Generic framework for development of domain-specific compilers in Scala
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Scalan Compilation Framework

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Scalan is a framework for domain-specific compilation in Scala. It allows you to write high-level Scala programs and compile them to efficient low-level code (in any language supported by the existing backends) by applying domain-specific compilation techniques.

Scalan is based on Polymorphic Embedding and LMS-like staging. However, in contrast to LMS, Scalan doesn't rely on Scala-virtualized and works with Scala 2.10+ compiler.

In conjunction with Scalanizer Scalan can be used to develop domain-specific JIT compilers for hot-spot optimization in Scala. (To get started checkout Scala Days video and demonstration project)

One of the distinguishing feature of Scalan is Isomorphic Specialization a new specialization algorithm and technique which allows to perform cross-domain translations of programs. Thus it is possible to construct compilation pipelines with gradual lowering of domain-specific abstractions.

Please visit Scalan Google Group for Scalan-related discussions. See also Contributions below and get involved.

Building the project and running tests

SBT is required to build Scalan. See SBT documentation for installation and usage instructions. There is also an improved runner which takes care of downloading correct SBT version and adds some extra features.

The project consists of several subprojects, including the aggregate project scalan.

One of the subprojects, scalan-lms-backend currently depends on a fork of LMS located at, branch scalan-develop. If you want to use it, you need to clone and build this dependency first, since it isn't published in a public repository.

The tests are split into unit tests (which can be run with the usual test SBT command) and integration tests (it:test) which actually generate a program (using some backend) and test the generated code. As of this writing, the only backends(codegens) available are Scala- and C++-based LMS backends, both defined in the scalan-lms-backend subproject.

If you want to create your own project depending on Scalan, you should use publishLocal SBT command to publish Scalan artifacts to your local Ivy repository and add dependencies as usual:

def liteDependency(name: String) = "com.huawei.scalan" %% name % "0.2.9-SNAPSHOT"

lazy val core = liteDependency("scalan-core")
lazy val library = liteDependency("scalan-library")
lazy val meta = liteDependency("scalan-meta")

lazy val myProject = Project("myProjectName").settings(
  // or core, core % "test" classifier "tests" if you only need scalan-core
  libraryDependencies ++= Seq(library, library % "test" classifier "tests")

lazy val myMeta = Project("myMetaProjectName").settings(libraryDependencies += meta)

"test" dependencies allow reuse of Scalan's existing test infrastructure and aren't necessary if you don't need it. See Extending Scalan below for an explanation of myMeta.

If you also need to depend on scalan-lms-backend, you have to add Scala-Virtualized to the settings block above. See Maven Repository for the latest Scala-Virtualized version; as of this writing, 2.11.2 is the only version which can be used:

  libraryDependencies += liteDependency("scalan-lms-backend"),
  scalaVersion := "2.11.2",
  scalaOrganization := "org.scala-lang.virtualized")

Alternately, you can use project references to Scalan in your build instead of libraryDependencies if you want changes to Scalan to be immediately visible to your project without a publishLocal step.


Currently we are quite far from 1.0 and breaking changes can happen. In such a case we usually publish a new release.

Writing programs

With the introduction of Scalanizer as a new frontend, the role of Scalan is shifted one level down in the middle part of the compilation pipeline, but it still can be used for development of new EDSLs without Scalanizer.

Scalan is a library in Scala, so all standard rules of Scala syntax apply and knowledge of Scala is assumed in this manual. However, Scalan supports only a limited subset of Scala types and operations. This is not a conceptual limitation and will improve overtime especially with the help of Scalanizer plugin.

Note that if you write a program which is legal Scala, but not legal Scalan, there are currently no error messages or warnings. This is one of the reasons and rationale for creating Scalanizer where such errors can easily be handled.


