Scala 3 — Book

Immutable Values


In pure functional programming, only immutable values are used. In Scala this means:

  • All variables are created as val fields
  • Only immutable collections classes are used, such as List, Vector, and the immutable Map and Set classes

Using only immutable variables raises an interesting question: If everything is immutable, how does anything ever change?

When it comes to using collections, one answer is that you don’t mutate an existing collection; instead, you apply a function to an existing collection to create a new collection. This is where higher-order functions like map and filter come in.

For example, imagine that you have a list of names—a List[String]—that are all in lowercase, and you want to find all the names that begin with the letter "j", and then you want to capitalize those names. In FP you write this code:

val a = List("jane", "jon", "mary", "joe")
val b = a.filter(_.startsWith("j"))

As shown, you don’t mutate the original list a. Instead, you apply filtering and transformation functions to a to create a new collection, and assign that result to the new immutable variable b.

Similarly, in FP you don’t create classes with mutable var constructor parameters. That is, you don’t write this:

// don’t do this in FP
class Person(var firstName: String, var lastName: String)
             ---                    ---

Instead, you typically create case classes, whose constructor parameters are val by default:

case class Person(firstName: String, lastName: String)

Now you create a Person instance as a val field:

val reginald = Person("Reginald", "Dwight")

Then, when you need to make a change to the data, you use the copy method that comes with a case class to “update the data as you make a copy,” like this:

val elton = reginald.copy(
  firstName = "Elton",   // update the first name
  lastName = "John"      // update the last name

There are other techniques for working with immutable collections and variables, but hopefully these examples give you a taste of the techniques.

Depending on your needs, you may create enums, traits, or classes instead of case classes. See the Data Modeling chapter for more details.

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