Environment, Universes, and Mirrors



The reflection environment differs based on whether the reflective task is to be done at run time or at compile time. The distinction between an environment to be used at run time or compile time is encapsulated in a so-called universe. Another important aspect of the reflective environment is the set of entities that we have reflective access to. This set of entities is determined by a so-called mirror.

For example, the entities accessible through runtime reflection are made available by a ClassloaderMirror. This mirror provides only access to entities (packages, types, and members) loaded by a specific classloader.

Mirrors not only determine the set of entities that can be accessed reflectively. They also provide reflective operations to be performed on those entities. For example, in runtime reflection an invoker mirror can be used to invoke a method or constructor of a class.


There are two principal types of universes– since there exists both runtime and compile-time reflection capabilities, one must use the universe that corresponds to whatever the task is at hand. Either:

  • scala.reflect.runtime.universe for runtime reflection, or
  • scala.reflect.macros.Universe for compile-time reflection.

A universe provides an interface to all the principal concepts used in reflection, such as Types, Trees, and Annotations.


All information provided by reflection is made accessible through mirrors. Depending on the type of information to be obtained, or the reflective action to be taken, different flavors of mirrors must be used. Classloader mirrors can be used to obtain representations of types and members. From a classloader mirror, it’s possible to obtain more specialized invoker mirrors (the most commonly-used mirrors), which implement reflective invocations, such as method or constructor calls and field accesses.


  • “Classloader” mirrors. These mirrors translate names to symbols (via methods staticClass/staticModule/staticPackage).

  • “Invoker” mirrors. These mirrors implement reflective invocations (via methods MethodMirror.apply, FieldMirror.get, etc.). These “invoker” mirrors are the types of mirrors that are most commonly used.

Runtime Mirrors

The entry point to mirrors for use at runtime is via ru.runtimeMirror(<classloader>), where ru is scala.reflect.runtime.universe.

The result of a scala.reflect.api.JavaMirrors#runtimeMirror call is a classloader mirror, of type scala.reflect.api.Mirrors#ReflectiveMirror, which can load symbols by name.

A classloader mirror can create invoker mirrors (including scala.reflect.api.Mirrors#InstanceMirror, scala.reflect.api.Mirrors#MethodMirror, scala.reflect.api.Mirrors#FieldMirror, scala.reflect.api.Mirrors#ClassMirror, and scala.reflect.api.Mirrors#ModuleMirror).

Examples of how these two types of mirrors interact are available below.

Types of Mirrors, Their Use Cases & Examples

A ReflectiveMirror is used for loading symbols by name, and as an entry point into invoker mirrors. Entry point: val m = ru.runtimeMirror(<classloader>). Example:

scala> val ru = scala.reflect.runtime.universe
ru: scala.reflect.api.JavaUniverse = ...

scala> val m = ru.runtimeMirror(getClass.getClassLoader)
m: scala.reflect.runtime.universe.Mirror = JavaMirror ...

An InstanceMirror is used for creating invoker mirrors for methods and fields and for inner classes and inner objects (modules). Entry point: val im = m.reflect(<value>). Example:

scala> class C { def x = 2 }
defined class C

scala> val im = m.reflect(new C)
im: scala.reflect.runtime.universe.InstanceMirror = instance mirror for C@3442299e

A MethodMirror is used for invoking instance methods (Scala only has instance methods– methods of objects are instance methods of object instances, obtainable via ModuleMirror.instance). Entry point: val mm = im.reflectMethod(<method symbol>). Example:

scala> val methodX = ru.typeOf[C].declaration(ru.TermName("x")).asMethod
methodX: scala.reflect.runtime.universe.MethodSymbol = method x

scala> val mm = im.reflectMethod(methodX)
mm: scala.reflect.runtime.universe.MethodMirror = method mirror for C.x: scala.Int (bound to C@3442299e)

scala> mm()
res0: Any = 2

A FieldMirror is used for getting/setting instance fields (like methods, Scala only has instance fields, see above). Entry point: val fm = im.reflectField(<field or accessor symbol>). Example:

scala> class C { val x = 2; var y = 3 }
defined class C

scala> val m = ru.runtimeMirror(getClass.getClassLoader)
m: scala.reflect.runtime.universe.Mirror = JavaMirror ...

