Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Metaprogramming in Groovy and Scala

This morning I read an excellent pair of articles by Scott Davis on metaprogramming in Groovy. It reminded me of some of the different ways to approach this kind of problem. The second article in particular detailed a new feature in Groovy 1.6, the delegate annotation. Here is an example of using this feature:

public class Monkey {
def eatBananas(){
println("gobble gulp")

public class RoboMonkey{
@Delegate final Monkey monkey
public RoboMonkey(Monkey m){
this.monkey = m
public RoboMonkey(){
this.monkey = new Monkey()
def crushCars(){

This allows for the following usage:

def monkey = new RoboMonkey()

What is interesting here is that you cannot just create a Monkey and call crushCars on it. RoboMonkey is meant to be a way to add functionality to the Monkey class (in this case the crushCars method), while still being able to treat the RoboMonkey as if it was a Monkey. I point this out because of how this would be done in Scala:

class Monkey{
def eatBanaas = println("gobble gulp")

class RoboMonkey(val monkey:Monkey){
def this() = this(new Monkey)
def crushCars = println("smash")

object Monkey{
implicit def makeRobo(monkey:Monkey):RoboMonkey = new RoboMonkey(monkey)
implicit def makeNormal(robo:RoboMonkey):Monkey = robo.monkey

Now arguably this is more complicated, because you have to create the Monkey object in addition to the Monkey class. What Scala requires is that you get those implicit functions (makeRobo, makeNormal) in scope. This is just one way to do that. The added benefit is the following usage:

val monkey = new Monkey

I guess the Groovy way to do this is to use the meta class:

Monkey.metaClass.crushCars = {-> println("smash")}
def monkey = new Monkey()

In both languages you can accomplish similar things, though with very different ways to implement it. Meta programming in Groovy is very powerful, and there are things you can do in Groovy that you cannot do in Scala -- see methodMissing and propertyMissing. Of course you lose some of the benefits of static typing, but software is all about tradeoffs.


Ikai Lan said...

Very useful compiler flag I learned recently when working with implicits:

scalac -Xprint:typer

Helen Mallon said...

Thanks for the useful tip, I will link to it later on my blog :)

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with using mixins?