Lightbend Activator

Activator Scalding

Activator will be EOL-ed on May 24, 2017.

We’re making it easier and simpler for developers to get started with Lightbend technologies. This unfortunately means that future releases of Play, Akka and Scala will no longer include Activator support, and Lightbend’s Activator server will be decommissioned by the end of 2017. Instead of supporting Activator to create and set up development projects, we'll be supporting standard Giter8 templates for sbt users and Maven archetypes for Maven users. So going forward,

To create new Lightbend projects

Instead of using the Activator command, make sure you have sbt 0.13.13 (or higher), and use the “sbt new” command, providing the name of the template. For example, “$ sbt new akka/hello-akka.g8”. You can find a list of templates here.

Also, as a convenience, the Lightbend Project Starter allows you to quickly create a variety of example projects that you just unzip and run.

To create new templates

If you want to create new templates, you can now do that in Giter8.

To migrate templates from Activator to Giter8

If you created Activator templates in the past, please consider migrating them to Giter8 with this simple process.

Activator Scalding

November 19, 2014
sample scala scalding reactive

The Activator Scalding (Local Mode) application uses Twitter's Scalding API, running in "local mode" or on a Hadoop cluster, to perform powerful analytics on data sets with a concise, intuitive Scala-based API.

How to get "Activator Scalding" on your computer

There are several ways to get this template.

Option 1: Choose activator-scalding in the Lightbend Activator UI.

Already have Lightbend Activator (get it here)? Launch the UI then search for activator-scalding in the list of templates.

Option 2: Download the activator-scalding project as a zip archive

If you haven't installed Activator, you can get the code by downloading the template bundle for activator-scalding.

  1. Download the Template Bundle for "Activator Scalding"
  2. Extract the downloaded zip file to your system
  3. The bundle includes a small bootstrap script that can start Activator. To start Lightbend Activator's UI:

    In your File Explorer, navigate into the directory that the template was extracted to, right-click on the file named "activator.bat", then select "Open", and if prompted with a warning, click to continue:

    Or from a command line:

     C:\Users\typesafe\activator-scalding> activator ui 
    This will start Lightbend Activator and open this template in your browser.

Option 3: Create a activator-scalding project from the command line

If you have Lightbend Activator, use its command line mode to create a new project from this template. Type activator new PROJECTNAME activator-scalding on the command line.

Option 4: View the template source

The creator of this template maintains it at

Option 5: Preview the tutorial below

We've included the text of this template's tutorial below, but it may work better if you view it inside Activator on your computer. Activator tutorials are often designed to be interactive.

Preview the tutorial

An Introduction to Scalding

This workshop demonstrates how to build and run Scalding-based Big Data applications for Hadoop. You can also run them "locally" on your personal machine, which we will do here, for convenient development and testing. Actually, these "applications" are more like "scripts" than traditional, multi-file applications.

Scalding is a Scala API developed at Twitter for distributed data programming that sits on top of the Cascading Java API, which in turn sits on top of Hadoop's Java API. However, through Cascading, Scalding also offers a local mode that makes it easy to run jobs without Hadoop. This greatly simplifies and accelerates learning and testing of applications. It's even "good enough" for small data sets that fit easily on a single machine.

Building and Running

Invoke run to try it out. The default main class RunAll runs all of the scripts with default arguments. Each script also has its own main routine that you can select in the drop-down menu on the Run panel. The four examples provided are these:

  • NGrams: find all N-word ("N-gram") occurrences matching a pattern. In this case, the 4-word phrases in the King James Version of the Bible of the form "% love % %", where the "%" are wild cards. In other words, all 4-grams are found with "love" as the second word. There are 5 such NGrams.
  • WordCount: find all the words in a corpus of documents and count them, again using the KJV.
  • FilterUniqueCountLimit: demonstrate how to filter records (we'll create a "skeptics Bible" that removes all verses with the word "miracle"; like SQL's WHERE clause), how to find unique values (we'll find the names of the books of the KJV; like SQL's DISTINCT keyword), how to count all records (we'll count the total number of verses in the KJV; like SQL's COUNT (*) clause), and how to limit the number of records (we'll return the first 10 verses; like SQL's LIMIT N clause).
  • TfIdf: compute the term frequency-inverse document frequency of the KJV, an algorithm used in part to create search indices for the web or document corpi.

