Is Scala the Development Environment of the Future, or a Programming Dead End?

By: Morpheus Data

The Scala development environment seems to have as many naysayers as it has ardent supporters. Yet the language’s combination of object-oriented and functional programming features is being emulated in such environments as Apple’s Swift and Microsoft’s C#. Despite recent forks released by Scala proponents dissatisfied by the slow pace of the language’s development, the consensus is that Scala is a technology with a bright future.

When Java 8 was released in March 2014, it marked the most significant update of the venerable development environment in more than a decade. Many analysts interpreted the addition of such features as lambda expressions and functional programming as bad news for the Scala programming language, which already supported functional programming and runs in Java virtual machines.

In a September 5, 2014, interview with InfoWorld’s Paul Krill, Typesafe chairman and co-founder Martin Odersky countered the argument that Scala and Java 8 are now so compatible that Scala is redundant. (Typesafe sells Scala-based middleware.) Odersky points out that the industry is moving increasingly toward functional programming, and Java 8 will spur the trend. However, Scala offers a much richer functional programming environment than Java 8, and Scala will leverage Java 8’s VM improvements.

The current version 2.11. of Scala features a streamlined compiler and support for case classes with more than 22 parameters. Three new versions of Scala are in the pipeline, according to Odersky; their releases are scheduled roughly 18 months apart.

  • Version 2.12 will emphasize integration with Java 8
  • Aida will focus on making Scala’s libraries less complicated to use and will integrate Java 8’s parallel collections, or streams
  • Don Giovanni will represent a major reworking of the environment with a goal of making the core simpler and compiling more efficient

Much of the promise of Scala as a key language for future development is its fusion of object-oriented and functional programming. This hybridization is also evident in Apple’s new Swift language and is expected to be evident in the next version of Microsoft’s C#.


As a “blended” language, Scala combines attributes of both object-oriented and functional programming. Source: app-genesis

In a February 20, 2014, interview with ReadWrite’s Matt Asay, Odersky states that Java 8’s implementation of lambdas will add new methods to the type that will facilitate writing high-level collection code. It will also ease the transition to Java-based functional interfaces.

Scala forks: A sign of trouble or indication of strength?

A few months after the releases of Java 8 and Scala 2.11, not one but two different versions of the Scala compiler were announced. InfoQ’s Benjamin Darfler reported in a September 16, 2014, article that Shapeless library principal engineer Miles Sabin announced on the Typelevel blog a fork of the Scala compiler that is merge-compatible with the Typesafe Scala compiler.

Just three days later, another Scala compiler fork was announced by Typesafe co-founder Paul Philips, who left Typesafe in 2013. Unlike Sabin’s “conservative” fork, the Scala compiler developed by Philips is not intended to be merged with the Typesafe version down the road. Both Sabin and Philips believe Scala’s development is proceeding too slowly (version 2.12 is scheduled for release in early 2016).

Typesafe CEO Odersky welcomed the forks, writing on the Typesafe blog that having “advanced and experimental branches” of the language and compiler in parallel with the “stable main branch” serves the needs of diverse developers. Odersky is encouraged that Typelevel’s compiler will remain merge-compatible with standard Scala and believes some of that compiler’s innovative features may eventually be added to the standard.


Typelevel’s “conservative” fork of the standard Scala compiler is designed to provide a simple migration path to the Typesafe version. Source: Typelevel, via GitHub

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