Did you know that behind Apple’s showpiece is software with a bunch of codes?
Before you can even send iMessages, take selfies, do social media, and other stuff on your devices, programmers first boot them to run their features.
For the Apple ecosystem, they used the Swift programming language to command the platforms to perform their functions.
If you’re curious about how the Swift code works, stick with us! We’ll walk you through the basic facts you must know about this popular language before you start coding.
Swift Programming Language: What Is It?
Swift is a programming language developed by Apple. It’s a relatively easy-to-use coding system that doesn’t require a steep learning curve.
The Swift code based its techniques on Objective C. Yet, it was able to include shorter syntax and easier readability. It even promotes uncomplicated maintenance and safety.
Mainly, this language is designed to support the native iOS development process, specifically with iPadOS, watchOS, tvOS, macOS, and iOS.
However, developers also used this language for clean, safe, easy-to-code, and concise iterations for other operating systems, including Linux and Windows.
Swift has grown in popularity fast across different platforms because it is safer and easier to understand than older programming languages like Objective C.
The code’s format also appears very clean, aiding programmers to commit lesser mistakes.
History of Swift Language
Chris Lattner and other Apple programmers started the development process of the Swift code in 2010.
As previously mentioned, they integrated techniques and language ideas from Objective-C, Rust, Haskell, Ruby, Python, C#, CLU, and other languages.
In 2014, Swift was formally introduced as a new programming language during the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC).
Registered Apple developers were able to get access to the beta version of the language during the conference. They also got the 500-page programming manual through iBooks and the Apple website.
The first version came out in September of the same year, together with the introduction of the Gold Master of Xcode 6.0 for iOS. This was then followed by version 1.1, together with Xcode 6.1.
The programming language quickly matured over time as they released version after version in short intervals. To date, there are over 56 versions of Swift, and the latest iteration is Swift 5.6.3.
Development for Swift still continues, but programmers slowed down their pace in terms of setting a release date for version 6.
The language truly had its humble beginnings. Yet, we can’t deny that since its launch, developers have learned to love Swift.
In the year 2015, it was recognized as the Most Loved Programming Language. It was also able to clinch the second spot the following year.
With its ever-growing popularity, Swift was even considered by Google as their primary language for Android, which is still running on Google OS.
Main Features of Swift
What makes Swift special and distinct from other languages are its features. These enabled Swift to offer a great coding experience and results to many programmers.
Automatic Reference Counting (ARC)
Memory usage management can sometimes be a hassle for app developers. But when you write Swift code, it’s the least to be worried about.
The Automatic Reference Counting (ARC) functions as a memory management tool, which aids in AUTOMATICALLY tracking and managing the app’s memory usage.
Closures Unified With Function Pointers
Closures in Swift are like the blocks in Objective C or lambda in other languages. These are self-contained functionality blocks that can be passed on within your code.
Function pointers, in this case, carry specific behavior or address of a function and point to code vs. data.
Developers find this feature helpful because they’re able to signify behaviors without having to write the code.
Tuples and Multiple Return Values
With Swift, it’s easier to return multiple values compared to getting only one value at a time.
Specifically, Tuples enable programmers to share and create value groupings. Default values can be grouped as a single entity from a function, appearing as prearranged elements following a sequence.
Whenever there’s a need to return multiple values, Tuples can be utilized to do so as a single value.
This feature allows programmers to locate mistakes in the Swift code by enabling types as parameters.
With Generics, developers can come up with reusable functions and types that are flexible enough to work with any type based on the defined requirements.
Fast and Concise Iteration Over a Range or Collection
Developers don’t have to worry about their data being all over the place.
Swift is able to identify the data used in arrays. Hence, it can assign elements in an array, which are groups containing similar values.
This is very helpful with referencing and indexing.
Structs that Support Methods, Extensions, and Protocols
When coding with the Swift ecosystem, developers are given the freedom to include additional functionalities with extensions. They can also extend types without having to access the original source code.
Structures or classes can also be defined in a single file. The external interface, on the other hand, can be made available for other code use.
Additionally, Swift can also take care of defining protocol behaviors instead of having them as global functions or individual conformance.
Powerful Error Handling Built-in
Error handling in Swift is IMPRESSIVE. It helps programmers to easily determine the consequences when errors occur.
In this case, Swift supports error handling through throwing, catching, propagating, and manipulating errors that are still recoverable in a runtime.
Advanced Control Flow with Do, Guard, Defer and Repeat Keywords
Swift uses control flow statements in controlling how a program functions, including control transfer statements, loop statements, and branch statements.
Besides these, there are also advanced statements you can use: do, guard, defer, and repeat. Do statements are used to introduce scope, guard is for managing errors, defer for clean-up actions, and repeat to allow block codes to run multiple times.
Functional Programming Patterns
By taking an array, the function is able to compute a value repeatedly. This creates a pattern that can be returned to the code requiring such action.
Swift Playgrounds and Swift REPL (Read-Eval-Print-Loop)
To learn Swift the fun and simple way, you can download Swift playgrounds on your iPad, and you can also access it in Xcode.
