed context bound for a type parameter gets a synthesized fresh name. It would be much more useful if it got the name of the constrained type parameter instead, translated to be a term name. This means our reduce method over monoids would not even need an as binding. We could simply formulate it as follows:

 def reduce[A : Monoid](xs: List[A]) =
    xs.foldLeft(A.unit)(_ `combine` _)

In Scala we are already familiar with using one name for two related things where one version names a type and the other an associated value. For instance, we use that convention for classes and companion objects. In retrospect, the idea of generalizing this to also cover type parameters is obvious. It is surprising that it was not brought up before.

Proposed Rules

  1. The generated evidence parameter for a context bound A : C as a has name a
  2. The generated evidence for a context bound A : C without an as binding has name A (seen as a term name). So, A : C is equivalent to A : C as A.
  3. If there are multiple context bounds for a type parameter, as in A : {C_1, ..., C_n}, the generated evidence parameter for every context bound C_i has a fresh synthesized name, unless the context bound carries an as clause, in which case rule (1) applies.

TODO: Present context bound proxy concept.

The default naming convention reduces the need for named context bounds. But named context bounds are still essential, for at least two reasons:

  • They are needed to give names to multiple context bounds.
  • They give an explanation what a single unnamed context bound expands to.

Expansion of Context Bounds

Context bounds are currently translated to implicit parameters in the last parameter list of a method or class. This is a problem if a context bound is mentioned in one of the preceding parameter types. For example, consider a type class of parsers with associated type members Input and Result describing the input type on which the parsers operate and the type of results they produce:

trait Parser[P]:
  type Input
  type Result

Here is a method run that runs a parser on an input of the required type:

def run[P : Parser](in: P.Input): P.Result

Or, making clearer what happens by using an explicit name for the context bound:

def run[P : Parser as p](in: p.Input): p.Result

With the current translation this does not work since it would be expanded to:

def run[P](x: p.Input)(using p: Parser[P]): p.Result

Note that the p in p.Input refers to the p introduced in the using clause, which comes later. So this is ill-formed.

This problem would be fixed by changing the translation of context bounds so that they expand to using clauses immediately after the type parameter. But such a change is infeasible, for two reasons:

  1. It would be a binary-incompatible change.
  2. Putting using clauses earlier can impair type inference. A type in a using clause can be constrained by term arguments coming before that clause. Moving the using clause first would miss those constraints, which could cause ambiguities in implicit search.

But there is an alternative which is feasible:

Proposal: Map the context bounds of a method or class as follows:

  1. If one of the bounds is referred to by its term name in a subsequent parameter clause, the context bounds are mapped to a using clause immediately preceding the first such parameter clause.
  2. Otherwise, if the last parameter clause is a using (or implicit) clause, merge all parameters arising from context bounds in front of that clause, creating a single using clause.
  3. Otherwise, let the parameters arising from context bounds form a new using clause at the end.

Rules (2) and (3) are the status quo, and match Scala 2's rules. Rule (1) is new but since context bounds so far could not be referred to, it does not apply to legacy code. Therefore, binary compatibility is maintained.

Discussion More refined rules could be envisaged where context bounds are spread over different using clauses so that each comes as late as possible. But it would make matters more complicated and the gain in expressiveness is not clear to me.

Named (either explicitly, or by default) context bounds in givens that produce classes are mapped to tracked val's of these classes (see #18958). This allows references to these parameters to be precise, so that information about dependent type members is preserved.

Context Bounds for Type Members

It's not very orthogonal to allow subtype bounds for both type parameters and abstract type members, but context bounds only for type parameters. What's more, we don't even have the fallback of an explicit using clause for type members. The only alternative is to also introduce a set of abstract givens that get implemented in each subclass. This is extremely heavyweight and opaque to newcomers.

Proposal: Allow context bounds for type members. Example:

class Collection:
    type Element : Ord

The question is how these bounds are expanded. Context bounds on type parameters are expanded into using clauses. But for type members this does not work, since we cannot refer to a member type of a class in a parameter type of that class. What we are after is an equivalent of using parameter clauses but represented as class members.

