Macro Annotations

This doc page is specific to features shipped in Scala 2, which have either been removed in Scala 3 or replaced by an alternative. Unless otherwise stated, all the code examples in this page assume you are using Scala 2.


Eugene Burmako

Macro annotations are available in Scala 2.13 with the -Ymacro-annotations flag, and with the macro paradise plugin from Scala 2.10.x to Scala 2.12.x. Follow the instructions at the “Macro Paradise” page to download and use our compiler plugin if using those older Scala versions.

Note that the macro paradise plugin is needed both to compile and to expand macro annotations, which means that your users will have to also add macro paradise to their builds in order to use your macro annotations. However, after macro annotations expand, the resulting code will no longer have any references to macro paradise and won’t require its presence at compile-time or at runtime.


Macro annotations bring textual abstraction to the level of definitions. Annotating any top-level or nested definition with something that Scala recognizes as a macro will let it expand, possibly into multiple members. Unlike in the previous versions of macro paradise, macro annotations in 2.0 are done right in the sense that they: 1) apply not just to classes and objects, but to arbitrary definitions, 2) allow expansions of classes to modify or even create companion objects. This opens a number of new possibilities in code generation land.

In this walkthrough we will write a silly, but very useful macro that does nothing except for logging the annottees. As a first step, we define an annotation that inherits StaticAnnotation and defines a macroTransform macro (the name macroTransform and the signature annottees: Any* of that macro are important as they tell the macro engine that the enclosing annotation is a macro annotation).

import scala.annotation.{StaticAnnotation, compileTimeOnly}
import scala.language.experimental.macros
import scala.reflect.macros.whitebox

@compileTimeOnly("enable macro paradise to expand macro annotations")
class identity extends StaticAnnotation {
  def macroTransform(annottees: Any*): Any = macro ???

First of all, note the @compileTimeOnly annotation. It is not mandatory, but is recommended to avoid confusion. Macro annotations look like normal annotations to the vanilla Scala compiler, so if you forget to enable the macro paradise plugin in your build, your annotations will silently fail to expand. The @compileTimeOnly annotation makes sure that no reference to the underlying definition is present in the program code after typer, so it will prevent the aforementioned situation from happening.

Now, the macroTransform macro is supposed to take a list of untyped annottees (in the signature their type is represented as Any for the lack of better notion in Scala) and produce one or several results (a single result can be returned as is, multiple results have to be wrapped in a Block for the lack of better notion in the reflection API).

At this point you might be wondering. A single annottee and a single result is understandable, but what is the many-to-many mapping supposed to mean? There are several rules guiding the process:

  1. If a class is annotated, and it has a companion, then both are passed into the macro. (But not vice versa - if an object is annotated, and it has a companion class, only the object itself is expanded).
  2. If a parameter of a class, method or type member is annotated, then it expands its owner. First comes the annottee, then the owner and then its companion as specified by the previous rule.
  3. Annottees can expand into whatever number of trees of any flavor, and the compiler will then transparently replace the input trees of the macro with its output trees.
  4. If a class expands into both a class and a module having the same name, they become companions. This way it is possible to generate a companion object for a class even if that companion was not declared explicitly.
  5. Top-level expansions must retain the number of annottees, their flavors and their names, with the only exception that a class might expand into a same-named class plus a same-named module, in which case they automatically become companions as per previous rule.

Here’s a possible implementation of the identity annotation macro. The logic is a bit complicated, because it needs to take into account the cases when @identity is applied to a value or type parameter. Excuse us for a low-tech solution, but we haven’t encapsulated this boilerplate in a helper, because compiler plugins cannot easily change the standard library. (By the way, this boilerplate can be abstracted away by a suitable annotation macro, and we’ll probably provide such a macro at a later point in the future).

import scala.annotation.{StaticAnnotation, compileTimeOnly}
import scala.language.experimental.macros
import scala.reflect.macros.whitebox

@compileTimeOnly("enable macro paradise to expand macro annotations")
class identity extends StaticAnnotation {
  def macroTransform(annottees: Any*): Any = macro identityMacro.impl

object identityMacro {
  def impl(c: whitebox.Context)(annottees: c.Expr[Any]*): c.Expr[Any] = {
    import c.universe._
    val inputs =
    val (annottee, expandees) = inputs match {
      case (param: ValDef) :: (rest @ (_ :: _)) => (param, rest)
      case (param: TypeDef) :: (rest @ (_ :: _)) => (param, rest)
      case _ => (EmptyTree, inputs)
    println((annottee, expandees))
    val outputs = expandees
    c.Expr[Any](Block(outputs, Literal(Constant(()))))
Example code Printout
@identity class C (<empty>, List(class C))
@identity class D; object D (<empty>, List(class D, object D))
class E; @identity object E (<empty>, List(object E))
def twice[@identity T]
(@identity x: Int) = x * 2
(type T, List(def twice))
(val x: Int, List(def twice))

In the spirit of Scala macros, macro annotations are as untyped as possible to stay flexible and as typed as possible to remain useful. On the one hand, macro annottees are untyped, so that we can change their signatures (e.g. lists of class members). But on the other hand, the thing about all flavors of Scala macros is integration with the typechecker, and macro annotations are not an exceptions. During expansion, we can have all the type information that’s possible to have (e.g. we can reflect against the surrounding program or perform type checks / implicit lookup in the enclosing context).

Blackbox vs whitebox

Macro annotations must be whitebox. If you declare a macro annotation as blackbox, it will not work.

Contributors to this page: