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APPLICATION MODERNIZATION

Why Improving Uses Scala

Headshot - Sarthak Routh
Sarthak Routh
Marketing Manager

July 19, 2023 | 6 Minute Read

What Is Scala?

With the myriad of languages available to developers, why would Scala be of significance and what are its benefits? These are some of the questions we are going to address and explore at a high level so that you are better able to understand and conceptualize Scalas benefits and use cases.

Before diving deeper, let’s first understand what Scala is. Scala is a high-level statically typed programming language; it cleanly combines both functional and object-oriented programming styles, has a very strong static type system, and is one of the most sophisticated languages for applications built on the JVM (Java Virtual Machine) platform.

Martin Odersky, a Swiss computer scientist and professor, created Scala in 2004 with the intent to demonstrate that the fusion of object-oriented programming and the functional program was both possible and practical.  Scala can be used for a wide range of applications, from web development to data science. At Improving, we use Scala to create distributed microservices-based systems that leverage a resilient, responsive, and scalable Reactive architecture. 

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Benefits of Scala

Scala is a versatile language that can handle large-scale projects, provide more robust code due to its strong type system (developers either get a compiler warning/error or their code simply works), and make it easier to write concise and readable code due to its type safety, its compatibility with Java, functional programming, concise and expressive syntax, and community support. As a result of its ability to work seamlessly with Java and support distributed computing and data engineering, Scala is an ideal choice for developing distributed applications. Overall, Scala's feature set makes it one of the most powerful languages for creating robust and scalable applications, which is why we primarily utilize it in developing highly distributed microservices-based applications.

Putting The Scalability In Scala

Scala was created with scale in mind; it is a language that can easily handle large-scale projects. It supports distributed computing, which makes it an excellent choice for developing distributed systems. Scala is ideal for distributed computing due to its functional programming paradigm and its inherent support for concurrency and parallelism. The Akka framework, built on Scala, for instance,  is a high-performance toolkit for building concurrent, distributed, and resilient message-driven applications, significantly streamlining the process of designing distributed systems.

Type Safety

Scala is a statically typed language, which means that errors are caught during compilation rather than at runtime. Scala becomes more robust and less prone to errors as a result of this feature. The type inference system also makes it easier to write concise and readable code. Scala’s type system supports:

  1. Generic Classes

  2. Variance Annotation

  3. Upper and lower type bounds

  4. Inner classes and abstract-type members

  5. Compound types

  6. Explicitly typed self-references

  7. Implicit parameters and conversions

  8. Polymorphic methods

Interoperability

Scala is designed to work in tandem with Java. It runs on the JVM, so it integrates easily with existing Java codebases. Scala is thus an excellent choice for businesses that have already invested heavily in Java.

Scala As a Functional Programming language

The emphasis on immutable data structures and pure functions is one of functional programming's and by extension Scala’s, main advantages. Immutable data structures prevent data from being accidentally changed, lowering the risk of bugs and improving code stability. Pure functions, on the other hand, have no side effects, which makes it easier to reason about and test code. Furthermore, these features facilitate the writing of parallel and concurrent code by reducing the need for data synchronization which can lead to improved performance in certain applications.

Concise and Expressive Syntax

Scala has an expressive syntax that enables developers to write code that is concise and readable. Because it supports higher-order functions and type inference, it allows you to write code that is both concise and expressive. To illustrate the conciseness and expressiveness of Scala, take a look at the following word count function in Scala. The function reads a text file and counts the frequency of each word, thus demonstrating the conciseness and expressiveness of Scala.

def wordCount(fileName: String): Map[String, Int) = {
  val source = Source.fromFile(fileName)
  try {
    source
      .getLines
      .flatMap(_.split("\W+"))
      .foldLeft(Map.empty[String,Int]) {
        (map, next) = map + (next → (map.getOrElse(next,0) + 1))
      }
  } finally {
    source.close()
  }
}

Community Support

Scala has a large and active developer community that is constantly contributing to the language's development. This means that Scala developers have access to a plethora of libraries and tools. Currently, Scala is a cooperative project that is supported in collaboration between Scala Center at EPFL, the Scala teams at VirtusLab and Lightbend, and the broader Scala community around the globe with the participation of many different companies, organizations, and individual contributors. 

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At Improving, our team regularly engages with the broader Scala community by attending conferences such as Scala Days in Seattle to share the patterns, techniques, and innovations that allow us to create scalable, resilient, and highly distributed applications for our clients. For instance, at this year’s conference in Seattle, our team was able to offer insights into how Improving continues to efficiently and effectively build and deploy new features for existing cloud-native applications that have been written in Scala for clients in the tourism and financial services sectors.

Photo 3 - Why Improving Uses Scala Blog (and culture picture from a Canadian conference)

What Is Scala Used For?

As we have highlighted, Scala is a powerful programming language with numerous advantages for software development. It is a popular choice for building robust and scalable applications due to its scalability, type safety, interoperability, functional programming, expressive syntax, and community support. Some of the most common use cases of Scala include big data processing, website construction, machine learning, simplifying scalable systems, fintech, and application modernization.

Scala and Big Data Processing

Scala's support for distributed computing and frameworks such as Apache Spark makes it an excellent choice for developing big data processing applications. Apache Spark is a distributed data processing framework that supports in-memory data processing. Scala is the preferred language for developing Apache Spark applications because of its concise syntax and functional programming features, which make it simple to write parallel and distributed code.

Scala and Web Development

Scala can be used to build web applications using frameworks such as Play, Scalatra,  and Akka HTTP. Play, for example,, is a web framework for creating scalable and fast web applications. It supports asynchronous programming, web sockets, and RESTful APIs, making it ideal for developing modern web applications.

Scala and Machine Learning

Scala's functional programming and efficient data processing capabilities shine in machine learning for data stream applications. Leveraging frameworks like Apache Spark, also written in Scala, allows developers to leverage real-time data stream processing and apply machine learning algorithms in a distributed manner. With tools like Spark's MLlib, a robust machine learning library, Scala not only accelerates but also scales machine learning in data stream-based applications.

Scala and Finance

Scala is widely used in the finance industry to develop trading and risk management applications. Because it supports functional programming and parallel processing, it is ideal for developing high-performance financial applications. Furthermore, its Java interoperability makes it simple to integrate with existing Java-based financial systems.

Our Approach To Scala In Application Modernization

At Improving, we use Scala to modernize our clients’ existing monolithic systems with highly distributed cloud-native applications that leverage a Reactive Architecture. Scala enables our development teams to create fast, scalable, responsive, and resilient applications with microservices and concise code. Supported by a strong type system, Scala retains a lot of the qualities of an object-oriented programming language.

Furthermore, since Scala is a JVM language, it has seamless integration with existing Java libraries and it also means that we are able to utilize toolkits, such as Akka, which are specifically designed to create highly concurrent, scalable, distributed, and fault-tolerant systems. Because of the broad range of benefits when developing distributed applications using Scala, Improving has capitalized on these to develop excellent solutions for its clients in the public sector, tourism, finance, and logistics sectors.

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