Boilerplate-free Functional Lenses for Scala 2.10
Latest commit 2510b0d Aug 12, 2014 @akisaarinen Merge pull request #4 from mmorearty/patch-1
Update to hard-code "2.10" in library dependency


Rillit provides experimental functional lenses for Scala 2.10.

Right now it is mostly an experiment in providing minimum effort creation of lenses using a Lenser, implemented with Scala 2.10 macros and Dynamic. Longer-term aim of rillit is to be a stand-alone functional lens implementation.

Here is my blog post explaining shortly what Rillit does.


Rillit is published in a Maven repository if you want to try it out. However, please note that rillit is still very much an experimental project (everything may break, or not even work in the first place).

Add the following to your SBT project to start experimenting with rillit:

resolvers += "rillit-repository" at ""

libraryDependencies += "fi.akisaarinen" % "rillit_2.10" % "0.1.0"


Functional lenses are composable getters and setters for immutable data structures, i.e. usually case classes in Scala.

Say you have the following case class structure for describing a person. The nesting seems unncessary in this small example, but that's what you need to do with larger data structures, so bear with me:

case class Email(user: String, domain: String)
case class Contact(email: Email, web: String)
case class Person(name: String, contact: Contact)

val person = Person(
  name = "Aki Saarinen",
  contact = Contact(
    email = Email("aki", ""),
    web   = ""

Now, say you want to modify the user of the email address from 'aki' to 'john'. And because we're working with immutable data structures, we can't just assign a new value, but we want to create a new instance of Person with the user field updated.

This pattern comes up very often when writing functional code with immutable data structures.

Using pure Scala, you would do this:

scala> person.copy(contact = = = "john")))
res0: Person = Person(Aki Saarinen,Contact(Email(john,,

The field gets updated, but the syntax is very verbose and ugly.

Functional lenses can ease the situation. Rillit provides a Lenser, which creates a new functional lens for your user field, hence making its update an easy task:

scala> Lenser[Person], "john")
res1: Person = Person(Aki Saarinen,Contact(Email(john,,

This performs the exact same thing as our long nested copy soup above, but looks a lot more civilized.

There is a whole lot more we can do with lenses (i.e. you can for example compose your lenses together, forming new lenses), but just solving this case is great on its own. Rillit focuses on implementing a boilerplate-free Lenser for the lens creation.

Difference to other implementations

The lenses themselves are very bare-bones here, the main point is to demonstrate the ability to create lenses in a boilerplate-free way for nested case classes. Lenser does just that, using macros and Dynamic.

Lens features included in e.g. Scalaz or Shapeless lenses could be combined with the functionality of Lenser, to make lens both lens creation and usage as convenient as possible. At the moment of writing this, creation of lenses in both Scalaz and Shapeless contains more boilerplate than in Rillit.

An example use of Lenser (which does not actually produce a Lens but a Lenser[A,B] which can be implicitly converted to Lens[A,B]):

val lens = Lenser[Person]

Also, this being a very early proof-of-concept experiment, the code is not very pretty (luckily there's not very much of it).

A longer example

package example

import rillit._

object Main {
  // A simple instance of Person class used for examples
  val person = Person(
    name    = Name("Aki", "Saarinen"),
    contact = Contact(
      email = Email("aki", ""),
      web   = ""

  // Simplest possible
  def getterExample() {
    val lens = Lenser[Person]
    println("Getter example:")
    println("  Email: %s".format(lens.get(person))) // ''

  // Use lens created on-the-fly to set a value into nested case classes.
  // The traditional way of doing this without lenses is this:
  //   val updated = person.copy(contact = = something))
  def setterExample() {
    val updated = Lenser[Person], Email("foo", ""))

    println("Setter example:")
    println("  Original person: %s".format(person))  // email = ''
    println("  Updated person:  %s".format(updated)) // email = ''

  // Here we create two simple lenses and demonstrate the ability to compose
  // them; this is very useful in practice with functional lenses. Of course in
  // this case we could just `Lenser[Person]` but that wouldn't
  // demonstrate composition :)
  def lensCompositionExample() {
    val user  = Lenser[Email].user
    val email = Lenser[Person]

    val lens = email andThen user

    println("Composed lens example:")
    println("  Getter: %s".format(lens.get(person)))         // 'aki'
    println("  Setter: %s".format(lens.set(person, "john"))) // email = ''

  case class Person(name: Name,  contact: Contact)
  case class Name(first: String, last: String)
  case class Contact(email: Email, web: String)
  case class Email(user: String, domain: String) {
    override def toString = "%s@%s".format(user, domain)

  def main(args: Array[String]) {

When run, this will produce the following:

Getter example:
Setter example:
  Original person: Person(Name(Aki,Saarinen),Contact(,
  Updated person:  Person(Name(Aki,Saarinen),Contact(,
Composed lens example:
  Getter: aki
  Setter: Person(Name(Aki,Saarinen),Contact(,


  • Scala 2.10 (tested with 2.10.0-RC5, but will probably work with older release candidates as well)
  • SBT 0.12
  • A bit of love for functional lenses


Rillit is not currently distributed as a library, as this is just an experiment on how the functional lenses could be implemented. To try it out, install SBT 0.12, and just run the example with:

sbt "project rillit-testing" run


Macros are an experimental feature of 2.10, so it is probably not a good idea to use something like this in critical production code just yet. Also, the code is not very pretty as-is, it's just a proof-of-concept I made to convince myself that this is even possible with Dynamic and macros.


Following projects motivated me to create Rillit, either because of their lens implementations, use of Scala macros, or both:


Rillit is released under the Apache License, Version 2.0.