Sunday, April 19, 2009

Review: Programming in Scala

I first heard about Scala from Elmi, a co-worker of mine who was messing around with functional programming languages in his spare time. His obsession with lambdas and monads seemed peculiar at first, but when pressed for an explanation, he made a persuasive case for Scala, so I decided to check it out.

The documentation at the Scala website certainly sparked my curiosity. After learning about Scala's innovative features and reading some impressively concise Scala code, I understood why developers like Elmi were so excited about it. However, even after reading the free documentation, I felt like I was still missing something, so I caved in and bought a copy of"Programming in Scala" by Martin Odersky, Lex Spoon, and Bill Venners.

Typically, the first book written about a language isn't necessarily the best book about that language, but Odersky, Spoon and Venners have set the bar fairly high for authors of subsequent books about Scala. Higher-order functions, closures and partially-applied functions are probably going to seem quite alien to most developers unfamiliar with functional programming, so the authors are to be commended for explaining those concepts so well. Likewise, Scala's case classes, type inference system, and implicit conversions also get excellent treatment. "Programming in Scala" filled in the gaps in my understanding of Scala with remarkable thoroughness.

(Ironically, I suspect that the excellence of "Programming In Scala" is only partly responsible for the Jolt Productivity Award it recently won; an equal share of the credit - if not more - should to the Scala language itself. My hypothesis is that the Jolt Award voters, deprived a "Best Language" category in which to register their enthusiasm for Scala, rewarded the only published Scala book instead. Fortunately, since the creator of the language is one of the book's authors, there's no controversy here.)

I wholeheartedly recommend "Programming in Scala" to any developer currently working with Java. I'm convinced that Scala is destined to become an "everyday" language on the JVM, and knowledge of Scala will be essential for any well-rounded Java developer. Even if I'm wrong, and you never get to write a line of production Scala code, this book will improve your understanding of Java by demonstrating an alternative approach to inheritance, abstraction and typing in the JVM.

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