More Kinds of Setting

More Kinds of Setting

This page explains other ways to create a Setting, beyond the basic := method. It assumes you've read .sbt build definition and scopes.

Refresher: Settings

Remember, a build definition creates a list of Setting, which is then used to transform sbt's description of the build (which is a map of key-value pairs). A Setting is a transformation with sbt's earlier map as input and a new map as output. The new map becomes sbt's new state.

Different settings transform the map in different ways. Earlier, you read about the := method.

The Setting which := creates puts a fixed, constant value in the new, transformed map. For example, if you transform a map with the setting name := "hello" the new map has the string "hello" stored under the key name.

Settings must end up in the master list of settings to do any good (all lines in a build.sbt automatically end up in the list, but in a .scala file you can get it wrong by creating a Setting without putting it where sbt will find it).

Appending to previous values: += and ++=

Assignment with := is the simplest transformation, but keys have other methods as well. If the T in SettingKey[T] is a sequence, i.e. the key's value type is a sequence, you can append to the sequence rather than replacing it.

  • += will append a single element to the sequence.
  • ++= will concatenate another sequence.

For example, the key sourceDirectories in Compile has a Seq[File] as its value. By default this key's value would include src/main/scala. If you wanted to also compile source code in a directory called source (since you just have to be nonstandard), you could add that directory:

sourceDirectories in Compile += new File("source")

Or, using the file() function from the sbt package for convenience:

sourceDirectories in Compile += file("source")

(file() just creates a new File.)

You could use ++= to add more than one directory at a time:

sourceDirectories in Compile ++= Seq(file("sources1"), file("sources2"))

Where Seq(a, b, c, ...) is standard Scala syntax to construct a sequence.

To replace the default source directories entirely, you use := of course:

sourceDirectories in Compile := Seq(file("sources1"), file("sources2"))

Computing a value based on other keys' values

Reference the value of another task or setting by calling value on the key for the task or setting. The value method is special and may only be called in the argument to :=, +=, or ++=.

As a first example, consider defining the project organization to be the same as the project name.

// name our organization after our project (both are SettingKey[String])
organization := name.value

Or, set the name to the name of the project's directory:

// name is a Key[String], baseDirectory is a Key[File]
// name the project after the directory it's inside
name := baseDirectory.value.getName

This transforms the value of baseDirectory using the standard getName method of

Using multiple inputs is similar. For example,

name := "project " + name.value + " from " + organization.value + " version " + version.value

This sets the name in terms of its previous value as well as the organization and version settings.

Settings with dependencies

In the setting name := baseDirectory.value.getName, name will have a dependency on baseDirectory. If you place the above in build.sbt and run the sbt interactive console, then type inspect name, you should see (in part):

[info] Dependencies:
[info]  *:baseDirectory

This is how sbt knows which settings depend on which other settings. Remember that some settings describe tasks, so this approach also creates dependencies between tasks.

For example, if you inspect compile you'll see it depends on another key compileInputs, and if you inspect compileInputs it in turn depends on other keys. Keep following the dependency chains and magic happens. When you type compile sbt automatically performs an update, for example. It Just Works because the values required as inputs to the compile computation require sbt to do the update computation first.

In this way, all build dependencies in sbt are automatic rather than explicitly declared. If you use a key's value in another computation, then the computation depends on that key. It just works!

When settings are undefined

Whenever a setting uses :=, +=, or ++= to create a dependency on itself or another key's value, the value it depends on must exist. If it does not, sbt will complain. It might say "Reference to undefined setting", for example. When this happens, be sure you're using the key in the scope that defines it.

It's possible to create cycles, which is an error; sbt will tell you if you do this.

Tasks with dependencies

As noted in .sbt build definition, task keys create a Setting[Task[T]] rather than a Setting[T] when you build a setting with :=, etc. Tasks can use settings as inputs, but settings cannot use tasks as inputs.

Take these two keys (from Keys):

val scalacOptions = taskKey[Seq[String]]("Options for the Scala compiler.")
val checksums = settingKey[Seq[String]]("The list of checksums to generate and to verify for dependencies.")

(scalacOptions and checksums have nothing to do with each other, they are just two keys with the same value type, where one is a task.)

It is possible to compile a build.sbt that aliases scalacOptions to checksums, but not the other way. For example, this is allowed:

// The scalacOptions task may be defined in terms of the checksums setting
scalacOptions := checksums.value

There is no way to go the other direction. That is, a setting key can't depend on a task key. That's because a setting key is only computed once on project load, so the task would not be re-run every time, and tasks expect to re-run every time.

// The checksums setting may not be defined in terms of the scalacOptions task
checksums := scalacOptions.value

Appending with dependencies: += and ++=

Other keys can be used when appending to an existing setting or task, just like they can for assigning with :=.

For example, say you have a coverage report named after the project, and you want to add it to the files removed by clean:

cleanFiles += file("coverage-report-" + name.value + ".txt")