Each of these scripts writes output to the output directory, but for convenience, we echo some of output to the Activator window.

Let's examine these scripts in more detail...


Let's see how the NGrams Script works. Open NGrams.scala.

In the Run panel, select NGrams from the drop-down menu to invoke this script by itself.

Here is the entire script, with the comments removed:

import com.twitter.scalding._

class NGrams(args : Args) extends Job(args) {

  val ngramsArg = args.list("ngrams").mkString(" ").toLowerCase
  val ngramsRE = ngramsArg.trim
    .replaceAll("%", """ (\\p{Alnum}+) """)
    .replaceAll("""\s+""", """\\p{Space}+""").r
  val numberOfNGrams = args.getOrElse("count", "20").toInt

  val countReverseComparator =
    (tuple1:(String,Int), tuple2:(String,Int)) => tuple1._2 > tuple2._2

  val lines = TextLine(args("input"))
    .flatMap('line -> 'ngram) {
      text: String => ngramsRE.findAllIn(text.trim.toLowerCase).toIterable
    .discard('offset, 'line)
    .groupBy('ngram) { _.size('count) }
    .groupAll {
        ('ngram,'count) -> 'sorted_ngrams, numberOfNGrams)(countReverseComparator)

Let's walk through this code.

import com.twitter.scalding._

class NGrams(args : Args) extends Job(args) {

We start with the Scalding imports we need, then declare a class NGrams that subclasses a Job class, which provides a main routine and other runtime context support (such as Hadoop integration). Our class must take a list of command-line arguments, which are processed for us by Scalding's Args class. We'll use these to specify where to find input, where to write output, and handle other configuration options.

  val ngramsArg = args.list("ngrams").mkString(" ").toLowerCase
  val ngramsRE = ngramsArg.trim
    .replaceAll("%", """ (\\p{Alnum}+) """)
    .replaceAll("""\s+""", """\\p{Space}+""").r
  val numberOfNGrams = args.getOrElse("count", "20").toInt

Before we create our dataflow, a series of pipes that provide data processing, we define a values that we'll need. The user specifies the NGram pattern they want, such as the "% love % %" used in our run example. The ngramsRE takes that NGram specification and turns it into a regular expression that we need. The "%" are converted into patterns to find any word and any runs of whitespace are generalized for all whitespace. Finally, we get the command line argument for the number of most frequently occurring NGrams to find, which defaults to 20 if not specified.

  val countReverseComparator =
    (tuple1:(String,Int), tuple2:(String,Int)) => tuple1._2 > tuple2._2

The countReverseComparator function will be used to rank our found NGrams by frequency of occurrence, descending. The count of occurrences will be the second field in each tuple.

  val lines = TextLine(args("input"))
    .flatMap('line -> 'ngram) {
      text: String => ngramsRE.findAllIn(text.trim.toLowerCase).toIterable
    .discard('offset, 'line)

Now our dataflow is created. A TextLine object is used to read each "record", a line of text as a single "field". Hence, the records are newline (\n) separated. It reads the file specified by the --input argument (processed by the args object).

For input, we use a file containing the King James Version of the Bible. We have included that file; see the data/README file for more information.

Each line of the input actually has the following schema:

Abbreviated name of the book of the Bible (e.g., Gen) | chapter | verse | text

For example, this the very first (famous) line:

Gen|1|1| In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Note that a flaw with our implementation is that NGrams across line boundaries won't be found, because we process each line separately. However, the text for the King James Version of Bible that we are using has each verse on its own line. It wouldn't make much sense to compute NGrams across verses, so this limitation is not an issue for this particular data set.

Next, we call flatMap on each line record, converting it to zero or more output records, one per NGram found. Of course, some lines won't have a matching NGram. We use our regular expression to tokenize each line, and also trim leading and trailing whitespace and convert to lower case.

A scalding API convention is to use the first argument list to a function to specify the field names to input to the function and name the new fields output. In this case, we input just the line field, named 'line (a Scala symbol) and name each found NGram 'ngram. Note who these field names are specified using a tuple.

