Following my series of tutorial of Scala for Python programmers, I’ll start to talk about something most Python programmers don’t usually pay attention to because the language doesn’t require it to do so.
I’m talking about data types. It’s not that Python doesn’t have types for its variables, but as it is a dynamically typed programming language, you usually don’t care about the type of the variable. At least not unless you try to add a number and a letter: you cannot add apple and oranges, naturally you cannot add strings and numbers (not at least without conversion first):
In general terms, however, Python won’t bother about the type you are giving to your variables: actually, you won’t be able to declare a type for them as Python will infer it. So, this is perfectly normal for a Python program:
In Scala this is not the case. Once a variable is assigned a type, it will have it until the end of that variable’s scope. Of course, as in Python, some operations between variables of different types are not permitted. However, in this case, sum is not one of those cases. If you add a string to a number, Scala will automatically transform the number into a String and result in a String concatenation:
Scala, as well as Python, can infer the type of the variables you are using. But, it add the possibility to declare the type of the variable (something that many times comes in handy as we will see in future tutorials):
Scala has a variety of types (you should check on the Scala Documentation for more information on it), but the most common are Int (sometimes written as Integer), String, Long, Float, Double and Boolean.
Although many Python fans can call this a disadvantage, I personally end up having better experience with static data typing, as I feel I have more control over the variables of my application. Then again, this is just a matter of opinion.
Variables and Values
So, now you know that Scala is statically typed, which means once you give variable a type (either inferred by the compiler or declared by the programmer) you cannot set that variable to a value of another type.
Scala has also two kinds of “variables”: mutable and immutable. Ok, maybe it has only one type of variable, the ones that are mutable, since there is no much variation in the immutable type. For making this simpler, let’s say Scala has to type of storage locations.
Mutable variables, or just variables, are the classic ones and the most near in concept to the ones use by Python (with the static type exception). You can create them with one value and the change them through the whole scope to whatever value of the same type you want. They are declared with the reserved word var.
Immutable variables, or values, are the ones that will have a constant value during the whole scope of the variable. If you try to change the value for another one (even of the same type), the compiler will throw an error. Values are declared with the reserved word val.
If you are coming from the Python environment (or, more in general from a imperative paradigm environment) you would think values don’t have any usefulness beyond declaring a constant. Nevertheless, in Scala values are quite fundamental. This is because Scala has been designed as an object-oriented functional language. The word functional is a big deal here, because the functional paradigm is quite different from the imperative paradigm which most of Python programmers are used to.
If you ever tried something like LISP, Haskell or Earlang (also known as academic languages), the concept of stateless is not a stranger to you. For most of Python programmers, this is quite unusual though. In the most simple terms stateless is defined by math functions: you apply a function to some parameters and get a result. For the same parameters you get the same result every time, and there will never be an inner state of the function that will modify that returned value. Stateful (although you probably didn’t hear it under that name) is more common among imperative languages, and means you have a state that can change the final computation.
This is not a tutorial for functional programming (not even on Scala) but to understand the basics of Scala. Scala is a multi-paradigm language and can be used for imperative programming. Still, if you are learning Scala I would recommend you to learn something on functional programming. Otherwise you will be wasting the full Scala potential. If you are interested in this matter there should be lots of tutorials and resources on the internet, but my personal recommendation is to take the Functional Programming Principles in Scala, in Coursera, by Martin Odersky (the creator of the Scala language).
I think is more than enough for this session. As always I appreciate any feedback on comments (event to tell me I’m having some grammar or spelling mistakes). Thank you for reading!