The dsinfo library

The dsinfo library enables you to easily use Scala-side information in implementations of embedded (internal) domain-specific languages.

dsinfo is implemented using Scala macros which are an experimental feature of Scala 2.10 and 2.11.

The library is released under the GNU Lesser General Public License. See the files COPYING and COPYING.LESSER for details.

Domain-specific entity names

dsinfo enables you to use Scala val and def names as the names of domain-specific program entities. When implementing domain-specific internal languages in Scala, it is common to want to print out error messages or debugging information that refers to domain-specific entities by name. Unfortunately, an internal DSL implementation usually doesn't have access to the names that the DSL user has chosen at the Scala level. dsinfo enables the implementation to get access to those names without changing the DSL.

For example, you can use the library to define operations such as twoargs in this example:

val foobar = twoargs (1, "one")

The idea is that we want twoargs to call a method that we specify. The method should be passed the arguments 1 and "one", but also the name of the value, in this case "foobar".

dsinfo allows you to replace boilerplate where the user of your API has to repeat the name of domain-specific entities. For example, without dsinfo you would have to require the user to explicitly provide the name as an extra argument, leading to duplication.

val valtwoargs1 = twoargs ("valtwoargs1", 1, "one")

Downloading the library

The library is published in the Maven Central repository. If you are using sbt you should include the following in your library dependencies:

"org.bitbucket.inkytonik.dsinfo" %% "dsinfo" % "0.4.0"

Building the library

If you want to build the library, first clone this repository using Mercurial.

Download and install the Scala simple build tool.

Once sbt is installed, invoke it in the dsmain project top level. Switch to the dsinfo sub-project.

dsinfo 0.4.0> project dsinfo

Then package that project.

dsinfo 0.4.0> package

sbt will download all the necessary Scala compiler and library jars, build the library, and package it as a jar file. If all goes well, you should find the library jar in the dsinfo/target directory under a sub-directory for the Scala version that is being used. E.g., if the Scala version is 2.10, look in dsinfo/target/scala_2.10 for dsinfo_2.10-VERSION.jar where VERSION is the dsinfo library version.

Version 0.4.0 has been tested with sbt 0.13.1, Scala 2.11.0 and Java 1.7.0_51 running on Mac OS X 10.9.2.

Using the library (entity names)

Suppose that we want to define the twoargs example shown above. We want to construct values of the following type.

case class TwoArgs (name : String, i : Int, s : String)

First, we need to import the macro feature and macro contexts.

object TwoArgsMaker {

  import scala.language.experimental.macros
  import scala.reflect.macros.blackbox.Context

We now define the entry point as a twoargs method that is implemented by a macro. This method takes just the non-name arguments.

  def twoargs (i : Int, s : String) : TwoArgs =
    macro makeTwoArgsWithName

Our macro will replace the user's call with a call to another method. In this case we call it mkTwoArgs and it simply creates a case class instance and returns it.

  def mkTwoArgs (name : String, i : Int, s : String) : TwoArgs =
      TwoArgs (name, i, s)

There is no requirement that case classes be used. The method that is called can do anything it likes with the arguments as long as it returns the correct type. It is also possible to overload the towargs name instead of using a new name such as mkTwoArgs. The method can also take type parameters.

The macro implementation is provided by makeTwoArgsWithName. Most of the work is done by the dsinfo routine called makeCallWithName.

  import org.bitbucket.inkytonik.dsinfo.DSInfo.makeCallWithName

  def makeTwoArgsWithName (c : Context) (i : c.Expr[Int], s : c.Expr[String]) : c.Expr[TwoArgs] =
    makeCallWithName (c, "TwoArgsMaker.mkTwoArgs")


As in all def macro implementations, the first argument list must be for the macro Context. The second argument list must contain one argument for each of the macro arguments. These are expressions that represent the values, not the actual values. The return type is an expression of the type of the value that we eventually want to return.

The body of makeTwoArgsWithName just has to call makeCallWithName. The macro context is passed as the first argument. The other arguments is the name of the method we want to call.

What does makeCallWithName do?

makeCallWithName operates as follows. It looks for a val or def whose definition is exactly the macro invocation. If such a definition is found, the name of the defined val or def is extracted. Otherwise, the name of the macro is used as the default name.

For example, in the following code

object Foo {
    val x = twoargs (1, "one")
    def aMethod () {
        val y = twoargs (2, "two")
    val z = Some (twoargs (3, "three"))

The values bound to x and y will get the name "x" and "y", respectively. In the definition of z, the macro invocation is embedded inside another value that is then bound to a name. The name "z" will be associated with each embedded invocation as well. (Note: before version 0.4.0 the behaviour in this case was different. An embedded value got the name of the macro, not the user-level name.) These examples show values in an object and in a method. The library also works for values in classes and traits, plus for def definitions in all of these locations.

Once makeCallWithName has a name for an invocation it replaces that invocation with a call of the method that was specified by its non-Context arguments. It passes the name first and then all of the other original arguments to the macro invocation. Thus, the code above is compiled as if you had written:

object Foo {
    val x = TwoArgsMaker.mkTwoArgs ("x", 1, "one")
    def aMethod () {
        val y = TwoArgsMaker.mkTwoArgs ("y", 2, "two")
    val z = Some (TwoArgsMaker.mkTwoArgs ("z", 3, "three"))

Thus, the method mkTwoArgs can use the Scala names but the user does not write anything more than a normal Scala val or def definition.

Method name variants

The method name argument to makeCallWithName can specify the method to call in a variety of ways.

If the method name argument is omitted, it defaults to the name of the macro (twoargs in the example above.)

As shown in the example above, if the method name is qualified then the method that is called comes from the specified object and/or package.

If the method name is unqualified then the method must exist in the scope of the call of the macro. E.g., using the name "mkTwoArgs" assumes that this method is in the user's scope and generates a call to it.

Finally, as a special case, if the name is qualified and starts with a "this" component then the call that is generated will be a call of a method on the object on which the original macro call was made. E.g., if the name is "this.mkTwoARgs" and the macro call is myObj.twoargs (1, "one") then the call that is generated is myObj.mkTwoArgs ("name", 1, "one") where "name" is the definition name.

In general, the method name argument can contain the sub-string $macro. This sub-string is replaced by the name of the macro. Thus, the default method name is "$macro".

As a convenience, the entry point makeThisCallWithName is short-hand for making a call using the method name "this.$macro". It only requires the Context argument.