This page describes scopes. It assumes you’ve read and understood the previous pages, build definition and task graph.

The whole story about keys 

Previously we pretended that a key like name corresponded to one entry in sbt’s map of key-value pairs. This was a simplification.

In truth, each key can have an associated value in more than one context, called a “scope.”

Some concrete examples:

There is no single value for a given key name, because the value may differ according to scope.

However, there is a single value for a given scoped key.

If you think about sbt processing a list of settings to generate a key-value map describing the project, as discussed earlier, the keys in that key-value map are scoped keys. Each setting defined in the build definition (for example in build.sbt) applies to a scoped key as well.

Often the scope is implied or has a default, but if the defaults are wrong, you’ll need to mention the desired scope in build.sbt.

Scope axes 

A scope axis is a type, where each instance of the type can define its own scope (that is, each instance can have its own unique values for keys).

There are three scope axes:

Scoping by subproject axis 

If you put multiple projects in a single build, each project needs its own settings. That is, keys can be scoped according to the project.

The project axis can also be set to “entire build”, so a setting applies to the entire build rather than a single project. Build-level settings are often used as a fallback when a project doesn’t define a project-specific setting.

Scoping by dependency configuration axis 

A dependency configuration defines a graph of library dependencies, potentially with its own classpath, sources, generated packages, etc. The dependency configuration concept comes from Ivy, which sbt uses for managed dependencies Library Dependencies, and from MavenScopes.

Some configurations you’ll see in sbt:

By default, all the keys associated with compiling, packaging, and running are scoped to a dependency configuration and therefore may work differently in each dependency configuration. The most obvious examples are the task keys compile, package, and run; but all the keys which affect those keys (such as sourceDirectories or scalacOptions or fullClasspath) are also scoped to the configuration.

Scoping by task axis 

Settings can affect how a task works. For example, the packageSrc task is affected by the packageOptions setting.

To support this, a task key (such as packageSrc) can be a scope for another key (such as packageOptions).

The various tasks that build a package (packageSrc, packageBin, packageDoc) can share keys related to packaging, such as artifactName and packageOptions. Those keys can have distinct values for each packaging task.

Global scope 

Each scope axis can be filled in with an instance of the axis type (for example the task axis can be filled in with a task), or the axis can be filled in with the special value Global.

Global means what you would expect: the setting’s value applies to all instances of that axis. For example if the task axis is Global, then the setting would apply to all tasks.


A scoped key may be undefined, if it has no value associated with it in its scope.

For each scope, sbt has a fallback search path made up of other scopes. Typically, if a key has no associated value in a more-specific scope, sbt will try to get a value from a more general scope, such as the Global scope or the entire-build scope.

This feature allows you to set a value once in a more general scope, allowing multiple more-specific scopes to inherit the value.

You can see the fallback search path or “delegates” for a key using the inspect command, as described below. Read on.

Referring to scoped keys when running sbt 

On the command line and in interactive mode, sbt displays (and parses) scoped keys like this:


* can appear for each axis, referring to the Global scope.

If you omit part of the scoped key, it will be inferred as follows:

For more details, see Interacting with the Configuration System.

Examples of scoped key notation 

Inspecting scopes 

In sbt shell, you can use the inspect command to understand keys and their scopes. Try inspect test:fullClasspath:

$ sbt
> inspect test:fullClasspath
[info] Task: scala.collection.Seq[sbt.Attributed[]]
[info] Description:
[info]  The exported classpath, consisting of build products and unmanaged and managed, internal and external dependencies.
[info] Provided by:
[info]  {file:/home/hp/checkout/hello/}default-aea33a/test:fullClasspath
[info] Dependencies:
[info]  test:exportedProducts
[info]  test:dependencyClasspath
[info] Reverse dependencies:
[info]  test:runMain
[info]  test:run
[info]  test:testLoader
[info]  test:console
[info] Delegates:
[info]  test:fullClasspath
[info]  runtime:fullClasspath
[info]  compile:fullClasspath
[info]  *:fullClasspath
[info]  {.}/test:fullClasspath
[info]  {.}/runtime:fullClasspath
[info]  {.}/compile:fullClasspath
[info]  {.}/*:fullClasspath
[info]  */test:fullClasspath
[info]  */runtime:fullClasspath
[info]  */compile:fullClasspath
[info]  */*:fullClasspath
[info] Related:
[info]  compile:fullClasspath
[info]  compile:fullClasspath(for doc)
[info]  test:fullClasspath(for doc)
[info]  runtime:fullClasspath

On the first line, you can see this is a task (as opposed to a setting, as explained in .sbt build definition). The value resulting from the task will have type scala.collection.Seq[sbt.Attributed[]].

