What is Swift?
Swift is an open source programming language from Apple. They are designed to develop iOS and macOS applications, less commonly used in other projects.
The language appeared only in 2014 as an alternative to Objective-C. At first, Swift was closed, but then Apple opened its source code. The idea was to speed up development, make it more convenient, and clarify the code.
Swift is a compiled language. This means that the program does not run line by line. Before launch, it is ultimately translated into machine codes using special software – a compiler. This makes applications run faster. The compiler for Swift is included in the XCode programming environment for macOS.
The language is high-level, meaning that the code is closer to human concepts than machine codes.
The technology is used to write code that runs smartphones, players, smart watches, computers, and other devices from Apple.
Today, Swift is at the top of the international programming language charts. For example, the July 2021 TIOBE index ranked Swift 16th among the top 20 programming languages. While in the PYPL Prominence Programming Language Index Swift charts at number 10, and a Stack Overflow developer survey mentioned Swift as the nine most favorite development languages.
Obviously, in the next few years, all applications for iOS (and not only) will be created using Swift.
Chris Lattner spent a year and a half creating a new programming language. During this time, he did not talk about his work to anyone, even among close friends. He began working in the summer of 2010, devoting nights and weekends to this cause, and by the end of the following year, he had developed the foundations of the future language. Only then did Chris reveal his secret inside the company, whose top managers were impressed enough to add several experienced engineers to the project. A year and a half later, Lattner’s project was included in the list of the main directions of the company, and the development team expanded significantly. The company where Chris Lattner works is called Apple, and the language he created is called Swift.
On June 2, 2014, at the WWDC presentation, the Swift language was released. The company released a test version for third-party developers and programmers, positioning the language as a faster and more efficient way to create programs for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Even four years after Chris Lattner started work on Swift, information about this product shocked everyone but a limited number of Apple employees. Even people indirectly involved in creating the language and helping Chris were surprised to find out exactly what he was working on.
It usually takes a new language a few years after its introduction to gain an audience. But Swift reached an audience at an unprecedented rate. Swift is built for the average programmer. Even the most basic applications can be written in the language, and endowed with some pretty intelligent tools, the language offers an effective way to learn how to write on your own. But the main reason for the popularity of the language lies elsewhere. Till its creation, the developers created applications using Objective-C. Swift is much better and more efficient than Objective-C.
In 2015, a new version of Swift 2.0 was released. It differs from its predecessor in higher performance, a new API for debugging, optimized syntax, and a function to check the availability of language features for operating systems for which development is underway. In the same year, just six months after the previous update, a new version appeared – 3.0.
The Swift 4.0 update became available in the fall of 2017, and precisely one year later, the next stable version, 4.2, was released. Simultaneously with it, beta version 5.0 was introduced, which later became stable.
In September 2019, another major release took place, namely 5.1. At the end of 2021, version 5.5 was relevant.
Who uses the Swift language?
- Mobile developers who code for iOS.
- Developers of applications for the macOS operating system.
- Gamedev developers who create games for Apple systems.
- Back-end website developers are working with Swift web libraries.
What is the language for?
- To create applications for macOS or iOS systems. This language is mainly used in development for Apple devices.
- For sharing with C and Objective-C – Swift works together with these languages. Old application code is written in Objective-C.
- To support the server side of sites and web applications. This is a rare use case for Swift, but it is possible thanks to special libraries – they extend the capabilities of the language and adapt it to the web.
Features of Swift
- Multi-paradigm. This means that the language is suitable for different programming principles: functional, object-oriented, and imperative.
- Static typing. A variable is assigned a type for the duration of its existence. If it contains a number, it will not be possible to write a string or an array.
- Optional type declaration. You can declare a variable and not specify its type directly. The compiler will understand it according to the data that will be written to it. If you create a variable A and immediately assign the value 10 to it, it is automatically treated as an integer.
The Swift language was developed by Apple as a replacement for the Objective-C development tool, taking into account all its shortcomings.
In this regard, the specialists got a tool devoid of the shortcomings of its predecessor and several other PLs.
Other interesting features:
- automatic memory management;
- no uninitialized variables;
- no-undefined variables;
- no overflow errors;
- explicit null handling is in effect;
- no errors with array dimensions.
Due to these features, the development process using Apple’s PL requires less time, effort, and resources than Objective-C.
The programmer does not need to worry about possible bugs and errors, conflicts between code sections, and various failures. Writing and reading are made much easier by moving away from the syntactic verbosity of Objective-C.
Pros of Swift
Just a year after its release, in 2015, Apple made the Swift language 100% free. Even though, in general, this cannot be called a rare phenomenon in the world, this kind of generosity for Apple looks highly unusual. However, this move paid off.
Swift is named after the Swift, one of the fastest birds. Its main advantage is speed and performance. Apple claims the language is 2.6 times faster than Objective-C and 8.4 times faster than Python 2.7. For some algorithms, it outperforms C++. Due to the high speed of code execution, applications on Swift work quickly. At the same time, they are productive and do not overload computing power.