Proposal: Introduce a new way to implement a given definition in a trait like this:

given T = deferred

deferred is a new method in the scala.compiletime package, which can appear only as the right hand side of a given defined in a trait. Any class implementing that trait will provide an implementation of this given. If a definition is not provided explicitly, it will be synthesized by searching for a given of type T in the scope of the inheriting class. Specifically, the scope in which this given will be searched is the environment of that class augmented by its parameters but not containing its members (since that would lead to recursive resolutions). If an implementation is provided explicitly, it counts as an override of a concrete definition and needs an override modifier.

Deferred givens allow a clean implementation of context bounds in traits, as in the following example:

trait Sorted:
  type Element : Ord

class SortedSet[A : Ord] extends Sorted:
  type Element = A

The compiler expands this to the following implementation:

trait Sorted:
  type Element
  given Ord[Element] = compiletime.deferred

class SortedSet[A](using A: Ord[A]) extends Sorted:
  type Element = A
  override given Ord[Element] = A // i.e. the A defined by the using clause

The using clause in class SortedSet provides an implementation for the deferred given in trait Sorted.


  • Better orthogonality, type parameters and abstract type members now accept the same kinds of bounds.
  • Better ergonomics, since deferred givens get naturally implemented in inheriting classes, no need for boilerplate to fill in definitions of abstract givens.

Alternative: It was suggested that we use a modifier for a deferred given instead of a = deferred. Something like deferred given C[T]. But a modifier does not suggest the concept that a deferred given will be implemented automatically in subclasses unless an explicit definition is written. In a sense, we can see = deferred as the invocation of a magic macro that is provided by the compiler. So from a user's point of view a given with deferred right hand side is not abstract. It is a concrete definition where the compiler will provide the correct implementation.

New Given Syntax

A good language syntax is like a Bach fugue: A small set of motifs is combined in a multitude of harmonic ways. Dissonances and irregularities should be avoided.

When designing Scala 3, I believe that, by and large, we achieved that goal, except in one area, which is the syntax of givens. There are some glaring dissonances, as seen in this code for defining an ordering on lists:

given [A](using Ord[A]): Ord[List[A]] with
  def compare(x: List[A], y: List[A]) = ...

The : feels utterly foreign in this position. It's definitely not a type ascription, so what is its role? Just as bad is the trailing with. Everywhere else we use braces or trailing : to start a scope of nested definitions, so the need of with sticks out like a sore thumb.

We arrived at that syntax not because of a flight of fancy but because even after trying for about a year to find other solutions it seemed like the least bad alternative. The awkwardness of the given syntax arose because we insisted that givens could be named or anonymous, with the default on anonymous, that we would not use underscore for an anonymous given, and that the name, if present, had to come first, and have the form name [parameters] :. In retrospect, that last requirement showed a lack of creativity on our part.

Sometimes unconventional syntax grows on you and becomes natural after a while. But here it was unfortunately the opposite. The longer I used given definitions in this style the more awkward they felt, in particular since the rest of the language seemed so much better put together by comparison. And I believe many others agree with me on this. Since the current syntax is unnatural and esoteric, this means it's difficult to discover and very foreign even after that. This makes it much harder to learn and apply givens than it need be.

Things become much simpler if we introduce the optional name instead with an as name clause at the end, just like we did for context bounds. We can then use a more intuitive syntax for givens like this:

given String is Ord:
  def compare(x: String, y: String) = ...

given [A : Ord] => List[A] is Ord:
  def compare(x: List[A], y: List[A]) = ...

given Int is Monoid:
  extension (x: Int) def combine(y: Int) = x + y
  def unit = 0

Here, the second given can be read as if A is an Ord then List[A] is also anOrd. Or: for all A: Ord, List[A] is Ord. The arrow can be seen as an implication, note also the analogy to pattern matching syntax.

