30 Days Of Scala: It’s a Wonderful Life Part 1

This a continuation of my thirty days of Scala series about learning the programming language Scala. For a list of all posts click here

The first kata I started with for this project based on Conway’s Game of life. This is actually the first code kata I was every exposed to, at my first clean code retreat, so it’s always held a special place in my heart. Plus I loved Conway’s Life as a kid where I would manually run games on graph paper while I was bored during math class. Basically an uber-geeky form of doodling.

If you aren’t already familiar with Conway’s Game of life here’s a good explanation. As a quick summary though, it’s a 2D grid, where each turn cells turn on and off based on the state of their neighbors.

For this coding kata, my real goal was to learn how to setup my development environment, so I actually gave myself much longer than 30 minutes including research on that topic. I started out looking into an IDE like IntelliJ, since that seemed very similar to the visual studio experience I’m familiar with on the .NET side. However, as I did my research and played with IntelliJ, I found it was abstracting me from key aspects of the scala process, particularly SBT.

SBT (Simple Build Tool) is scala’s build management tool, and a very unique beast. It’s basically a dedicated console that allows you to handle compiling, dependency management, and continuous testing from one place. Plus it’s got an extensible plugin model so you can add additional functionality on your own. I’ve seen tools that have similar goals, like grunt in the node.js space, but SBT feels like a more sophisticated, comprehensive implementation. I didn’t want some sort of IDE abstracting me away from such a powerful tool, particularly when the documentation I was reading was highlighting the key role sbt plays in Scala.

So instead I decided to go for one of the more popular minimalistic code editors out there, Sublime. If you aren’t familiar with sublime, it’s a highly extensible editor with a wide range of plugins out there for every imaginable language. It’s not a turnkey solution like some of the bigger IDE’s but it’s pretty easy to install a key set of plugins to create a first class IDE like experience for Scala. Here are the key plugins I found

Sublime ENSIME – A port of a syntax highlighting/code completion add on for EMACS. It’s a little complicated to setup, but it add alot to the experience, making it easier to catch and fix errors, and to discover language features. It’s not 100% as good a Visual Studio’s intellisense, but still manages to fill that niche fairly well.

Sublime SBT – A plugin that allows you to open an SBT console in a pane at the bottom of Sublime. It also offers quick keyboard access to sublime commands, like build, or start continuous testing. Easy to setup and definitely a must have.

With this setup, I found myself being highly productive, and happy with the quick feedback loop I was getting during test debug sessions.

In addition to sublime, I also found a great utility to help jump start each scala project from a series of code templates, giter8. Giter8 is a sublime based console app that can download project template for any programming language from github and user them to quickly create a basic boilerplate for your project. It’s an awesome idea, since github is a natural repository for those sorts of things, and since starting without boilerplate it always a little tricky, especially if you’re just starting with the language.

In the next section I’ll talk more about the actual coding experiences I had while working this kata.

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