[swift-evolution] Pitch: Progress Tracking in Swift

cocoadev at charlessoft.com cocoadev at charlessoft.com
Sun Jan 17 20:14:47 CST 2016


This is a proposal for a native progress-tracking mechanism in Swift.


As most of us know, Foundation includes NSProgress, a class that makes 
it fairly simple to implement progress tracking in complex applications. 
What makes NSProgress nice is the way that it builds a tree of progress 
objects, so that each method or function only needs to take into account 
the work that needs to be done in that specific context, and the parent 
NSProgress object can interpret that progress in the context of its own 
work to be done. NSProgress also provides a support for common issues 
like checking whether the user has cancelled an operation. However, 
there are a few issues with NSProgress:

1. Because NSProgress relies on a thread-local global variable to store 
the current progress object, it is impossible to know, outside of 
documentation, whether any particular method supports NSProgress or not, 
and if the documentation is inadequate, one must resort to 
trial-and-error to determine whether NSProgress is supported (this has 
been noted before: http://oleb.net/blog/2014/03/nsprogress/).

2. NSProgress relies on a paired register-deregister pattern in order to 
obtain and release "current" status. One must balance every 
becomeCurrentWithPendingUnitCount() call with a resignCurrent() call, or 
Bad Thingsā„¢ will happen. However, this pattern does not work well with 
Swift's error handling mechanism:

try self.doSomeThingThatMightThrow()
progress.resignCurrent() // If an error occurs, this will never be 

3. It is very easy to accidentally add a child NSProgress object if one 
does not realize that a particular method supports NSProgress. A couple 
ways this can happen:

func doSomething() {
     let progress = NSProgress(totalUnitCount: 10)

     doSomethingThatWeDontExpectSupportsNSProgressButDoes() // whoops, we 
just picked up a child accidentally

func doSomething() {
     let progress = NSProgress(totalUnitCount: 10)


     doSomethingThatWeDontExpectSupportsNSProgressButDoes() // whoops, 
this one just picked up our parent's NSProgress and made it our sibling

This is particularly problematic when you consider the obvious 
workaround for the problem described in #2:

func doSomething() {
     let progress = NSProgress(totalUnitCount: 10)

     defer { progress.resignCurrent() }

     doSomethingThatWeDontExpectSupportsNSProgressButDoes() // whoops

I haven't figured out exactly how to reproduce this reliably yet, but I 
have noticed that NSProgress objects can sometimes end up with a 
fractionCompleted larger than 1.0 when this occurs.

4. Because NSProgress uses a thread-local global variable for the 
current progress, one must be vigilant about jumping through specific 
hoops when spinning off a task in a new thread, or else the child task's 
NSProgress object will not be properly connected to its parent.

5. NSProgress posts KVO notifications on the main thread. In addition to 
complicating the interface and causing undefined behavior if one 
mistakenly binds it to a UI element without inserting something in 
between to forward the KVO notifications to the main thread, this also 
hurts performance in the worker thread, since KVO notifications carry a 
non-trivial performance penalty, involving not only message sends but 
also packaging things into an NSDictionary for the "change" parameter. 
Notifications for multiple properties are fired every time 
completedUnitCount is changed, which then can cause similar KVO 
notifications to occur up the family tree, depending on how many KVO 
observers are installed. This can show up as a non-trivial performance 
cost in Instruments if the NSProgress object is updated frequently 

Proposed Solution:

I propose a system that follows the example of Swift's excellent 
do/try/catch error-handling system. A "reports" keyword can be added to 
a function or method's declaration, similar to "throws":

func myFunc() reports -> () {

By default, the "reports" keyword will introduce a "let" constant named 
"progress" to the function's scope, much like "catch" implicitly adds 
"error". The name of this constant could be customized, if desired:

func myFunc() reports(myNiftyProgressObject) {

The created progress object is automatically added as a child to the 
progress object which is implicitly passed into the function by the 
calling function or method.

The interface to the progress object would be similar to NSProgress, 
with a "prepare" method taking the total unit count, as well as a 
"cancelled" property and a "cancel()" function helping keep track of 
whether or not an operation is cancelled. However, the "becomeCurrent" 
and "resignCurrent" methods are replaced with a "report" keyword which 
precedes a function or method call, similar to "try", although the 
"report" keyword includes a parameter taking the number of units 
corresponding to this operation:

func myFunc() throws, reports {

     report(5) foo()

     if progress.cancelled { throw NSCocoaError.UserCancelledError }

     report(5) try bar() // yes, "report" can be combined with "try"

Spinning off an operation onto another thread or queue is no problem:

func myFunc() reports {

0)) {
         report(10) foo() // the progress object is passed as a parameter 
to the function, so no need to specially make it current on this thread 

Unlike "try", "report" is not required. If we don't care about the 
progress of a method or function, we can call it without "report" and 
its progress will be ignored. In this example, the 
"someRelativelyTrivialOperationThatReports"'s progress object will *not* 
be added as a child to "progress":

func myFunc() reports {

     report(10) someNonTrivialOperationThatReports()

If a function calls only one reporting function, the "prepare" method 
can be omitted and the parameter can be left off of "report", and the 
parent progress object will simply be passed through:

func myFunc() reports {
     report doAllTheActualWork()

To pass in a progress object other than the default progress object (for 
example, when creating the object at the very top of the tree), simply 
pass the progress object in as an optional second parameter to 

func startEverything() {
     let progress = Progress()


     report(10, progress) someFuncThatReports()

In the function that does the actual work, of course the progress object 
has a "completed" property that tracks the completed units:

func doTheActualWork() reports {
     let someArrayOfThings = ...


     for eachThing in someArrayOfThings {
         // do the work

         progress.completed += 1

Observing the progress object uses a closure-based system, containing a 
"willUpdateHandler", a "didUpdateHandler", and a "cancelHandler":

progress.didUpdateHandler = { (completed: Int, total: Int) -> () in
     print("\(completed) units complete out of \(total)")

progress.cancelHandler = {
     print("the user cancelled the operation")

The separation between will- and did- handlers is to facilitate 
interoperability with NSProgressIndicator and other Objective-C objects; 
one could call willChangeValueForKey() and didChangeValueForKey() in the 
handlers to let the KVO system know about the changes if needed. If 
desired, a small wrapper could be added to Foundation to translate the 
progress object's notifications into KVO notifications.

The progress object also includes a property specifying the dispatch 
queue on which the handlers will be run. By default this is the main 
queue, but this can be customized as needed:

progress.dispatchQueue = myDispatchQueue

Of course, any changes to the "completed" property in a child progress 
object would be bubbled up the family tree, causing any handlers on the 
parent progress objects to fire, and any changes to the "cancelled" 
property in a parent progress object would be propagated to its 
children, similar to how NSProgress currently works.

If there is interest in this, I could flesh out the interface and 
implementation to the progress object a bit.

What do you all think?


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