“Provided by” points you to the scoped key that defines the value, in this case {file:/home/hp/checkout/hello/}default-aea33a/test:fullClasspath (which is the fullClasspath key scoped to the test configuration and the {file:/home/hp/checkout/hello/}default-aea33a project).

“Dependencies” was discussed in detail in the previous page.

You can also see the delegates; if the value were not defined, sbt would search through:

Try inspect fullClasspath (as opposed to the above example, inspect test:fullClasspath) to get a sense of the difference. Because the configuration is omitted, it is autodetected as compile. inspect compile:fullClasspath should therefore look the same as inspect fullClasspath.

Try inspect *:fullClasspath for another contrast. fullClasspath is not defined in the Global configuration by default.

Again, for more details, see Interacting with the Configuration System.

Referring to scopes in a build definition 

If you create a setting in build.sbt with a bare key, it will be scoped to the current project, configuration Global and task Global:

lazy val root = (project in file("."))
    name := "hello"

Run sbt and inspect name to see that it’s provided by {file:/home/hp/checkout/hello/}default-aea33a/*:name, that is, the project is {file:/home/hp/checkout/hello/}default-aea33a, the configuration is * (meaning global), and the task is not shown (which also means global).

Keys have an overloaded method called in used to set the scope. The argument to in can be an instance of any of the scope axes. So for example, though there’s no real reason to do this, you could set the name scoped to the Compile configuration:

name in Compile := "hello"

or you could set the name scoped to the packageBin task (pointless! just an example):

name in packageBin := "hello"

or you could set the name with multiple scope axes, for example in the packageBin task in the Compile configuration:

name in (Compile, packageBin) := "hello"

or you could use Global for all axes:

name in Global := "hello"

(name in Global implicitly converts the scope axis Global to a scope with all axes set to Global; the task and configuration are already Global by default, so here the effect is to make the project Global, that is, define */*:name rather than {file:/home/hp/checkout/hello/}default-aea33a/*:name)

If you aren’t used to Scala, a reminder: it’s important to understand that in and := are just methods, not magic. Scala lets you write them in a nicer way, but you could also use the Java style:"hello")

There’s no reason to use this ugly syntax, but it illustrates that these are in fact methods.

When to specify a scope 

You need to specify the scope if the key in question is normally scoped. For example, the compile task, by default, is scoped to Compile and Test configurations, and does not exist outside of those scopes.

To change the value associated with the compile key, you need to write compile in Compile or compile in Test. Using plain compile would define a new compile task scoped to the current project, rather than overriding the standard compile tasks which are scoped to a configuration.

If you get an error like “Reference to undefined setting“, often you’ve failed to specify a scope, or you’ve specified the wrong scope. The key you’re using may be defined in some other scope. sbt will try to suggest what you meant as part of the error message; look for “Did you mean compile:compile?”

One way to think of it is that a name is only part of a key. In reality, all keys consist of both a name, and a scope (where the scope has three axes). The entire expression packageOptions in (Compile, packageBin) is a key name, in other words. Simply packageOptions is also a key name, but a different one (for keys with no in, a scope is implicitly assumed: current project, global config, global task).

Build-wide settings 

An advanced technique for factoring out common settings across subprojects is to define the settings scoped to ThisBuild.

If a key that is scoped to a particular subproject is not found, sbt will look for it in ThisBuild as a fallback. Using the mechanism, we can define a build-wide default setting for frequently used keys such as version, scalaVersion, and organization.

For convenience, there is inThisBuild(...) function that will scope both the key and the body of the setting expression to ThisBuild. Putting setting expressions in there would be equivalent to appending in ThisBuild where possible.

lazy val root = (project in file("."))
      // Same as:
      // organization in ThisBuild := "com.example"
      organization := "com.example",
      scalaVersion := "2.12.1",
      version      := "0.1.0-SNAPSHOT"
    name := "Hello",
    publish := (),
    publishLocal := ()

lazy val core = (project in file("core"))
    // other settings

lazy val util = (project in file("util"))
    // other settings


sbt Reference Manual
    1. Scopes