Being Explicit about Types in Swift

I've just read Andrew Bancroft's post about being explicit about types in Swift which I largely agree with and is worth reading before the rest of this post which adds an extra reason to follow his advice.

Summary of Andrew's Post

Where the type of a declared variable is not immediately visible from the surrounding code such as when it is declared to equal the result of a function, possibly a function defined in another file, you should explicitly declare the type for human readability and understandability purposes even the the compiler is happy inferring the variable's type. I agree with this.

The Other Big Benefit

That post however misses an entire other benefit of the practice which is that you get the compiler to check for you that the type that will be assigned is he one that you expect. If the function you are calling gets changed you will get an error at the call site not where you first use the object of inferred type (if you are lucky - you may get no error at all if the object is used in locations where type is liberal such as string interpolation).

Consider Defining Your Variable as a Superclass or Protocol 

Now it may be possible to declare your variable to a superclass or protocol of the expected object's type and if so that should be done to give some flexibility while ensuring expectations are met. This also documents the flexibility of the type that you can accept. 

Drawback of Explicit Typing

The disadvantage of explicitly typing your object is that if you change what the function that sets it returns and it is still compatible you have to manually change the type (possibly in many places if it is a heavily used function). I think that is a price worth paying to encourage at least a cursory check of the use of the values and to ensure it is not just well typed (which the compiler can do) but also correct. 

Swift Access Controls are like C's (and that isn't necessarily a bad thing)

Apple introduced access controls to Swift with the release of Xcode 6 Beta 4 and accompanying documentation (revision history).. The approach they have taken contrasts strongly with that taken by languages like C++, C# and Java in that the controls do not limit access based on the class hierarchy but instead limit based on the file and module.

Even variables declared private can be accessed from other classes and functions that reside within the same file. This allows properties and functions to be declared private but still accessible to free functions and operators defined particularly to operate with that class. It avoids some of the complexity that has C++ having "friend" classes and functions.

Swift Arrays - Beta 3 (Hooray!)

I should probably have written this sooner as it has been 10 days since Beta 3 was released, but I've only just noticed that there is a bit of traffic still coming in about Swift Arrays from my earlier posts about the array semantics in the first Swift betas. The short version is that I'm very happy with the new Swift Arrays in Beta 3 which have full value semantics (optimised with copy on write under the hood). The syntax for declaring arrays has also changed which is fine although I didn't have a particular problem with the old syntax. Be sure to update the Swift iBooks (delete and download again) as there are some significant changes.

The copy() and unshare() functions are gone because unshare has essentially become the default behaviour (although contents changes not just length changes now trigger the copy so copy is not needed either).

Semantic Changes

  1. Arrays are no longer reference types. You can treat every assignment, argument pass and function return as if it were a copy.
  2. Changing the contents of an array is no longer permitted when the array is declared constant with let.

In this example you can see the copy-on-write (CoW) behaviour using the identity operator (=== which I wouldn't recommend you doing in real code to affect behaviour on the CoW status but it enables us to observe the CoW). In the example it doesn't make any difference if a is declared with let or var but b must be declared as var otherwise you will get a compile time error because the contents change.

    Swift Arrays - Will be fixed in future betas - Reference semantics like dictionaries

    Just seen the announcement on the developer forum from Chris Lattner (link for registered developers and another).

    If you want to know about the array issues in Beta 1 see the threads above or my last two posts.

    I don't know and I don't really care if it was always the plan or is a result of feedback. I think this is very good news.

    I think that this means that it will be copy on write behaviour so that if you aren't changing the array you get pass by reference performance and only pay the call by value price when a mutation will occur. It may even be smart enough to know when the caller isn't going to access the array again and allow it to pass and mutate the original. We'll see in beta 3 (or maybe later).

    Swift Arrays - The Bugs, the Bad and the Ugly (and a best practice suggestion)

    UPDATE 2: I've added a new post about the changes in Beta 3 (I like them)

    UPDATE: Apple have indicated that the array behaviour in Swift is going to change - see this post

    My previous post suggests an explanation for why the behaviour of Swift Arrays is as it currently (in the very first Swift release) is as it is. In this post I intend to explain the behaviours, show the problems and give examples. Many examples are based on those found in this thread on the Apple Developer forums. Feel free to add comments if I've missed any categories and I'll incorporate them if they form a different case.

    The relevant part of the documentation covers most of the behaviour and apart from the issues specifically mentioned in the Bugs section at the bottom these are descriptions of the specification not just the implementation.

    Is it Value? Is it Reference? No its Confused!