Stylish Swift

Stylish code is something we all should strive for. It is a topic that is constantly debated and is heavily influenced by personal preference. It also varies between languages on what is considered "stylish". Swift is still young and changing language, so it's style is still developing. Swift has different language that influenced it, thus some style and patterns can be derived from them. Since code is king, lets jump right in.


Tuples are probably the most significance changes to the way we declare our methods from Objective-C. Tuples allow a method to have multiple return types. This can replace the need to pass in several parameters as pointers as we commonly do in C or Objective-C. Here is a common way to create Objective-C method:

-(BOOL)doWork:(NSString*)someParam error:(NSError**)error

We would use this method like so:

NSError *error = nil;
BOOL status = [self doWork:@"someString" error:&error];
if(error) {
  NSLog("We got an error");
if(status) {
} else {

As with most "mature" languages that are influenced by C, methods can only return one type. Tuples change this in Swift.

func doWork(someParam: string) -> (status: bool, error: NSError?)

The method usage would look like so:

let response = doWork("someString")
if response.error {
  println("we got an error")
if response.status {
} else {

We can see this can come in handy when dealing with several types in one method. Now I bet your are probably thinking, "what if I just need to update an already existing variable? Your tuples can't fix that!!!!". Very observant Dr. Watson, well done! Luckily for us, Swift has a way to handle this, with the inout keyword. This allows a variable to be pass by reference and work the same as the tuple free days.

Convenience Methods

It is common to see convenience methods in Objective-C simplify object initialization (or commonly known as factory methods). Here is a common convenience method from Cocoa Touch:

[UIButton buttonWithType:UIButtonTypeCustom];

This creates a new UIButton without having to call the normal alloc and init paradigm. Swift's init method and pretty syntax eliminates the need to create methods like this. Here is an example of this from my own Swift library (SwiftHTTP for those interested).

The method started off following the original Objective-C pattern:

class HTTPPair: NSObject {
        var value: AnyObject!
        var key: String!

        init() {

        class func pair(value: AnyObject, key: String?) -> HTTPPair {
          var pair = HTTPPair()
          pair.value = value
          pair.key = key
          return pair

Code complies and works fine, but when it came to using it, it looked something like this:

collect.append(HTTPPair.Pair(object, key: key))

Everything worked, but wasn't as stylish as it could be. Also we where forcing value to by optional instead of explicit. The improved version:

class HTTPPair: NSObject {
    var value: AnyObject
    var key: String!

    init(value: AnyObject, key: String?) {
        self.value = value
        self.key = key

Then it would be used like so:

collect.append(HTTPPair(value: object, key: key))

Much more stylish. value is now explicit and we even shorten the code a bit. There is also a convenience keyword in Swift that can be used for init().

class Food {
    var name: String
    init(name: String) { = name
    convenience init() {
        self.init(name: "[Unnamed]")

This convenience style in Swift makes for simpler initialization and saves us some code (the best code you write is the code you don't!).


Swift includes a lot of functional programming features. This allows for some pretty powerful expressions that would normally take a lot more code. I will once again refer to SwiftHTTP to compare and contrast.

+(NSString*)queryStringFromParametersWithEncoding:(NSDictionary *)parameters encoding:(NSStringEncoding)stringEncoding
        return nil;
    NSMutableArray *mutablePairs = [NSMutableArray array];
    for(QueryStringPair *pair in [[self class] queryStringPairsFromDictionary:parameters]) {
        [mutablePairs addObject:[pair URLEncodedStringValueWithEncoding:stringEncoding]];
    return [mutablePairs componentsJoinedByString:@"&"];

This method basically encodes the HTTP parameters with the parameters dictionary into a string to send with the HTTP request. Overall this code is pretty straight forward, but Swift can even better:

func stringFromParameters(parameters: Dictionary<String,AnyObject>) -> String {
        return join("&", map(serializeObject(parameters, key: nil), {(pair) in
            return pair.stringValue()

Using the join and map functions, Swift allows us to turn the block of code into a one line method. This of course is a very simple example of the functional power within Swift, but one can quickly see the benefits on the lines of code saved. I would recommend looking into some of common use case of filter/map/reduce in other languages if you are interested in leveraging these methods to their full capacity.


This section is a bit of a sore spot for Swift. Swift is shaping up to be a really powerful and great language, but it is incomplete in several aspects. One of these I came across is with creating substrings. It is just overly difficult. Luckily some some folks are already on this case. This radar has the code:

extension String {

    subscript (idx: Int) -> String
            return self.substringWithRange(
                Range( start: advance( self.startIndex, idx),
                    end: advance( self.startIndex, idx + 1 )  )

    subscript (r: Range<Int>) -> String
            return self.substringWithRange(
                Range( start: advance( self.startIndex, r.startIndex),
                    end: advance( self.startIndex, r.endIndex + 1 ))              )

    func substringFrom(start: Int, to: Int) -> String
        return (self.substringFromIndex(start)).substringToIndex(to - start + 1)

    //handy example of CoreFoundation bridge in Swift
    func escapeStr() -> String {
        var raw: NSString = self
        var str = CFURLCreateStringByAddingPercentEscapes(kCFAllocatorDefault,raw,"[].",":/?&=;+!@#$()',*",CFStringConvertNSStringEncodingToEncoding(NSUTF8StringEncoding))
        return str

This String extension allows for handy expressions like so:

let str = "hello world!"
println("the third char: \(str[3])") //prints l
let sub = str[0..5] //sub now equals "hello"
let safeStr = str.escapeStr() //makes the string URL safe "hello%20world"

Hopefully this will be add into the core of Swift soon, but until then, we have a fairly simple extension to assist with common substring needs.

Swift is a great language and I appreciate the differences in style from the well worn path of Objective-C. As time goes on, hopefully a strong and pretty style firms up, so we can keep writing the best and most readable code possible. As always, questions, comments, rants, and random dialog are appreciated.