Programming in Swift: Benefits of This Popular Coding Language

Written by Coursera • Updated on

There many advantages to programming in Swift, beyond the creation of iPhone apps.

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Swift is a clean and concise language that is also growing fast and gaining popularity. Initially developed only for native iOS development, programmers also use Swift to write safe, concise, and easy-to-use code for operating systems like Windows and Linux.

Apple created Swift, an open-source programming language, as a replacement for all languages based on C, including Objective C, C++, and C. The language was created in 2014 and released to the public as an open-source project in 2015 on Swift.org.

In its short time as a programming language, Swift has climbed to the 20th most commonly used programming language worldwide and the 14th most popular language with programmers [1,2]. 

Programming in Swift is safe, fast, and relatively easy to use compared to older, more established languages like Objective-C. Other reasons to learn to program in Swift are the intuitive nature of the language and the tight-knit community built around the language. Learning programming in Swift is more accessible than with other languages, and you’ll find more tools for learning the language. 

Features of Swift

Generally, Swift is known for being both safe and intuitive but can at times be restrictive for some programmers. Consider these top features to help you with the Swift programming language.

Automatic Reference Counting (ARC) 

Determines which instances are no longer in use and automatically gets rid of them. 

Closures unified with function pointers

Function pointers contain the address of a specific function and point to code vs. data. When using a function pointer, you signify a particular behavior by calling the function instead of writing code. Closures contain these function pointers. Swift’s nested functions mean that closures are unified with function pointers and can therefore take values from the functions enclosed within the closure. 

Tuples and multiple return values

In Swift, you can return multiple values from a function as opposed to only one value. Other C languages allow you to return multiple values using pointers, structures, or arrays. But Swift allows you to return multiple values from functions using tuples, returned as a single entity from a function. Tuples are unchangeable or fixed sets of elements arranged in an ordered sequence. 

Generics

Generics help find errors in code by enabling types to be used as parameters. Generics in Swift allows users to write functions and types that are reusable and can work with any type in relation to the requirements you define. 

Fast and concise iteration over a range or collection

Swift provides a simple way to loop over all elements in an array. An array is a collection of similar elements grouped together for easier referencing and indexing. Since Swift already knows what kind of data your array holds, it can quickly and efficiently run blocks of code by assigning every element in an array a constant that you name.

Structs that support methods, extensions, and protocols

You’ll find that when creating, naming, and using structs within Swift, you have the ability to add additional functionality using extensions, including the option to extend types even if you lack access to the original code source.

Functional programming patterns

This function takes in an array and repeatedly computes a value, creating a pattern that will be returned to the code which called for that action.

Powerful error handling built-in

Error handling is when you determine what happens when an error occurs, for example when someone inputs a wrong password to a login. There are four ways to handle errors in Swift: throwing, catching, propagating, and manipulating recoverable errors at runtime.

Advanced control flow with do, guard, defer, and repeat keywords

To control the flow of how a program runs, Swift uses control flow statements. There are a few different types of control flow statements which include control transfer statements, loop statements, and branch statements. You can access more advanced control flow features with Swift’s do statement to introduce scope, guard to manage errors, defer statement to run clean up actions, and repeat to allow for a block of code to run more than once, dependent upon conditions. 

Advantages of Swift programming

Swift is designed to be a safe, easy-to-use alternative to the more well-established Objective-C. As a result, there are many advantages to programming in Swift:

Safety

Specifically designed to be safer than C-based languages, Swift eliminates entire classes of unsafe code as a preventative measure and allows for “cleaner” code with fewer runtime crashes.

With Swift, variables are initialized before use, arrays and integers are checked for overflow, and memory is automatically managed. Developers can also easily see any code errors, reducing the time spent on debugging and removing the risk of low-quality code.

Speed

Apple claims that search algorithms complete up to 2.6 times faster than Objective-C and up to 8.4 times faster than Python 2.7 [3]. Swift uses LLVM as its compiler framework, which translates the assembly language to the machine code and optimizes it.

