[swift-evolution] [Proposal draft] Make Optional Requirements Objective-C-only

Douglas Gregor dgregor at apple.com
Fri Apr 22 19:35:36 CDT 2016

Proposal link: https://github.com/DougGregor/swift-evolution/blob/objc-optional/proposals/NNNN-optional-requirements.md

After a whole lot of discussion and thrashing on optional requirements, I have a draft for a modest proposal: change the ‘optional’ keyword to something that indicates that this feature is only for compatibility with Objective-C and will not be supported on Swift protocols. Comments welcome!

	- Doug

Make Optional Requirements Objective-C-only

Proposal: SE-NNNN <https://github.com/apple/swift-evolution/blob/master/proposals/NNNN-optional-requirements.md>
Author(s): Doug Gregor <https://github.com/DougGregor>
Status: Awaiting review
Review manager: TBD

Swift currently has support for "optional" requirements in Objective-C protocols, to match with the corresponding feature of Objective-C. We don't want to make optional requirements a feature of Swift protocols (for reasons described below), nor can we completely eliminate the notion of the language (for different reasons also described below). Therefore, to prevent confusion about our direction, this proposal changes the optional keyword objcoptional to indicate that this is an Objective-C compatibility feature.

Swift-evolution threads: eliminate optional requirements <http://thread.gmane.org/gmane.comp.lang.swift.evolution/14046>, make Swift protocols support optional requirements <http://thread.gmane.org/gmane.comp.lang.swift.devel/1316> and make optional protocol requirements first class citizens <http://thread.gmane.org/gmane.comp.lang.swift.evolution/13347>.


Having optional only work for Objective-C requirements is very weird: it feels like a general feature with a compiler bug that prevents it from working generally. However, we don't want to make it a feature of Swift protocols and we can't eliminate it (see alternatives considered <https://github.com/DougGregor/swift-evolution/blob/objc-optional/proposals/NNNN-optional-requirements.md#alternatives-considered>), so we propose to rename the keyword to make it clear that this feature is intended only for compatibility with Objective-C.

 <https://github.com/DougGregor/swift-evolution/blob/objc-optional/proposals/NNNN-optional-requirements.md#proposed-solution>Proposed solution

Rename the optional contextual keyword to objcoptional. Note that:

It would read better as objc_optional or objcOptional, but keywords in Swift run the words together, and

It should not be an attribute @objcOptional because it changes the effective type of the declaration. Referencing an optional requirement wraps the result in one more level of optional, which is used to test whether the requirement was implemented.

This means that:

@objc protocol NSTableViewDelegate {
  optional func tableView(_: NSTableView, viewFor: NSTableColumn, row: Int) -> NSView?
  optional func tableView(_: NSTableView, heightOfRow: Int) -> CGFloat

@objc protocol NSTableViewDelegate {
  objcoptional func tableView(_: NSTableView, viewFor: NSTableColumn, row: Int) -> NSView?
  objcoptional func tableView(_: NSTableView, heightOfRow: Int) -> CGFloat
 <https://github.com/DougGregor/swift-evolution/blob/objc-optional/proposals/NNNN-optional-requirements.md#impact-on-existing-code>Impact on existing code

Any code that declares @objc protocols with optional requirements will need to be changed to use the objcoptionalkeyword. However, it is trivial for the migrator to update the code and for the compiler to provide Fix-Its, so the actual impact on users should be small.

 <https://github.com/DougGregor/swift-evolution/blob/objc-optional/proposals/NNNN-optional-requirements.md#alternatives-considered>Alternatives considered

It's a fairly common request to make optional requirements work in Swift protocols (as in the aforementioned threads, here <http://thread.gmane.org/gmane.comp.lang.swift.devel/1316>and here <http://thread.gmane.org/gmane.comp.lang.swift.evolution/13347>). However, such proposals have generally met with resistance because optional requirements have significant overlap with other protocol features: "default" implementations via protocol extensions and protocol inheritance. For the former case, the author of the protocol can provide a "default" implementation via a protocol extension that encodes the default case (rather than putting it at the call site). In the latter case, the protocol author can separate the optional requirements into a different protocol that a type can adopt to opt-in to whatever behavior they customize. While not exactlythe same as optional requirements, which allow one to perform per-requirement checking to determine whether the type implemented that requirement, the gist of the threads is that doing so is generally considered an anti-pattern: one would be better off factoring the protocol in a different way. Therefore, we do not propose to make optional requirements work for Swift protocols.

