[swift-evolution] Strings in Swift 4

Ben Cohen ben_cohen at apple.com
Thu Jan 19 20:56:01 CST 2017

Hi all,

Below is our take on a design manifesto for Strings in Swift 4 and beyond.

Probably best read in rendered markdown on GitHub:

We’re eager to hear everyone’s thoughts.

Ben and Dave

# String Processing For Swift 4

* Authors: [Dave Abrahams](https://github.com/dabrahams), [Ben Cohen](https://github.com/airspeedswift)

The goal of re-evaluating Strings for Swift 4 has been fairly ill-defined thus
far, with just this short blurb in the
[list of goals](https://lists.swift.org/pipermail/swift-evolution/Week-of-Mon-20160725/025676.html):

> **String re-evaluation**: String is one of the most important fundamental
> types in the language.  The standard library leads have numerous ideas of how
> to improve the programming model for it, without jeopardizing the goals of
> providing a unicode-correct-by-default model.  Our goal is to be better at
> string processing than Perl!
For Swift 4 and beyond we want to improve three dimensions of text processing:

  1. Ergonomics
  2. Correctness
  3. Performance

This document is meant to both provide a sense of the long-term vision 
(including undecided issues and possible approaches), and to define the scope of
work that could be done in the Swift 4 timeframe.

## General Principles

### Ergonomics

It's worth noting that ergonomics and correctness are mutually-reinforcing.  An
API that is easy to use—but incorrectly—cannot be considered an ergonomic
success.  Conversely, an API that's simply hard to use is also hard to use
correctly.  Acheiving optimal performance without compromising ergonomics or
correctness is a greater challenge.

Consistency with the Swift language and idioms is also important for
ergonomics. There are several places both in the standard library and in the
foundation additions to `String` where patterns and practices found elsewhere
could be applied to improve usability and familiarity.

### API Surface Area

Primary data types such as `String` should have APIs that are easily understood
given a signature and a one-line summary.  Today, `String` fails that test.  As
you can see, the Standard Library and Foundation both contribute significantly to
its overall complexity.

**Method Arity** | **Standard Library** | **Foundation**
0: `ƒ()` | 5 | 7
1: `ƒ(:)` | 19 | 48
2: `ƒ(::)` | 13 | 19
3: `ƒ(:::)` | 5 | 11
4: `ƒ(::::)` | 1 | 7
5: `ƒ(:::::)` | - | 2
6: `ƒ(::::::)` | - | 1

**API Kind** | **Standard Library** | **Foundation**
`init` | 41 | 18
`func` | 42 | 55
`subscript` | 9 | 0
`var` | 26 | 14

**Total: 205 APIs**

By contrast, `Int` has 80 APIs, none with more than two parameters.[0] String processing is complex enough; users shouldn't have
to press through physical API sprawl just to get started.

Many of the choices detailed below contribute to solving this problem,

  * Restoring `Collection` conformance and dropping the `.characters` view.
  * Providing a more general, composable slicing syntax.
  * Altering `Comparable` so that parameterized
    (e.g. case-insensitive) comparison fits smoothly into the basic syntax.
  * Clearly separating language-dependent operations on text produced 
    by and for humans from language-independent
    operations on text produced by and for machine processing.
  * Relocating APIs that fall outside the domain of basic string processing and
    discouraging the proliferation of ad-hoc extensions.

### Batteries Included

While `String` is available to all programs out-of-the-box, crucial APIs for
basic string processing tasks are still inaccessible until `Foundation` is
imported.  While it makes sense that `Foundation` is needed for domain-specific
jobs such as
[linguistic tagging](https://developer.apple.com/reference/foundation/nslinguistictagger),
one should not need to import anything to, for example, do case-insensitive

### Unicode Compliance and Platform Support

The Unicode standard provides a crucial objective reference point for what
constitutes correct behavior in an extremely complex domain, so
Unicode-correctness is, and will remain, a fundamental design principle behind
Swift's `String`.  That said, the Unicode standard is an evolving document, so
this objective reference-point is not fixed.[1] While
many of the most important operations—e.g. string hashing, equality, and
non-localized comparison—will be stable, the semantics
of others, such as grapheme breaking and localized comparison and case
conversion, are expected to change as platforms are updated, so programs should
be written so their correctness does not depend on precise stability of these
semantics across OS versions or platforms.  Although it may be possible to
imagine static and/or dynamic analysis tools that will help users find such
errors, the only sure way to deal with this fact of life is to educate users.

## Design Points

### Internationalization

There is strong evidence that developers cannot determine how to use
internationalization APIs correctly.  Although documentation could and should be
improved, the sheer size, complexity, and diversity of these APIs is a major
contributor to the problem, causing novices to tune out, and more experienced
programmers to make avoidable mistakes.

The first step in improving this situation is to regularize all localized
operations as invocations of normal string operations with extra
parameters. Among other things, this means:

1. Doing away with `localizedXXX` methods 
2. Providing a terse way to name the current locale as a parameter
3. Automatically adjusting defaults for options such
   as case sensitivity based on whether the operation is localized.
4. Removing correctness traps like `localizedCaseInsensitiveCompare` (see
    guidance in the
    [Internationalization and Localization Guide](https://developer.apple.com/library/content/documentation/MacOSX/Conceptual/BPInternational/InternationalizingYourCode/InternationalizingYourCode.html).

