[swift-evolution] [Completing Generics] Completing protocol extension diagnostics

Joe Groff jgroff at apple.com
Thu Mar 3 18:08:29 CST 2016

Under the umbrella of completing generics, I think we should make room for improving our diagnostics around protocol extensions. They're a well-received feature, but they introduce a lot of surprising behavior, and introduce opportunity for subtle bugs. We didn't have time to put much diagnostic work in last year, but now that users have had time to work with the feature, we have evidence of some of the more surprising and problematic behavior. Among the most common things we've seen reported:

A) When a protocol requirement has an extension implementation requirement available, we'll silently ignore when a conforming type attempts to conform to the protocol but misses, by type or spelling:

protocol Channel {
  func receive() -> NSData
extension Channel {
  func receive() -> NSData { return NSData() }

// Silently fails to replace the default implementation:
struct ClumsyChannel: Channel {
  // Wrong spelling
  func recieve() -> NSData { return NSData(bytes: "oops", length: 4) }
  // Wrong return type
  func receive() -> [UInt8] { return Array("whoopsie".utf8) }
  // Wrong throwiness
  func receive() throws -> NSData { throw "doh" }

B) Protocol requirements aren't real class members, and can't be overridden by subclasses unless the base class satisfies the requirement with one of its own methods rather than with a protocol extension method, but we silently allow subclasses to shadow:

class BaseChannel: Channel { } // gets default imp from extension

class SubChannel: BaseChannel {
  // Doesn't 'override' protocol requirement; silently shadows it
  func receive() -> NSData { return NSData(bytes: "oof", length: 3) }

C) Similarly, protocol extension methods aren't protocol requirements, so extension methods that don't match a requirement can't be specialized in a way available to generic code, but we silently allow concrete type implementations to shadow:

extension Channel {
  func receiveAsString() -> String {
    return String(data: receive(), encoding: NSUTF8Encoding)

struct StringyChannel {
  func receive() -> NSData { return NSData(bytes: "data", 4) }
  // Does not affect generic code calling receiveAsString
  func receiveAsString() -> String { return "string" }

func foo<T: Channel>(chan: T) {

foo(StringyChannel()) // Prints "data"

(B) and (C) could be mitigated by shadowing warnings, and we've also floated ideas for making them behave as intended, by implicitly forwarding protocol requirements into class methods to address (B) and/or introducing dynamic dispatch for protocol extensions to address (C). (A) is a bit trickier, since with overloading it's tricky to divine whether a declaration was really intended to match another one with a different type in isolation. We've discussed a couple approaches to this problem:

- Adopting an explicit 'implements' modifier, in the spirit of 'override', to mark a declaration as being intended to fulfill a requirement. This adds boilerplate we'd like to avoid, and also interferes with retroactive modeling.
- Encourage "one extension per conformance" style, where each protocol conformance's requirements are defined in a dedicated extension. We can then warn about any declarations in an extension that don't satisfy a requirement:

struct InconsistentChannel {}

extension InconsistentChannel: Channel {
  func receive() -> NSData { ... } // OK
  func recieve() -> NSData { ... } // Warning: Declaration in conformance extension doesn't satisfy any requirements from 'Channel'
  func receive() -> NSData? { ... } // Warning

There are likely others too. It'd be great if we could give users better guidance about this feature.

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