This will be a small post where I share some techniques we found for getting some additional type safety from our Scala case classes. We’ll look at case classes that validate their input data and we look at case classes that allow selecting from among multiple instances of the same typeclass.

Validating a Subset of a Type

In our current project, we have several AnyVal case classes that represent some of our domain objects. Each is backed by a string that must match a certain regex in order to make sense in our domain model. In that sense, each of our domain case classes represents a different subset of the type String. To make things a bit simpler in this blog post, we’ll consider the analogous situation where we need a subset of the type Double, but all the same techniques still apply.

Let’s start by considering an obviously-broken (judging by its type signature) squareRoot function, and let’s make things interesting by pretending that NaN: Double doesn’t exist, so now we have to decide what happens when the input is negative.

def squareRoot(x: Double): Double = ... x ...

We have a few options. One thing we can do is go ahead and perform our operation on the raw bits, passing back corrupt data to the caller. A better alternative is to raise an exception, a perfectly fine thing to do in a dynamically-typed language. But Scala is statically typed, so we can do better.

One way to fix this function is to make the range—the set of potential outputs—larger, by adding a special value to represent failure. This is exactly what returning an Option[Double] would do for us, but that’s just one way to fix this function. The other way to fix this function is by making the domain—the set of legal inputs—smaller.

class NonNegative { val get: Double = ... }
def squareRoot(x: NonNegative): Double = ... x.get ...

Unlike the Option approach, the NonNegative approach has the advantage of separating validation and business logic. The idea is that if we are passed a NonNegative, we can be confident that validation has already occurred at some earlier point. This brings us to our main point: how do we implement NonNegative so that whenever we have one we can be confident that validation has already occurred?

We chose to use case classes for their brevity and their equality semantics. For runtime optimization, we extend AnyVal.

case class NonNegative(get: Double) extends AnyVal

Of course, case classes by default have no validation. We can implement validation by creating our own apply method in the companion object, instead of relying on the apply method the compiler would have generated for us (this works in Scala 2.12 and above).

case class NonNegative(get: Double) extends AnyVal

object NonNegative {
  def apply(get: Double): Option[NonNegative] =
    if (get >= 0) Some(new NonNegative(get)) else None

We still have to harden our case class against alternate creation paths: make the case class final and make the constructor private.

final case class NonNegative private(get: Double) extends AnyVal

object NonNegative {
  def apply(get: Double): Option[NonNegative] =
    if (get >= 0) Some(new NonNegative(get)) else None

There’s still one more backdoor that we haven’t boarded up. Take a look:

// `Option#get` is safe because we pass a literal `5` into the constructor.
val good: NonNegative = NonNegative(5).get

// but now, nefarious agents use the back door into `NonNegative`
val evil: NonNegative = good.copy(get = -5)

// and that's why our invoices are all wrong this month...
def corruptedByEvil: Double = squareRoot(evil)

The default NonNegative#copy method calls the NonNegative class constructor (instead of NonNegative.apply), skipping our validation. We patch this leak up by providing our own NonNegative#copy method instead of relying on the default, compiler-generated copy method.

final case class NonNegative private(get: Double) extends AnyVal {
  def copy(get: Double = this.get): Option[Double] = NonNegative(get)

object NonNegative {
  def apply(get: Double): Option[NonNegative] =
    if (get >= 0) Some(new NonNegative(get)) else None

This is, as far as I know, the last leak in our abstraction (if you can think of another leak, please comment below). Using this light-weight pattern, we’re able to push all of our input validation to the edges of our app, allowing our business logic to concentrate on managing and operating on validated data.

Selecting from Multiple Typeclass Instances

A similar problem we had was supporting multiple typeclass instances for a single case class. Imagine a case class with hundreds of fields which represents two distinct domain objects, but is implemented as a single case class in order to avoid code duplication and accidental drift.

For simplicity, we’ll consider a case class with just two fields, but imagine hundreds.

case class Content( freeField: String,
                    premiumField: String )

trait Renderable[T] {
  def render(t: T): HTML

Again, we want to use one case class to avoid error-prone duplication that we’d need to remember to keep synchronized manually. At the same time, we need to select different instances of Renderable for different customers. We ended up using mix-in traits to select the correct typeclass instance.

Below is our full solution. Notice in particular the traits FreeView and PremiumView, the implicit class Views, and the instances renderableFreeView and renderablePremiumView.

sealed case class Content private( freeField: String,
                                   premiumField: String ) {
  def copy( freeField: String = this.freeField,
            premiumField: String = this.premiumField ): Content =
      freeField = freeField,
      premiumField = premiumField

object Content {

  sealed trait FreeView extends Content { this: Content => }
  sealed trait PremiumView extends Content { this: Content => }

  def apply( freeField: String,
             premiumField: String ): Content =
    new Content(
      freeField = freeField,
      premiumField = premiumField
    ) with FreeView with PremiumView

  implicit class Views(val self: Content) extends AnyVal {
    def freeView: FreeView = self.asInstanceOf[FreeView]
    def premiumView: PremiumView = self.asInstanceOf[PremiumView]

  implicit val renderableFreeView: Renderable[FreeView] = ...
  implicit val renderablePremiumView: Renderable[PremiumView] = ...

The class casts in Views are safe because all creation is funneled through Content.apply, which secretly imbues the returned Content with both FreeView and PremiumView mix-ins. When we want to pass a Content value to a Renderable method, we first take the appropriate view, either Views#freeView or Views#premiumView.

def makeResponse[T: Renderable](body: T): HTTPResponse = ...

val content: Content = ...

val response: HTTPResponse = makeResponse(content.premiumView)

This pattern has a heavy footprint in terms of boilerplate. Each field has to be stated five times: once in the case class definition, twice in the copy method, and twice in the apply method. Still, we consider this to be better than the alternative of simply copying the implementation of Content into two distinct case classes and keeping them synchronized manually.

Notably, we could have avoid all of this nonsense by simply writing straightforward functions, renderFreeView(x: Content): HTML and renderPremiumView(x: Content): HTML, and by simply calling them explicitly instead of relying on typeclasses and implicit resolution; however, a library we were using required us to provide these typeclass instances, creating our need to write multiple instances for the same underlying case class. While typeclasses can be convenient and can reduce repetition, it’s usually also worthwhile for library authors to expose non-overloaded versions of their functions to prevent forcing clients into the situation the above pattern exists to solve.