Along with appropriate documentation updates, these changes will make localized
operations more teachable, comprehensible, and approachable, thereby lowering a
barrier that currently leads some developers to ignore localization issues

####  The Default Behavior of `String`

Although this isn't well-known, the most accessible form of many operations on
Swift `String` (and `NSString`) are really only appropriate for text that is
intended to be processed for, and consumed by, machines.  The semantics of the
operations with the simplest spellings are always non-localized and

Two major factors play into this design choice:

1. Machine processing of text is important, so we should have first-class,
   accessible functions appropriate to that use case.
2. The most general localized operations require a locale parameter not required
   by their un-localized counterparts.  This naturally skews complexity towards
   localized operations.

Reaffirming that `String`'s simplest APIs have
language-independent/machine-processed semantics has the benefit of clarifying
the proper default behavior of operations such as comparison, and allows us to
make [significant optimizations](#collation-semantics) that were previously
thought to conflict with Unicode.

#### Future Directions

One of the most common internationalization errors is the unintentional
presentation to users of text that has not been localized, but regularizing APIs
and improving documentation can go only so far in preventing this error.
Combined with the fact that `String` operations are non-localized by default,
the environment for processing human-readable text may still be somewhat
error-prone in Swift 4.

For an audience of mostly non-experts, it is especially important that naïve
code is very likely to be correct if it compiles, and that more sophisticated
issues can be revealed progressively.  For this reason, we intend to
specifically and separately target localization and internationalization
problems in the Swift 5 timeframe.

### Operations With Options

There are three categories of common string operation that commonly need to be
tuned in various dimensions:

**Operation**|**Applicable Options**
sort ordering | locale, case/diacritic/width-insensitivity
case conversion | locale
pattern matching | locale, case/diacritic/width-insensitivity

The defaults for case-, diacritic-, and width-insensitivity are different for
localized operations than for non-localized operations, so for example a
localized sort should be case-insensitive by default, and a non-localized sort
should be case-sensitive by default.  We propose a standard “language” of
defaulted parameters to be used for these purposes, with usage roughly like this:

  x.compared(to: y, case: .sensitive, in: swissGerman)
  x.lowercased(in: .currentLocale)
    somePattern, case: .insensitive, diacritic: .insensitive)

This usage might be supported by code like this:

enum StringSensitivity {
case sensitive
case insensitive

extension Locale {
  static var currentLocale: Locale { ... }

extension Unicode {
  // An example of the option language in declaration context,
  // with nil defaults indicating unspecified, so defaults can be
  // driven by the presence/absence of a specific Locale
  func frobnicated(
    case caseSensitivity: StringSensitivity? = nil,
    diacritic diacriticSensitivity: StringSensitivity? = nil,
    width widthSensitivity: StringSensitivity? = nil,
    in locale: Locale? = nil
  ) -> Self { ... }

### Comparing and Hashing Strings

#### Collation Semantics

What Unicode says about collation—which is used in `<`, `==`, and hashing— turns
out to be quite interesting, once you pick it apart.  The full Unicode Collation
Algorithm (UCA) works like this:

1. Fully normalize both strings
2. Convert each string to a sequence of numeric triples to form a collation key
3. “Flatten” the key by concatenating the sequence of first elements to the
   sequence of second elements to the sequence of third elements
4. Lexicographically compare the flattened keys 

While step 1 can usually
be [done quickly](http://unicode.org/reports/tr15/#Description_Norm) and
incrementally, step 2 uses a collation table that maps matching *sequences* of
unicode scalars in the normalized string to *sequences* of triples, which get
accumulated into a collation key.  Predictably, this is where the real costs

*However*, there are some bright spots to this story.  First, as it turns out,
string sorting (localized or not) should be done down to what's called
[“identical” level](http://unicode.org/reports/tr10/#Multi_Level_Comparison),
which adds a step 3a: append the string's normalized form to the flattened
collation key.  At first blush this just adds work, but consider what it does
for equality: two strings that normalize the same, naturally, will collate the
same.  But also, *strings that normalize differently will always collate
differently*.  In other words, for equality, it is sufficient to compare the
strings' normalized forms and see if they are the same.  We can therefore
entirely skip the expensive part of collation for equality comparison.

Next, naturally, anything that applies to equality also applies to hashing: it
is sufficient to hash the string's normalized form, bypassing collation keys.
This should provide significant speedups over the current implementation.
Perhaps more importantly, since comparison down to the “identical” level applies
even to localized strings, it means that hashing and equality can be implemented
exactly the same way for localized and non-localized text, and hash tables with
localized keys will remain valid across current-locale changes.

Finally, once it is agreed that the *default* role for `String` is to handle
machine-generated and machine-readable text, the default ordering of `String`s
need no longer use the UCA at all.  It is sufficient to order them in any way
that's consistent with equality, so `String` ordering can simply be a
lexicographical comparison of normalized forms,[4]
(which is equivalent to lexicographically comparing the sequences of grapheme
clusters), again bypassing step 2 and offering another speedup.

This leaves us executing the full UCA *only* for localized sorting, and ICU's
implementation has apparently been very well optimized.

Following this scheme everywhere would also allow us to make sorting behavior
consistent across platforms.  Currently, we sort `String` according to the UCA,
except that—*only on Apple platforms*—pairs of ASCII characters are ordered by
unicode scalar value.