If explicit names are desired, we add them with as clauses:

given String is Ord as intOrd:
  def compare(x: String, y: String) = ...

given [A : Ord] => List[A] is Ord as listOrd:
  def compare(x: List[A], y: List[A]) = ...

given Int is Monoid as intMonoid:
  extension (x: Int) def combine(y: Int) = x + y
  def unit = 0

The underlying principles are:

  • A given clause consists of the following elements:

    • An optional precondition, which introduces type parameters and/or using clauses and which ends in =>,
    • the implemented type,
    • an optional name binding using as,
    • an implementation which consists of either an = and an expression, or a template body.
  • Since there is no longer a middle : separating name and parameters from the implemented type, we can use a : to start the class body without looking unnatural, as is done everywhere else. That eliminates the special case where with was used before.

This will be a fairly significant change to the given syntax. I believe there's still a possibility to do this. Not so much code has migrated to new style givens yet, and code that was written can be changed fairly easily. Specifically, there are about a 900K definitions of implicit defs in Scala code on Github and about 10K definitions of given ... with. So about 1% of all code uses the Scala 3 syntax, which would have to be changed again.

Changing something introduced just recently in Scala 3 is not fun, but I believe these adjustments are preferable to let bad syntax sit there and fester. The cost of changing should be amortized by improved developer experience over time, and better syntax would also help in migrating Scala 2 style implicits to Scala 3. But we should do it quickly before a lot more code starts migrating.

Migration to the new syntax is straightforward, and can be supported by automatic rewrites. For a transition period we can support both the old and the new syntax. It would be a good idea to backport the new given syntax to the LTS version of Scala so that code written in this version can already use it. The current LTS would then support old and new-style givens indefinitely, whereas new Scala 3.x versions would phase out the old syntax over time.

Abolish Abstract Givens

Another simplification is possible. So far we have special syntax for abstract givens:

given x: T

The problem is that this syntax clashes with the quite common case where we want to establish a given without any nested definitions. For instance consider a given that constructs a type tag:

class Tag[T]

Then this works:

given Tag[String]()
given Tag[String] with {}

But the following more natural syntax fails:

given Tag[String]

The last line gives a rather cryptic error:

1 |given Tag[String]
  |                 ^
  |                 anonymous given cannot be abstract

The problem is that the compiler thinks that the last given is intended to be abstract, and complains since abstract givens need to be named. This is another annoying dissonance. Nowhere else in Scala's syntax does adding a () argument to a class cause a drastic change in meaning. And it's also a violation of the principle that it should be possible to define all givens without providing names for them.

Fortunately, abstract givens are no longer necessary since they are superseded by the new deferred scheme. So we can deprecate that syntax over time. Abstract givens are a highly specialized mechanism with a so far non-obvious syntax. We have seen that this syntax clashes with reasonable expectations of Scala programmers. My estimate is that maybe a dozen people world-wide have used abstract givens in anger so far.

Proposal In the future, let the = deferred mechanism be the only way to deliver the functionality of abstract givens.

This is less of a disruption than it might appear at first:

  • given T was illegal before since abstract givens could not be anonymous. It now means a concrete given of class T with no member definitions.
  • given x: T is legacy syntax for an abstract given.
  • given T as x = deferred is the analogous new syntax, which is more powerful since it allows for automatic instantiation.
  • given T = deferred is the anonymous version in the new syntax, which was not expressible before.


  • Simplification of the language since a feature is dropped
  • Eliminate non-obvious and misleading syntax.

Bonus: Fixing Singleton

We know the current treatment of Singleton as a type bound is broken since x.type | y.type <: Singleton holds by the subtyping rules for union types, even though x.type | y.type is clearly not a singleton.

A better approach is to treat Singleton as a type class that is interpreted specially by the compiler.

We can do this in a backwards-compatible way by defining Singleton like this:

trait Singleton:
  type Self

Then, instead of using an unsound upper bound we can use a context bound:

def f[X: Singleton](x: X) = ...

The context bound is treated specially by the compiler so that no using clause is generated at runtime (this is straightforward, using the erased definitions mechanism).

Bonus: Precise Typing

This approach also presents a solution to the problem how to express precise type variables. We can introduce another special type class Precise and use it like this:

def f[X: Precise](x: X) = ...

Like a Singleton bound, a Precise bound disables automatic widening of singleton types or union types in inferred instances of type variable X. But there is no requirement that the type argument must be a singleton.

Summary of Syntax Changes

Here is the complete context-free syntax for all proposed features. Overall the syntax for givens becomes a lot simpler than what it was before.

