What is Swift and why should you use it?
For apps on iOS, macOS, watchOS, tvOS, and Linux, Swift is a compiled programming language. Anything you need to know about Swift is provided here.
Created by Apple in 2014 – With support from one of the biggest IT corporations in the world, Swift is poised to overtake other programming languages for iOS development.
Open source – The designers of Swift understood that open source technology was necessary to create a programming language that would stand out from the competition. Hence, in the seven years that it has been around, Swift has amassed a sizable user base and a wealth of third-party tools.
Safe – Its syntax, which at times may seem severe, pushes you to write orderly and consistent code. Swift has safeguards that help with readability and error prevention.
Fast – Swift’s design prioritized performance. Swift lives up to its name: According to apple.com, it is up to 2.6 times quicker than Objective-C and 8.4 times faster than Python, in addition to helping you develop more quickly with its straightforward syntax and hand-holding.
In demand – Swift, which continues to dominate Objective C, was placed 8th among the most beloved languages and 20th among the most popular programming languages of 2021 (Objective C is ranked 25th).
A Brief History of Swift Language
- 2013-2014 – creation and launch :
The Swift programming language was first presented at Apple’s 2014 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), and it has since sparked a lot of discussion. The fundamental ideas for the new language were first designed by Chris Lattner, Senior Director, Developer Tools Department, back in 2010.
The team wasn’t able to find a strategic solution on how the new language would integrate with the current Objective-C ecosystem until 2013. All iOS developers being forced to switch to a new language might have had a significant disruptive impact on the community. Hence, the business made the decision to keep funding Objective-C while also committing to the creation of a brand-new “safe programming language.”
The beta version of the new language was made available to registered Apple developers one year later. According to Tim Cook, it was downloaded over 11 million times in the first month after it was made available as a part of the Xcode tools.
Swift’s debut received, at best, lukewarm reviews. While other developers attacked it, several were thrilled with its capabilities, versatility, and simplicity. Yet, the majority of them concurred that it was still too early to deploy Swift in production. The language was rapidly changing, with every new version bringing quite significant modifications.
- 2015 – turning open source :
Swift has grown significantly since Apple decided to make it an open-sourced language in 2015. In the first week following the announcement, more than 60,000 people took part in the Swift initiative.
- 2019 – stable ABI and backward compatibility :
Swift 5.0 was formally released in March 2019. It introduced a consistent version of Apple’s platforms’ application binary interface (ABI). The use of Swift on specialised operating systems like iOS, macOS, tvOS, watchOS, and the future iPadOS was made much easier thanks to it. As standard Swift libraries are now included in OS versions, it goes without saying that Apple is creating a strong ecosystem.
- 2020, 2021 — support for Linux and Windows, concurrency, and actors :
The long-awaited expansion of official platform support, including Windows and various Linux distributions, arrived with the Swift 5.3 release in September 2020. Since that time, the Windows platform has access to the entire Swift ecosystem. The core libraries, the standard library, and the compiler are included in this (dispatch, Foundation, and XCTest).
As of September 2021, Swift 5.5, the most recent version, is still in beta and is accessible with Xcode 13 beta. It contains advancements like enhanced async/await and actor-based concurrency support. Actors are reference types that are comparable to classes, but unlike classes, they only permit one task at a time to access their mutable state. Sendable data, or data that may be safely transmitted to another thread, is also supported.
Pros of Swift in iOS App Development :
Swift “combines the ease and interactivity of popular scripting languages with the performance and efficiency of compiled languages.” Let’s look at what it actually implies from a business viewpoint rather than focusing on technological or marketing specifics.
- Rapid development process –
Swift is simpler to understand and write because it is a clear, expressive language with a streamlined syntax and grammar. Compared to Objective-C, it is far more concise, which results in less code being needed to complete the same task. Developers save time and effort since Automatic Reference Counting (ARC) handles all the tracking and managing of the app’s memory usage. As a result, creating iOS apps with Swift is typically faster.
This benefit is beautifully illustrated via the Lyft app: Swift was used to entirely rewrite the company’s iOS app. The Swift version restored the same functionality with less than a third of the prior codebase’s around 75,000 lines of code.
The app also had a new onboarding procedure, which was implemented in a week with the help of just one developer as opposed to the old one’s more than a month and the efforts of several engineers.
