Interacting with the Configuration System 

Central to sbt is the new configuration system, which is designed to enable extensive customization. The goal of this page is to explain the general model behind the configuration system and how to work with it. The Getting Started Guide (see .sbt files) describes how to define settings; this page describes interacting with them and exploring them at the command line.

Selecting commands, tasks, and settings 

A fully-qualified reference to a setting or task looks like:


This “scoped key” reference is used by commands like last and inspect and when selecting a task to run. Only key is usually required by the parser; the remaining optional pieces select the scope. These optional pieces are individually referred to as scope axes. In the above description, {<build-uri>} and <project-id>/ specify the project axis, config: is the configuration axis, and intask is the task-specific axis. Unspecified components are taken to be the current project (project axis) or auto-detected (configuration and task axes). An asterisk (*) is used to explicitly refer to the Global context, as in */*:key.

Selecting the configuration 

In the case of an unspecified configuration (that is, when the config: part is omitted), if the key is defined in Global, that is selected. Otherwise, the first configuration defining the key is selected, where order is determined by the project definition’s configurations member. By default, this ordering is compile, test, ...

For example, the following are equivalent when run in a project root in the build in /home/user/sample/:

> compile
> compile:compile
> root/compile
> root/compile:compile
> {file:/home/user/sample/}root/compile:compile

As another example, run by itself refers to compile:run because there is no global run task and the first configuration searched, compile, defines a run. Therefore, to reference the run task for the Test configuration, the configuration axis must be specified like test:run. Some other examples that require the explicit test: axis:

> test:consoleQuick
> test:console
> test:doc
> test:package

Task-specific Settings 

Some settings are defined per-task. This is used when there are several related tasks, such as package, packageSrc, and packageDoc, in the same configuration (such as compile or test). For package tasks, their settings are the files to package, the options to use, and the output file to produce. Each package task should be able to have different values for these settings.

This is done with the task axis, which selects the task to apply a setting to. For example, the following prints the output jar for the different package tasks.

> package::artifactPath
[info] /home/user/sample/target/

> packageSrc::artifactPath
[info] /home/user/sample/target/

> packageDoc::artifactPath
[info] /home/user/sample/target/

> test:package::artifactPath
[info] /home/user/sample/target/

Note that a single colon : follows a configuration axis and a double colon :: follows a task axis.

Discovering Settings and Tasks 

This section discusses the inspect command, which is useful for exploring relationships between settings. It can be used to determine which setting should be modified in order to affect another setting, for example.

Value and Provided By 

The first piece of information provided by inspect is the type of a task or the value and type of a setting. The following section of output is labeled “Provided by”. This shows the actual scope where the setting is defined. For example,

> inspect libraryDependencies
[info] Setting: scala.collection.Seq[sbt.ModuleID] = List(org.scalaz:scalaz-core:6.0-SNAPSHOT, org.scala-tools.testing:scalacheck:1.8:test)
[info] Provided by:
[info]  {file:/home/user/sample/}root/*:libraryDependencies

This shows that libraryDependencies has been defined on the current project ({file:/home/user/sample/}root) in the global configuration (*:). For a task like update, the output looks like:

> inspect update
[info] Task: sbt.UpdateReport
[info] Provided by:
[info]  {file:/home/user/sample/}root/*:update

Related Settings 

The “Related” section of inspect output lists all of the definitions of a key. For example,

> inspect compile
[info] Related:
[info]  test:compile

This shows that in addition to the requested compile:compile task, there is also a test:compile task.


Forward dependencies show the other settings (or tasks) used to define a setting (or task). Reverse dependencies go the other direction, showing what uses a given setting. inspect provides this information based on either the requested dependencies or the actual dependencies. Requested dependencies are those that a setting directly specifies. Actual settings are what those dependencies get resolved to. This distinction is explained in more detail in the following sections.

Requested Dependencies 

As an example, we’ll look at console:

> inspect console
[info] Dependencies:
[info]  compile:console::fullClasspath
[info]  compile:console::scalacOptions
[info]  compile:console::initialCommands
[info]  compile:console::cleanupCommands
[info]  compile:console::compilers
[info]  compile:console::taskTemporary-directory
[info]  compile:console::scalaInstance
[info]  compile:console::streams


This shows the inputs to the console task. We can see that it gets its classpath and options from fullClasspath and scalacOptions(for console). The information provided by the inspect command can thus assist in finding the right setting to change. The convention for keys, like console and fullClasspath, is that the Scala identifier is camel case, while the String representation is lowercase and separated by dashes. The Scala identifier for a configuration is uppercase to distinguish it from tasks like compile and test. For example, we can infer from the previous example how to add code to be run when the Scala interpreter starts up:

> set initialCommands in Compile in console := "import mypackage._"
> console
import mypackage._

inspect showed that console used the setting compile:console::initialCommands. Translating the initialCommands string to the Scala identifier gives us initialCommands. compile indicates that this is for the main sources. console:: indicates that the setting is specific to console. Because of this, we can set the initial commands on the console task without affecting the consoleQuick task, for example.

Actual Dependencies 

inspect actual <scoped-key> shows the actual dependency used. This is useful because delegation means that the dependency can come from a scope other than the requested one. Using inspect actual, we see exactly which scope is providing a value for a setting. Combining inspect actual with plain inspect, we can see the range of scopes that will affect a setting. Returning to the example in Requested Dependencies,

> inspect actual console
[info] Dependencies:
[info]  compile:scalacOptions
[info]  compile:fullClasspath
[info]  *:scalaInstance
[info]  */*:initialCommands
[info]  */*:cleanupCommands
[info]  */*:taskTemporaryDirectory
[info]  *:console::compilers
[info]  compile:console::streams

For initialCommands, we see that it comes from the global scope (*/*:). Combining this with the relevant output from inspect console:


we know that we can set initialCommands as generally as the global scope, as specific as the current project’s console task scope, or anything in between. This means that we can, for example, set initialCommands for the whole project and will affect console:

> set initialCommands := "import mypackage._"

The reason we might want to set it here this is that other console tasks will use this value now. We can see which ones use our new setting by looking at the reverse dependencies output of inspect actual:

> inspect actual initialCommands
[info] Reverse dependencies:
[info]  test:console
[info]  compile:consoleQuick
[info]  compile:console
[info]  test:consoleQuick
[info]  *:consoleProject

We now know that by setting initialCommands on the whole project, we affect all console tasks in all configurations in that project. If we didn’t want the initial commands to apply for consoleProject, which doesn’t have our project’s classpath available, we could use the more specific task axis:

> set initialCommands in console := "import mypackage._"
> set initialCommands in consoleQuick := "import mypackage._"`

or configuration axis:

> set initialCommands in Compile := "import mypackage._"
> set initialCommands in Test := "import mypackage._"

The next part describes the Delegates section, which shows the chain of delegation for scopes.


A setting has a key and a scope. A request for a key in a scope A may be delegated to another scope if A doesn’t define a value for the key. The delegation chain is well-defined and is displayed in the Delegates section of the inspect command. The Delegates section shows the order in which scopes are searched when a value is not defined for the requested key.

As an example, consider the initial commands for console again:

> inspect console::initialCommands
[info] Delegates:
[info]  *:console::initialCommands
[info]  *:initialCommands
[info]  {.}/*:console::initialCommands
[info]  {.}/*:initialCommands
[info]  */*:console::initialCommands
[info]  */*:initialCommands

This means that if there is no value specifically for *:console::initialCommands, the scopes listed under Delegates will be searched in order until a defined value is found.


sbt Reference Manual
      1. Interacting with the Configuration System