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Compiler Overview

At a high level, dotc is an interactive compiler (see what is a compiler?), and can be invoked frequently, for example to answer questions for an IDE, provide REPL completions, or to manage incremental builds and more. Each of these use cases requires a customised workflow, but sharing a common core.

Introducing the Compiler's Lifecycle


Customisation is provided by extending the Compiler class, which maintains an ordered list of phases, and how to run them. Each interaction with a compiler creates a new run, which is a complete iteration of the compiler's phases over a list of input sources. Each run has the capability to create new definitions or invalidate older ones, and dotc can track these changes over time.


During a run, the input sources are converted to compilation units (i.e. the abstraction of compiler state associated with each input source); then iteratively: a single phase is applied to every compilation unit before progressing to the next phase.


A phase is an abstract transformation over a compilation unit, it is usually responsible for transforming the trees and types representing the code of a source file. Some phases of the compiler are:

  • parser, which converts text that matches Scala's syntax into abstract syntax trees, ASTs
  • typer, which checks that trees conform to expected types
  • erasure, which retypes a more simplified program into one that has the same types as the JVM.
  • genBCode, the JVM backend, which converts erased compiler trees into Java bytecode format.

You can read more about phases here.


The core compiler also requires a lot of state to be initialised before use, such as settings and the Context. For convenience, the Driver class contains high level functions for configuring the compiler and invoking it programatically. The object Main inherits from Driver and is invoked by the scalac script.

Code Structure

The code of the compiler is found in the package dotty.tools, containing the following sub-packages:

tools // contains helpers and the `scala` generic runner
├── backend // Compiler backends (currently JVM and JS)
├── dotc // The main compiler, with subpackages:
│   ├── ast // Abstract syntax trees
│   ├── classpath
│   ├── config // Compiler configuration, settings, platform specific definitions.
│   ├── core // Core data structures and operations, with specific subpackages for:
│   │   ├── classfile // Reading of Java classfiles into core data structures
│   │   ├── tasty // Reading and writing of TASTY files to/from core data structures
│   │   └── unpickleScala2 // Reading of Scala2 symbol information into core data structures
│   ├── decompiler // pretty printing TASTY as code
│   ├── fromtasty // driver for recompilation from TASTY
│   ├── interactive // presentation compiler and code completions
│   ├── parsing // Scanner and parser
│   ├── plugins // compile plugin definitions
│   ├── printing // Pretty-printing trees, types and other data
│   ├── profile // internals for profiling the compiler
│   ├── quoted // internals for quoted reflection
│   ├── reporting // Reporting of error messages, warnings and other info.
│   ├── rewrites // Helpers for rewriting Scala 2's constructs into Scala 3's.
│   ├── sbt // Helpers for communicating with the Zinc compiler.
│   ├── semanticdb // Helpers for exporting semanticdb from trees.
│   ├── transform // Miniphases and helpers for tree transformations.
│   ├── typer // Type-checking
│   └── util // General purpose utility classes and modules.
├── io // Helper modules for file access and classpath handling.
├── repl // REPL driver and interaction with the terminal
├── runner // helpers for the `scala` generic runner script
└── scripting // scala runner for the -script argument