Finally in this section, we discard the fields we no longer need. Operations like flatMap and map append the new fields to the existing fields. We no longer need the 'line and TextLine also added a line number field to the input, named 'offset.

    .groupBy('ngram) { _.size('count) }
    .groupAll {
        ('ngram,'count) -> 'sorted_ngrams, numberOfNGrams)(countReverseComparator)

If we want to rank the found NGrams by their frequencies, we need to get all occurrences of a given NGram together. Hence, we use a groupBy operation to group over the 'ngram fields. To sort and output the tope numberOfNGrams, we group all together, then use a special Scalding function that combines sorting with "taking", i.e., just keeping the top N values after sorting.


The debug function dumps the current stream of data to the console, which is useful for debugging. Don't do this for massive data sets!!

Finally, we write the results as tab-separated values to the location specified by the --output command-line argument.

To recap, look again at the whole listing above. It's not very big! For what it does and compared to typical code bases you might work with, this is incredibly concise and powerful code.

WordCount is next...


Open WordCount.scala, which implements the well-known Word Count algorithm, which is popular as an easy-to-implement, "hello world!" program for developers learning Hadoop.

In WordCount, a corpus of documents is read, the contents are tokenized into words, and the total count for each word over the entire corpus is computed. The output is sorted by frequency descending.

In the Run panel, select WordCount from the drop-down menu to invoke this script by itself.

Here is the script without comments:

import com.twitter.scalding._

class WordCount(args : Args) extends Job(args) {

  val tokenizerRegex = """\W+"""

    .flatMap('line -> 'word) {
      line : String => line.trim.toLowerCase.split(tokenizerRegex)
    .groupBy('word){ group => group.size('count) }

Each line is read as plain text from the input location specified by the --input argument, just as we did for NGrams.

Next, flatMap is used to tokenize the line into words, similar to the first few steps in NGrams.

Next, we group over the words, to get all occurrences of each word gathered together, and we compute the size of each group, naming this size field `'count'.

Finally, we write the output 'word and 'count fields as tab-separated values to the location specified with the --output argument, as for NGrams.

FilterUniqueCountLimit is next...


Open FilterUniqueCountLimit.scala, which shows a few useful techniques:

  1. How to split a data stream into several flows, each for a specific calculation.
  2. How to filter records (like SQL's WHERE clause).
  3. How to find unique values (like SQL's DISTINCT keyword).
  4. How to count all records (like SQL's COUNT(*) clause).
  5. How to limit output (like SQL's LIMIT n clause).

In the Run panel, select FilterUniqueCountLimit from the drop-down menu to invoke this script by itself.

Here is the full script without comments:

import com.twitter.scalding._

class FilterUniqueCountLimit(args : Args) extends Job(args) {

  val kjvSchema = ('book, 'chapter, 'verse, 'text)
  val outputPrefix = args("output")

  val bible = Csv(args("input"), separator = "|", fields = kjvSchema)

  new RichPipe(bible)
      .filter('text) { t:String       => t.contains("miracle") == false }
      .write(Csv(s"$outputPrefix-skeptic.txt", separator = "|"))

  new RichPipe(bible)

  new RichPipe(bible)
      .groupAll { _.size('countstar).reducers(2) }

  new RichPipe(bible)
      .limit(args.getOrElse("n", "10").toInt)
      .write(Csv(s"$outputPrefix-limit-N.txt", separator = "|"))

This time, we read each line ("record") of text as a "|"-separated fields with the fields named by the kjvSchema value. Each input line is a verse in the Bible. We also treat the --output argument as a prefix, because four separate files will be output this time.

We open the KJV file using a comma-separated values reader, but overriding the separator to be "|" and applying the kjvSchema specification to each record.

Now we clone this input pipe four times to do four separated operations on the data. The first pipe filters each line, removing those with the word miracle, thus creating a "skeptics Bible". (Thomas Jefferson could have used this feature...) The output is written to file with the name suffix -skeptic.txt.

The second pipe projects just the first column/field, the name of the book of the Bible and finds all the unique values for this field, thereby producing a list of books in the Bible.

The third pipe uses the groupAll idiom to collect all records together and count them, yielding the total number of verses in the KJV Bible, 31102.