This means you use less code than you would with Objective-C, making development faster. Using Swift on both the back and front end of an app, for example, allows for extensive code sharing and reuse, speeding up the development process and reducing development efforts. 

Cross-Platform

Use open-source Swift across major platforms like Windows and Linux. This makes the language particularly ideal for mobile developers. While Swift runs across other platforms, keep in mind you’ll need cross-platform programs like Sublime Text or Atom. 

Intuitive

Swift is a programming language built to be incredibly user-friendly. From concise syntax to inferred type, code is made simpler. 

Accessible

Swift is a widely available, free programming language. As an open-source language, you’ll find third-party tools, help when you need it, and a knowledgeable community of like-minded users to help you learn Swift. 

Objective-C interoperability

Create an entirely new application with Swift, or begin using Swift code to implement new features and functionality in your app. Swift code co-exists alongside existing Objective-C files in the same project, with full access to your Objective-C API, making it easy to adopt.

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Introduction to Swift Programming.

Disadvantages of Swift programming

While there are many advantages of programming in Swift, there are some disadvantages to keep in mind.

Smaller community

Despite its popularity, only 5 percent of developers use Swift [4]. There are many reasons to believe this community will only grow in size and knowledge base, but in the meantime, it’s something to consider when learning to program in Swift. 

Misperception as “Apple only language”

Swift can also appear to be pigeonholed as only an iOS/Apple/Mac language because of the smaller community and features designed for use with Apple products.

This misperception could be because Swift is a compiled rather than technical language as to why more programmers are a bit more hesitant to cross over to Swift completely. As a result, it's not yet a widely adopted language in the developer community. 

Newer language

Swift may not be as developed or as supported as older languages, leaving some new to the language needing some additional resources. There’s a bit of a learning curve for many veteran programmers who might be used to more established programming languages like Objective-C.

This disadvantage also makes it more challenging if working with older versions since Swift only supports iOS 7 and macOS 10.9 or higher. 

Not a reflective language

Since Swift is a statically typed language, it can take an object and self-describe it, but it can’t manipulate it from within. Swift has a mirroring functionality to make up for this downfall, but many programmers argue that it’s not the same. 

What salary can a Swift programmer expect?

The average base salary for Swift software engineers working in the US is about $87,305 a year, according to Glassdoor. The annual base income range is anywhere from $71,000 a year to $131,000 a year [5].    

Factors that may affect your annual base salary as a Swift programmer or developer are years of experience, location, and skill level. 

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Educate yourself: How to start learning Swift

You’ll find many free and easy-to-use resources to help you learn programming in Swift within a few months, like the Swift Mentorship Program or Swift Playground app. Being an open-source language is also helpful to amateurs just getting their start with this language.

Another route is enrolling in a course specifically designed for someone who wants to learn more about Swift.

Enroll in an online course like those offered on Coursera, such as Introduction to Swift Programming offered by the University of Toronto or Introduction to iOS App Development with Swift 5 offered by LearnQuest. 

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Article sources

1. ZDNet. "This old programming language is suddenly getting more popular again, https://www.zdnet.com/article/this-old-programming-language-is-suddenly-getting-more-popular-again/." Accessed March 30, 2022.

2. Tiobe. "TIOBE Index for March 2022, https://www.tiobe.com/tiobe-index/." Accessed March 30, 2022.

3. Apple. "Swift. A powerful open language that lets everyone build amazing apps, https://www.apple.com/swift/." Accessed February 11, 2022.

4. Insights. "2021 Developer Survey, https://insights.stackoverflow.com/survey/2021#:~:text=javascript%20completes%20its%20ninth%20year%20in%20a%20row%20as%20the%20most%20." Accessed March 30, 2022.

5. Glassdoor. "SWIFT Software Engineer Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salary/SWIFT-Software-Engineer-Salaries-E8597_D_KO6,23.htm" Accessed March 30, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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