Run Kotlin Scripts (kts) from regular Kotlin Programs

Run Kotlin Scripts (kts) from regular Kotlin Programs

Run Kotlin Scripts from Kotlin Programs

This article presents a way to run Kotlin scripts from Kotlin programs in order to leverage the power of DSLs.

Kotlin can be used as a scripting language. Simply write top-level executable code inside a file with .kts extension and run it with the kotlinc as described in the documentation. That’s also the format of Gradle build files that are used in combination with the Gradle Kotlin DSL like this Gradle shows a fantastic example of a domain specific language that can be written standalone in .kts files to be read by the gradle tool later on. When we try to find a way to do the same with custom DSLs (Tutorial can be found here), we first need to know how to run Kotlin scripts from Kotlin programs. The article reveals how to do so.

The Java Scripting API (JSR-223)

The Java Scripting API is a tool for using scripting engines (such as Nashorn) from Java code. It enables users to write customizable scripting code that can be picked up by the Java application at runtime. In a way, the API is a neat way of writing extensible applications.

As of Kotlin 1.1, the corresponding JSR-223 is supported for Kotlin Scripts, too. That means that it’s possible to run Kotlin scripts from regular Kotlin programs in order to make applications customizable through these scripts.

Using the Kotlin Script Engine

In order to use the mentioned Kotlin script engine, a file called javax.script.ScriptEngineFactory has to be placed inside META-INF/services of your application. It should contain the following entry: org.jetbrains.kotlin.script.jsr223.KotlinJsr223JvmLocalScriptEngineFactory.
After that, the javax.script.ScriptEngineManager will be able to find the corresponding engine when looked up via ScriptEngineManager().getEngineByExtension("kts"). This code now finds the Kotlin ScriptEngine implementation, an instance that can be used to evaluate String-based scripts such as "5 + 2", or directly read scripts from the file system. Here’s a short example:

with(ScriptEngineManager().getEngineByExtension("kts")) {
    eval("val x = 3")
    val res2 = eval("x + 2")
    assertEquals(5, res2)

You could also compile scripts and evaluate them later:

val script = compile("""listOf(1,2,3).joinToString(":")""")
assertEquals(listOf(1, 2, 3).joinToString(":"), script.eval())

Wrapping the glue code in a library

As shown, executing Kotlin scripts from Kotlin programs is pretty easy due to the Java scripting API implementation for Kotlin. Nevertheless, since it’s a bit cumbersome to integrate the support into an application, I wrote a tiny library that encapsulates the Scripting API glue code. It is called KtsRunner and can be found on GitHub.

The KtsRunner is a lightweight tool for executing Kotlin scripts from your custom applications. The API, as of the very first version, provides a slim KtsObjectLoader class whose usage is shown in the following example:

data class ClassFromScript(val x: String)
import de.swirtz.ktsobjectloader.ClassFromScript

ClassFromScript("I was created in kts")

The previous snippets show the definition of some arbitrary data class and the code that instantiates an object of it. The object instantiation is basically what we write into a .kts file.

val scriptReader = Files.newBufferedReader(Paths.get("path/classDeclaration.kts"))
val loadedObj: ClassFromScript = KtsObjectLoader().load<ClassFromScript>(scriptReader)
assertEquals("I was created in kts", loadedObj.x)

Using the KtsObjectLoader makes it simple to load the correspoding object of ClassFromScript from the script file. Alternatively, the script could also be provided as a String:

val scriptContent = "5 + 10"
val result: Int = KtsObjectLoader().load<Int>(scriptContent))
assertEquals(15, result)

Adequate Usage Scenario

As mentioned in the beginning, it can make sense to make your application customizable through external scripts, similar to how Gradle can be extended with any custom build script. Imagine an application that provides a test suite runtime. The actual test cases are provided by technical testers who write their test scripts using a domain specific language that is provided by the main application. Since you don’t want testers to add source files (defining new test cases) to your application all the time, the test case creation is made in independent .kts files in which the DSL is utilized by the testing team. The test suite main application can use the presented KtsRunner library for loading the test cases provided in .kts files and process them further afterward.

An example

A pretty popular DSL for Kotlin is kotlinx.html, a language for describing type-safe HTML. You let the client of your application provide some arbitrary HTML that you want to render at a later time. The HTML DSL code is provided as .kts script files and might look like this:

import kotlinx.html.*
import kotlinx.html.dom.create
import org.w3c.dom.Element
import javax.xml.parsers.DocumentBuilderFactory

val document = DocumentBuilderFactory.newInstance().newDocumentBuilder().newDocument()
document.create.html {
    head {
        title("Hello world")
    body {
        h1("h1Class") {
            style = "background-color:red"
            +"My header1"
        p("pClass") {

When executed, an instance of org.w3c.dom.Element is created that contains the described HTML code in an XML document:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?><html>
        <title>Hello world</title>
        <h1 class="h1Class" style="background-color:red">My header1</h1>
        <p class="pClass">paragraph1</p>

That’s straightforward but the interesting part is that the script should actually be executed from the main program. For this purpose, we add the KtsRunner to the application by adding a repository and the dependency itself to the Gradle build file:

maven { 
dependencies {

The final code for loading the Element from the external script looks as follows:


Simple, isn’t it? Unfortunately, the shown Scripting API implementation for Kotlin is rather slow and you’ll definitely notice some performance constraints. Altogether, the KtsRunner is a very tiny tool that only encapsulates the glue code for enabling Kotlin Scripting support in random applications. The library is published on bintray and can therefore easily be used from your own application.

Simon is a software engineer based in Germany with 7 years of experience writing code for the JVM and also with JavaScript. He’s very passionate about learning new things as often as possible and a self-appointed Kotlin enthusiast.

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2 Replies to “Run Kotlin Scripts (kts) from regular Kotlin Programs”

  1. That’s pretty cool. It makes sense that script compilation can be slow, once the script is compiled and you’ve loaded the Element (in the khtml example), is use of that object slower than the use of any other?

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