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sbt BSP support

ยท 6 min read

If you've been following the sbt releases, 1.4.x introduced some great new features, one of those being BSP support. This effort was initiated by community members and proposed to the Scala Center Advisory Board. Then thanks to the work of Adrien Piquerez and Eugene Yokota BSP support became a reality in 1.4.0. You can read more about the reason behind the work and some of the details of the implementation in this blog post: BSP Support in sbt 1.4.

The Metals team is also happy to announce that as of the 0.9.5 release, the process to use other BSP servers like sbt is now much smoother. In some ways, BSP is an implementation detail abstracted away from a user, and you may not directly interact at all with your build server, even though it's pivotal for the Metals experience. Therefore, we'd like to answer some common questions about what this means to you as a user, explain some of the default choices Metals makes for you, and show you how to explore the sbt BSP server.

What is BSP?โ€‹

First off, you may be wondering what BSP is. The Build Server Protocol (BSP) is a Protocol for IDEs and build tools to communicate about compilation, running, testing, debugging, and much more. If you're familiar with the Language Server Protocol (LSP), BSP is complementary to LSP and inspired by it. Where LSP allows your editor to abstract over various programming languages by a shared way to communicate to a language server, BSP allows IDE's to abstract over various build servers. A typical example of this can be illustrated like so:

LSP BSP example

You have your editor (Emacs) communicating with Metals via LSP, and then Metals communicating with a BSP server (Bloop) via BSP. This communication over BSP can be about compiling your code, running your code, defining sources in your workspace, etc. You can read all about the various communication types here in the protocol.

Bloop was the first server to implement BSP, and it's the default build server for all build tools that Metals supports at the moment. When you open a fresh project, you're prompted to import your build, and this import process is running a form of "Bloop Install" to write your build definition to .bloop/ for Bloop to read and use. Then as you continue to edit, diagnostics and other information are flowing back and forth from Metals to Bloop. Hopefully this gives you a brief picture of what BSP is, and how it's used in Metals.

What does sbt BSP support mean for Metals?โ€‹

Another question you may have is "what does sbt BSP support mean for Metals"? This means a couple different things. Up until this point, if you wanted to use sbt BSP, you needed to clear your .metals/ and .bloop directories, and then start sbt with a specific flag before connecting to it. None of this is necessary anymore. In order for BSP discovery to happen, you need a .bsp/*json file with instructions on how to start/connect to the build server. A new command has been added to Metals (which we'll go over down below) that can generate this file for you if it doesn't exist, and then you will be automatically connected to sbt. If this file already exist, then we provide a simple way for you to "switch" build servers and for your choice to be remembered. We also automatically include an sbt plugin to ensure the correct semantic information is produced by the compiler. So to summarize, Metals now has the ability to generate the necessary .bsp/sbt.json file if it doesn't exist, and to also switch back and forth from using Bloop or sbt as your build server.

What's the difference between Bloop and sbt BSP?โ€‹

At this point you may be asking, "what's the difference?". For an average user, there may not be a ton of difference, however I'd like to outline a couple things that may be relevant to you.

  • Bloop supports the Debug Adapter Protocol (DAP) and sbt doesn't. So you'll notice when using sbt as a build server, you won't have the run or debug code lenses directly in your editor like you do with Bloop.
  • Bloop writes all the necessary information about your build it needs to disk whereas sbt loads it into memory. If you're a user that works for long periods of time on a single project, then this may not matter to you at all. However, if you jump in and out of projects, without having sbt shell running, then you will pay the cost of loading up your build every time.
  • Bloop offers sbt file support that enables completions and hover, whereas this is not yet available in the sbt BSP implementation.
  • sbt gives you access to the full task graph, so for example if you're using BuildInfo, and you compile with Bloop, your BuildInfo won't get generated. However, sources will get generated when using sbt server. This can help avoid any potential inconsistencies.

While there are some more differences, these are probably the main ones you'll notice as a user. These are both great tools, and you'll have to explore more to see what is the best fit for you. For now, Metals defaults to using Bloop mainly because we believe it provides a richer feature set and because pretty much all of our testing includes Bloop as a build server.

How do I try it out?โ€‹

Now to the good stuff. There are two main ways that you can start using sbt server in Metals.

No .bsp/sbt.json existsโ€‹

If no .bsp/sbt.json exists yet, you can generate it with the new metals.generate-bsp-config command. At any time you can execute this command and Metals will ensure that you're on the minimum required sbt version (1.4.1), generate the .bsp/sbt.json file for you, include the necessary plugin, and then auto-connect to the sbt build server. For example in VS Code this looks like this:



.bsp/sbt.json already existsโ€‹

If you've ran sbt on your project already, your .bsp/sbt.json file will already exist. In this case, you can simply use the metals.bsp-switch command and choose sbt. For example, using coc-metals, it looks like this:



Switching back to Bloopโ€‹

After you do a metals.bsp-switch or metals-generate-bsp-config, your choice will be remembered. So the next time that you open your workspace, you will automatically connect to the last build server you had chosen. If you'd like to go back to your previous build server, you can simply use the metals.bsp-switch command again to choose your previous server. For editors that have an html doctor, you can also reset your build server choice in the Doctor.

Doctor resetโ€‹



We hope you enjoy this easier way to use sbt server with Metals. If you're curious about the implementation details, much of the work was done in this pr. As always please don't hesitate to ask questions on our various channels, submit issues, or create new feature requests.