Tasks/Settings: Motivation 

This page motivates the task and settings system. You should already know how to use tasks and settings, which are described in the getting started guide and on the Tasks page.

An important aspect of the task system is to combine two common, related steps in a build:

  1. Ensure some other task is performed.
  2. Use some result from that task.

Earlier versions of sbt configured these steps separately using

  1. Dependency declarations
  2. Some form of shared state

To see why it is advantageous to combine them, compare the situation to that of deferring initialization of a variable in Scala. This Scala code is a bad way to expose a value whose initialization is deferred:

// Define a variable that will be initialized at some point
// We don't want to do it right away, because it might be expensive
var foo: Foo = _

// Define a function to initialize the variable
def makeFoo(): Unit = ... initialize foo ...

Typical usage would be:


This example is rather exaggerated in its badness, but I claim it is nearly the same situation as our two step task definitions. Particular reasons this is bad include:

  1. A client needs to know to call makeFoo() first.
  2. foo could be changed by other code. There could be a def makeFoo2(), for example.
  3. Access to foo is not thread safe.

The first point is like declaring a task dependency, the second is like two tasks modifying the same state (either project variables or files), and the third is a consequence of unsynchronized, shared state.

In Scala, we have the built-in functionality to easily fix this: lazy val.

lazy val foo: Foo = ... initialize foo ...

with the example usage:


Here, lazy val gives us thread safety, guaranteed initialization before access, and immutability all in one, DRY construct. The task system in sbt does the same thing for tasks (and more, but we won’t go into that here) that lazy val did for our bad example.

A task definition must declare its inputs and the type of its output. sbt will ensure that the input tasks have run and will then provide their results to the function that implements the task, which will generate its own result. Other tasks can use this result and be assured that the task has run (once) and be thread-safe and typesafe in the process.

The general form of a task definition looks like:

myTask := {
  val a: A = aTask.value
  val b: B = bTask.value
  ... do something with a, b and generate a result ...

(This is only intended to be a discussion of the ideas behind tasks, so see the sbt Tasks page for details on usage.) Here, aTask is assumed to produce a result of type A and bTask is assumed to produce a result of type B.


As an example, consider generating a zip file containing the binary jar, source jar, and documentation jar for your project. First, determine what tasks produce the jars. In this case, the input tasks are packageBin, packageSrc, and packageDoc in the main Compile scope. The result of each of these tasks is the File for the jar that they generated. Our zip file task is defined by mapping these package tasks and including their outputs in a zip file. As good practice, we then return the File for this zip so that other tasks can map on the zip task.

zip := {
    val bin: File = (packageBin in Compile).value
    val src: File = (packageSrc in Compile).value
    val doc: File = (packageDoc in Compile).value
    val out: File = zipPath.value
    val inputs: Seq[(File,String)] = Seq(bin, src, doc) x Path.flat
    IO.zip(inputs, out)

The val inputs line defines how the input files are mapped to paths in the zip. See Mapping Files for details. The explicit types are not required, but are included for clarity.

The zipPath input would be a custom task to define the location of the zip file. For example:

zipPath := target.value / "out.zip"


sbt Reference Manual
      1. Tasks/Settings: Motivation