Scala founder: Language due for 'fundamental rethink'

The Scala road map has three upgrades planned, with a simpler, more modular language set as the end goal

Scala, a language specializing in functional and object-oriented programming, has been running on the Java Virtual Machine for several years now, enjoying adoption from enterprises and startups alike. The language's road map features three upcoming upgrades -- version 2.12, "Aida," and "Don Giovanni" -- with the last release to serve as a "fundamental rethink" involving modularity, says Scala designer Martin Odersky, who is chairman and co-founder of Typesafe, which offers middleware based on Scala. He also serves as a computer science professor at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland.

InfoWorld Editor-at-Large Paul Krill recently talked with Odersky about what's ahead for Scala.

InfoWorld: Can you talk about the road map for Scala? I see there are three versions planned: Scala 2.12, Aida, and Don Giovanni

Odersky: So 2.12, that's the first one. The main goal of 2.12 to have a good integration into Java 8. We want to make use of all the new features in Java 8, in particular lambdas and default methods and traits. We don't publish release dates, but the current schedule is about 18 months per release. [Editor's note: Scala 2.11, the latest version, was released in April.]

InfoWorld: A lot of Java 8 is about functional programming and lambdas. Scala has already had that. How can you be compatible with Java 8 but not redundant with it?

Odersky: That's a question that's been debated a lot. I think it's actually the opposite. The industry as a whole is moving to functional languages, and Java 8 is one of a much broader movement. You could actually argue that the movement to functional languages is very, very strong now and what Java 8 provides will be -- for people who do functional programming -- is [to] whet their appetites for more, and Scala provides the more. Java 8 is actually a very good bridge toward a richer functional programming environment, and Scala can provide that. Java 8 does not make Scala redundant, but at the same time, it is very important to be interoperable with Java 8.

Secondly, of course, since Java 8 contains important virtual machine improvements, [we want] to make the best possible use of them. [Compilation of Scala programs] can be much more streamlined with the new Java 8 runtime, VM runtime. In particular, we need to generate way fewer classes. That means we can have libraries and runtimes that are much more compact than the ones we had to ship until now.

InfoWorld: Basically, there's functional programming and lambdas in Java 8, but Scala gives you more of that than what you're going to get in Java 8?

Odersky: Yes. Lambdas are just the start. Functional programming, it's a big thing where you need many, many more things, and it makes many, many more things simpler. For instance, functional programming starts with the fact that you say everything you write is an expression, and Java 8 doesn't have that. It has statements and expressions, and most things are statements and not expressions, so they don't return a value.

InfoWorld: So Scala has a complete basis for functional programming?

Odersky: Yes, indeed it has.

InfoWorld: What about the next release, Aida? Could you talk about that release and what's in it? It is set to focus on improving the standard library.

Odersky: Aida will be about the next step for Scala libraries. The Scala libraries essentially still have a very powerful set of collections for functional programming. While powerful, there are also some things that are needlessly complicated in these collections and are maybe traps and pitfalls. We want to clean that up. Also, we also want to integrate the Java 8 parallel collections [streams] into that framework seamlessly.

InfoWorld: When will Aida be available?

Odersky: It's probably too far out to say for sure. What we aim to have is a preview, a developer prototype, about the time 2.12 is out.

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