#### Syntax

Because the current `Comparable` protocol expresses all comparisons with binary
operators, string comparisons—which may require
additional [options](#operations-with-options)—do not fit smoothly into the
existing syntax.  At the same time, we'd like to solve other problems with
comparison, as outlined
[this proposal](https://gist.github.com/CodaFi/f0347bd37f1c407bf7ea0c429ead380e)
(implemented by changes at the head
[this branch](https://github.com/CodaFi/swift/commits/space-the-final-frontier)).
We should adopt a modification of that proposal that uses a method rather than
an operator `<=>`:

enum SortOrder { case before, same, after }

protocol Comparable : Equatable {
 func compared(to: Self) -> SortOrder

This change will give us a syntactic platform on which to implement methods with
additional, defaulted arguments, thereby unifying and regularizing comparison
across the library.

extension String {
 func compared(to: Self) -> SortOrder


**Note:** `SortOrder` should bridge to `NSComparisonResult`.  It's also possible
that the standard library simply adopts Foundation's `ComparisonResult` as is,
but we believe the community should at least consider alternate naming before
that happens.  There will be an opportunity to discuss the choices in detail
when the modified
[Comparison Proposal](https://gist.github.com/CodaFi/f0347bd37f1c407bf7ea0c429ead380e) comes
up for review.

### `String` should be a `Collection` of `Character`s Again

In Swift 2.0, `String`'s `Collection` conformance was dropped, because we
convinced ourselves that its semantics differed from those of `Collection` too

It was always well understood that if strings were treated as sequences of
`UnicodeScalar`s, algorithms such as `lexicographicalCompare`, `elementsEqual`,
and `reversed` would produce nonsense results. Thus, in Swift 1.0, `String` was
a collection of `Character` (extended grapheme clusters). During 2.0
development, though, we realized that correct string concatenation could
occasionally merge distinct grapheme clusters at the start and end of combined

This quirk aside, every aspect of strings-as-collections-of-graphemes appears to
comport perfectly with Unicode. We think the concatenation problem is tolerable,
because the cases where it occurs all represent partially-formed constructs. The
largest class—isolated combining characters such as ◌́ (U+0301 COMBINING ACUTE
ACCENT)—are explicitly called out in the Unicode standard as
“[degenerate](http://unicode.org/reports/tr29/#Grapheme_Cluster_Boundaries)” or
“[defective](http://www.unicode.org/versions/Unicode9.0.0/ch03.pdf)”. The other
cases—such as a string ending in a zero-width joiner or half of a regional
indicator—appear to be equally transient and unlikely outside of a text editor.

Admitting these cases encourages exploration of grapheme composition and is
consistent with what appears to be an overall Unicode philosophy that “no
special provisions are made to get marginally better behavior for… cases that
never occur in practice.”[2] Furthermore, it seems
unlikely to disturb the semantics of any plausible algorithms. We can handle
these cases by documenting them, explicitly stating that the elements of a
`String` are an emergent property based on Unicode rules.

The benefits of restoring `Collection` conformance are substantial: 

  * Collection-like operations encourage experimentation with strings to
    investigate and understand their behavior. This is useful for teaching new
    programmers, but also good for experienced programmers who want to
    understand more about strings/unicode.
  * Extended grapheme clusters form a natural element boundary for Unicode
    strings.  For example, searching and matching operations will always produce
    results that line up on grapheme cluster boundaries.
  * Character-by-character processing is a legitimate thing to do in many real
    use-cases, including parsing, pattern matching, and language-specific
    transformations such as transliteration.
  * `Collection` conformance makes a wide variety of powerful operations
    available that are appropriate to `String`'s default role as the vehicle for
    machine processed text.
    The methods `String` would inherit from `Collection`, where similar to
    higher-level string algorithms, have the right semantics.  For example,
    grapheme-wise `lexicographicalCompare`, `elementsEqual`, and application of
    `flatMap` with case-conversion, produce the same results one would expect
    from whole-string ordering comparison, equality comparison, and
    case-conversion, respectively.  `reverse` operates correctly on graphemes,
    keeping diacritics moored to their base characters and leaving emoji intact.
    Other methods such as `indexOf` and `contains` make obvious sense. A few
    `Collection` methods, like `min` and `max`, may not be particularly useful
    on `String`, but we don't consider that to be a problem worth solving, in
    the same way that we wouldn't try to suppress `min` and `max` on a
    `Set([UInt8])` that was used to store IP addresses.
  * Many of the higher-level operations that we want to provide for `String`s,
    such as parsing and pattern matching, should apply to any `Collection`, and
    many of the benefits we want for `Collections`, such
    as unified slicing, should accrue
    equally to `String`.  Making `String` part of the same protocol hierarchy
    allows us to write these operations once and not worry about keeping the
    benefits in sync.
  * Slicing strings into substrings is a crucial part of the vocabulary of
    string processing, and all other sliceable things are `Collection`s.
    Because of its collection-like behavior, users naturally think of `String`
    in collection terms, but run into frustrating limitations where it fails to
    conform and are left to wonder where all the differences lie.  Many simply
    “correct” this limitation by declaring a trivial conformance:
  extension String : BidirectionalCollection {}
    Even if we removed indexing-by-element from `String`, users could still do
      extension String : BidirectionalCollection {
        subscript(i: Index) -> Character { return characters[i] }
    It would be much better to legitimize the conformance to `Collection` and
    simply document the oddity of any concatenation corner-cases, than to deny
    users the benefits on the grounds that a few cases are confusing.

Note that the fact that `String` is a collection of graphemes does *not* mean
that string operations will necessarily have to do grapheme boundary
recognition.  See the Unicode protocol section for details.

