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What’s new in Swift 5.2

Key path expressions as functions, callAsFunction, and more

Paul Hudson       @twostraws

Swift 5.2 arrived with Xcode 11.4, and includes a handful of language changes alongside reductions in code size and memory usage, plus a new diagnostic architecture that will help you understand and resolve errors faster.

In this article I'm going to walk through what's changed with some hands-on examples so you can see for yourself how things have evolved. I encourage you to follow the links through to the Swift Evolution proposals for more information, and if you missed my earlier what's new in Swift 5.1 article then check that out too.

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Key Path Expressions as Functions

SE-0249 introduced a marvelous shortcut that allows us to use keypaths in a handful of specific circumstances.

The Evolution proposal describes this as being able to use “\Root.value wherever functions of (Root) -> Value are allowed”, but what it means is that if previously you sent a Car into a method and got back its license plate, you can now use Car.licensePlate instead.

This is best understood as an example, so here’s a User type that defines four properties:

struct User {
    let name: String
    let age: Int
    let bestFriend: String?

    var canVote: Bool {
        age >= 18

We could create some instance of that struct and put them into an array, like this:

let eric = User(name: "Eric Effiong", age: 18, bestFriend: "Otis Milburn")
let maeve = User(name: "Maeve Wiley", age: 19, bestFriend: nil)
let otis = User(name: "Otis Milburn", age: 17, bestFriend: "Eric Effiong")
let users = [eric, maeve, otis]

Now for the important part: if you want to get an array of all the users names, you can do so by using a key path like this:

let userNames =\.name)

Previously you would have had to write a closure to retrieve the name by hand, like this:

let oldUserNames = { $ }

This same approach works elsewhere – anywhere where previously you would have received a value and passed back one of its properties, you can now use a key path instead. For example, this will return all users who can vote:

let voters = users.filter(\.canVote)

And this will return the best friends for all users who have one:

let bestFriends = users.compactMap(\.bestFriend)

Callable values of user-defined nominal types

SE-0253 introduces statically callable values to Swift, which is a fancy way of saying that you can now call a value directly if its type implements a method named callAsFunction(). You don’t need to conform to any special protocol to make this behavior work; you just need to add that method to your type.

For example, we could create a Dice struct that has properties for lowerBound and upperBound, then add callAsFunction so that every time you call a dice value you get a random roll:

struct Dice {
    var lowerBound: Int
    var upperBound: Int

    func callAsFunction() -> Int {

let d6 = Dice(lowerBound: 1, upperBound: 6)
let roll1 = d6()

That will print a random number from 1 through 6, and it’s identical to just using callAsFunction() directly. For example, we could call it like this:

let d12 = Dice(lowerBound: 1, upperBound: 12)
let roll2 = d12.callAsFunction()

Swift automatically adapts your call sites based on how callAsFunction() is defined. For example, you can add as many parameters as you want, you can control the return value, and you can even mark methods as mutating if needed.

For example, this creates a StepCounter struct that tracks how far someone has walked and reports back whether they reached their target of 10,000 steps:

struct StepCounter {
    var steps = 0

    mutating func callAsFunction(count: Int) -> Bool {
        steps += count
        return steps > 10_000

var steps = StepCounter()
let targetReached = steps(count: 10)

For more advanced usage, callAsFunction() supports both throws and rethrows, and you can even define multiple callAsFunction() methods on a single type – Swift will choose the correct one depending on the call site, just like regular overloading.

Subscripts can now declare default arguments

When adding custom subscripts to a type, you can now use default arguments for any of the parameters. For example, if we had a PoliceForce struct with a custom subscript to read officers from the force, we could add a default parameter to send back if someone tries to read an index outside of the array’s bounds:

struct PoliceForce {
    var officers: [String]

    subscript(index: Int, default default: String = "Unknown") -> String {
        if index >= 0 && index < officers.count {
            return officers[index]
        } else {
            return `default`

let force = PoliceForce(officers: ["Amy", "Jake", "Rosa", "Terry"])

That will print “Amy” then “Unknown”, with the latter being caused because there is no officer at index 5. Note that you do need to write your parameter labels twice if you want them to be used, because subscripts don’t use parameter labels otherwise.

So, because I use default default in my subscript, I can use a custom value like this:

print(force[-1, default: "The Vulture"])

Lazy filtering order is now reversed

There’s a small change in Swift 5.2 that could potentially cause your functionality to break: if you use a lazy sequence such as an array, and apply multiple filters to it, those filters are now run in the reverse order.

For example, this code below has one filter that selects names that start with S, then a second filter that prints out the name then returns true:

let people = ["Arya", "Cersei", "Samwell", "Stannis"]
    .filter { $0.hasPrefix("S") }
    .filter { print($0); return true }
_ = people.count

In Swift 5.2 and later that will print “Samwell” and “Stannis”, because after the first filter runs those are the only names that remain to go into the second filter. But before Swift 5.2 it would have returned all four names, because the second filter would have been run before the first one. This was confusing, because if you removed the lazy then the code would always return just Samwell and Stannis, regardless of Swift version.

This is particularly problematic because the behavior of this depends on where the code is being run: if you run Swift 5.2 code on iOS 13.3 or earlier, or macOS 10.15.3 or earlier, then you’ll get the old backward behavior, but the same code running on newer operating systems will give the new, correct behavior.

So, this is a change that might cause surprise breakages in your code, but hopefully it’s just a short-term inconvenience.

New and improved diagnostics

Swift 5.2 introduced a new diagnostic architecture that aims to improves the quality and precision of error messages issued by Xcode when you make a coding error. This is particularly apparent when working with SwiftUI code, where Swift would often produce false positive error messages.

For an example, consider code like this:

struct ContentView: View {
    @State private var name = 0

    var body: some View {
        VStack {
            Text("What is your name?")
            TextField("Name", text: $name)
                .frame(maxWidth: 300)

That attempts to bind a TextField view to an integer @State property, which is invalid. In Swift 5.1 this caused an error for the frame() modifier saying 'Int' is not convertible to 'CGFloat?’, but in Swift 5.2 and later this correctly identifies the error is the $name binding: Cannot convert value of type Binding<Int> to expected argument type Binding<String>.

You can find out more about the new diagnostic architecture on the blog.

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SPONSORED Join a FREE crash course for mid/senior iOS devs who want to achieve an expert level of technical and practical skills – it’s the fast track to being a complete senior developer! Hurry up because it'll be available only until July 28th.

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