TmplDef           ::=  'given' GivenDef
GivenDef          ::=  [GivenConditional '=>'] GivenSig
GivenConditional  ::=  [DefTypeParamClause | UsingParamClause] {UsingParamClause}
GivenSig          ::=  GivenType ['as' id] ([‘=’ Expr] | TemplateBody)
                   |   ConstrApps ['as' id] TemplateBody
GivenType         ::=  AnnotType {id [nl] AnnotType}

TypeDef           ::=  id [TypeParamClause] TypeAndCtxBounds
TypeParamBounds   ::=  TypeAndCtxBounds
TypeAndCtxBounds  ::=  TypeBounds [‘:’ ContextBounds]
ContextBounds     ::=  ContextBound | '{' ContextBound {',' ContextBound} '}'
ContextBound      ::=  Type ['as' id]


Example 1

Here are some standard type classes, which were mostly already introduced at the start of this note, now with associated instance givens and some test code:

// Type classes

  trait Ord:
    type Self
    extension (x: Self)
      def compareTo(y: Self): Int
      def < (y: Self): Boolean = compareTo(y) < 0
      def > (y: Self): Boolean = compareTo(y) > 0
      def <= (y: Self): Boolean = compareTo(y) <= 0
      def >= (y: Self): Boolean = compareTo(y) >= 0
      def max(y: Self): Self = if x < y then y else x

  trait Show:
    type Self
    extension (x: Self) def show: String

  trait SemiGroup:
    type Self
    extension (x: Self) def combine(y: Self): Self

  trait Monoid extends SemiGroup:
    def unit: Self

  trait Functor:
    type Self[A] // Here, Self is a type constructor with parameter A
    extension [A](x: Self[A]) def map[B](f: A => B): Self[B]

  trait Monad extends Functor:
    def pure[A](x: A): Self[A]
    extension [A](x: Self[A])
      def flatMap[B](f: A => Self[B]): Self[B]
      def map[B](f: A => B) = x.flatMap(f `andThen` pure)

  // Instances

  given Int is Ord:
    extension (x: Int)
      def compareTo(y: Int) =
        if x < y then -1
        else if x > y then +1
        else 0

  given [T: Ord] => List[T] is Ord:
    extension (xs: List[T]) def compareTo(ys: List[T]): Int =
      (xs, ys) match
      case (Nil, Nil) => 0
      case (Nil, _) => -1
      case (_, Nil) => +1
      case (x :: xs1, y :: ys1) =>
        val fst = x.compareTo(y)
        if (fst != 0) fst else xs1.compareTo(ys1)

  given List is Monad:
    extension [A](xs: List[A])
      def flatMap[B](f: A => List[B]): List[B] =
    def pure[A](x: A): List[A] =

  type Reader[Ctx] = [X] =>> Ctx => X

  given [Ctx] => Reader[Ctx] is Monad:
    extension [A](r: Ctx => A)
      def flatMap[B](f: A => Ctx => B): Ctx => B =
        ctx => f(r(ctx))(ctx)
    def pure[A](x: A): Ctx => A =
      ctx => x

  // Usages

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

  extension [M[_]: Monad, A](xss: M[M[A]])
    def flatten: M[A] =

  def maximum[T: Ord](xs: List[T]): T =
    xs.reduce(_ `max` _)

  given [T: Ord] => T is Ord as descending:
    extension (x: T) def compareTo(y: T) = T.compareTo(y)(x)

  def minimum[T: Ord](xs: List[T]) =
    maximum(xs)(using descending)

The Reader type is a bit hairy. It is a type class (written in the parameterized syntax) where we fix a context Ctx and then let Reader be the polymorphic function type over X that takes a context Ctx and returns an X. Type classes like this are commonly used in monadic effect systems.

