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Setting up Scala on Android

Scala can be used to build Android applications, as an alternative to Java or Kotlin. Unlike them, setting up an Android project in Scala with SBT is not straightforward, and can give us some headaches to get it right. To show how this can be done, we are going to create new project template using the Android SDK Plugin for SBT.

Required tools

In order to develop Android apps in Scala, you need a minimum set of tools: SBT and Android SDK.

Install SBT

You can install SBT on Mac OSX using Homebrew.

$ brew install sbt

To install SBT on other operating systems, you can follow the instructions on the official documentation.

Install the Android SDK

You can just download the latest version of the Android SDK from the Developer website and follow the installation instructions. Alternatively, you can install Android Studio, which comes with the Android SDK and emulators.

Set the ANDROID_HOME environment variable

On Mac OSX/Linux, you can just export the variable

$ export ANDROID_HOME=path_to_your_android_sdk

or add it to your bash_rc or bash_profile.

NOTE: On Mac OSX, if Android Studio is installed, the Android SDK is usually located at /Users/your_user_name/Library/Android/sdk/

Add SBT plugin

The easiest way to install the Android SDK Plugin for SBT is to do it globally. For this, you'll need to create a file in the SBT plugins folder:

~/.sbt/0.13/plugins/android.sbt

and add the following line:

addSbtPlugin("org.scala-android" % "sbt-android" % "1.7.0")

Create the Android project

Let's create a folder for our Android project:

$ mkdir my-project
$ cd my-project

Now, we are going to use the SBT plugin to create a template project. First, run SBT:

$ sbt

Then, use the plugin to create the project.

> gen-android <package_name> <project_name>

For example:

> gen-android com.codurance scala_on_android

The project structure created looks like this:

my-project/
|-- project/
|   |-- android.sbt
|   |-- build.properties
|-- src/
|   |-- androidTest/
|       |-- java/
|           |-- com/
|               |-- codurance/
|                   |-- Junit3MainActivityTest.java
|                   |-- Junit4MainActivityTest.java
|   |-- main/
|       |-- res/
|           // Android resorces folders
|       |-- scala/
|           |-- com/
|               |-- codurance/
|                   |-- MainActivity.scala
|       |-- AndroidManifest.xml
|-- build.sbt
|-- lint.xml

The SBT plugin creates a project structure with the minimum files needed to run an Android project, plus a setup for running instrumentation tests. Notice that the test classes generated are in Java, and the MainActivity is in Scala.

The most interesting file is build.sbt. I've added some comments to explain what's the purpose of each line.

// Version of the Scala runtime
scalaVersion := "2.11.8"

// Use the Android plugin
enablePlugins(AndroidApp)
// Add support for vector drawables
useSupportVectors

// Android version code (Same as versionCode on Gradle projects)
versionCode := Some(1)
// Android version name (Same as versionName on Gradle projects)
version := "0.1-SNAPSHOT"

// Instrumentation tests runner (Same as testInstrumentationRunner on Gradle projects)
instrumentTestRunner :=
  "android.support.test.runner.AndroidJUnitRunner"

// Android platform target (Same as targetSdkVersion on Gradle projects)
platformTarget := "android-24"

// Java compile options
javacOptions in Compile ++= "-source" :: "1.7" :: "-target" :: "1.7" :: Nil

// Libraries
libraryDependencies ++=
  "com.android.support" % "appcompat-v7" % "24.0.0" ::
  "com.android.support.test" % "runner" % "0.5" % "androidTest" ::
  "com.android.support.test.espresso" % "espresso-core" % "2.2.2" % "androidTest" ::
  Nil

We don't even need to use the SBT plugin to generate this template. If we prefer to craft our own minimum project, we could just create the project structure for SBT and Android manually, and add only the setup that we need.

Run the project

You will need to have an connected Android device or an running emulator.

Once this is done, the final step is to run the application from sbt:

> android:run

You can also run it from the terminal, instead of from SBT:

$ sbt android:run

More options on build.sbt

There are other interesting options that can be included in the build.sbt file. A few of them are:

// Application name
name := "scala_on_android"
// Min Android SDK version supported
minSdkVersion := "15"
// Override 'android:run', to use just 'run' instead
run <<= run in Android

Integration with Android Studio

From this point, you could develop your Android apps in Scala using a text editor and sbt. But it would be good to be able to use the official IDE, which offers a lot of useful tools. It's also possible to use IntelliJ, but I won't go into this detail in this post.

Before we start, we'll need to install both the Scala and SBT plugins for Android Studio.

To import our project, open Android Studio and select Import project (Eclipse, ADT, Gradle, etc.).

Select Import project from external module, and SBT:

Import project

Select your Android SDK on the Project SDK option, and check Sources, Javadocs and Sources for SBT and plugins:

Import project

On Project Settings/Modules select the project module and click on +, and Add Android under the Framework section. On the Structure tab, replace all /.idea/modules paths with /src/main:

Project structure

Now that the project is set up, we can try to run it. Create a new Run/Debug Configuration. Select Android App and give it a name (e.g. app).

On the General tab, select the Module. We also need to configure how to run the app with SBT. On the Before launch section, remove the default Gradle-aware Make task clicking on -:

Run/Debug configuration

Finally, click on +, create a new SBT task, and add android:run. Leave the Run in current module option checked:

Before launch SBT android run

From now, you can run the application in the same way as any app written in Java or Kotlin.

Conclusion

Kotlin still looks like a better fit for Android: Among other benefits, it has an easier setup, better IDE support and smaller runtime. However, the possibility of using Scala and SBT can allow developers who build their backends in Scala or want to use high level Functional Programming features to build complex apps.

About the author

Software developer interested in Functional Programming and Domain Driven Design. He has worked building web and mobile applications in two different countries.

Sergio loves to try different flavours of programming. He has worked mainly with Java, but has recently discovered Scala and Kotlin and developed a big interest in functional languages such as Haskell. He believes in working with different technologies as a way to improve his programming skills.

Sergio embraces TDD and Simple Design in order to build clean and maintainable code.

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