All Scalan values have type Rep[A] for some Scala type A. Currently A can be one of the following types:

  1. Base types: Boolean, Byte, Int, Long, Float, Double, String.
  2. Pairs (A, B). Larger tuples are are represented as pairs nested to the right, so e.g. instead of Rep[(Int, Int, Boolean)] you write Rep[(Int, (Int, Boolean))]. This might look a bit annoying for a DSL front-end, but it actually pays-off at middle-end where generic transformations are implemented.
  3. Sums Either[A, B] (can also be written as A | B).
  4. Functions A => B. Functions with multiple arguments are emulated by functions taking a tuple (or by currying), such as Rep[((A, B)) => C] (note double parentheses).
  5. Arrays Array[A] (in community-edition subproject).
  6. Traits and classes added by DSL developers (see Extending Scalan section below).

Note that nested Rep is not allowed (i.e. you cannot write something like this Rep[(Rep[Int], Double)]), but it is possible to nest Rep in user defined classes (see Extending Scalan).

There are type aliases for some Rep types, such as type IntRep = Rep[Int], type Arr[A] = Rep[Array[A]], etc. You can use aliases freely and the only rule for type aliases is that they don't introduce nested Reps described above.

Scala values of type A can be converted to Rep[A] implicitly (or explicitly using toRep method if desired). Like in LMS they become constants of the next stage. (Const[A] nodes of intermediate representation, IR). However, in current version it's not possible to convert from Rep[A] to A as it would mean running the corresponding IR.


Scalan supports the usual arithmetic, logical, ordering, etc. operations. They are added by implicit conversions on Rep. Note that x + y where x: Int and y: Rep[Int] doesn't compile; write toRep(x) + y or y + x instead. There are currently no implicit widening conversions from Rep[Int] to Rep[Long], from Rep[Float] to Rep[Double], etc. Methods like toInt and toDouble should be used instead.

val x: Rep[Int] = 1

x + 3

As in Scala, arithmetical operations on Rep[T] require an implicit Numeric[T] (Fractional[T] for /) to be in scope, and ordering operations require an Ordering[T].

Equality is written === and inequality !==. Note that accidental use of == or != will likely compile (since Boolean can be implicitly converted to Rep[Boolean]) but produce wrong results! Unfortunately this is a deficiency of polymorphic embedding and can only be cured by Scalanizer with automatic virtualization.

Conditional expression is IF (cond) THEN branch1 ELSE branch2, where cond: Rep[Boolean]. THEN is optional, and ELSEIF can be used in place of ELSE. Because IF, THEN and ELSE are methods, they are parsed differently from normal Scala conditionals if, then and else. Namely, THEN and ELSE shouldn't start new lines, e.g.

IF (true)
  THEN true
  ELSE false

is parsed by scalac as 3 separate expressions and doesn't typecheck. Instead write

IF (true) THEN true ELSE false


IF (true)
  THEN {
  } ELSE {

For tuples the usual Scala methods _1, _2, etc. are available. Tuples can be constructed and pattern-matched using Pair and Tuple objects.

val a0 = 1
val b0 = 2
val c0 = false
val tuple: Rep[(Int, (Int, Boolean))] = Tuple(a0, b0, c0)

val Tuple(a1, b1, c1) = tuple
val c2 = tuple._3

Currently tuples up to size 8 are supported.

Scalan function values can be pure or they can have effectful operations. Effectful operation are reified in the IR using LMS style Reflect/Reify nodes.

Scalan function values are of type Rep[A=>B] and are not the same as Scala functions (or lambdas) of type Rep[A] => Rep[B]. They can be obtained from pure Scala functions which take and return Rep by an implicit conversion fun.

By default if you apply Scalan function like val y = f(x) the function is inlined in the point of application. If the function shouldn't be inlined, funGlob method can be used instead.

val f: Rep[Int => Int] = { x: Rep[Int] => x + 1 } // implicit conversion
val f1 = fun { x: Rep[Int] => x + 1 } // explicit conversion
val f2 = fun((_: Rep[Int]) + 1) // using underscore
val f3 = funGlob({ x: Rep[Int] => x + 1 })

Loops can be written as from(startingState).until(isMatch)(step), where isMatch and step are pure Scala functions which take the same number and types of arguments as passed to from and return Rep[Boolean] and a tuple as above respectively.

val collatz = from(start).until(_ === 1) { n => IF (n % 2 === 0) THEN (n / 2) ELSE (n * 3 + 1) }

Methods can be defined using def keyword, as usual. Normally all arguments and return values will have Rep types, but this isn't required.

