[swift-evolution] [Draft] Harmonize access modifiers for extensions

Xiaodi Wu xiaodi.wu at gmail.com
Sat Jul 16 13:04:10 CDT 2016

With the impending withdrawal of SE-0119 and the closing window for (most)
source-breaking changes, I thought I'd draft up a proposal to address some
of the key points raised in that discussion.

The proposed changes are deliberately limited in scope to rationalizing
access modifier rules without adding any new facilities (such as
conformances of lower visibility than the type), which might be more
appropriate for the Swift 4 timeline.

I hope this will prove satisfactory to the community :)

Harmonize access modifiers for extensions

   - Proposal: SE-XXXX
   - Author: Xiaodi Wu <https://github.com/xwu>
   - Status: Awaiting review
   - Review manager: TBD


During discussion of SE-0119
the community articulated the view that access modifiers for extensions
were and should continue to be subject to the same rules as access
modifiers for types. Unfortunately, it is not factually true today; this
proposal aims to make it so.

Swift-evolution threads:

   - [Proposal] Revising access modifiers on extensions
   - [More to be added here]


Consider the following:

public struct foo {
  func frobnicate() { } // implicitly internal
public extension foo { }

public struct bar { }
public extension bar {
  func frobnicate() { } // implicitly public, according to SE-0025

According to SE-0025, a method moved from the body of a public struct into
a public extension becomes public without modification. This is surprising
behavior contrary to Swift's general rule of not exposing public API by

Furthermore, SE-0025 now permits the owner of a type to design access for
members as though the type will have a higher access level than it
currently does. For example, users will be able to design public methods
inside an internaltype before "flipping the switch" and making that type
public. The same approach is prohibited by SE-0025 for extensions, although
conceptually it need not be.

The proposed solution is to change access modifier rules for extensions
with the following effect: if any method (or computed property) declared
within the body of a type at file scope is moved without modification into
the body of an extension in the same file, the move will not change its

In code:

struct foo {
  // Any method declared here...
extension foo {
  // ...should have the same visibility when moved here.

This implies that public API commitments will need to be annotated as public at
declaration sites inside an extension just as it must be at declaration
sites inside types.

   1. Declarations inside the extension will, like declarations inside
   types, have a default access level of internal.
   2. The compiler should not warn when a broader level of access control
   is used for a method (or computed property, etc.) declared within an
   extension with more restrictive access. This allows the owner of the
   extension to design the access level they would use for a method if the
   type or extension were to be made more widely accessible.
   3. An extension declared without an explicit access modifier will have
   the same access level as the type being extended.
   4. An extension declared without protocol conformance may optionally use
   an explicit access modifier to provide an upper bound for the visibility of
   its members.


   - One alternative, still open for consideration, is to eliminate #4 and
   disallow explicit access modifiers on extensions. As an advantage, this
   would clarify the mental model that extensions are not their own entities,
   as they cannot be referred to by name and have no runtime representation.
   As a disadvantage, extensions cease to be an access modifier grouping
   construct, which some users really like.


Thanks to all discussants on the list, especially Adrian Zubarev and Jose
Cheyo Jimenez.
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