1. Setting Initialization

Setting Initialization 

This page outlines the mechanisms by which sbt loads settings for a particular build, including the hooks where users can control the ordering of everything.

As stated elsewhere, sbt constructs its initialization graph and task graph via Setting[_] objects. A setting is something which can take the values stored at other Keys in the build state, and generates a new value for a particular build key. sbt converts all registered Setting[_] objects into a giant linear sequence and compiles them into a task graph. This task graph is then used to execute your build.

All of sbt’s loading semantics are contained within the Load.scala file. It is approximately the following:


The blue circles represent actions happening when sbt loads a project. We can see that sbt performs the following actions in load:

  1. Compile the user-level project (~/.sbt/<version>/)

    a. Load any plugins defined by this project (~/.sbt/<version>/plugins/*.sbt and ~/.sbt/<version>/plugins/project/*.scala) b. Load all settings defined (~/.sbt/<version>/*.sbt and ~/.sbt/<version>/plugins/*.scala)

  2. Compile the current project (<working-directory/project)

    a. Load all defined plugins (project/plugins.sbt and project/project/*.scala) b. Load/Compile the project (project/*.scala)

  3. Load project *.sbt files (build.sbt and friends).

Each of these loads defines several sequences of settings. The diagram shows the two most important:

  • buildSettings - These are settings defined to be in ThisBuild or directly against the Build object. They are initialized once for the build. You can add these, e.g. in project/build.scala :

    object MyBuild extends Build {
      override val settings = Seq(foo := "hi")

    or in a build.sbt file:

    foo in ThisBuild := "hi"
  • projectSettings - These are settings specific to a project. They are specific to a particular subproject in the build. A plugin may be contributing its settings to more than on project, in which case the values are duplicated for each project. You add project specific settings, eg. in project/build.scala:

    object MyBuild extends Build {
      val test = project.in(file(".")).settings(...)

After loading/compiling all the build definitions, sbt has a series of Seq[Setting[_]] that it must order. As shown in the diagram, the default inclusion order for sbt is:

  1. All AutoPlugin settings
  2. All settings defined in project/Build.scala
  3. All settings defined in the user directory (~/.sbt/<version>/*.sbt)
  4. All local configurations (build.sbt)

Controlling Initialization 

The order which sbt uses to load settings is configurable at a project level. This means that we can’t control the order of settings added to Build/Global namespace, but we can control how each project loads, e.g. plugins and .sbt files. To do so, use the AddSettings class:

import sbt._
import Keys._

import AddSettings._

object MyOwnOrder extends Build {
  // here we load config from a txt file.
  lazy val root = project.in(file(".")).settingSets( autoPlugins, buildScalaFiles, sbtFiles(file("silly.txt")) )

In the above project, we’ve modified the order of settings to be:

  1. All AutoPlugin settings.
  2. All settings defined in the project/Build.scala file (shown above).
  3. All settings found in the silly.txt file.

What we’ve excluded:

  • All settings from the user directory (~/.sbt/<version>)
  • All *.sbt settings.

The AddSettings object provides the following “groups” of settings you can use for ordering:

  • autoPlugins All the ordered settings of plugins after they’ve gone through dependency resolution
  • buildScalaFiles The full sequence of settings defined directly in project/*.scala builds.
  • sbtFiles(*) Specifies the exact setting DSL files to include (files must use the .sbt file format)
  • userSettings All the settings defined in the user directory ~/.sbt/<version>/.
  • defaultSbtFiles Include all local *.sbt file settings.
  • Note: Be very careful when reordering settings. It’s easy to accidentally remove core functionality.*

For example, let’s see what happens if we move the build.sbt files before the buildScalaFile.

Let’s create an example project the following definition. project/build.scala:

object MyTestBuild extends Build {
  val testProject = project.in(file(".")).settingSets(autoPlugins, defaultSbtFiles, buildScalaFile).settings(
    version := scalaBinaryVersion.value match {
      case "2.10" => "1.0-SNAPSHOT"
      case v => "1.0-for-${v}-SNAPSHOT"

This build defines a version string which appends the Scala version if the current Scala version is not the in the 2.10.x series. Now, when issuing a release we want to lock down the version. Most tools assume this can happen by writing a version.sbt file. version.sbt:

version := "1.0.0"

However, when we load this new build, we find that the version in version.sbt has been overridden by the one defined in project/Build.scala because of the order we defined for settings, so the new version.sbt file has no effect.