Building a strong case (class)

Case classes and objects are one of the features of Scala that bring the most benefit with the least added complexity. Having these value classes baked in the syntax of the programming language brings many advantages: expressivity, immutability, algebraic composition, equals/hashCode/toString, Serializable for free…

Typically, I use case classes to model domain entities with strong guarantees by creating classes closely matching concepts and letting static typing and immutability making most of the invalid system states impossible to represent. Nesting case classes using sealed traits can let you model intricate domains.

But Scala type system cannot easily represent all the properties we might like to enforce and take for granted in the overall code base. Fortunately, there is an easy way to extend the guarantees of a case class thanks to its immutability: whatever property we enforce at the constructor will be an invariant.

Columbo was able to build a strong case like no one else.

Let’s use as example something as simple as a case class representing an even number.

case class Even(value: Int) {
  require(value % 2 == 0, s"Not even: $value")

The require statement guarantees that all instances of Even are actually even.

scala> Even(2)
res0: Even = Even(2)

scala> Even(3)
java.lang.IllegalArgumentException: requirement failed: Not even: 3
  at scala.Predef$.require(Predef.scala:219)
  ... 34 elided

Apart from relying on run-time exceptions, the main difference with type-enforced guarantees is that we are spending execution cycles to check the property on every object creation. When the check is expensive this simple solution might fall sort.

We can have more control over the case class initialization by making the constructor private as follows.

case class Even private(value: Int)

// This won't compile now:
new Even(2)

Now we can add factory methods enforcing an even number and provide invariant-preserving methods without any run-time check.

case class Even private(value: Int) {

  def multiply(factor: Int) = Even(value * factor)

  def copy(newValue: Int = value): Even = {
    new Even(newValue)

case object Even {

  def of(even: Int) = {
    new Even(even)

  private def requireEven(even: Int): Unit = {
    require(even % 2 == 0, s"Not even: $even")

Note that we need to close one final loophole: the copy method. Unless we override it, we are exposed to having someone creating a valid object and then an invalid copy of it.

scala> Even.of(2).copy(3)
java.lang.IllegalArgumentException: requirement failed: Not even: 3
  at scala.Predef$.require(Predef.scala:219)
  at Even$.$line3$$read$Even$$requireEven(<console>:28)
  at Even.copy(<console>:15)
  ... 33 elided

We can use this pattern for other purposes like controlling how instances of a case class are created or hiding some other aspect of them in a module.