The second alternative would be to eliminate optional requirements entirely from the language. The primary challenge here is Cocoa interoperability, because Cocoa's protocols (primarily delegates and data sources) have a large number of optional requirements that would have to be handled somehow in Swift. These optional requirements would have to be mapped to some other construct in Swift, but the code generation model must remain the same because the Cocoa frameworks rely on the ability to ask the question "was this requirement implemented by the type?" in Objective-C code at run time.

The most popular approach to try to map optional requirements into existing Swift constructs is to turn an optional method requirement into a property of optional closure type. For example, this Objective-C protocol:

@protocol NSTableViewDelegate
- (nullable NSView *)tableView:(NSTableView *)tableView viewForTableColumn:(NSTableColumn *)tableColumn row:(NSInteger)row;
- (CGFloat)tableView:(NSTableView *)tableView heightOfRow:(NSInteger)row;
which currently imports into Swift as:

@objc protocol NSTableViewDelegate {
  optional func tableView(_: NSTableView, viewFor: NSTableColumn, row: Int) -> NSView?
  optional func tableView(_: NSTableView, heightOfRow: Int) -> CGFloat
would become, e.g.,

@objc protocol NSTableViewDelegate {
  var tableView: ((NSTableView, viewFor: NSTableColumn, row: Int) -> NSView?)? { get }
  var tableView: ((NSTableView, heightOfRow: Int) -> CGFloat)? { get }
Unfortunately, this introduces an overloaded property named tableView. To really make this work, we would need to introduce the ability for a property to have a compound name, which would also let us take the labels out of the function type:

@objc protocol NSTableViewDelegate {
  var tableView(_:viewFor:row:): ((NSTableView, NSTableColumn, Int) -> NSView?)? { get }
  var tableView(_:heightOfRow:): ((NSTableView, Int) -> CGFloat)? { get }
By itself, that is a good feature. However, we're not dont, because we would need yet another extension to the language: one would want to be able to provide a method in a class that is used to conform to a property in the protocol, e.g.,

class MyDelegate : NSObject, NSTableViewDelegate {
  func tableView(_: NSTableView, viewFor: NSTableColumn, row: Int) -> NSView? { ... }
  func tableView(_: NSTableView, heightOfRow: Int) -> CGFloat { ... }
Indeed, the Objective-C implementation model effectively requires us to satisfy these property-of-optional-closure requirements with methods so that Objective-C clients can use -respondsToSelector:. In other words, one would not be able to implement these requirements in by copy-pasting from the protocol to the implementing class:

class MyDelegate : NSObject, NSTableViewDelegate {
  // Note: The Objective-C entry points for these would return blocks, which is incorrect
  var tableView(_:viewFor:row:): ((NSTableView, NSTableColumn, Int) -> NSView?)? { return ...   }
  var tableView(_:heightOfRow:): ((NSTableView, Int) -> CGFloat)? { return ... }
That is both a strange technical restriction that would be limited to Objective-C protocols and a serious usability problem: the easiest way to stub out the contents of your type when it conforms to a given protocol is to copy the declarations from the protocol into your type, then fill in the details. This change would break that usage scenario badly.

There have been other ideas to eliminate optional requirements. For example, Objective-C protocols could be annotated with attributes that say what the default implementation for each optional requirement is (to be used only in Swift), but such a massive auditing effort is impractical. There is a related notion of caller-site default implementations <http://thread.gmane.org/gmane.comp.lang.swift.evolution/14046> that was not well-received due to its complexity.
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