First look: Apple's Swift is simple, at first

Swift's clean and modern syntax makes it quick and easy to get started, but mastering this new language will take a while

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A major commitment

The simplicity of the Swift language is deceptive. While it's easy to write a "hello world" app in one line and build a quick app with a few lines of code, numerous details and nuances will take plenty of study to master. The adept programmers will love the power and the ability to use the clever tricks in their software, but many neophytes will find it hard to read their code. This will not be an easy language to master, no matter how easy it might be to pick up.

The most important thing to recognize about Swift is the scope. While some of new languages have a toylike feel because they're relatively small projects, Swift is a major commitment. The first book on Swift alone is excellent, in part because it's more than 850 pages long. The Xcode download now pushes 2.5GB. The language isn't a little playpen for easy coding, but a full software package designed to offer all of the support a team of programmers needs to take on major projects.

The language also includes copious hooks and tools for working with the existing Cocoa libraries. Apple doesn't want to rewrite the iOS and OS X stacks, so Swift makes linking to them simple. This entire project was built to maintain the interest in these stacks and to make it easier for anyone to walk in and start coding up apps. At the same time, you can use as much or as little Swift code in your iOS or OS X project as you like.

Apple isn't forcing a march to Swift. No doubt many of the old guard will stick with Objective-C. But Swift will make it much easier for programmers steeped in other languages and traditions to pick up Xcode and quickly become productive. That alone is a big step forward for Apple and one that will probably lead to even more native iOS and OS X code than ever. Swift doesn't need to take over the world to be a gift to it.

This article, "First look: Apple's Swift is simple, at first," was originally published at Follow the latest developments in application development and mobile technology at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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