What Is Scala?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Scala is an evolving programming language that aims to address the limitations of Java. Learn more about Scala and its uses.

[Featured image] A software engineer is coding on their laptop.

Scala is a coding language short for “Scalable Language.” Many professionals consider Scala to be a modern version of Java, which is another popular programming language. In this article, we’ll explore what Scala is, when you might choose to use it, how it differs from Java, and the steps you can take to learn this exciting language.

Read more: What Is Java Used For?

Scala explained

Scala is a versatile programming language developed by Martin Odersky, designed to improve and address the limitations of Java. Scala runs on the Java Virtual Machine (JVM), allowing for integration with Java’s tools and libraries, but it is not an extension of Java itself. Scala emerged as a standalone language in 2004.

Scala is unique because it combines object-oriented and functional programming approaches within a statically typed setting, which means that the compiler conducts type-checking as it compiles. This blend allows for expressive and efficient code. As it operates on the JVM, you can run your Scala program on various platforms without recompilation.

Read more: 5 Types of Programming Languages

Why choose Scala?

While Java has established itself as a top programming language over the years, you might choose to use Scala to address some of Java’s limitations. Scala is a dynamic programming language that easily integrates with the Java platform, yet it offers superior performance, user-friendliness, and coding efficiency. Scala is also open-source, which removes obstacles associated with licensing constraints.

As a data scientist or data engineer, you might gravitate toward Scala because of its intrinsic connection with big data. Platforms such as Apache Spark, which is widely used in data analytics and machine learning, use Scala. The straightforward nature of Scala, combined with its inherent type safety, provides an environment that can be beneficial for developing complex data-intensive applications. 

Scala is a concise and scalable language compared to many alternatives. As a software programmer, you might choose Scala for the ability to move through software development and testing phases more quickly than when using other languages. Scala is also considered to be flexible when making changes, which can further improve your program development process.

Popular brands that use Scala

Because of its ability to be easily scaled and efficiently coded, many large organizations choose to use Scala as their programming language of choice. A few popular brands that use Scala include:

  • LinkedIn

  • Twitter

  • Netflix

  • Sony Pictures Imageworks

  • Siemens

  • Xerox

How Scala differs from Java

Java and Scala are similar based on their JVM compatibility, but they offer different experiences due to their unique features and philosophies. Many professionals consider Scala a more modern alternative, making it worth considering if you’re thinking about branching out from Java. Here are some differences between Scala and Java:

  • Scala’s syntax is fluid and intuitive. This leads to similar benefits as dynamically typed languages while still being a static language. Unlike Java, which primarily leans on object-oriented principles, Scala uses both object-oriented and functional programming paradigms, which leads to a more versatile programming experience. 

  • Scala places a strong emphasis on immutability with a full suite of immutable collections. Immutable collections are considered less prone to bugs or errors than mutable ones, and they are easier to understand within the coding structure.

  • Scala’s preference for expressions over Java’s statements, which results in cleaner, more predictable code. Scala provides more intuitive ways to reduce the level of code complexity than Java, making it easier for programmers to shorten their code and reduce code duplications.

Pros and cons of Scala

As with any programming language, you can find advantages and disadvantages that make Scala more or less suited for your needs. Some advantages and disadvantages of Scala to consider can be found below.

Advantages of Scala

Many professionals consider Scala to be the ideal blend of object-oriented programming (OOP) and functional languages. Scala is a static language, yet it is designed in a way that reduces repetitive code and syntactic overhead. Essentially, Scala bypasses problems associated with other static programming languages like Java while mirroring the benefits of dynamic languages, such as Ruby.

Other advantages include:

  • Having features like pattern matching, which allows for more elegant conditional logic

  • Encouraging users to write immutable code by default.

  • Not imposing structure on where you can define methods, boosting flexibility

  • Providing the ability to combine multiple traits into a single class or object

  • Having contextual abstractions to help eliminate repetitive code

  • Designed to be concise and reduce overly complex code

Disadvantages of Scala

When deciding whether Scala is suitable for you, you should also consider some of its less-than-advantageous facets. Some drawbacks to consider include:

  • The developer community is less developed. This means you might have more difficulty finding support online than when using more established coding languages like Python or Java. 

  • It can be a complex language to learn compared to alternatives, such as R or Python. 

How to learn Scala

Gaining a robust foundation in computer science and programming offers an excellent start to gaining proficiency in Scala. To begin, focus on these key areas:

  1. Learn basic skills in algorithms, data analysis, and critical thinking. Start by understanding the basics of algorithms and how they solve problems. Learning how to use these skills will also help you approach problems more efficiently. Many online courses and textbooks cover these topics in depth.

  2. Develop a working knowledge of Java. Scala uses Java libraries and tools, so having a good grasp of it can help you learn Scala. Start with the fundamentals, such as syntax and basic structures, then gradually move on to more complex topics.

  3. Practice basic OOP concepts. Understanding OOP is crucial for understanding Scala. 

  4. Read books and look at online resources. Books, webpages, and online courses provide in-depth knowledge and help you prepare for real-world challenges. Online resources such as Stack Overflow, GitHub, and various coding blogs are also excellent for learning and problem-solving.

  5. Practice. Hands-on practice can reinforce what you’ve learned and help you discover areas where you need more understanding. 

Next steps

You can begin your journey with online learning through exciting and innovative courses offered on Coursera. Functional Programming Principles in Scala is a beginner-level course with six modules designed to help you build your knowledge. You can learn Scala concepts, such as higher-order functions, types and pattern matching, lists, and collections. Upon completion, gain a shareable Professional Certificate to include in your resume, CV, or LinkedIn profile. 

Keep reading

Updated on
Written by:

Editorial Team

Coursera’s editorial team is comprised of highly experienced professional editors, writers, and fact...

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.