### `Character` and `CharacterSet`

`Character`, which represents a
[extended grapheme cluster](http://unicode.org/reports/tr29/#Grapheme_Cluster_Boundaries),
is a bit of a black box, requiring conversion to `String` in order to
do any introspection, including interoperation with ASCII.  To fix this, we should:

 - Add a `unicodeScalars` view much like `String`'s, so that the sub-structure
   of grapheme clusters is discoverable.
 - Add a failable `init` from sequences of scalars (returning nil for sequences
   that contain 0 or 2+ graphemes).
 - (Lower priority) expose some operations, such as `func uppercase() ->
   String`, `var isASCII: Bool`, and, to the extent they can be sensibly
   generalized, queries of unicode properties that should also be exposed on
   `UnicodeScalar` such as `isAlphabetic` and `isGraphemeBase` .

Despite its name, `CharacterSet` currently operates on the Swift `UnicodeScalar`
type. This means it is usable on `String`, but only by going through the unicode
scalar view. To deal with this clash in the short term, `CharacterSet` should be
renamed to `UnicodeScalarSet`.  In the longer term, it may be appropriate to
introduce a `CharacterSet` that provides similar functionality for extended
grapheme clusters.[5]

### Unification of Slicing Operations

Creating substrings is a basic part of String processing, but the slicing
operations that we have in Swift are inconsistent in both their spelling and
their naming: 

  * Slices with two explicit endpoints are done with subscript, and support
    in-place mutation:

  * Slicing from an index to the end, or from the start to an index, is done
    with a method and does not support in-place mutation:
        s.prefix(upTo: i).readOnly()

Prefix and suffix operations should be migrated to be subscripting operations
with one-sided ranges i.e. `s.prefix(upTo: i)` should become `s[..<i]`, as
[this proposal](https://github.com/apple/swift-evolution/blob/9cf2685293108ea3efcbebb7ee6a8618b83d4a90/proposals/0132-sequence-end-ops.md).
With generic subscripting in the language, that will allow us to collapse a wide
variety of methods and subscript overloads into a single implementation, and
give users an easy-to-use and composable way to describe subranges.

Further extending this EDSL to integrate use-cases like `s.prefix(maxLength: 5)`
is an ongoing research project that can be considered part of the potential
long-term vision of text (and collection) processing.

### Substrings

When implementing substring slicing, languages are faced with three options:

1. Make the substrings the same type as string, and share storage.
2. Make the substrings the same type as string, and copy storage when making the substring.
3. Make substrings a different type, with a storage copy on conversion to string.

We think number 3 is the best choice. A walk-through of the tradeoffs follows.

#### Same type, shared storage

In Swift 3.0, slicing a `String` produces a new `String` that is a view into a
subrange of the original `String`'s storage. This is why `String` is 3 words in
size (the start, length and buffer owner), unlike the similar `Array` type
which is only one.

This is a simple model with big efficiency gains when chopping up strings into
multiple smaller strings. But it does mean that a stored substring keeps the
entire original string buffer alive even after it would normally have been

This arrangement has proven to be problematic in other programming languages,
because applications sometimes extract small strings from large ones and keep
those small strings long-term. That is considered a memory leak and was enough
of a problem in Java that they changed from substrings sharing storage to
making a copy in 1.7.

#### Same type, copied storage

Copying of substrings is also the choice made in C#, and in the default
`NSString` implementation. This approach avoids the memory leak issue, but has
obvious performance overhead in performing the copies.

This in turn encourages trafficking in string/range pairs instead of in
substrings, for performance reasons, leading to API challenges. For example:

foo.compare(bar, range: start..<end)

Here, it is not clear whether `range` applies to `foo` or `bar`. This
relationship is better expressed in Swift as a slicing operation:


Not only does this clarify to which string the range applies, it also brings
this sub-range capability to any API that operates on `String` "for free". So
these other combinations also work equally well:

// apply range on argument rather than target
// apply range on both
// compare two strings ignoring first character

In all three cases, an explicit range argument need not appear on the `compare`
method itself. The implementation of `compare` does not need to know anything
about ranges. Methods need only take range arguments when that was an
integral part of their purpose (for example, setting the start and end of a
user's current selection in a text box).

#### Different type, shared storage

The desire to share underlying storage while preventing accidental memory leaks
occurs with slices of `Array`. For this reason we have an `ArraySlice` type.
The inconvenience of a separate type is mitigated by most operations used on
`Array` from the standard library being generic over `Sequence` or `Collection`.

We should apply the same approach for `String` by introducing a distinct
`SubSequence` type, `Substring`. Similar advice given for `ArraySlice` would apply to `Substring`:

> Important: Long-term storage of `Substring` instances is discouraged. A
> substring holds a reference to the entire storage of a larger string, not
> just to the portion it presents, even after the original string's lifetime
> ends. Long-term storage of a `Substring` may therefore prolong the lifetime
> of large strings that are no longer otherwise accessible, which can appear
> to be memory leakage.

When assigning a `Substring` to a longer-lived variable (usually a stored
property) explicitly of type `String`, a type conversion will be performed, and
at this point the substring buffer is copied and the original string's storage
can be released.

A `String` that was not its own `Substring` could be one word—a single tagged
pointer—without requiring additional allocations. `Substring`s would be a view
onto a `String`, so are 3 words - pointer to owner, pointer to start, and a
length. The small string optimization for `Substring` would take advantage of
the larger size, probably with a less compressed encoding for speed.