The fourth and final pipe limits the number of records to the input value given for the --n argument or 10 if the argument isn't specified. Hence, it's output is just the first n lines of the KJV.

TfIdf is our last example script...


Open TfIdf.scala, our most complex example script. It implements the term frequency-inverse document frequency algorithm used as part of the indexing process for document or Internet search engines. (See this Wikipedia page for more information on this algorithm.)

In the Run panel, select TfIdf from the drop-down menu to invoke this script by itself.

In a conventional implementation of Tf-Idf, you might load a precomputed document to word matrix:

a[i,j] = frequency of the word j in the document with index i

Then, you would compute the Tf-Idf score of each word with respect to each document.

Instead, we'll compute this matrix by first performing a modified Word Count on our KJV Bible data, then convert that data to a matrix and proceed from there. The modified Word Count will track the source Bible book and groupBy the ('book, 'word) instead of just the 'word.

Here is the entire script without comments:

import com.twitter.scalding._
import com.twitter.scalding.mathematics.Matrix

class TfIdf(args : Args) extends Job(args) {

  val n = args.getOrElse("n", "100").toInt
  val kjvSchema = ('book, 'chapter, 'verse, 'text)
  val tokenizerRegex = """\W+"""

  val books = Vector(
    "Act", "Amo", "Ch1", "Ch2", "Co1", "Co2", "Col", "Dan", "Deu",
    "Ecc", "Eph", "Est", "Exo", "Eze", "Ezr", "Gal", "Gen", "Hab",
    "Hag", "Heb", "Hos", "Isa", "Jam", "Jde", "Jdg", "Jer", "Jo1",
    "Jo2", "Jo3", "Job", "Joe", "Joh", "Jon", "Jos", "Kg1", "Kg2",
    "Lam", "Lev", "Luk", "Mal", "Mar", "Mat", "Mic", "Nah", "Neh",
    "Num", "Oba", "Pe1", "Pe2", "Phi", "Plm", "Pro", "Psa", "Rev",
    "Rom", "Rut", "Sa1", "Sa2", "Sol", "Th1", "Th2", "Ti1", "Ti2",
    "Tit", "Zac", "Zep")

  val booksToIndex = books.zipWithIndex.toMap

  val byBookWordCount = Csv(args("input"), separator = "|", fields = kjvSchema)
    .flatMap('text -> 'word) {
      line : String => line.trim.toLowerCase.split(tokenizerRegex)
    .project('book, 'word)
    .map('book -> 'bookId)((book: String) => booksToIndex(book))
    .groupBy(('bookId, 'word)){ group => group.size('count) }

  import Matrix._

  val docSchema = ('bookId, 'word, 'count)

  val docWordMatrix = byBookWordCount

  val docFreq = docWordMatrix.sumRowVectors

  val invDocFreqVct =
    docFreq.toMatrix(1).rowL1Normalize.mapValues( x => log2(1/x) )

  val invDocFreqMat =

  val out1 = docWordMatrix.hProd(invDocFreqMat).topRowElems(n)
    .pipeAs(('bookId, 'word, 'frequency))
    .mapTo(('bookId, 'word, 'frequency) -> ('book, 'word, 'frequency)){
      tri: (Int,String,Double) => (books(tri._1), tri._2, tri._3)

  val abbrevToNameFile = args.getOrElse("abbrevs-to-names", "data/abbrevs-to-names.tsv")
  val abbrevToName = Tsv(abbrevToNameFile, fields = ('abbrev, 'name)).read

  out1.joinWithTiny('book -> 'abbrev, abbrevToName)
    .project('name, 'word, 'frequency)

  def log2(x : Double) = scala.math.log(x)/scala.math.log(2.0)

This example uses Scalding's Matrix API, which simplifies working with "sparse" matrices.

Here, the --n argument is used to specify how many of the most frequently-occurring terms to keep for each book of the Bible. It defaults to 100.

We use the same input schema and word-tokenization we used previously for FilterUniqueCountLimit and WordCount, respectively.

We'll need to convert the Bible book names to numeric ids. We could actually compute the unique books and assign each an id (as discussed for FilterUniqueCountLimit), but to simplify things, we'll simply hard-code the abbreviated names used in the KJV text file and then zip this collection with the corresponding indices to create ids.

