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Scala Implicits Rescued Me!

Recently I found myself faced with an interesting problem:

  • I have a Java function (from a 3rd party) that takes a Varargs
  • I also have a set of Scala case classes (also 3rd party)
  • Some of the case class values are Option values.
  • I need to pass the case class data to the function, but skip None values.

For the sake of the rest of this blog post, let’s assume this is one of the case classes:

case class Person(
  first: String,
  last: String,
  email: Option[String],
  age: Option[Int],
  hourlyWage: Option[Double]

One option would be to simply brute-force it: create a function per case class that “does the right thing” for it. In theory, each function would look something like this:

def callWithPerson(p: Person) = {
    "firstName", p.firstName,
    "lastName", p.lastName,
    "age", p.age,
    "hourlyWage", p.hourlyWage

Of course, this fails to work for multiple reasons:

  • The Option values aren’t handled by the Java function (crash).
  • The None values should be ignored, but aren’t.

Additionally, some of the values are primitives and are not of type Object and need to be coerced:

  • Int to java.lang.Integer
  • Double to java.lang.Double

Scala does this already, but can’t implicitly convert from Option[primitive] to Option[Object].

Worst of all, the thought of coding - and maintaining - a function per case class is untenable. If another programmer were to add or remove a field from the case class, then they would have to know to come here and update this function: the compiler wouldn’t inform them that a field in the class wasn’t being passed to the Java function. That’s unacceptable.

In my perfect, ideal world, it would be possible to just pass the case class to the Java function like so:

performJavaOp(person: _*)

So, is that possible? YES.

Every case class is automatically derived from Product, which means we can iterate over all their values and - with a little reflection - also get all the field names. All that’s needed to do is code up an implicit type conversion from any case class to an sequence of interspersed key/values:

import scala.language.implicitConversions

implicit def prod2seq[P <: Product](p: P): Seq[Object] = {
  val fields =
  val values =

  /* Zip and intersperse fields and values, removing None values.
   * Note the explicit type signature of `v` as it will force implicit
   * primitive conversion to Object (e.g. Int to java.lang.Integer)!
   */ {
    case (k, Some(v: Object))        => Seq(k, v)
    case (k, v: Object) if v != None => Seq(k, v)

And now, we can just call the Java function with any case class:

performJavaOp(person: _*)

Want to see it in action? Try it on Scastie!