The downside of having two types is the inconvenience of sometimes having a
`Substring` when you need a `String`, and vice-versa. It is likely this would
be a significantly bigger problem than with `Array` and `ArraySlice`, as
slicing of `String` is such a common operation. It is especially relevant to
existing code that assumes `String` is the currency type. To ease the pain of
type mismatches, `Substring` should be a subtype of `String` in the same way
that `Int` is a subtype of `Optional<Int>`. This would give users an implicit
conversion from `Substring` to `String`, as well as the usual implicit
conversions such as `[Substring]` to `[String]` that other subtype
relationships receive.

In most cases, type inference combined with the subtype relationship should
make the type difference a non-issue and users will not care which type they
are using. For flexibility and optimizability, most operations from the
standard library will traffic in generic models of

##### Guidance for API Designers

In this model, **if a user is unsure about which type to use, `String` is always
a reasonable default**. A `Substring` passed where `String` is expected will be
implicitly copied. When compared to the “same type, copied storage” model, we
have effectively deferred the cost of copying from the point where a substring
is created until it must be converted to `String` for use with an API.

A user who needs to optimize away copies altogether should use this guideline:
if for performance reasons you are tempted to add a `Range` argument to your
method as well as a `String` to avoid unnecessary copies, you should instead
use `Substring`.

##### The “Empty Subscript”

To make it easy to call such an optimized API when you only have a `String` (or
to call any API that takes a `Collection`'s `SubSequence` when all you have is
the `Collection`), we propose the following “empty subscript” operation,

extension Collection {
  subscript() -> SubSequence { 
    return self[startIndex..<endIndex] 

which allows the following usage:

funcThatIsJustLooking(at: person.name[]) // pass person.name as Substring

The `[]` syntax can be offered as a fixit when needed, similar to `&` for an
`inout` argument. While it doesn't help a user to convert `[String]` to
`[Substring]`, the need for such conversions is extremely rare, can be done with
a simple `map` (which could also be offered by a fixit):

takesAnArrayOfSubstring(arrayOfString.map { $0[] })

#### Other Options Considered

As we have seen, all three options above have downsides, but it's possible
these downsides could be eliminated/mitigated by the compiler. We are proposing
one such mitigation—implicit conversion—as part of the the "different type,
shared storage" option, to help avoid the cognitive load on developers of
having to deal with a separate `Substring` type.

To avoid the memory leak issues of a "same type, shared storage" substring
option, we considered whether the compiler could perform an implicit copy of
the underlying storage when it detects the string is being "stored" for long
term usage, say when it is assigned to a stored property. The trouble with this
approach is it is very difficult for the compiler to distinguish between
long-term storage versus short-term in the case of abstractions that rely on
stored properties. For example, should the storing of a substring inside an
`Optional` be considered long-term? Or the storing of multiple substrings
inside an array? The latter would not work well in the case of a
`components(separatedBy:)` implementation that intended to return an array of
substrings. It would also be difficult to distinguish intentional medium-term
storage of substrings, say by a lexer. There does not appear to be an effective
consistent rule that could be applied in the general case for detecting when a
substring is truly being stored long-term.

To avoid the cost of copying substrings under "same type, copied storage", the
optimizer could be enhanced to to reduce the impact of some of those copies.
For example, this code could be optimized to pull the invariant substring out
of the loop:

for _ in 0..<lots { 
  someFunc(takingString: bigString[bigRange]) 

It's worth noting that a similar optimization is needed to avoid an equivalent
problem with implicit conversion in the "different type, shared storage" case:

let substring = bigString[bigRange]
for _ in 0..<lots { someFunc(takingString: substring) }

However, in the case of "same type, copied storage" there are many use cases
that cannot be optimized as easily. Consider the following simple definition of
a recursive `contains` algorithm, which when substring slicing is linear makes
the overall algorithm quadratic:

extension String {
    func containsChar(_ x: Character) -> Bool {
        return !isEmpty && (first == x || dropFirst().containsChar(x))

For the optimizer to eliminate this problem is unrealistic, forcing the user to
remember to optimize the code to not use string slicing if they want it to be
efficient (assuming they remember):

extension String {
    // add optional argument tracking progress through the string
    func containsCharacter(_ x: Character, atOrAfter idx: Index? = nil) -> Bool {
        let idx = idx ?? startIndex
        return idx != endIndex
            && (self[idx] == x || containsCharacter(x, atOrAfter: index(after: idx)))

#### Substrings, Ranges and Objective-C Interop

The pattern of passing a string/range pair is common in several Objective-C
APIs, and is made especially awkward in Swift by the non-interchangeability of
`Range<String.Index>` and `NSRange`.  

s2.find(s2, sourceRange: NSRange(j..<s2.endIndex, in: s2))

In general, however, the Swift idiom for operating on a sub-range of a
`Collection` is to *slice* the collection and operate on that:


Therefore, APIs that operate on an `NSString`/`NSRange` pair should be imported
without the `NSRange` argument.  The Objective-C importer should be changed to
give these APIs special treatment so that when a `Substring` is passed, instead
of being converted to a `String`, the full `NSString` and range are passed to
the Objective-C method, thereby avoiding a copy.