The Swift language implements automatic memory management ARC (Automatic Reference Counting). A particular garbage collector reduces the amount of memory used by 20%, significantly speeding up the system while the application runs. ARC relieves developers of the need to read memory manually.
Explicit handling of null
The null value is handled so that the code is safer.
Open source availability
Swift is an open source development language. This means it’s available to anyone who wants to build iOS apps. Swift developers can contribute to the development of the language by sharing their bug-fixing solutions, best code snippets, and various ideas for improving the language. In just a few years of being an open-source solution, Swift has gained a solid and supportive community and many third-party development tools.
Swift is a language with a simple and non-overloaded syntax. This makes the code easier to understand. The creators of the language are constantly trying to make it more understandable. It does not contain bulky constructions or an abundance of brackets and commas. Swift is like a natural language, staying clean and expressive even when writing complex code. Non-obvious errors are less common than in classic C-like languages.
Easy to read, easy to maintain
Swift has a simple and expressive syntax and grammar. It’s much easier to read and write than Objective-C. Software developers need to write less code to create the same tasks in Swift rather than in Objective-C. This results in faster coding, faster problem resolution, and easier maintenance due to fewer bugs in the code.
Swift provides software developers with LLVM tools, modular and reusable compilers, and toolchain technologies to build applications quickly. These tools allow assembly code to be compiled into machine code, resulting in faster code processing.
Great demand in the market
Even a novice Swift developer with modest experience and a portfolio can easily find a job on a job site or be able to do their project and earn good money from it. There is no reason to believe this situation will worsen in the coming years.
Swift helps developers quickly identify and fix bugs before compiling code. To prevent code from crashing, it initializes variables before using them, checks arrays and integers for overflow, and manages memory automatically with ARC. Moreover, Swift has improved the null pointer, preventing its objects from being null by default. This results in a cleaner and safer code that does not cause errors during compilation.
Increased team scalability
With Swift, project managers can quickly scale their development teams and add new developers as needed. This is possible due to the programming language’s simplicity, conciseness, and readability. Java, Python, C#, and C++ experts can code in Swift to some extent due to its proximity to these languages and English and the shallow learning curve.
You can easily integrate Swift with the Objective-C and Cocoa frameworks. Software developers can use Objective-C in Swift and Swift in Objective-C interchangeably. This compatibility is beneficial for large and long-term projects where software developers can take advantage of the best features of the two languages in the same project.
Additional features from Apple
The corporation constantly maintains the language: keeps understandable training materials in the public domain, and updates versions. The built-in XCode development environment in macOS supports Swift out of the box, and for visual applications, there is a handy Apple Swift Playgrounds tool. This is a “sandbox” in which you can practice creating applications. It is available for macOS and iOS versionsten0 and up. Documentation can be viewed on the company’s website, and the official Swift language tutorial is available from Apple Books.
Cons of Swift
Swift is a young, developed language undergoing various changes and experiments. This means that it has few native libraries and few development frameworks. Although the Swift community is increasing and has many experts, it is still not always possible to quickly find all programming solutions compared to other programming languages.
Compatibility issues with Swift version
Since the developers of Swift make many changes to the language in new versions, it is subject to version compatibility issues. Thus, if a developer decides to migrate to a more recent version of Swift, they may encounter some difficulties, including the need to rewrite their application code. To deal with this problem, the Swift developers have created the Swift Migration Tool for XCode, which makes it much easier to migrate code from version to version.
Compatibility issues with older OS version
Since Swift is a new development language, it does not work with older operating systems. It only runs with iOS 7, macOS 10.9, and later. For older platforms, software developers must use the long-standing Objective-C.
Limited number of libraries
Their number is gradually replenished; however, because the tool appeared relatively recently, it is inferior to the same Python in terms of the volume of additions. Moreover, libraries for new versions are not compatible with older releases.
Narrow specialization and the need to use Apple technology
Swift is mainly used for developing Apple devices. There are no other uses for the language, with very few exceptions. This limits its application. Swift on Windows or Linux is a technically possible but inconvenient and incomplete solution. Development in this language usually takes place in the Apple ecosystem in the XCode programming environment. For macOS and iOS, there are libraries and other components for Swift development that are not available in other operating systems. Therefore, for comfortable work, you need an Apple device. It must be powerful: running and building written applications are resource-intensive processes.
Small community of developers
Swift is a niche language that is used only when developing Apple devices. Therefore, it does not have such a vast community as universal programming languages. The problem is gradually fading away in parallel with the rapid growth of the tool’s popularity. Still, at the moment, newbies are at risk of not finding a solution to a specific problem with the code. But this minus is compensated by available training materials from Apple on the official website.
Swift is a young but rapidly growing programming language for Apple operating systems that is a viable alternative to Objective-C. Many software developers prefer this programming language because it is much easier to write, read, debug, and maintain and offers modern development tools.
Meanwhile, many companies are also starting to hire mobile developers who work with Swift, as it allows you to create powerful and efficient software solutions for iOS much faster and at a reasonable price.