Example 2

The following contributed code by @LPTK (issue #10929) did not work at first since references were not tracked correctly. The version below adds explicit tracked parameters which makes the code compile.

infix abstract class TupleOf[T, +A]:
  type Mapped[+A] <: Tuple
  def map[B](x: T)(f: A => B): Mapped[B]

object TupleOf:

  given TupleOf[EmptyTuple, Nothing] with
    type Mapped[+A] = EmptyTuple
    def map[B](x: EmptyTuple)(f: Nothing => B): Mapped[B] = x

  given [A, Rest <: Tuple](using tracked val tup: Rest TupleOf A): TupleOf[A *: Rest, A] with
    type Mapped[+A] = A *: tup.Mapped[A]
    def map[B](x: A *: Rest)(f: A => B): Mapped[B] =
      f(x.head) *: tup.map(x.tail)(f)

Note the quite convoluted syntax, which makes the code hard to understand. Here is the same example in the new type class syntax, which also compiles correctly:

//> using options -language:experimental.modularity -source future

trait TupleOf[+A]:
  type Self
  type Mapped[+A] <: Tuple
  def map[B](x: Self)(f: A => B): Mapped[B]

object TupleOf:

  given EmptyTuple is TupleOf[Nothing]:
    type Mapped[+A] = EmptyTuple
    def map[B](x: EmptyTuple)(f: Nothing => B): Mapped[B] = x

  given [A, Rest <: Tuple : TupleOf[A]] => A *: Rest is TupleOf[A]:
    type Mapped[+A] = A *: Rest.Mapped[A]
    def map[B](x: A *: Rest)(f: A => B): Mapped[B] =
      f(x.head) *: Rest.map(x.tail)(f)

Note in particular the following points:

  • In the original code, it was not clear that TupleOf is a type class, since it contained two type parameters, one of which played the role of the instance type Self. The new version is much clearer: TupleOf is a type class over Self with one additional parameter, the common type of all tuple elements.

  • The two given definitions are obfuscated in the old code. Their version in the new code makes it clear what kind of instances they define:

    • EmptyTuple is a tuple of Nothing.
    • if Rest is a tuple of A, then A *: Rest is also a tuple of A.
  • There's no need to introduce names for parameter instances in using clauses; the default naming scheme for context bound evidences works fine, and is more concise.

  • There's no need to manually declare implicit parameters as tracked, context bounds provide that automatically.

  • Everything in the new code feels like idiomatic Scala 3, whereas the original code exhibits the awkward corner case that requires a with in front of given definitions.

Example 3

Dimi Racordon tried to define parser combinators in Scala that use dependent type members for inputs and results. It was intended as a basic example of type class constraints, but it did not work in current Scala.

Here is the problem solved with the new syntax. Note how much clearer that syntax is compared to Dimi's original version, which did not work out in the end.

/** A parser combinator */
trait Combinator:
  type Self

  type Input
  type Result

  extension (self: Self)
    /** Parses and returns an element from input `in` */
    def parse(in: Input): Option[Result]
end Combinator

case class Apply[I, R](action: I => Option[R])
case class Combine[A, B](a: A, b: B)

given [I, R] => Apply[I, R] is Combinator:
  type Input = I
  type Result = R
  extension (self: Apply[I, R])
    def parse(in: I): Option[R] = self.action(in)

given [A: Combinator, B: Combinator { type Input = A.Input }]
    => Combine[A, B] is Combinator:
  type Input = A.Input
  type Result = (A.Result, B.Result)
  extension (self: Combine[A, B])
    def parse(in: Input): Option[Result] =
        x <- self.a.parse(in)
        y <- self.b.parse(in)
      yield (x, y)

The example is now as expressed as straightforwardly as it should be:

  • Combinator is a type class with two associated types, Input and Result, and a parse method.
  • Apply and Combine are two data constructors representing parser combinators. They are declared to be Combinators in the two subsequent given declarations.
  • Apply's parse method applies the action function to the input.
  • Combine[A, B] is a parser combinator provided A and B are parser combinators that process the same type of Input, which is also the input type of Combine[A, B]. Its Result type is a pair of the Result types of A and B. Results are produced by a simple for-expression.

Compared to the original example, which required serious contortions, this is now all completely straightforward.

Note 1: One could also explore improvements, for instance making this purely functional. But that's not the point of the demonstration here, where I wanted to take the original example and show how it can be made to work with the new constructs, and be expressed more clearly as well.