As a result, you would never need to pass an `NSRange` to these APIs, which
solves the impedance problem by eliminating the argument, resulting in more
idiomatic Swift code while retaining the performance benefit.  To help users
manually handle any cases that remain, Foundation should be augmented to allow
the following syntax for converting to and from `NSRange`:

let nsr = NSRange(i..<j, in: s) // An NSRange corresponding to s[i..<j]
let iToJ = Range(nsr, in: s)    // Equivalent to i..<j

### The `Unicode` protocol

With `Substring` and `String` being distinct types and sharing almost all
interface and semantics, and with the highest-performance string processing
requiring knowledge of encoding and layout that the currency types can't
provide, it becomes important to capture the common “string API” in a protocol.
Since Unicode conformance is a key feature of string processing in swift, we
call that protocol `Unicode`:

**Note:** The following assumes several features that are planned but not yet implemented in
  Swift, and should be considered a sketch rather than a final design.
protocol Unicode 
  : Comparable, BidirectionalCollection where Element == Character {
  associatedtype Encoding : UnicodeEncoding
  var encoding: Encoding { get }
  associatedtype CodeUnits 
    : RandomAccessCollection where Element == Encoding.CodeUnit
  var codeUnits: CodeUnits { get }
  associatedtype UnicodeScalars 
    : BidirectionalCollection  where Element == UnicodeScalar
  var unicodeScalars: UnicodeScalars { get }

  associatedtype ExtendedASCII 
    : BidirectionalCollection where Element == UInt32
  var extendedASCII: ExtendedASCII { get }

  var unicodeScalars: UnicodeScalars { get }

extension Unicode {
  // ... define high-level non-mutating string operations, e.g. search ...

  func compared<Other: Unicode>(
    to rhs: Other,
    case caseSensitivity: StringSensitivity? = nil,
    diacritic diacriticSensitivity: StringSensitivity? = nil,
    width widthSensitivity: StringSensitivity? = nil,
    in locale: Locale? = nil
  ) -> SortOrder { ... }

extension Unicode : RangeReplaceableCollection where CodeUnits :
  RangeReplaceableCollection {
    // Satisfy protocol requirement
    mutating func replaceSubrange<C : Collection>(_: Range<Index>, with: C) 
      where C.Element == Element
  // ... define high-level mutating string operations, e.g. replace ...


The goal is that `Unicode` exposes the underlying encoding and code units in
such a way that for types with a known representation (e.g. a high-performance
`UTF8String`) that information can be known at compile-time and can be used to
generate a single path, while still allowing types like `String` that admit
multiple representations to use runtime queries and branches to fast path

**Note:** `Unicode` would make a fantastic namespace for much of
what's in this proposal if we could get the ability to nest types and
protocols in protocols.

### Scanning, Matching, and Tokenization

#### Low-Level Textual Analysis

We should provide convenient APIs processing strings by character.  For example,
it should be easy to cleanly express, “if this string starts with `"f"`, process
the rest of the string as follows…”  Swift is well-suited to expressing this
common pattern beautifully, but we need to add the APIs.  Here are two examples
of the sort of code that might be possible given such APIs:

if let firstLetter = input.droppingPrefix(alphabeticCharacter) {
  somethingWith(input) // process the rest of input

if let (number, restOfInput) = input.parsingPrefix(Int.self) {

The specific spelling and functionality of APIs like this are TBD.  The larger
point is to make sure matching-and-consuming jobs are well-supported.

#### Unified Pattern Matcher Protocol

Many of the current methods that do matching are overloaded to do the same
logical operations in different ways, with the following axes:

- Logical Operation: `find`, `split`, `replace`, match at start
- Kind of pattern: `CharacterSet`, `String`, a regex, a closure
- Options, e.g. case/diacritic sensitivity, locale.  Sometimes a part of
  the method name, and sometimes an argument
- Whole string or subrange.

We should represent these aspects as orthogonal, composable components,
abstracting pattern matchers into a protocol like
[this one](https://github.com/apple/swift/blob/master/test/Prototypes/PatternMatching.swift#L33),
that can allow us to define logical operations once, without introducing
overloads, and massively reducing API surface area.

For example, using the strawman prefix `%` syntax to turn string literals into
patterns, the following pairs would all invoke the same generic methods:

if let found = s.firstMatch(%"searchString") { ... }
if let found = s.firstMatch(someRegex) { ... }

for m in s.allMatches((%"searchString"), case: .insensitive) { ... }
for m in s.allMatches(someRegex) { ... }

let items = s.split(separatedBy: ", ")
let tokens = s.split(separatedBy: CharacterSet.whitespace)

Note that, because Swift requires the indices of a slice to match the indices of
the range from which it was sliced, operations like `firstMatch` can return a
`Substring?` in lieu of a `Range<String.Index>?`: the indices of the match in
the string being searched, if needed, can easily be recovered as the
`startIndex` and `endIndex` of the `Substring`.

Note also that matching operations are useful for collections in general, and
would fall out of this proposal:

// replace subsequences of contiguous NaNs with zero
forces.replace(oneOrMore([Float.nan]), [0.0])

#### Regular Expressions

Addressing regular expressions is out of scope for this proposal.
That said, it is important that to note the pattern matching protocol mentioned
above provides a suitable foundation for regular expressions, and types such as
`NSRegularExpression` can easily be retrofitted to conform to it.  In the
future, support for regular expression literals in the compiler could allow for
compile-time syntax checking and optimization.

### String Indices

`String` currently has four views—`characters`, `unicodeScalars`, `utf8`, and
`utf16`—each with its own opaque index type.  The APIs used to translate indices
between views add needless complexity, and the opacity of indices makes them
difficult to serialize.

The index translation problem has two aspects:

  1. `String` views cannot consume one anothers' indices without a cumbersome
    conversion step.  An index into a `String`'s `characters` must be translated
    before it can be used as a position in its `unicodeScalars`.  Although these
    translations are rarely needed, they add conceptual and API complexity.
  2. Many APIs in the core libraries and other frameworks still expose `String`
    positions as `Int`s and regions as `NSRange`s, which can only reference a
    `utf16` view and interoperate poorly with `String` itself.

