Using shapeless HLists with Slick 3

We’ve developed a tiny library called slickless that enables use of shapeless HLists in Slick. This post explains what that means, how you can use it, and what we had to do to make this possible.

The story so far…

The Slick database library knows how to deliver rows in terms of tuples, case classes, and its own heterogeneous list (HList) implementation. Here’s what that looks like in code:

import slick.collection.heterogeneous.{ HList, HCons, HNil }
import slick.collection.heterogeneous.syntax._

class Users(tag: Tag) extends Table[Long :: String :: HNil](tag, "users") {
  def id    = column[Long]( "id", O.PrimaryKey, O.AutoInc )
  def email = column[String]("email")

  def * = id :: email :: HNil

lazy val users = TableQuery[Users]

A query for all users will result in a collection of values for each row. In this case, the type of each row will be Long :: String :: HNil. HLists provide the strong element typing associated with tuples, with the abitrary lengths of regular Lists. They are the recommended way of mapping tables with more than 22 columns in Slick 2 and 3. The coverage of HLists in the Slick documentation is surprisingly bare, but we dive into them in detail in Chapter 4 of Essential Slick.

Slick currently treats HLists as a way of beating the “22 column limit” imposed by the maximum arity of Scala functions and tuples. By contrast, shapeless uses HLists as the basis of a whole suite of generic programming tools. We’ve seen a lot of demand from the community for compatibility with shapeless HLists (see Slick issues 943, 519, 538, 536 and Stackoverflow for examples). A quick check for existing shapeless/Slick integrations turned up no results, so we sat down to figure it out.

Supporting shapeless in Slick

The crux of the problem is to derive instances of Slick’s Shape type class for shapeless HLists. Slick uses Shapes to manage mappings between the types of Queries and the types of their results. We create a shape implicitly whenever we define a default projection for a Table, and shapes are carried around by queries on the table.

For example, the shape of users in the example above tells us that the value inside the query (the parameter passed to map, flatMap, and filter functions) is of type Users and the result of running the query will be our Slick HList type:

// res0: slick.lifted.Shape[_, Users, HCons[Long, HCons[String, HNil]], _] = ...

If we change the default projection of the table (for example using the bidirectional mapping operator <>), we change the shape of the queries. We can also cause queries to change shape using map or flatMap: => (,
// res1: slick.lifted.Shape[_, _ <: (Rep[Long], Rep[String]), (Long, String), _] = ...

Introducing slickless

The result of our efforts is a tiny library, slickless, that uses approximately 40 lines of code to generate shapes for shapeles HLists. The implementation is similar to the one provided for Slick’s own HLists, and the use is almost identical. We simply substitute the imports for Slick HLists:

import slick.collection.heterogeneous.{ HList, HCons, HNil }
import slick.collection.heterogeneous.syntax._

with imports for shapeless and slickless:

import shapeless.{ HList, ::, HNil }
import slickless._

and the rest of the code compiles as normal. We can define default projectiong using shapeless HLists, transform them with <>, and map and flatMap over queries in all of the usual ways.


As you can see, slickless provides dead-simple interop between Slick and shapeless. However, this is hopefully just the beginning. Now the groundwork has been laid, we should be able to use shapeless’ range of generic programming tools to build boilerplate-free conversions and type-mappings that aren’t possible with vanilla Slick. The next post will give you a taste of what we mean by that.

We’d love to get some feedback on slickless. Get in touch via the comments or the slickless Gitter, to let us know what you’re doing with Slick, your thoughts on slickless, how shapeless support might be able to help, or how you might be able to contribute to take things further.

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