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Noncopyable structs and enums

Available from Swift 5.9

Paul Hudson      @twostraws

SE-0390 introduces the concept of structs and enums that cannot be copied, which in turn allows a single instance of a struct or enum to be shared in many places – they still ultimately have one owner, but can now be accessed in various parts of your code.

Important: This change has a number of subtleties that I have tried to clarify below, but don’t be surprised if you need to read some things a few times.

First, this change introduces new syntax to suppress a requirement: ~Copyable. That means “this type cannot be copied”, and this suppression syntax is not available elsewhere at this time – we can’t use ~Equatable, for example, to opt out of == for a type.

So, we could create a new noncopyable User struct like this:

struct User: ~Copyable {
    var name: String

Note: Noncopyable types cannot conform to any protocols other than Sendable.

Once you create a User instance, its noncopyable nature means that it’s used very differently from previous versions of Swift. For example, this kind of code might read like nothing special:

func createUser() {
    let newUser = User(name: "Anonymous")

    var userCopy = newUser


But we’ve declared the User struct as being noncopyable – how can that take a copy of newUser? The answer is that it can’t: assigning newUser to userCopy causes the original newUser value to be consumed, which means it can no longer be used because ownership now belongs to userCopy. If you try changing print( to print( you’ll see Swift throws up a compiler error – it’s just not allowed.

New restrictions also apply to how we use noncopyable types as function parameters: SE-0377 says that functions must specify whether they intend to consume the value and therefore render it invalid at the call site after the function finishes, or whether they want to borrow the value so that they can read all its data at the same time as other borrowing parts of our code.

So, we could write one function that creates a user, and another function that borrows the user to gain read-only access to its data:

func createAndGreetUser() {
    let newUser = User(name: "Anonymous")
    print("Goodbye, \(")

func greet(_ user: borrowing User) {
    print("Hello, \(!")


In contrast, If we had made the greet() function use consuming User then the print("Goodbye, \(") would not be allowed – Swift would consider the newUser value to be invalid after greet() has run. On the flip side, because consuming methods must end the lifetime of the object, they can mutate its properties freely.

This shared behavior gives noncopyable structs a superpower that was previously restricted to classes and actors: we can give them deinitializers that will automatically be run when the final reference to a noncopyable instance is destroyed.

Important: This behaves a little differently from deinitializers on classes, which might either be an early implementation glitch or deliberate behavior.

First, here’s some code that uses a deinitializer with a class:

class Movie {
    var name: String

    init(name: String) { = name

    deinit {
        print("\(name) is no longer available")

func watchMovie() {
    let movie = Movie(name: "The Hunt for Red October")
    print("Watching \(")


When that runs it prints “Watching The Hunt for Red October” then “The Hunt for Red October is no longer available”. But if you change the type’s definition from class Movie to struct Movie: ~Copyable you’ll see those two print() statements run in reverse order – it says the movie is no longer available, then says it’s being watched.

Methods inside a noncopyable type are borrowing by default, but they can be marked mutating just like copyable types, and they also be marked consuming to mean that the value is invalid after the method has been run.

As an example, you might know the movie and TV series Mission Impossible, where secret agents are given their mission instructions in a self-destructing tape that can be played only once. This is perfect for a consuming method like this:

struct MissionImpossibleMessage: ~Copyable {
    private var message: String

    init(message: String) {
        self.message = message

    consuming func read() {

That marks the message itself as private, so it can only be access by calling the read() method that consumes the instance.

Unlike mutating methods, consuming methods can be run on constant instances of your type. So, code like this is fine:

func createMessage() {
    let message = MissionImpossibleMessage(message: "You need to abseil down a skyscraper for some reason.")


Note: Because consumes the message instance, it is an error to attempt to call a second time.

Consuming methods are made a little more complex when combined with deinitializers because they might double up on any clean up work you do. For example, if you were tracking high scores in a game you might want to have a consuming finalize() method that writes the latest high score to permanent storage and stops anyone else from changing the score further, but you might also have a deinitializer that saves the latest score to disk when the object is destroyed.

To avoid this problem, Swift 5.9 introduces a new discard operator that can be used on consuming methods of noncopyable types. When you use discard self in a consuming method, it stop the deinitializer from being run for this object.

So, we could implement our HighScore struct like this:

struct HighScore: ~Copyable {
    var value = 0

    consuming func finalize() {
        print("Saving score to disk…")
        discard self

    deinit {
        print("Deinit is saving score to disk…")

func createHighScore() {
    var highScore = HighScore()
    highScore.value = 20


Tip: When that code runs you’ll see the deinitializer message is printed twice – once when we change the value property, which effectively destroys and recreates the struct, and once when the createHighScore() method finishes.

There are a few extra complexities you need to be aware of when working with this new functionality:

  • Classes and actors cannot be noncopyable.
  • Noncopyable types don’t support generics at this time, which rules out optional noncopyable objects and also arrays of noncopyable objects for the time being.
  • If you use a noncopyable type as a property inside another struct or enum, that parent struct or enum must also be noncopyable.
  • You need to be very careful adding or removing Copyable from existing types, because it dramatically changes how they are used. If you’re shipping code in a library, this will break your ABI.

This is a really far-reaching change in Swift, and I’m certainly curious how it will be used. If the answer isn’t “Swift Data” I’ll be disappointed!

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