[swift-evolution] Proposal: Weak Native Swift Containers

Riley Testut rileytestut at gmail.com
Thu Dec 10 16:55:11 CST 2015

In multiple places in my projects, I essentially recreate the “multiple observer” pattern used by NSNotificationCenter. Originally this was implemented by simply maintaining an array of observers, and adding to/removing from it as necessary. However, this had the unintended side effect of maintaining a strong reference to the observers, which in many cases is undesirable (for the same reasons it’s common to mark delegate properties as weak).

Now, I’m using a private NSHashTable instance, and expose the observers as public API by creating a public computed property which essentially returns an array derived from the NSHashTable like so:

public var receivers: [GameControllerReceiverType] {
    // self.privateReceivers.allObjects as! [GameControllerReceiverType] crashes Swift :(
    return self.privateReceivers.allObjects.map({ $0 as! GameControllerReceiverType })

This workaround works, but is undesirable for a number of reasons. Most notably:

• NSHashTable is not a native Swift collection, and is also not in the Foundation Swift port, so it is not portable to other systems.
• It also has not yet been annotated with generics, so it loses the nice type safety of other Swift collections. Because of this, I have to map the objects to the appropriate type before returning the allObjects array, which runs in O(n) time instead of O(1).
• It’s repetitive. For every type that wants to implement this pattern, they must maintain both a public computed method and a private NSHashTable instance. This gets worse when this should be part of a protocol; there’s no way to enforce that each type conforming to it has a NSHashTable, while also keeping that information private from the consumer of the API.

I think native swift collections with support for weak references for their contents would be very useful, and in more places than just listed above. I don’t think Array could be easily extended to support it (what happens if a value is released? does everything shift down? do they keep their indices?), but Set and Dictionary (where the keys and/or values could be weak, akin to NSMapTable) would be good candidates IMO.

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