User types

User-Defined Types, UDTs, (abstractions like Vector[T] and concrete implementations like DenseVector[T]) are introduced as part of a module - logical group of Scala traits usually in a single file. Such modules in Scalan are also called DSLs to emphasise their domain specificity (VectorsDsl, MatricesDsl, etc). For such user defined types (like Vector[T]) there is an implicit conversion from Rep[Vector[T]] to Vector[T], so all methods/fields of Vector[T] are available on Rep[Vector[T]]. This is of cause true for other user defined types not only for Vector. If you need to add your own types see Extending Scalan below.

There are certain rules how to declare UDTs that should be obeyed in order to make UDTs first-class citizens in Scalan framework. It's also possible to create regular Scala classes with Rep fields, but you won't be able to stage these classes directly (i.e. obtain a Rep[MyClass]) because necessary boilerplate will not be generated by scalan-meta for such declarations.

Program structure and example

Your program needs to extends ScalanDsl trait (along with any traits describing the DSLs you use). Here is a very simple example program:

trait HelloScalan extends MatricesDsl {
  lazy val run = fun { p: Rep[(Array[Array[Double]], Array[Double])] =>
    val Pair(m, v) = p
    val width = m(0).length
    val matrix: Matrix[Double] = CompoundMatrix(Collection( { r: Arr[Double] => DenseVector(Collection(r))}), width)
    val vector: Vector[Double] = DenseVector(Collection(v))
    (matrix * vector).items.arr
  // example input
  val matrix = Array(Array(1.0, 2.0), Array(3.0, 5.0))
  val vector = Array(2.0, 3.0)
  val input = (matrix, vector)

It can be seen to be very close to a usual Scala program, except for use of Rep type constructor and fun method. Note that run takes core types as argument and returns core types, not matrices and vectors themselves.

This example is available in the repository. Please raise an issue if you find it isn't up-to-date!

Now, there are two ways in which Scalan can work with this program:

Sequential mode

Run it without optimizations in order to ensure it works as desired and debug if necessary. This is done by mixing in ScalanCommunityDslSeq (and Seq versions of any additional DSLs used by your program):

// to run: scalan-lms-backend/it:runMain HelloScalanSeq
object HelloScalanSeq extends HelloScalan with MatricesDslSeq {
  def result = run(input)

  def main(args: Array[String]) = {

In this mode, Scalan's behavior is very simple: Rep[A] is the same type as A, and fun returns its argument, so you can mentally erase all Rep and fun. However, the structure of Scalan programs inhibits some of Scala's own optimization opportunities, so it should be expected to run somewhat slower than an equivalent Scala program.

Staged mode

Compile it to produce optimized code by mixing in ScalanCommunityDslExp (and Exp versions of any additional DSLs) and a compiler trait.

// to run: scalan-lms-backend/it:runMain HelloScalanExp
object HelloScalanExp {
  // allows use of standard Scala library, commented out to make tests faster
  // override val defaultCompilerConfig = CompilerConfig(Some("2.11.7"), Seq.empty)

  val program = new HelloScalan with MatricesDslExp

  val compiler = new CommunityLmsCompilerScala(program)
  import compiler._
  import compiler.scalan._

  def result = {
    // output directory
    val dir = new File("it-out")
    val compiled = compiler.buildExecutable(
      // generated class name
      // function to compile
      // write .dot files containing graph IR with default settings
    // not necessary if you just want to generate
    // and compile the program
    execute(compiled, input)

  def main(args: Array[String]): Unit = {

Running this program will generate HelloScalan.scala and HelloScalan.jar in the given directory. HelloScalan class will have a apply((Array[Array[Double]], Array[Double])): Array[Double] method which corresponds to the run function. You can add either the source code or the jar to your own programs and call the apply method from them.

Note that generated code depends only on the Scala standard library, not on Scalan. If it's acceptable for your program to depend on Scalan, it can also call Backend.execute method which loads the generated class and invokes the apply method.

In this mode Rep[A] represents a value of type A in the generated code. Any values of non-Rep Scala types which appear in the Scalan program aren't represented directly.

