Plugins Best Practices

Plugins Best Practices

This page is intended primarily for sbt plugin authors.

A plugin developer should strive for consistency and ease of use. Specifically:

  • Plugins should play well with other plugins. Avoiding namespace clashes (in both sbt and Scala) is paramount.
  • Plugins should follow consistent conventions. The experiences of an sbt user should be consistent, no matter what plugins are pulled in.

Here are some current plugin best practices. NOTE: Best practices are evolving, so check back frequently.

Avoid overriding settings

sbt will automatically load your plugin's settings into the build. Overriding val settings should only be done by plugins intending to provide commands. Regular plugins defining tasks and settings should provide a sequence named after the plugin like so:

val obfuscateSettings = Seq(...)

This allows build user to choose which subproject the plugin would be used. See later section for how the settings should be scoped.

Reuse existing keys

sbt has a number of predefined keys. Where possible, reuse them in your plugin. For instance, don't define:

val sourceFiles = settingKey[Seq[File]]("Some source files")

Instead, simply reuse sbt's existing sources key.

Avoid namespace clashes

Sometimes, you need a new key, because there is no existing sbt key. In this case, use a plugin-specific prefix, both in the (string) key name used in the sbt namespace and in the Scala val. There are two acceptable ways to accomplish this goal.

Just use a val prefix

package sbtobfuscate
object Plugin extends sbt.Plugin {
  val obfuscateStylesheet = settingKey[File]("Obfuscate stylesheet")

In this approach, every val starts with obfuscate. A user of the plugin would refer to the settings like this:

obfuscateStylesheet := ...

Use a nested object

package sbtobfuscate
object Plugin extends sbt.Plugin {
  object ObfuscateKeys {
    val stylesheet = SettingKey[File]("obfuscateStylesheet")

In this approach, all non-common settings are in a nested object. A user of the plugin would refer to the settings like this:

import ObfuscateKeys._ // place this at the top of build.sbt

stylesheet := ...

Configuration Advice

Due to usability concerns from the shell, you could opt out of task-scoping described in this section, if your plugin makes heavy use of the shell. Using configuration-scoping the user could discover your tasks using tab completion:


This method no longer works with per-task keys, but there's a pending case, so hopefully it will be addressed in the future.

When to define your own configuration

If your plugin introduces a new concept (even if that concept reuses an existing key), you want your own configuration. For instance, suppose you've built a plugin that produces PDF files from some kind of markup, and your plugin defines a target directory to receive the resulting PDFs. That target directory is scoped in its own configuration, so it is distinct from other target directories. Thus, these two definitions use the same key, but they represent distinct values. So, in a user's build.sbt, we might see:

target in PDFPlugin := baseDirectory.value / "mytarget" / "pdf"
target in Compile := baseDirectory.value / "mytarget"

In the PDF plugin, this is achieved with an inConfig definition:

val settings: Seq[sbt.Project.Setting[_]] = inConfig(LWM)(Seq(
  target := baseDirectory.value / "target" / "docs" # the default value

When not to define your own configuration.

If you're merely adding to existing definitions, don't define your own configuration. Instead, reuse an existing one or scope by the main task (see below).

val akka = config("akka")  // This isn't needed.
val akkaStartCluster = TaskKey[Unit]("akkaStartCluster")

target in akkaStartCluster := ... // This is ok.
akkaStartCluster in akka := ...   // BAD.  No need for a Config for plugin-specific task.

Configuration Cat says "Configuration is for configuration"

When defining a new type of configuration, e.g.

val Config = config("profile")

should be used to create a "cross-task" configuration. The task definitions don't change in this case, but the default configuration does. For example, the profile configuration can extend the test configuration with additional settings and changes to allow profiling in sbt. Plugins should not create arbitrary Configurations, but utilize them for specific purposes and builds.

Configurations actually tie into dependency resolution (with Ivy) and can alter generated pom files.

Configurations should not be used to namespace keys for a plugin. e.g.

val Config = config("my-plugin")
val pluginKey = settingKey[String]("A plugin specific key")
val settings = pluginKey in Config  // DON'T DO THIS!

Playing nice with configurations

Whether you ship with a configuration or not, a plugin should strive to support multiple configurations, including those created by the build user. Some tasks that are tied to a particular configuration can be re-used in other configurations. While you may not see the need immediately in your plugin, some project may and will ask you for the flexibility.

Provide raw settings and configured settings

Split your settings by the configuration axis like so:

val obfuscate = TaskKey[Seq[File]]("obfuscate")
val obfuscateSettings = inConfig(Compile)(baseObfuscateSettings)
val baseObfuscateSettings: Seq[Setting[_]] = Seq(
  obfuscate := ... (sources in obfuscate).value ...,
  sources in obfuscate := sources.value

The baseObfuscateSettings value provides base configuration for the plugin's tasks. This can be re-used in other configurations if projects require it. The obfuscateSettings value provides the default Compile scoped settings for projects to use directly. This gives the greatest flexibility in using features provided by a plugin. Here's how the raw settings may be reused:


Alternatively, one could provide a utility method to load settings in a given configuration:

def obfuscateSettingsIn(c: Configuration): Seq[Project.Setting[_]] =

This could be used as follows:

seq(obfuscateSettingsIn(Test): _*)

Using a 'main' task scope for settings

Sometimes you want to define some settings for a particular 'main' task in your plugin. In this instance, you can scope your settings using the task itself.

val obfuscate = TaskKey[Seq[File]]("obfuscate")
val obfuscateSettings = inConfig(Compile)(baseObfuscateSettings)
val baseObfuscateSettings: Seq[Setting[_]] = Seq(
  obfuscate := ... (sources in obfuscate).value ...,
  sources in obfuscate := sources.value

In the above example, sources in obfuscate is scoped under the main task, obfuscate.

Mucking with Global build state

There may be times when you need to muck with global build state. The general rule is be careful what you touch.

First, make sure your user does not include global build configuration in every project but rather in the build itself. e.g.

object MyBuild extends Build {
  override lazy val settings = super.settings ++ MyPlugin.globalSettings
  val main = project(file("."), "root") settings(MyPlugin.globalSettings:_*) // BAD!

Global settings should not be placed into a build.sbt file.

When overriding global settings, care should be taken to ensure previous settings from other plugins are not ignored. e.g. when creating a new onLoad handler, ensure that the previous onLoad handler is not removed.

object MyPlugin extends Plugin {
   val globalSettigns: Seq[Setting[_]] = Seq(
     onLoad in Global := (onLoad in Global).value andThen { state =>
         ... return new state ...

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