[swift-evolution] [swift-evolution-announce] SE-0138 UnsafeBytes

Andrew Trick atrick at apple.com
Fri Sep 2 15:08:11 CDT 2016

> On Sep 2, 2016, at 9:31 AM, Tony Parker via swift-evolution <swift-evolution at swift.org> wrote:
> Hi Andy, Dave,
> I have two major objections to this proposal.
> The first is timing. It is too late for us to evaluate this correctly for Swift 3.
> The second is that this API overlaps too much with Foundation’s struct Data. We should be standardizing on a small number of common types, so that developers do not need to find ways to translate one API output into another API’s input.
> I think we should instead focus on what needs to be added to struct Data (and other API, like Stream) to fill this role. The proposal touches only touches on this briefly, but in my opinion it is the direction we should pursue — and for Swift 4 or perhaps some Swift 3 update.
> - Tony

Foundation Data needs an interface to UnsafePointers. UnsafeBytes
perfectly fits that need. The same is true of any Stream or
BinaryFormat abstraction that we design in the future. In fact,
migrating Data itself to the raw pointer changes in Swift 3 is enough
motivation to add UnsafeBytes.

It's really unfortunate that Data's interface can't take advantage of
UnsafeBytes in Swift 3 because it would help with adoption of
Data. There is currently a design flaw whenever a client of Data
doesn't know the memory's original type. I'm not happy about that, but
I think we can live with it for a while.

The issue at hand is the large amount of Swift code out there working
with UnsafePointers. We urgently need to provide a migration strategy
for that code. Obviously, we don't have an urgent need to migrate code
already using Data, so improving it's interface can wait until Swift 4.

I've seen many attempts to migrate to Swift 3 (this has been my job
for the past month). I can claim with certainty that if we don't
give developers a natural way to replace their UnsafePointer<UInt8>,
we are going to be left with a lot of incorrect Swift code.

Let me make it clear that there is no overlap between Data and UnsafeBytes.

For public APIs, UnsafeBytes is meant to replace those functions that
currently take (UnsafePointer<UInt8>, Int) including Data's own
interfaces. Otherwise, we're strongly encouraging users to write
incorrect code on the client side. Won't NSStream, for example,
continue to to support UnsafePointer for those developers who need it?
If the developer does not need UnsafePointers, that's great, and
that's what we should continue striving for. But when developers are
using UnsafePointer, we need a natural way to use it correctly.

For general Swift code, Unsafe means something special and
important. The ultimate goal of the standard library and frameworks is
that application developers never need to do something Unsafe. If
they do, it needs to be explicitly marked Unsafe. If we are promoting
Foundation Data as the right way to solve problems for app developers,
then it needs to *not* be Unsafe.

UnsafeBytes simply provides a missing bridge between Unsafe pointers
and safe APIs like Data. By definition, Data and UnsafeBytes use cases
don't overlap. You either need to use Unsafe pointers because you're
programming at the systems level, or existing (safe) libraries do the
job. In practice, there are points at which these worlds meet.


- Today we need UnsafeBytes so that we can migrate existing Swift
  code correctly to a well-defined memory model.

- In the future we need UnsafeBytes to safely implement the transitions
  between "systems code" and "application code”.


>> On Sep 1, 2016, at 3:18 PM, Andrew Trick <atrick at apple.com <mailto:atrick at apple.com>> wrote:
>> I’m resending this for Review Manager Dave A. because the announce list is dropping his messages...
>> Hello Swift community,
>> The review of "UnsafeBytes" begins now and runs through September
>> 7th. This late addition to Swift 3 is a follow-up to SE-0107:
>> UnsafeRawPointer. It addresses common use cases for UnsafeRawPointer,
>> allowing developers to continue working with collections of UInt8 values,
>> but now doing so via a type safe API. The UnsafeBytes API will not require 
>> direct manipulation of raw pointers or reasoning about binding memory.
>> The proposal is available here:
>>  <https://github.com/apple/swift-evolution/blob/master/proposals/0138-unsafebytes.md <https://github.com/apple/swift-evolution/blob/master/proposals/0138-unsafebytes.md>>
>> Reviews are an important part of the Swift evolution process. All reviews
>> should be sent to the swift-evolution mailing list at
>>  <https://lists.swift.org/mailman/listinfo/swift-evolution <https://lists.swift.org/mailman/listinfo/swift-evolution>>
>> or, if you would like to keep your feedback private, directly to the
>> review manager. When replying, please try to keep the proposal link at
>> the top of the message:
>> Proposal link:
>>  <https://lists.swift.org/mailman/listinfo/swift-evolution <https://lists.swift.org/mailman/listinfo/swift-evolution>>
>> What goes into a review?
>> The goal of the review process is to improve the proposal under review
>> through constructive criticism and, eventually, determine the direction of
>> Swift. When writing your review, here are some questions you might want to
>> answer in your review:
>>  * What is your evaluation of the proposal?
>>  * Is the problem being addressed significant enough to warrant a
>>    change to Swift?
>>  * Does this proposal fit well with the feel and direction of Swift?
>>  * If you have used other languages or libraries with a similar
>>    feature, how do you feel that this proposal compares to those?
>>  * How much effort did you put into your review? A glance, a quick
>>    reading, or an in-depth study?
>> More information about the Swift evolution process is available at
>>  <https://github.com/apple/swift-evolution/blob/master/process.md <https://github.com/apple/swift-evolution/blob/master/process.md>>
>> Thank you,
>> -Dave Abrahams
>> Review Manager
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