good robots do what they're told

Implicit Parameters in Scala

Scala “implicits” allow you to omit calling methods or referencing variables directly but instead rely on the compiler to make the connections for you. For example, you could write a function to convert from and Int to a String and rather than call that function explicitly, you can ask the compiler to do it for you, implicitly.

In the next few posts, we’ll look at the different types of implicit bindings Scala offers and show some examples of when they can be useful.

There are three categories of “implicits”;

  1. Implicit parameters (aka implicit values) will be automatically passed values that have been marked as implicit
  2. Implicit functions are defs that will be called automatically if the code wouldn’t otherwise compile
  3. Implicit classes extend behaviour of existing classes you don’t otherwise control (akin to categories in Objective-C)

Implicit Parameters

At it’s simplest, an implicit parameter is just a function parameter annotated with the implicit keyword. It means that if no value is supplied when called, the compiler will look for an implicit value and pass it in for you.

def multiply(implicit by: Int) = value * by

You tell the compiler what it can pass in implicitly but annotating values with implicit

implicit val multiplier = 2

and call the function like this


The compiler knows to convert this into a call to multiply(multiplier). If you forget to define an implicit var, you’ll get an error like the following.

error: could not find implicit value for parameter by: Int

Implicit val, var or def

You can ask the compiler to call your function with an implicit val (like we’ve just seen), a var or even another def. So, we could have written a function that returns an Int and Scala would attempt to use that instead.

implicit def f: Int = if (monday) 4 else 2

The compiler would try to resolve this as multiply(f()).

However, you can’t have more than one in scope. So if we have both the multipler value and f function defined as implicit and call multiply, we’d get the following error.

error: ambiguous implicit values:
 both value multiplier of type => Int
 and method f of type => Int
 match expected type Int


You can only use implicit once in a parameter list and all parameters following it will be implicit. For example;

def example1(implicit x: Int)                       // x is implicit
def example2(implicit x: Int, y: Int)               // x and y are implicit
def example3(x: Int, implicit y: Int)               // wont compile 
def example4(x: Int)(implicit y: Int)               // only y is implicit
def example5(implicit x: Int)(y: Int)               // wont compile
def example6(implicit x: Int)(implicit y: Int)      // wont compile


As an example, the test below uses Web Driver (and specifically an instance of the WebDriver class) to check that a button is visible on screen. The beVisible method creates a Matcher that will check this for us but rather than pass in the driver instance explicitly, it uses an implicit val to do so.

class ExampleWebDriverTest extends mutable.Specification {

  implicit val driver: WebDriver = Browser.create.driver

  "The checkout button is visible" >> {
    val button ="checkout")
    // ...
    button must beVisible           // reads better than 'must beVisible(driver)'   

  def beVisible(implicit driver: WebDriver): Matcher[By] = new Matcher[By] {
    def apply[S <: By](t: Expectable[S]) = result(
      s"${t.value.toString} is visible",
      s"${t.value.toString} is not visible",


Implicit parameters are useful for removing boiler plate parameter passing and can make your code more readable. So if you find yourself passing the same value several times in quick succession, they can help hide the duplication.

The Scala library often use them to define default implementations that are “just available”. When you come to need a custom implementation, you can pass one in explicitly or use your own implicit value. A good example here is the sorted method on SeqLike class.

The really useful stuff though comes when we combine implicit parameters with the other types of “implicits”. Read more in the series to build up a picture.

More in the Scala Implicits Series

Over to you...