The byBookWordCount pipeline is very similar to WordCount, but we don't forget which book the word came from, so our key for grouping is now the 'booked and the 'word.

Next, we convert byBookWordCount to a term frequency, two-dimensional matrix, using Scalding Matrix API, where the "x" coordinate is the book id, the "y" coordinate is the word, and the value is the count, converted to Double.

Now we compute the overall document frequency of each word. The value of docFreq(i) will be the total count for word i over all documents. Then we need the inverse document frequency vector, which is used to suppress the significance of really common words, like "the", "and", "I", etc. The L1 norm is just 1/(|a| + |b| + ...), rather then the square root of the sum of squares, which would be more accurate, but also more expensive to compute. Actually, we use 1/log(x), rather than 1/x, for better numerical stability.

Then we zip the row vector along the entire document-word matrix and multiply the term frequency with the inverse document frequency, keeping the top N words. The value hProd is the Hadamard product, which is nothing more than multiplying matrices element-wise, rather than the usual matrix multiplication of row vector x column vector.

Before writing the output, we convert the matrix back to a Cascading pipe and replace the bookId with the abbreviated book name that we started with. Note that mapTo used here is like map, but the later keeps all the original input fields and adds the new fields created by the map function. In contrast, mapTo tosses all the original fields that aren't explicitly passed to the anonymous function. Hence, it's equivalent to the map(...).project(...) sequence, but more efficient by eliminating the extra intermediate step.

Finally, before writing the output, we see how joins work, which we use to bring in a table of the book abbreviations and the corresponding full names. We would rather write the full names. Otherwise, this join isn't necessary.

This mapping is in the file data/abbrevs-to-names.tsv. Almost a third of the books are actually aprocryphal and hence aren't in the KJV. We'll effectively ignore those.

Note the word Tiny in the inner join, joinWithTiny. The "tiny" pipe is the abbreviations data set on the "right-hand side. Knowing which pipe has the smallest data set is important, because Cascading can use a optimization known as a map-side join. In short, if the small data set can fit in memory, that data can be cached in the underlying Hadoop "map" process' memory and the join can be performed as the larger pipe of data streams through. For more details on this optimization, see this description for Hive's version of map-side joins.

The pair tuple passed to joinWithTiny lists one or more fields from the left-hand table and a corresponding number of fields from the right-hand table to join on. Here, we just join on a single field from each pipe. If it were two, we would pass an argument like (('l1, l2') -> ('r1, 'r2)). Note the nested tuples within the outer pair tuple.

After joining, we do a final projection and then write the output as before.

Next Steps

There are additional capabilities built into this Activator template that you can access from a command line using the activator command or sbt, the standard Scala build tool. Let's explore those features.

Running Locally with the Command Line

In a command window, run activator (or sbt). At the prompt, invoke the test and run tasks, which are the same tasks we ran in Activator, to ensure they complete successfully.

All four examples take command-line arguments to customize their behavior. The NGrams example is particular interesting to play with, where you search for different phrases in the Bible or some other text file of interest to you.

At the activator prompt, type scalding. You'll see the following:

> scalding
[error] Please specify one of the following commands (example arguments shown):
[error]   scalding FilterUniqueCountLimit --input data/kjvdat.txt --output output/kjv
[error]   scalding NGrams --count 20 --ngrams "I love % %" --input data/kjvdat.txt --output output/kjv-ngrams.txt
[error]   scalding TfIdf --n 100 --input data/kjvdat.txt --output output/kjv-tfidf.txt
[error]   scalding WordCount --input data/kjvdat.txt --output output/kjv-wc.txt
[error] scalding requires arguments.

Hence, without providing any arguments, the scalding command tells you which scripts are available and the arguments they support with examples that will run with supplied data in the data directory. Note that some of the options shown are optional (but which ones isn't indicated; see the comments in the script files). The scripts are listed alphabetically, not in the order we discussed them previously.

Each command should run without error and the output will be written to the file indicated by the --output option. You can change the output location to be anything you want.

Also, if you want to understand how Cascading converts each script into a MapReduce dataflow, Cascading has a feature that generates graphs of the dataflow in the dot graph format. You can view these files with many tools, including the free Graphviz.