Note 2: One could improve the notation even further by adding equality constraints in the style of Swift, which in turn resemble the sharing constraints of SML. A hypothetical syntax applied to the second given would be:

given [A: Combinator, B: Combinator with A.Input == B.Input]
    => Combine[A, B] is Combinator:

This variant is aesthetically pleasing since it makes the equality constraint symmetric. The original version had to use an asymmetric refinement on the second type parameter bound instead. For now, such constraints are neither implemented nor proposed. This is left as a possibility for future work. Note also the analogy with the work of @mbovel and @Sporarum on refinement types, where similar with clauses can appear for term parameters. If that work goes ahead, we could possibly revisit the issue of with clauses also for type parameters.

Example 4

Dimi Racordon tried to port some core elements of the type class based Hylo standard library to Scala. It worked to some degree, but there were some things that could not be expressed, and more things that could be expressed only awkwardly.

With the improvements proposed here, the library can now be expressed quite clearly and straightforwardly. See tests/pos/hylolib in this PR for details.

Suggested Improvement unrelated to Type Classes

The following improvement would make sense alongside the suggested changes to type classes. But it does not form part of this proposal and is not yet implemented.

Using as also in Patterns

Since we have now more precedents of as as a postfix binder, I want to come back to the proposal to use it in patterns as well, in favor of @, which should be deprecated.


xs match
    case (Person(name, age) as p) :: rest => ...

  tp match
    case Param(tl, _) :: _ as tparams => ...

  val x :: xs1 as xs = ys.checkedCast

These would replace the previous syntax using @:

xs match
    case p @ Person(name, age) :: rest => ...

  tp match
    case tparams @ (Param(tl, _) :: _) => ...

  val xs @ (x :: xs1) = ys.checkedCast

Advantages: No unpronounceable and non-standard symbol like @. More regularity.

Generally, we want to use as name to attach a name for some entity that could also have been used stand-alone.

Proposed Syntax Change

Pattern2          ::=  InfixPattern ['as' id]


I have proposed some tweaks to Scala 3, which would greatly increase its usability for modular, type class based, generic programming. The proposed changes are:

  1. Allow context bounds over classes that define a Self member type.
  2. Allow context bounds to be named with as. Use the bound parameter name as a default name for the generated context bound evidence.
  3. Add a new {...} syntax for multiple context bounds.
  4. Make context bounds also available for type members, which expand into a new form of deferred given. Phase out the previous abstract givens in favor of the new form.
  5. Add a predefined type alias is.
  6. Introduce a new cleaner syntax of given clauses.

It's interesting that givens, which are a very general concept in Scala, were "almost there" when it comes to full support of concepts and generic programming. We only needed to add a few usability tweaks to context bounds, alongside two syntactic changes that supersede the previous forms of given .. with clauses and abstract givens. Also interesting is that the superseded syntax constructs were the two areas where we collectively felt that the previous solutions were a bit awkward, but we could not think of better ones at the time. It's very nice that more satisfactory solutions are now emerging.


Generic programming can be expressed in a number of languages. For instance, with type classes in Haskell, or with traits in Rust, or with protocols in Swift, or with concepts in C++. Each of these is constructed from a fairly heavyweight set of new constructs, different from expressions and types. By contrast, equivalent solutions in Scala rely on regular types. Type classes are simply traits that define a Self type member.

The proposed scheme has similar expressiveness to Protocols in Swift or Traits in Rust. Both of these were largely influenced by Jeremy Siek's PdD thesis "A language for generic programming", which was first proposed as a way to implement concepts in C++. C++ did not follow Siek's approach, but Swift and Rust did.

In Siek's thesis and in the formal treatments of Rust and Swift, type class concepts are explained by mapping them to a lower level language of explicit dictionaries with representations for terms and types. Crucially, that lower level is not expressible without loss of granularity in the source language itself, since type representations are mapped to term dictionaries. By contrast, the current proposal expands type class concepts into other well-typed Scala constructs, which ultimately map into well-typed DOT programs. Type classes are simply a convenient notation for something that can already be expressed in Scala. In that sense, we stay true to the philosophy of a scalable language, where a small core can support a large range of advanced use cases.