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Scala iOS Demo

This is an extremely simple demo app that chiefly exists to show the complex plumbing that can be used to allow one to write iOS applications in Scala. Here's a quick breakdown of the process:

  • Code is written in Scala, and compiled with scalac.
  • Java bytecodes (for app, scala-library.jar and any other third party jars) are converted from Java bytecode to CLR bytecode by IKVM.
  • CLR bytecodes are compiled by Xamarin.iOS (nee MonoTouch) into ARM x86 assembly.

Obligatory Screenshot

Obligatory screenshot

See the code!

Here's the Scala code that is responsible for the above app.


To build and run this demo app, you will need the following:

You need to edit app/pom.xml and set ivkmPath to the path at which you installed ikvm-monotouch. Otherwise no manual tweaks should be needed.

With all of the above installed, you can build the app thusly (on a Mac, you can't develop iOS apps on any other platform):

% mvn clean package
% open app/iscala.sln
# click the Run arrow in Xamarin.Studio


This is mainly a proof of concept. I did a bunch of work to make it possible to make iOS games in Java using the PlayN cross-platform game framework, and I knew that it should in theory be possible to use the same set of tools to make Scala run on iOS. Indeed it is.

If you are seriously going to undertake to write an iOS app in Scala, here are a grab bag of caveats and recommendations:

Put together a better build system

Build using SBT or something less slow than Maven. You'll need to implement the moral equivalent of what my ikvm-maven-plugin does, but if you just run "mvn package -X" you'll see the big fat command line it puts together at the end, and you can work it out from there.

You might also want to investigate using IKVM's "on the fly" bytecode converter to enable a more efficient edit/compile/debug cycle. Currently, to test your app, you have to run the Scala code through Proguard every time you want to run it in the iOS simulator (otherwise MonoTouch will require ages to grind through all of scala-library.jar). However, MonoTouch uses the normal Mono VM when running code in the simulator, so you can do things there (like on-the-fly byte-code compilation) that you can't do in an app that's built for the device. Thus it is probably possible to wire up IKVM's on-the-fly Java bytecode to CLR bytecode translator, plus the existing Mono VM, to enable a development environment where you can incrementally recompile Scala classes and simply restart your simulated app to incorporate the new code.

Learn about IKVM's magic

Learn about how IKVM translates Java bytecode to C# bytecode, because you're going to see the iOS APIs through the lens of C#-ness. Xamarin did a great job of converting the Objective-C APIs into C# APIs, which are easy for a C# programmer to use. You will now be using those C# APIs "as seen" from Java, and what's worse, it's Java as seen from Scala, which is not always smooth sailing.

For example, IKVM generates synthetic inner interfaces for C# delegates as well as C# attributes, but it fails to mark them static. javac doesn't care because it knows that all inner-interfaces are implicitly static, but scalac thinks they require an outer-this pointer to be constructed which requires hackery (shown in the example code) to work around.

Unfortunately there's not a comprehensive list of all the things IKVM does to map between the JVM's view of the world and the CLR's view of the world. You kind of have to plow through ten plus years of Jeroen's blog posts to find whatever particular thing you're looking for. Of course, Google is your friend here.

In a rare case of "two wrongs do make a right", using C# generics from Scala by way of IKVM is horribly unpleasant, but the iOS API originates from Objective-C code in the first place, so Xamarin rarely makes use of C# generics in their C# version of the API. So you don't often run into that unpleasantry.

You can use Interface Builder

The demo app happens to use MonoTouch.Dialog, which is a nice programmatic way of creating UIs on iOS. However, it is also possible to use Interface Builder to create apps. The MonoTouch UI docs explain how you wire up IB UIs via C#, and anything you can do in C# you can do in Scala, modulo a variable degree of cumbersome translation.

Don't use JDK classes

ikvm-monotouch uses a hacked up version of OpenJDK where 90% of the crap from the JDK was excised to get things working with the limited CLR profile made available by MonoTouch. This means you cannot use things like or most of java.nio, and there's no bundled implementation of CORBA or LDAP or any of the other two dozen random bits of enterprise crap that Sun/Oracle has piled in there over the years. By extension, anything in Scala that builds on those bits is not going to work. You're probably not planning on writing an enterprise web server for the iPhone, but you should still bear in mind that you're not in Kansas anymore.

Some of the JDK stuff does work, but that still doesn't mean that you should use it. Using something like means that you're using IKVM's implementation of Java files on top of the CLR libraries, and the CLR libraries are then implemented via the iOS API. Bad idea. Just use the iOS API in the first place and you'll save yourself a great deal of pain and applications size. NSUrl, NSData and friends are not that difficult to use, and they'll provide the best performance.

Hopefully you were not thinking you would be able to use AWT and/or Swing. Even if it did work, which it doesn't, Steve Jobs would likely come back from the dead just to smack you.

The Scala collections library works, and that (and all the fun things you can do with Scala yourself) is pretty much the extent of what you can bring over from the Java world. Everything else should be built on the iOS APIs directly. Of course, if you're extremely motivated, you can improve my ikvm-monotouch port and make more Java stuff work out of the box, but you'll still be running everything through two layers of emulation, on under-powered, power-starved mobile CPUs. Think of the children.

iOS API docs

You can often figure out what you want to do by either looking at the Objective-C documentation directly (or reading about how someone did something in Objective-C) and then looking at the MonoTouch API docs to see whether and how the API differs in C#.


As far as I can tell (IANAL), the entire tool-chain involved here is AOK for developing apps and selling them on the app store. A number of parties (myself included) have shipped commercial games based on this toolchain (minus Scala). Xamarin.Studio is a commercial product, so you have to cough up for that, but everything else is open source and licensed sufficiently liberally for commercial use.


I'm on scala-tools, so feel free to post there with questions or whatnot.


A demo of building an iOS app in Scala (via IKVM via MonoTouch)






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