Whenever a programmer types a code, they can view the results from the side of the screen. Outcomes from the code can be viewed as graphics, lists, or graphs of values.
There’s also a timeline assistant where a complex view of the code’s translation can be accessed. This is a great feature, especially for doing new UI.
When the code already runs smoothly in Swift playgrounds, it can simply be exported to the same project where it must be integrated.
Interaction with Swift code is also enhanced when used in Terminal or within the debugging console of Xcode’s LLDB.
Additionally, Swift syntax can be used to evaluate a running application or when writing code in a script-like development environment.
Swift Package Manager
The Swift package manager is a tool used to build, run, test, and package Swift libraries. It’s utilized to distribute the libraries as well as the Swift source code to the Swift community.
Swift packages include custom commands. These are handy for programmers, especially in providing additional tools for a project.
These configuration packages are mainly developed in Swift. Hence, configuring targets, declaring products, and managing dependencies become easier.
The Swift code co-exists with existing Objective C files within the same project. This allows developers to easily adapt and switch to Swift in implementing features and functionalities.
In doing so, programmers only need to get full access to their Objective C API.
Swift Version History
Despite being a young language, Swift was able to mature fast with several iterations in a span of 8 years. To date, there are already 56 versions of the language that offer new features and improvements from its initial iteration.
But, out of the 56, Swift underwent major revisions from 2014 to 2022 in 21 versions. They constantly add and change functionalities and dynamics for a smoother Swift experience.
A LOT of changes were made from Swift 1.0 in August 2014 to the latest version, which is Swift 5.7. The last update was made in June of 2022.
All these were made possible with the developer’s years of experience in innovating Apple platforms.
During the WWDC in 2015, version 2 of Swift was introduced, along with additional features and improvements.
Developers made Swift an open-source programming language for Linux, plus they improved its error handling mechanisms with keywords.
They also made this version safer with the #available blocks. This allows you to wrap the codes to be executed on systems.
At the same time, generics and nillability for existing Objective C frameworks were introduced to make the coding interface better in Swift.
In 2016, another major release was done for Swift. Developers were able to integrate new features like additions to the Linux port and package manager for easy-to-manage dependencies.
They also REFINED the core language and standard library to eliminate NS prefixes, as well as holdovers from Objective C.
The beta version of Swift 4.0 was introduced during the 2017 WWDC together with Xcode 9. In this iteration, developers added a new codable protocol for easy data serialization.
They also enabled string literals to break down into multiple values or lines using the “”” declaration. These are used to open and close multi-line strings.
Additionally, strings were made to become a collection of characters compared to previous versions.
The major improvement seen in Swift 5.0 is the integration of ABI Stability and Binary Compatibility. With this, the Swift libraries are already incorporated in macOS, tvOS, watchOS, and iOS releases.
They also added improved standard library additions that are meant for performance improvements.
The Pros of Swift
- Safe – Being designed for safety, Swift eliminates entire classes identified as unsafe code. It also utilizes value types, including arrays and dictionaries, allowing programmers to copy the type without the risk of modification. Default swift objects are never nil with the use of a Swift compiler. It stops the creation or usage of nil with a compile-time error. This makes writing code safer and cleaner and, conversely, prevents runtime crashes in iOS apps. But, in cases where nil is appropriate, the options functionality operates. The Swift syntax forces the programmer to safely use “nil” with “?” to signify that they understand the behavior.
- Fast – Even from its older versions, Swift already has lightning-speed performance. The assembly language is transformed into a machine code that utilizes every feature of modern hardware. This language is also a predecessor of C and Objective C-based languages with more improved functionalities, and it provides object-oriented programming with classes, protocols, and generics. Hence, you can expect a top-notch performance that caters to most software demands.
- Modern – Swift is the latest programming language developed by programmers through their experiences in developing Apple platforms. Compared to other languages from previous generations, Swift is easier to maintain and read. A Swift project is also cleaner and less prone to errors with the support of inferred types and modules. Memory management is also more automatic than in traditional languages.
- Easy to Learn – Beginners can learn swift code even if they have zero knowledge about coding. First-timers can download Swift playgrounds on their iPad to get a brief introduction and feel about what the language is like. It’s also a fun and interactive way to learn Swift. This language is also made to be intuitive and user-friendly with all its features – lightweight closure syntax, inferred types, modules, and automatization.
- Accessible – Swift is a free language, and it’s widely available for anyone to use; plus, it’s also open source. Swift, as an open-source programming language, can be navigated using third-party tools. There’s also a community, as well as resources, to help beginners explore the language.
- Enables Cross-Platform Support – By saying that the language is open source, Swift does not only support Apple platforms. It can also support other major platforms like Linux and Windows.
The Cons of Swift
- Frequent Updates – Given that Swift is not as mature as previous languages, it’s expected that there are still many things to improve. Although Swift is already functional and can top off its predecessors, its resources and capabilities are not as robust as the others.
- Weak Support on Other Platforms – Even if developers declared that it doesn’t solely support Apple’s platforms, it’s still best to utilize it in developing iOS applications rather than Linux and Windows.
- IDE Support – IDES lack support for earlier iOS versions. It also falls short in providing support for syntax highlighting, compiling, autocomplete, and refactoring.
