Lifting is an extensible way to unquote custom data types in quasiquotes. Its primary use-case is support unquoting of literal values and a number of reflection primitives as trees:

scala> val two = 1 + 1
two: Int = 2

scala> val four = q"$two + $two"
four: universe.Tree = 2.$plus(2)

This code runs successfully because Int is considered to be Liftable by default. The Liftable type is just a trait with a single abstract method that defines a mapping of a given type to tree:

trait Liftable[T] {
  def apply(value: T): Tree

Whenever there is an implicit value of Liftable[T] available, one can unquote T in quasiquotes. This design pattern is known as a type class. You can read more about it in “Type Classes as Objects and Implicits”.

A number of data types that are supported natively by quasiquotes will never trigger the usage of a Liftable representation, even if it's available: subtypes of Tree, Symbol, Name, Modifiers and FlagSet.

One can also combine lifting and unquote splicing:

scala> val ints = List(1, 2, 3)
scala> val f123 = q"f(..$ints)"
f123: universe.Tree = f(1, 2, 3)

scala> val intss = List(List(1, 2, 3), List(4, 5), List(6))
scala> val f123456 = q"f(...$intss)"
f123456: universe.Tree = f(1, 2, 3)(4, 5)(6)

In this case, each element of the list will be lifted separately and the result will be spliced in at the definition point.

Bring your own

To define tree representation for your own data type just provide an implicit instance of Liftable for it:

package points

import scala.universe._

case class Point(x: Int, y: Int)
object Point {
  implicit val lift = Liftable[Point] { p =>
    q"_root_.points.Point(${p.x}, ${p.y})"

This way, whenever a value of type Point is unquoted at runtime it will be automatically transformed into a case class constructor call. In this example there are three important points you should consider:

  1. The Liftable companion contains a helper apply method to simplify the creation of Liftable instances. It takes a single type parameter T and a T => Tree function as a single value parameter and returns a Liftable[T].

  2. Here we only defined Liftable for runtime reflection. It won’t be found if you try to use it from a macro due to the fact that each universe contains its own Liftable, which is not compatible with the others. This problem is caused by the path-dependent nature of the current reflection API. (see sharing liftable implementation between universes)

  3. Due to a lack of hygiene, the reference to Point’s companion has to be fully qualified to ensure the correctness of this tree in every possible context. Another way to workaround this reference issue is to use symbols instead:

    val PointSym = symbolOf[Point].companionModule
    implicit val lift = Liftable[Point] { p =>
      q"$PointSym(${p.x}, ${p.y})"

Standard Liftables

Type Value Representation
Byte, Short, Int, Long 0 q"0"
Float 0.0 q"0.0"
Double 0.0D q"0.0D"
Boolean true, false q"true", q"false"
Char 'c' q"'c'"
Unit () q"()"
String "string" q""" "string" """
Symbol 'symbol q"'symbol"
Array[T] Array(1, 2) q"s.Array(1, 2)"
Option[T] Some(1) q"s.Some(1)"
Vector[T] Vector(1, 2) q"s.c.i.Vector(1, 2)"
List[T] List(1, 2) q"s.c.i.List(1, 2)"
Map[K, V] Map(1 -> 2) q"s.c.i.Map((1, 2))"
Set[T] Set(1, 2) q"s.c.i.Set(1, 2)"
Either[L, R] Left(1) q"s.u.Left(1)"
TupleN[...] * † (1, 2) q"(1, 2)"
TermName TermName("foo") q"foo"
TypeName TypeName("foo") tq"foo"
Tree tree tree
Expr expr expr.tree
Type typeOf[Int] TypeTree(typeof[Int])
TypeTag ttag TypeTree(ttag.tpe)
Constant const Literal(const)

(*) Liftable for tuples is defined for all N in [2, 22] range.

(†) All type parameters have to be Liftable themselves.

(‡) s. is shorthand for scala, s.c.i. for scala.collection.immutable, s.u. for scala.util.

Reusing Liftable implementation between universes

Due to the path dependent nature of the current reflection API, it is non-trivial to share the same Liftable definition between the macro and the runtime universes. One possible way to do this is to define Liftable implementations in a trait and instantiate it for each universe separately:

import scala.reflect.api.Universe
import scala.reflect.macros.blackbox.Context

trait LiftableImpls {
  val universe: Universe
  import universe._

  implicit val liftPoint = Liftable[points.Point] { p =>
    q"_root_.points.Point(${p.x}, ${p.y})"

object RuntimeLiftableImpls extends LiftableImpls {
  val universe: universe.type = universe

trait MacroLiftableImpls extends LiftableImpls {
  val c: Context
  val universe: c.universe.type = c.universe

// macro impls defined as a bundle
class MyMacro(val c: Context) extends MacroLiftableImpls {
  // ...

So, in practice, it’s much easier to just define a Liftable for given universe at hand:

import scala.reflect.macros.blackbox.Context

// macro impls defined as a macro bundle
class MyMacros(c: Context) {
  import c.universe._

  implicit val liftPoint = Liftable[points.Point] { p =>
    q"_root_.points.Point(${p.x}, ${p.y})"

  // ...