- Easier to scale the product and the team –
You receive a product that is future-proof and can be expanded with additional features as needed in addition to a quicker development time. Swift projects may therefore usually be scaled more easily. For long-term investment, the fact that Swift is more likely to be supported by Apple than Objective-C should also be given considerable thought. Moreover, Swift enables you to expand your team with additional developers as needed: Due to the codebase’s clarity and simplicity, onboarding happens rather quickly. Swift’s grammar is thought to be close to that of normal English, making it simple for new team members to read.
- Improved performance, speed of development, and safety –
Swift is designed to be, well, quick, as implied by its name. The language was initially created with an emphasis on performance and speed to exceed its forerunner. In particular, the original release boasted a 40% improvement in performance over Objective-C.
Swift was also developed using the LLVM compiler framework, which converts assembly language into machine code and optimizes the code to speed up development.
That has been demonstrated throughout time by numerous benchmarks and tests carried out by specific developers. Furthermore, there are numerous techniques to improve Swift code’s performance.
Swift’s safety is yet another asset. Code crashes and production problems are avoided because of its robust type system and error handling. Swift has a smaller feedback loop as a result, enabling you to spot flaws in the code immediately and repair them as you go. This dramatically reduces the time and effort required for bug fixes and eliminates the dangers associated with deploying subpar code.
- Decreased memory footprint –
When creating an app, you incorporate a significant amount of third-party code—reusable, frequently open-source frameworks or libraries—into the source code. They offer both static and dynamic libraries (or shared). You may probably predict that static libraries are included in your executable file when you create them, which increases the executable’s size and loading time. Also, because they are locked at the version you compiled at, they cannot be automatically updated. On the other hand, dynamic libraries don’t live inside of your code and are only uploaded when they’re required. Whereas dynamic libraries just require one file, static libraries require copies in every file in your programme. When Swift originally debuted, it brought dynamic libraries to iOS.
Standard Swift libraries have been incorporated into every macOS, iOS, tvOS, and watchOS release since version 5.0. As a result of these libraries being there, any app created for those platforms will be smaller. Stable application binary interface (ABI) was also made available along with this development. Apple is now able to support Swift on all of its platforms thanks to this.
- Interoperability with Objective-C –
Swift is the newest toy and is considered to be the future, according to Jordan Morgan, an iOS developer at Buffer, in his Medium post. The use of Objective-C is waning and will eventually decrease significantly. The two must learn to live in harmony in the present, though. As a result, there are two scenarios in which both could be used in the same project: Either you employ Objective-C components in your new Swift project or you add new Swift features to the current Objective-C codebase.
Swift and Objective-C can both be used interchangeably in the same project and are totally compatible with one another. This is very helpful for updating or extending huge projects: Using the current Objective-C codebase, Swift still allows for the addition of additional functionality. As a result, porting is made simpler and less dangerous.
- Automatic memory management with ARC –
Swift makes advantage of Automatic Reference Counting (ARC), a technology designed to give iOS a new garbage collector feature. Garbage collectors are used by languages like Java, C#, and Go to remove unused instances of classes. Although they can increase CPU by up to 20%, they are effective for reducing memory footprint. Before ARC, iOS developers had to manually manage memory and continually monitor class retain counts. The ARC in Swift finds instances that are no longer needed and disposes of them on your behalf. It enables you to boost the performance of your software without causing your memory or CPU to run slowly.
- Full stack potential and cross-device support –
Apple also offered support for all of its products, including the Mac, MacBook, iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and Apple Watch. Linux and Windows platforms are supported in addition to Apple’s.
- Vibrant open source community and learnability –
“We saw open sourcing as a vital ingredient to make Swift reach its potential to be the language, the dominant language for the next 20 years of programming in our business,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s Senior VP of Software Engineering.
Indeed, Swift has swiftly attracted one of the most active and robust open source communities because of the significant corporate support from Apple and IBM. An illustration of this would be the adoption trends described above. Moreover, Swift is the fourth most popular language on GitHub, behind Go, TypeScript, and Rust.
Cons of Swift in iOS App Development :
Despite the fact that Swift seems to have so many fans, the language is still far from ideal. When it comes to converting to the new language, many developers and business owners are unduly cautious. There are a number of causes behind that.