What Is Swift Coding Language Used For?
Primarily, Swift codes are used in programming the software of Apple platforms. It’s tagged as an intuitive language used for developing applications in iOS, macOS, tvOS, and watchOS.
As previously mentioned, Swift was developed to replace Objective C in the development of Apple’s platforms.
The Swift code is the primary language utilized in the following:
- iPhone and iPad application development
- MacOS desktop application development
- Apple Watch development
- Apple TV development
Swift is also an open-source language. Hence, aside from Apple, it also provides development support for other major platforms like Linux and Windows.
Since its 2.2 version was released in 2016, it has been able to function in the Linux operating system. In 2020, with version 5.3, Swift started to operate with Windows.
Swift and iOS Mobile App Development
One of the popular uses of Swift is mobile app development for iOS. Previously, applications in iOS were made through Objective C.
But, since the introduction of Swift, MANY developers have opted for it, given its modern features, easy-to-use interface, and user-friendliness.
What Makes Swift Code So Great?
There is A LOT to love about the Swift code. Mainly, its features are the major takeaways when this language is compared to its predecessors.
The main features of Swift that were discussed in the previous sections make writing code easy. It also makes it uncomplicated to understand and manage, unlike other languages.
Yet, despite its simplicity, it still allows for maximum control for the programmer to achieve what they need in a true system language.
Furthermore, Swift supports inferred types to make the codes appear cleaner and reduce the probability of mistakes, while modules eliminate headers to make way for namespaces.
Semicolons are also things you can ditch with this language, given that Swift offers automatic memory management.
Generally, using Swift is key to reducing the development efforts required to suffice complicated codes. Yet, it still offers GREAT results and a smooth programming experience.
Swift vs. Objective-C: What Are the Differences?
Objective C was the language used in developing OS X and iOS applications back when Swift was not yet introduced in 2014.
But, after the creation and introduction of Swift to the world of programming, Objective-C’s popularity declined. However, there are still developers who use Objective C to maintain C-based platforms.
It’s believed that Swift is a more reliable option than Objective C, given that the former is safer, faster, and easier to maintain and code.
If you’ve started coding with C-based languages, there’s nothing to worry about. Its interoperability allows Swift to co-exist with C-based files, gaining complete access to its APIs.
Is Swift the Same as Objective-C?
Swift and Objective C are two DIFFERENT languages, even if they have common usage. They both have distinct mechanisms and functionalities that differ from each other.
In navigating Swift, programmers have the option to use Swift playgrounds, XCode, Cocoa Touch, and other tools. But, with Objective C, development only takes place in X Code.
Recent versions of Swift are relatively FASTER than Objective C, given its modern language with a simpler syntax. It also receives constant updates signifying that it’s still being improved by developers.
Objective C-based applications, however, can support any version of iOS, even the previous ones. On the other hand, Swift requires at least iOS 7 iPhones and iPads.
How Can I Start Using Swift Programming Language?
If you’re looking for a beginner-friendly mobile app development programming language, Swift is a great place to start!
This language is probably one of the easiest to learn and navigate, especially for people with zero knowledge of coding.
The first thing you need to start using Swift is a Mac, plus the device where you’ll develop the Swift apps. For example, if you’re going to create a program for iOS, you’ll need an iOS device.
You also need to download and install Xcode, Objective C, and the Swift compiler, then proceed to launch Xcode and choose the language you’ll be using.
Open the Swift playgrounds and REPL to start learning and exploring its features. This is a GREAT environment to start coding with Swift.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, you’re all set and ready to develop your applications!
Frequently Asked Questions
Swift has become helpful to many developers, especially in reducing development efforts. It’s also a great language to learn for both beginners and experts.
In this article, we’ve discussed many things you’ll need to know about Swift. But if you still have questions, don’t worry! We’ll answer a few more for you:
What Kind of Programming Language Is Swift?
Swift is an open-source, general-purpose language. It’s engineered to have modern features which are safer and easy to navigate and maintain for many programmers.
Is Swift Frontend or Backend?
Swift can be used in developing the front end (user’s screen) and back end (server) of your programs. Using the language for both allows for extensive code sharing, which is helpful for many programmers.
Is Swift in Demand?
Swift is pretty much in demand, given that Apple platforms remain popular. Developers using Swift are also sought by many IT leaders.
Should I Learn Python or Swift?
If you’re a beginner who just started with coding and you want to develop Apple platforms, Swift is the best language to learn.
But, if you’re more interested in artificial intelligence, prototyping, and backend development, Python is the top choice.
Does Facebook Use Swift?
Facebook started using Swift to make it easier for programmers to develop and improve their iOS apps, especially the UX.
Does Google Use Swift?
Despite being a young language, Swift still proved its worth in the world of programming. It has a lot to offer that other languages can’t.
If you’re planning to develop applications for Apple devices, it’s high time to learn coding with Swift. It can also cater to other operating systems like Linux and Windows.
Transitioning from Objective C to Swift is also a no-brainer! It can co-exist with C-based files, making it easier for you to operate in both.
Explore Swift and start your mobile app development journey!
23 November 2022
23 November 2022