Scalan aggressively applies optimizations such as dead code elimination, common sub-expression elimination, and function inlining independently of backend. The backend can, of course, include its own optimizations as well (a major one in the LMS backend is loop fusion).

Understanding Scalan code

Scalan uses a variant of cake pattern for code organization. Namely, it is composed of a set of traits such as Base, Elems, etc. which define a component API (and helper methods using this API). Each component has two implementations ComponentNameSeq and ComponentNameExp which are used in sequential and staged mode respectively. There is a trait combining all components called Scalan, and corresponding ScalanSeq and ScalanExp traits. These traits are used as self-types for the components and their implementations, which allows each component to depend on all others. There are also ScalanCtxSeq and ScalanCtxExp which extend ScalanSeq and ScalanExp with implementations.

scalan-library subproject adds more components. Their combination with Scalan is called ScalanCommunity (also with Seq and Exp versions). It also defines some DSLs which work the same as components, and ScalanCommunityDsl combines ScalanCommunity and all DSLs.

Important types to understand are:

  • Element[A] is a reified type representation. For all legal Scalan types Rep[A] an Element[A] instance exists and should be available implicitly.
  • Exp[A] is Rep[A] in staged mode. As said above, it represents a staged value (i.e. a value in generated code) of type A or, more strictly speaking, an identifier of such a value.
  • Def[A] is a definition of an Exp[A].

Extending Scalan

New methods can be added to existing types using implicit conversions:

implicit class Norm(arr: Rep[Array[Double]]) {
  def norm: Rep[Double] = Math.sqrt((arr *^ arr).sum)

val x: Rep[Array[Double]] = ...

Normal Scala rules apply.

It's also possible to add new user types to Scalan. As a simple example, we consider points on a plane. We have a trait describing the interface, and a class describing an implementation (though in this case there is only one implementation, the split is still required). They are contained in the trait Points which serves as a DSL component.

trait Points { self: PointsDsl =>
  trait Point {
    def x: Rep[Double]
    def y: Rep[Double]
    def distance(other: Rep[Point]): Rep[Double] = Math.sqrt((x - other.x)*(x - other.x) + (y - other.y)*(y - other.y))
  // trait PointCompanion // uncomment to add methods for companion object

  abstract class PointImpl(val x: Rep[Double], val y: Rep[Double]) extends Point
  // trait PointImplCompanion

// generated automatically if absent;
// you can add methods which shouldn't be staged or which have different
// implementations in Seq and Exp contexts here

// trait PointsDsl extends impl.PointsAbs
// trait PointsDslSeq extends impl.PointsSeq
// trait PointsDslExp extends impl.PointsExp

This obviously doesn't compile yet, because of references to non-existent classes in the impl package. They are boilerplate code which must be generated using the meta subproject. Currently this unfortunately has to be done manually by running SBT command meta/run <configurations>, where <configurations> is one or more configuration defined in BoilerplateTool.scala. This has to be done when a DSL file is added or changed, or after changes in the meta subproject itself. Projects which depend on Scalan and add their own DSLs will normally also have a meta subproject with a dependency on scalan-meta.

Note that methods in Point must have Rep in argument types and return value type. If Point had a type parameter, it would also have methods asserting existence of Element instances. It may seem some of these empty traits are unnecessary, but they serve as extension points. E.g. any methods added to PointCompanion will be available on Point companion objects.

See scalan.linalgebra.Vectors for a larger example.

Adding new primitive operations, core types, or backends to Scalan is possible, but the API is currently not stable.


Please feel free to open an issue if you notice a bug, have an idea for a feature, or have a question about the code. Minor pull requests (typos, bug fixes and so on) are gladly accepted; for anything larger please raise an issue first.

Issues with the low-hanging fruit label should be easy to fix if you want something to get started with.

If you want to start working on an issue (existing or one you just raised), please leave a comment to avoid effort duplication. Issues that someone is already working on are labelled in progress.

See also

Scalanizer - a Scala plugin which allows to capture Scala ASTs and translate it into Scalan.

Scalanizer Demo - a simple project that demonstrates how to use Scalanizer, declare hot-spot regions and generate efficient kernels for JVM and native execution.