- The language is still quite young –
Though Swift was first introduced to the world in 2014, it was actually only 7 years old when compared to Objective C, which has been around since the 1980s. The most recent upgrade includes improved documentation, backward compatibility of Swift versions, and ABI stability across all of Apple’s platforms. Those are significant advances in maturing Swift as a language.
Yet, these actions, i.e., frequent updates and modifications, frequently lead developers to question whether their project can even be compiled, let alone whether their current code will be compatible with earlier versions tomorrow.
- Limited talent pool –
Although the Swift community is expanding quickly, it is still much smaller than that of any other open source language. Only 5.1 percent of the 83,053 respondents to the most recent StackOverflow Developer Survey reported using Swift. It implies that if you want to use Swift for your upcoming project, you might have trouble locating programmers who have sufficient Swift experience.
- Poor interoperability with third-party tools and IDEs –
It is frequently difficult to discover the appropriate tools to assist with specific tasks, largely as a result of the regular upgrades described above. However, the official Apple IDE, XCode, lacks Swift tooling and support. Syntax highlighting, autocomplete, refactoring tools, and compiler problems are frequently reported by developers.
- Incomplete cross-platform support –
Swift is compatible with Linux, Windows, and all Apple systems, as already mentioned. However, it was designed for native iOS development in the beginning and still performs best in that regard, leaving the cross-platform market to React Native, Xamarin, and Flutter.
- Lack of support for earlier iOS versions –
Only applications designed to run on iOS 7 and later can make use of Swift. Yet, legacy projects that need earlier operating system versions cannot be developed in Swift. Although if just a small percentage of Apple devices are still on iOS 6 or earlier versions, it’s still important to keep in mind, you know, just in case.
Objective-C over Swift? Comparing use cases :
Your team’s expertise and preferences play a significant role in selecting a programming language. Having all of your developers switch to Swift may not be an option if they are proficient in Objective-C. Furthermore, although Objective-C collected a sizable code base, third-party frameworks, libraries, and tools throughout its history as well as a large number of programmes produced with it, Swift promises continuous upgrades and interoperability with contemporary tools. Let’s explore the situations where sticking with Objective-C over Swift might make sense.
- Maintaining an Objective-C app –
It just doesn’t make sense to rewrite an Objective-C program in Swift if you have to maintain a working application with a sizable code base.
- Old OS versions support –
Swift only works with macOS 10.9 or later and iOS 7 due to it being a new language. There is no alternative to using Objective-C if you need to create or manage apps that should work on older versions.
- Tight deadlines –
Even a straightforward language like Swift requires time and effort to learn, which many projects lack. If you don’t have the option of delaying the release of your software while members of your team gain proficiency with Swift, you should think about sticking with Objective C. Learning Swift, if you have the time, might be advantageous in the long run because Apple doesn’t intend to stop developing it.
- Big project size –
Younger Swift makes it easier for smaller apps to work around updates. You wouldn’t want to take the chance of making extensive lists of modifications until this problem has been fully resolved, as we discussed in the cons section, as rewriting your software with each version release may be difficult.
- Using C or C++ third-party frameworks –
Objective-C, which is a superset of C, enables you to easily and comfortably use C and C++ libraries. Even though it’s uncommon, you should be aware that Swift doesn’t support the necessity to just import C++ files. An Objective-C or C wrapper between Swift and C++ is required in order to use the C++ code.
Can Swift Be the Future of iOS Development?
Despite its youth and the ensuing controversy, Swift has already achieved a number of notable successes. Uber, Lyft, and Fitbit are a few of the businesses who opted for the new terminology.
With each version, Swift gains maturity, yet there are still issues to be resolved. Apple is developing its own ecosystem, increasing platform support, and introducing new features while maintaining a consistent ABI across its platforms. As you can see from our review, Swift has many benefits that well surpass its small drawbacks, making it one of the most promising languages that continues to win admirers.
As a result, we think Swift popularity will continue to increase, which soon may result in Objective-C being completely replaced as the top first-class language for creating iOS mobile applications. It is critical for business owners to be prepared for whatever adjustments the market may impose. So, one of the main goals for the near future should be getting ready to switch to the new language with the least amount of effort and at the lowest possible expense.