What’s All The Buzz About Swift Programming Language?

By | June 12, 2014
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Apple has finally provided developers an alternative to Objective-C, with the launch of Swift during WWDC 2014. In the following discourse, we will take readers through some of the major properties of the new programming language.

The recently concluded World Wide Developers’ Conference (WWDC) was, by common consensus, one of the best ever for the developer community. Apple bulked up its integrated development environment (IDE) with Xcode 6 – and for the first time in seventeen years, announced the launch of a new programming language, Swift (the previous release was Objective-C). We will here decode the big buzz about Swift, among developers all across the globe:

 

  1. Compatibility with C and Objective-C – To ease coders to gradually start using Swift, the Apple engineers have made the new language completely compatible with both C and Objective-C. In addition, Swift and Objective-C use the same compiler for coding. This, in turn, makes it possible for developers to use both the languages while creating web and mobile apps.
  2. Meant for desktop and mobile OS – Swift comes with holistic support features for both iOS as well as OS X (incidentally, new versions of both were also launched at WWDC ‘14). The codes of the new language can be implemented with Cocoa Touch and Cocoa, without having to replace existing lines of Objective-C codes.
  3. How to create a new Swift project? – The new programming language has got the thumbs-up from professionals of web and mobile app companies, primarily due to its user-friendliness. Developers can create new projects in Swift from the ‘File’ tab – after which the template has to be chosen. All codes automatically get saved in one .swift file, which does away with the need for having a clear distinction between the interface and the implementation platforms. Header files are not required either.
  4. A quicker, easier way to create iOS apps – One of Swift’s main USPs is that, it is nearly 45% faster (on average) than Objective-C. The underlying code syntax is simpler, and users no longer have to declare variable types (numbers or text strings). This function is automatically done by the compiler. Most programmers feel that Swift can make it a lot easier for developers to create iPad and iPhone apps. Apple hopes to boost the profitability figures from app downloads as well.
  5. The ‘import’ function – A vital point for programmers who have been using Objective-C for fairly long periods. Almost all elements of the C-library can be directly imported on Swift, along with popular Objective-C frameworks like SpriteKit, Foundation and UIKit. The frameworks are converted to separate modules, and then imported in the form of Swift APIs. There are options to remap Objective-C concepts and core types too.
  6. Better real-time testing options – A common refrain of mobile app development experts against Objective C was, they had to build and compile the entire code, to find out whether any changes have to be made. Swift boasts of a ‘Playgrounds’ view, which does away with this problem. Code lines are rendered on a real-time basis by the new language, and the effects of all changes are displayed. This makes it simpler to make all the necessary changes before compiling the programs.
  7. More efficient memory management – Developers who move over to Swift programming language would also be able to stop worrying about system memory overloads. All integers, arrays and other data strings are checked prior to their usage, ensuring continuous memory management. Manual allocation of memory space is not required, and the chances of sudden program crashes are minimal. Swift is being hailed as a ‘safer’ language than Objective-C chiefly for this factor.
  8. Final user-experience won’t be affected – While Swift makes things easier for app developers, it does not interfere with how applications perform on users’ devices. The new language can be compiled simultaneously with Objective-C, which ensures that users will not be able to detect whether an app uses Swift or the old language (unless specifically told, of course). Mainining uniformity in user-experience is clearly a high-priority consideration of Apple.
  9. Mapping back to Objective-C – The arrival of Swift is not going to sweep out Objective-C overnight. That’s precisely why the developers of the new programming language have put in an option for mapping back Swift APIs back to Objective-C platforms. The technique is roughly similar to the way in which ‘Objective-C to Swift’ importing is done. However, not all Swift APIs are supported in the older language.
  10. Supports functional programming and concise iterations – Apart from being faster, Swift is optimized for creating ‘expressive’ codes. The generics, tuples and return values are seamlessly generated, while separate structs are created for protocols and extensions. The function pointers of Swift also add to the overall convenience factor of developers.
  11. Basic similarity with other existing languages – As the adoption rate of Swift increases, programmers are likely to find that it is not exactly an ‘entirely unique’ offering from Apple. It borrows several features from Python and Rust (popular programming languages) and bears similarities with a few other coding techniques too. However, nothing is a straight rip-off in Swift – and these resemblances are likely to, in fact, make new developers more confident while using Swift for the first time.
  12. Don’t start using Swift just yet – Until Xcode 6 is officially released at the App Store, it would be inadvisable for web or mobile app development companies to start using Swift in their applications. Apps developed with Swift would be accepted by Apple, only after iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite become publicly available (which should be by autumn this year). Practising on the new language would be a good idea though – all that developers need to do is download the beta version of Xcode 6 from Apple Developer Connection.

Right from the moment Craig Federighi unveiled Swift at the WWDC, techies have been talking about the potential advantages of switching over to the new language. There have been naysayers too – some sceptic about the speed advantage Swift is said to have over Objective-C, while others pointing out that it would not make apps portable from iOS to other mobile platforms (most notably, Android). One thing’s for certain though – everyone is eager to learn Swift. If the language lives up to expectations, it can be a more than satisfactory replacement of C/Objective-C in the long-run.

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
Hussain Fakhruddin
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