scala> val im = m.reflect(new C)
im: scala.reflect.runtime.universe.InstanceMirror = instance mirror for C@5f0c8ac1

scala> val fieldX = ru.typeOf[C].declaration(ru.TermName("x")).asTerm.accessed.asTerm
fieldX: scala.reflect.runtime.universe.TermSymbol = value x

scala> val fmX = im.reflectField(fieldX)
fmX: scala.reflect.runtime.universe.FieldMirror = field mirror for C.x (bound to C@5f0c8ac1)

scala> fmX.get
res0: Any = 2

scala> fmX.set(3)

scala> val fieldY = ru.typeOf[C].declaration(ru.TermName("y")).asTerm.accessed.asTerm
fieldY: scala.reflect.runtime.universe.TermSymbol = variable y

scala> val fmY = im.reflectField(fieldY)
fmY: scala.reflect.runtime.universe.FieldMirror = field mirror for C.y (bound to C@5f0c8ac1)

scala> fmY.get
res1: Any = 3

scala> fmY.set(4)

scala> fmY.get
res2: Any = 4

A ClassMirror is used for creating invoker mirrors for constructors. Entry points: for static classes val cm1 = m.reflectClass(<class symbol>), for inner classes val mm2 = im.reflectClass(<class symbol>). Example:

scala> case class C(x: Int)
defined class C

scala> val m = ru.runtimeMirror(getClass.getClassLoader)
m: scala.reflect.runtime.universe.Mirror = JavaMirror ...

scala> val classC = ru.typeOf[C].typeSymbol.asClass
classC: scala.reflect.runtime.universe.Symbol = class C

scala> val cm = m.reflectClass(classC)
cm: scala.reflect.runtime.universe.ClassMirror = class mirror for C (bound to null)

scala> val ctorC = ru.typeOf[C].declaration(ru.nme.CONSTRUCTOR).asMethod
ctorC: scala.reflect.runtime.universe.MethodSymbol = constructor C

scala> val ctorm = cm.reflectConstructor(ctorC)
ctorm: scala.reflect.runtime.universe.MethodMirror = constructor mirror for C.<init>(x: scala.Int): C (bound to null)

scala> ctorm(2)
res0: Any = C(2)

A ModuleMirror is used for accessing instances of singleton objects. Entry points: for static objects val mm1 = m.reflectModule(<module symbol>), for inner objects val mm2 = im.reflectModule(<module symbol>). Example:

scala> object C { def x = 2 }
defined module C

scala> val m = ru.runtimeMirror(getClass.getClassLoader)
m: scala.reflect.runtime.universe.Mirror = JavaMirror ...

scala> val objectC = ru.typeOf[C.type].termSymbol.asModule
objectC: scala.reflect.runtime.universe.ModuleSymbol = object C

scala> val mm = m.reflectModule(objectC)
mm: scala.reflect.runtime.universe.ModuleMirror = module mirror for C (bound to null)

scala> val obj = mm.instance
obj: Any = C$@1005ec04

Compile-Time Mirrors

Compile-time mirrors make use of only classloader mirrors to load symbols by name.

The entry point to classloader mirrors is via scala.reflect.macros.Context#mirror. Typical methods which use classloader mirrors include scala.reflect.api.Mirror#staticClass, scala.reflect.api.Mirror#staticModule, and scala.reflect.api.Mirror#staticPackage. For example:

import scala.reflect.macros.Context

case class Location(filename: String, line: Int, column: Int)

object Macros {
  def currentLocation: Location = macro impl

  def impl(c: Context): c.Expr[Location] = {
    import c.universe._
    val pos = c.macroApplication.pos
    val clsLocation = c.mirror.staticModule("Location") // get symbol of "Location" object
    c.Expr(Apply(Ident(clsLocation), List(Literal(Constant(pos.source.path)), Literal(Constant(pos.line)), Literal(Constant(pos.column)))))

Of note: There are several high-level alternatives that one can use to avoid having to manually lookup symbols. For example, typeOf[Location.type].termSymbol (or typeOf[Location].typeSymbol if we needed a ClassSymbol), which are typesafe since we don’t have to use strings to lookup the symbol.