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Automatic Eta Expansion - More Details


Scala maintains a convenient distinction between methods and functions. Methods are part of the definition of a class that can be invoked in objects while functions are complete objects themselves, making them first-class entities. For example, they can be assigned to variables. These two mechanisms are bridged in Scala by a mechanism called eta-expansion (also called eta-abstraction), which converts a reference to a method into a function. Intuitively, a method m can be passed around by turning it into an object: the function x => m(x).

In this snippet which assigns a method to a val, the compiler will perform automatic eta-expansion, as shown in the comment:

def m(x: Int, y: String) = ???
val f = m // becomes: val f = (x: Int, y: String) => m(x, y)

In Scala 2, a method reference m is converted to a function value only if the expected type is a function type, which means the conversion in the example above would not have been triggered, because val f does not have a type ascription. To still get eta-expansion, a shortcut m _ would force the conversion.

For methods with one or more parameters like in the example above, this restriction has now been dropped. The syntax m _ is no longer needed and will be deprecated in the future.

Automatic eta-expansion and partial application

In the following example m can be partially applied to the first two parameters. Assigning m to f1 will automatically eta-expand.

def m(x: Boolean, y: String)(z: Int): List[Int]
val f1 = m
val f2 = m(true, "abc")

This creates two function values:

f1: (Boolean, String) => Int => List[Int]
f2: Int => List[Int]

Automatic eta-expansion and implicit parameter lists

Methods with implicit parameter lists will always get applied to implicit arguments.

def foo(x: Int)(implicit p: Double): Float = ???
implicit val bla: Double = 1.0

val bar = foo // val bar: Int => Float = ...

Automatic Eta-Expansion and context types

A method with context parameters can be expanded to a value of a context type by writing the expected context type explicitly.

def foo(x: Int)(using p: Double): Float = ???
val bar: Double ?=> Float = foo(3)


  • If m has an argument list with one or more parameters, we always eta-expand
  • If m is has an empty argument list (i.e. has type ()R):
    1. If the expected type is of the form () => T, we eta expand.
    2. If m is defined by Java, or overrides a Java defined method, we insert ().
    3. Otherwise we issue an error of the form: method must be called with () argument

Thus, an unapplied method with an empty argument list is only converted to a function when a function type is expected. It is considered best practice to either explicitly apply the method to (), or convert it to a function with () => m().

The method value syntax m _ is deprecated.


For more information, see PR #2701.