To generate these files, you can add the argument --tool.graph to the end of any script command we discuss in subsequent sections. Instead of running the job, the Cascading runtime will write one or more "dot" files to the project root directory.

Now let's look at each example. Recall that all the scripts are in src/main/scala/scalding. You should look at the files for detailed comments on how they are implemented.


You invoke the NGrams script inside activator like this:

scalding NGrams --count 20 --ngrams "I love % %" --input data/kjvdat.txt --output output/kjv-ngrams.txt

The --ngrams phrase allows optional "context" words, like the "I love" prefix shown here, followed by two words, indicated by the two "%". Hence, you specify the desired N implicitly through the number of "%" placeholders and hard-coded words (4-grams, in this example).

For example, the phrase "% love %" will find all 3-grams with the word "love" in the middle, and so forth, while the phrase "% % %" will find all 3-grams, period (i.e., without any "context").

The NGram phrase is translated to a regular expression that also replaces the whitespace with a regular expression for arbitrary whitespace.

NOTE: In fact, additional regular expression constructs can be used in this string, e.g., loves? will match love and loves. This can be useful or confusing...

The --count n flag means "show the top n most frequent matching NGrams". If not specified, it defaults to 20.

Try different NGram phrases and values of count. Try different data sources.

This example also uses the debug pipe to dump output to the console. In this case, you'll see the same output that gets written to the output file, which is the list of the NGrams and their frequencies, sorted by frequency descending.


You invoke the script inside activator like this:

scalding WordCount --input data/kjvdat.txt --output output/kjv-wc.txt

Recall that each line of the input actually has the "schema":

Abbreviated name of the book of the Bible (e.g., Gen) | chapter | verse | text

For example,

Gen|1|1| In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.~

We just treat the whole line as text. A nice exercise is to project out just the text field. See the other scripts for examples of how to do this.

The --output argument specifies where the results are written. You just see a few log messages written to the activator console. You can use any path you want for this output.


You invoke the script inside activator like this:

scalding FilterUniqueCountLimit --input data/kjvdat.txt --output output/kjv

In this case, the --output is actually used as a prefix for the four output files discussed previously.


You invoke the script inside activator like this:

scalding TfIdf --n 100 --input data/kjvdat.txt --output output/kjv-tfidf.txt

The --n argument is optional; it defaults to 100. It specifies how many words to keep for each document.

Running on Hadoop

After testing your scripts, you can run them on a Hadoop cluster. You'll first need to build an all-inclusive jar file that contains all the dependencies, including the Scala standard library, that aren't already on the cluster.

The activator assembly command first runs an update task, if missing dependencies need to be downloaded. Then the task builds the all-inclusive jar file, which is written to target/scala-2.10/activator-scalding-X.Y.Z.jar, where X.Y.Z will be the current version number for this project.

One the jar is built and assuming you have the hadoop command installed on your system (or the server to which you copy the jar file...), the following command syntax will run one of the scripts

hadoop jar target/scala-2.10/activator-scalding-X.Y.Z.jar SCRIPT_NAME \
  [--hdfs | --local ] [--host JOBTRACKER_HOST] \
  --input INPUT_PATH --output OUTPUT_PATH \

Here is an example for NGrams, using HDFS, not the local file system, and assuming the JobTracker host is determined from the local configuration files, so we don't have to specify it:

hadoop jar target/scala-2.10/activator-scalding-X.Y.Z.jar NGrams \
  --hdfs  --input /data/docs --output output/wordcount \
  --count 100 --ngrams "% loves? %"

Note that when using HDFS, Hadoop treats all paths as directories. So, all the files in an --input directory will be read. In --local mode, the paths are interpreted as files.

An alternative to running the hadoop command directly is to use the scald.rb script that comes with Scalding distributions. See the Scalding website for more information.

Going Forward from Here

This template is not a complete Scalding tutorial. To learn more, see the following:


Welcome to the Lightbend Enterprise Suite

You are excited about Reactive applications. And you want to build, manage and monitor them easily and reliably in your environment.
We get it. So we built Lightbend Enterprise Suite to help you do that, and more, with a range of powerful Application Management, Intelligent Monitoring, Enterprise Integration and Advanced Tooling features.