Sequences in Scala

Sequences in Scala

This post is part 5 of the Functional Programming in Scala series. You can view all the posts in the series here.


Sequences in Scala are interfaces for data structures that have a well defined order and are indexable.

Types of sequence include:

  • Lists - val aList = List(1,2,3)
  • Arrays - val numbers = Array(1,2,3,4)
  • Vectors - val vector: Vector[Int] = Vector(1,2,3)

Each of these sequences have many useful utility methods that can be applied.

There are also Ranges, which are another type of Sequence - val aRange: Seq[Int] = 1 to 10 . These are very handy for iteration.

Introducing Sequences in Scala

A Sequence (Seq) in Scala is a very general interface for data structures. They have a well defined order, and are indexable. They also support various other operations out of the box, such as; apply, iterator, length and reverse.

They also support concatenation, appending and prepending to enable the construction of new collections.

Many other operations are included as well, such as grouping, sorting, zipping, searching and slicing. You can also use map, flatmap and filter - as we learned about in the previous blog post.

Sequences in practice

You can construct a sequence like so:

val aSequence = Seq(1,2,3,4)

This prints out List(1,2,3,4). So the Seq companion object actually has an apply factory method, that can construct subclasses of sequence.

But the declared type of aSequence is Seq[Int].

To use some of the utility methods:

println(aSequence(2)) // takes the item at index 2 (in this case 3)
println(aSequence ++ Seq(7,5,6)) // for concatenation
println(aSequence.sorted) // sorts into order, if the type is by default ordered


There is also the concept of Ranges in Scala. Ranges are also sequences. The syntax looks like this:

val aRange: Seq[Int] = 1 to 10

The above is a collection, which is a range. If you wanted to print out every number in the range on a new line:

aRange.foreach(println) // prints all the numbers from 1 to 10

If you wanted to do something a certain number of times, without first having to declare a val, you could use a range like so:

(1 to 10).foreach(x => println("Hello"))

This is useful for writing code in a scripting like fashion (similar to Python for example).


A List in Scala is immutable, and extends from LinearSeq. The head, tail and isEmpty methods are fast when they are used. A list is sealed, and has two subtypes: object Nil (when it is empty) and class ::.

val aList = List(1,2,3)

To pre-pend to a list you can do:

val prepended = 42 :: aList

The :: is syntactic sugar to apply to a list.

You can also do pre-pending in combination with appending, using this syntax:

val prepend_append = 42 +: aList :+ 88

There is also the fill method, which is a curried function. It takes a value and constructs a list with that number of items:

val apple5 = List.fill(5)("apple")

We also have the mkString method. This concatenates all the items in the list and puts the specified string in between each item:



Arrays are the equivalent of simple Java arrays. Arrays are mutable, and are interoperable with Java’s T[] arrays. Indexing is fast, you can access any element in any position.

val numbers = Array(1,2,3,4)

We can construct an array of three elements, without having to supply those elements, by using the .ofDim method:

val threeElements = Array.ofDim[Int](3)

But default values are applied, depending on the primitive type of value supplied. For example it will be null for a reference value like a string, or 0 for an Int. Print it out for yourself to check:


As we mentioned earlier, arrays are mutable. To update the number at index 2:

numbers(2) = 0

This is actually syntactic sugar for numbers.update(2, 0).

Connection between Arrays and Sequences

We can create a special kind of sequence called a WrappedArray, that wraps over a sequence:

val numbersSeq: Seq[Int] = numbers

The = sign above stipulates to do an implicit conversion. This is an advanced topic that will be covered in later blog posts.


Vectors are extremely useful in Scala. They are the default implementation for immutable sequences because they are very efficient. They offer good performance for large sizes.

Vectors can be created like so:

val vector: Vector[Int] = Vector(1,2,3)

They offer the same functionality as other collections.

Performance test of Vectors vs Lists

We can use the code below to measure the performance difference between a vector and a list in Scala:

val maxRuns = 1000
val maxCapacity = 1000000

def getWriteTime(collection: Seq[Int]): Double = {
  val r = new Random

  val times = for {
    it <- 1 to maxRuns
  } yield {
    val currentTime = System.nanoTime()
    collection.updated(r.nextInt(maxCapacity), r.nextInt()) // as this random index, put a value of r.nextInt() into the collection
    System.nanoTime() - currentTime

  times.sum * 1.0 / maxRuns // this computes the average time it takes for the collection to be updated


In the code above, we are writing a value into a sequence 1000 times. We measure the average time that it look to write into the sequence.

Let’s create a list and a vector:

val numbersList = (1 to maxCapacity).toList
val numbersVector = (1 to maxCapacity).toVector

And use the getWriteTime method to measure the response times:


Feel free to run this a few times, you should see quite a big difference. For me, I got times of 9222912.368 for the List vs 10549.631 for the Vector.

The advantage of a List is that it keeps reference to tails. The disadvantage is that updating an element in the middle takes a long time.

The advantage of a Vector is that the depth of the tree is small. The disadvantage is that it needs to replace an entire 32 element chunk - but its not so much of a disadvantage!

Source Code

As always, the source code for this post is available on Github.