December 12, 2014

Setting up to write some Scala

(notice: This post was updated in April 2017.)

Getting set up to play around with Scala is way harder than it should be, due in no small part to the instructions on which offer non-optimal courses of action, including:

In addition to these options, now also suggests “Get started with sbt”. This is the option you should choose.


First things first. I’m just going to assume you’re using a Mac or Linux. If you’re on Windows, install Cygwin and pretend you’re not on Windows anymore. It may help to put a bucket over your head.

You need a Java JDK 1.8 or newer (Scala 2.12 requires 1.8), which you can download here if you don’t already have it. Be sure not to install the crapware that Oracle still insists on bundling. Once it’s installed be sure JAVA_HOME is set correctly, so you can open a new shell and do this:

$ $JAVA_HOME/bin/java -version
java version "1.8.0_112"
Java(TM) SE Runtime Environment (build 1.8.0_112-b16)
Java HotSpot(TM) 64-Bit Server VM (build 25.112-b16, mixed mode)

You will also need a decent text editor. Since you’re probably a programmer already I’m sure you have a favorite. I recommend just installing syntax highlighting for Scala to begin with, and adding fancier stuff later as you gain an understanding of what’s going on. I use Sublime Text with nothing but syntax highlighting and it’s just fine.

Get sbt

For better or worse sbt is the accepted way to build Scala programs. It’s not the easiest build system to understand, but for simple projects it’s pretty easy to get up and running. And since you have no real choice we’ll just move on.

Don’t follow the installation instructions on the website. Instead go to sbt-extras and follow the instructions there to install a nice sbt startup script. At this point you have two options:

  1. Install it in some central location on your path like /usr/local/bin, or
  2. Put it at the root of each project and check it into source control like anything else.

There are smart people who choose (1) and others who choose (2) and some will even argue loudly about which is better. I don’t care. Flip a coin.

A Wee Project

Ok so let’s set up a project. The idea here is that we have a build.sbt that describes the project, and a conventional directory structure so we don’t have to describe the project in much detail. All of this is infinitely customizable of course but most projects do fine with the simple setup.

Make a new directory called banjo or something. It doesn’t actually matter but it’s common for this to match the project name. Now cd into that directory; everything we do from now on happens here.

Create build.sbt with something like the following content. The order doesn’t matter. This is a pretty minimal build.sbt file that provides enough information to identify the project and name the build artifact.

name := "banjo"
organization := "org.chickenpants"
version := "0.1-SNAPSHOT"
scalaVersion := "2.12.2" // Scala is a dependency (!)

Create project/ with the following content. This is weird, sorry, but this is how to pick an sbt version (the sbt script you installed is really just a bootloader that downloads whichever version you specify here).


Now create the directory src/main/scala. This is one of the places sbt will look for Scala source files.

To review, our file structure now looks like this:


Ok light a candle and type sbt. With some luck it will download the internet and then dump you at a prompt (this downloading only happens once; everything is cached globally in ~/.ivy2/).

Write You a Scala

Ok let’s write us a Scala. Down in src/main/scala/ which you created moments ago, add the file Cookout.scala with the following content:

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

And at the sbt prompt type run. You will find to your squealing delight that the program runs. Some other things you might want to do at the sbt prompt are:

Learn Some More

Congratulations, you now have a minimal but functional development environment. There is a ton more to learn of course, but at least you have some working tools. Here are some suggestions: