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Project Goals

This document describes the project goals of Metals. This document does not describe existing functionality of Metals but rather what user experience we want Metals to have in the future.

  • Simple installation: importing a project should be simple and require as few steps as possible.
  • Robust navigation: goto definition should work everywhere, including for external Scala/Java dependencies.
  • Low CPU and memory usage: indexing should run in the background and not get in the way of your coding.

We acknowledge that simple installation and robust navigation alone is not enough to make a great language server. A great language server should also support correct diagnostics, fast completions and solid refactorings. However, we believe navigation is an important first milestone that needs full attention before focusing on other features.

Simple installation#

The first thing you do with an IDE is boring but critical: import a project. The Language Server Protocol (LSP) does not provide utilities to extract metadata such as source directories, dependencies and compiler flags from a build tool. Instead, Metals uses the Build Server Protocol (BSP) to standardize on communication between a language server and build tool. The same way LSP allows Metals to support multiple editors with a unified interface, BSP allows Metals to import projects from multiple build tools with the same interface.

Robust navigation#

Goto definition and find references is a great way to navigate a codebase and understand how it works. Metals uses SemanticDB to power code navigation, SemanticDB is a data model for semantic information about programs in Scala and other languages. Indexing happens during batch compilation in the build tool using a similar architecture as Index-While-Building, which is used in Xcode 9 and sourcekit-lsp.

Code navigation is not a single feature, it is a collection of several features that help you understand a codebase. Below is a list of features that Metals considers as "code navigation".

  • Goto definition (textDocument/definition).
    • project -> project.
    • project -> Scala dependency.
    • project -> Java dependency.
    • dependency -> dependency.
  • Find references (textDocument/references).
    • project sources
    • Scala dependency sources
    • Java dependency sources
  • Highlight references to a symbol in current buffer (textDocument/documentHighlight).
  • Goto symbol in file (textDocument/documentSymbol)
  • Goto symbol in workspace (workspace/symbol)
  • Symbol outline in the sidebar of current buffer (textDocument/documentSymbol).
  • Goto implementation (textDocument/implementation)
  • Goto type definition (textDocument/typeDefinition)
  • Show type of symbol at position (textDocument/hover).
  • Show type of expression at position (textDocument/hover).

Low CPU and memory usage#

Heavy resource usage is one of the most frequent complaints about IDEs. Low CPU and memory usage becomes even more important when working in larger codebases. Our goal in Metals is to support code navigation with as low CPU and memory overhead as possible without sacrificing rich functionality.