#### Index Interchange Among Views

String's need for flexible backing storage and reasonably-efficient indexing
(i.e. without dynamically allocating and reference-counting the indices
themselves) means indices need an efficient underlying storage type.  Although
we do not wish to expose `String`'s indices *as* integers, `Int` offsets into
underlying code unit storage makes a good underlying storage type, provided
`String`'s underlying storage supports random-access.  We think random-access
*code-unit storage* is a reasonable requirement to impose on all `String`

Making these `Int` code unit offsets conveniently accessible and constructible
solves the serialization problem:

let offset = clipboard.read(Int.self)
let i = String.Index(codeUnitOffset: offset)

Index interchange between `String` and its `unicodeScalars`, `codeUnits`,
and [`extendedASCII`](#parsing-ascii-structure) views can be made entirely
seamless by having them share an index type (semantics of indexing a `String`
between grapheme cluster boundaries are TBD—it can either trap or be forgiving).
Having a common index allows easy traversal into the interior of graphemes,
something that is often needed, without making it likely that someone will do it
by accident.

 - `String.index(after:)` should advance to the next grapheme, even when the
   index points partway through a grapheme.
 - `String.index(before:)` should move to the start of the grapheme before
   the current position.

Seamless index interchange between `String` and its UTF-8 or UTF-16 views is not
crucial, as the specifics of encoding should not be a concern for most use
cases, and would impose needless costs on the indices of other views.  That
said, we can make translation much more straightforward by exposing simple
bidirectional converting `init`s on both index types:

let u8Position = String.UTF8.Index(someStringIndex)
let originalPosition = String.Index(u8Position)

#### Index Interchange with Cocoa

We intend to address `NSRange`s that denote substrings in Cocoa APIs as
described [later in this document](#substrings--ranges-and-objective-c-interop).
That leaves the interchange of bare indices with Cocoa APIs trafficking in
`Int`.  Hopefully such APIs will be rare, but when needed, the following
extension, which would be useful for all `Collections`, can help:

extension Collection {
  func index(offset: IndexDistance) -> Index {
    return index(startIndex, offsetBy: offset)
  func offset(of i: Index) -> IndexDistance {
    return distance(from: startIndex, to: i)

Then integers can easily be translated into offsets into a `String`'s `utf16`
view for consumption by Cocoa:

let cocoaIndex = s.utf16.offset(of: String.UTF16Index(i))
let swiftIndex = s.utf16.index(offset: cocoaIndex)

### Formatting

A full treatment of formatting is out of scope of this proposal, but
we believe it's crucial for completing the text processing picture.  This
section details some of the existing issues and thinking that may guide future

#### Printf-Style Formatting

`String.format` is designed on the `printf` model: it takes a format string with
textual placeholders for substitution, and an arbitrary list of other arguments.
The syntax and meaning of these placeholders has a long history in
C, but for anyone who doesn't use them regularly they are cryptic and complex,
as the `printf (3)` man page attests.

Aside from complexity, this style of API has two major problems: First, the
spelling of these placeholders must match up to the types of the arguments, in
the right order, or the behavior is undefined.  Some limited support for
compile-time checking of this correspondence could be implemented, but only for
the cases where the format string is a literal. Second, there's no reasonable
way to extend the formatting vocabulary to cover the needs of new types: you are
stuck with what's in the box.

#### Foundation Formatters

The formatters supplied by Foundation are highly capable and versatile, offering
both formatting and parsing services.  When used for formatting, though, the
design pattern demands more from users than it should:

  * Matching the type of data being formatted to a formatter type
  * Creating an instance of that type
  * Setting stateful options (`currency`, `dateStyle`) on the type.  Note: the
    need for this step prevents the instance from being used and discarded in
    the same expression where it is created.
  * Overall, introduction of needless verbosity into source

These may seem like small issues, but the experience of Apple localization
experts is that the total drag of these factors on programmers is such that they
tend to reach for `String.format` instead.

#### String Interpolation

Swift string interpolation provides a user-friendly alternative to printf's
domain-specific language (just write ordinary swift code!) and its type safety
problems (put the data right where it belongs!) but the following issues prevent
it from being useful for localized formatting (among other jobs):

  * [SR-2303](https://bugs.swift.org/browse/SR-2303) We are unable to restrict
    types used in string interpolation.
  * [SR-1260](https://bugs.swift.org/browse/SR-1260) String interpolation can't
    distinguish (fragments of) the base string from the string substitutions.

In the long run, we should improve Swift string interpolation to the point where
it can participate in most any formatting job.  Mostly this centers around
fixing the interpolation protocols per the previous item, and supporting

To be able to use formatting effectively inside interpolations, it needs to be
both lightweight (because it all happens in-situ) and discoverable.  One 
approach would be to standardize on `format` methods, e.g.:

"Column 1: \(n.format(radix:16, width:8)) *** \(message)"

"Something with leading zeroes: \(x.format(fill: zero, width:8))"

### C String Interop

Our support for interoperation with nul-terminated C strings is scattered and
incoherent, with 6 ways to transform a C string into a `String` and four ways to
do the inverse.  These APIs should be replaced with the following

extension String {
  /// Constructs a `String` having the same contents as `nulTerminatedUTF8`.
  /// - Parameter nulTerminatedUTF8: a sequence of contiguous UTF-8 encoded 
  ///   bytes ending just before the first zero byte (NUL character).
  init(cString nulTerminatedUTF8: UnsafePointer<CChar>)
  /// Constructs a `String` having the same contents as `nulTerminatedCodeUnits`.
  /// - Parameter nulTerminatedCodeUnits: a sequence of contiguous code units in
  ///   the given `encoding`, ending just before the first zero code unit.
  /// - Parameter encoding: describes the encoding in which the code units
  ///   should be interpreted.
  init<Encoding: UnicodeEncoding>(
    cString nulTerminatedCodeUnits: UnsafePointer<Encoding.CodeUnit>,
    encoding: Encoding)
  /// Invokes the given closure on the contents of the string, represented as a
  /// pointer to a null-terminated sequence of UTF-8 code units.
  func withCString<Result>(
    _ body: (UnsafePointer<CChar>) throws -> Result) rethrows -> Result

In both of the construction APIs, any invalid encoding sequence detected will
have its longest valid prefix replaced by U+FFFD, the Unicode replacement
character, per Unicode specification.  This covers the common case.  The
replacement is done *physically* in the underlying storage and the validity of
the result is recorded in the `String`'s `encoding` such that future accesses
need not be slowed down by possible error repair separately.

Construction that is aborted when encoding errors are detected can be
accomplished using APIs on the `encoding`.  String types that retain their
physical encoding even in the presence of errors and are repaired on-the-fly can
be built as different instances of the `Unicode` protocol.

### Unicode 9 Conformance

Unicode 9 (and MacOS 10.11) brought us support for family emoji, which changes
the process of properly identifying `Character` boundaries.  We need to update
`String` to account for this change.

### High-Performance String Processing

Many strings are short enough to store in 64 bits, many can be stored using only
8 bits per unicode scalar, others are best encoded in UTF-16, and some come to
us already in some other encoding, such as UTF-8, that would be costly to
translate.  Supporting these formats while maintaining usability for
general-purpose APIs demands that a single `String` type can be backed by many
different representations.

That said, the highest performance code always requires static knowledge of the
data structures on which it operates, and for this code, dynamic selection of
representation comes at too high a cost.  Heavy-duty text processing demands a
way to opt out of dynamism and directly use known encodings.  Having this
ability can also make it easy to cleanly specialize code that handles dynamic
cases for maximal efficiency on the most common representations.

To address this need, we can build models of the `Unicode` protocol that encode
representation information into the type, such as `NFCNormalizedUTF16String`.

### Parsing ASCII Structure

Although many machine-readable formats support the inclusion of arbitrary
Unicode text, it is also common that their fundamental structure lies entirely
within the ASCII subset (JSON, YAML, many XML formats).  These formats are often
processed most efficiently by recognizing ASCII structural elements as ASCII,
and capturing the arbitrary sections between them in more-general strings.  The
current String API offers no way to efficiently recognize ASCII and skip past
everything else without the overhead of full decoding into unicode scalars.

For these purposes, strings should supply an `extendedASCII` view that is a
collection of `UInt32`, where values less than `0x80` represent the
corresponding ASCII character, and other values represent data that is specific
to the underlying encoding of the string.

## Language Support

This proposal depends on two new features in the Swift language:

1. **Generic subscripts**, to
   enable unified slicing syntax.

2. **A subtype relationship** between
   `Substring` and `String`, enabling framework APIs to traffic solely in
   `String` while still making it possible to avoid copies by handling
   `Substring`s where necessary.

Additionally, **the ability to nest types and protocols inside
protocols** could significantly shrink the footprint of this proposal
on the top-level Swift namespace.

## Open Questions

### Must `String` be limited to storing UTF-16 subset encodings?

- The ability to handle `UTF-8`-encoded strings (models of `Unicode`) is not in
  question here; this is about what encodings must be storable, without
  transcoding, in the common currency type called “`String`”.
- ASCII, Latin-1, UCS-2, and UTF-16 are UTF-16 subsets.  UTF-8 is not.
- If we have a way to get at a `String`'s code units, we need a concrete type in
  which to express them in the API of `String`, which is a concrete type
- If String needs to be able to represent UTF-32, presumably the code units need
  to be `UInt32`.
- Not supporting UTF-32-encoded text seems like one reasonable design choice.
- Maybe we can allow UTF-8 storage in `String` and expose its code units as
  `UInt16`, just as we would for Latin-1.
- Supporting only UTF-16-subset encodings would imply that `String` indices can
  be serialized without recording the `String`'s underlying encoding.

### Do we need a type-erasable base protocol for UnicodeEncoding?

UnicodeEncoding has an associated type, but it may be important to be able to
traffic in completely dynamic encoding values, e.g. for “tell me the most
efficient encoding for this string.”

### Should there be a string “facade?”

One possible design alternative makes `Unicode` a vehicle for expressing
the storage and encoding of code units, but does not attempt to give it an API
appropriate for `String`.  Instead, string APIs would be provided by a generic
wrapper around an instance of `Unicode`:

struct StringFacade<U: Unicode> : BidirectionalCollection {

  // ...APIs for high-level string processing here...
  var unicode: U // access to lower-level unicode details

typealias String = StringFacade<StringStorage>
typealias Substring = StringFacade<StringStorage.SubSequence>

This design would allow us to de-emphasize lower-level `String` APIs such as
access to the specific encoding, by putting them behind a `.unicode` property.
A similar effect in a facade-less design would require a new top-level
`StringProtocol` playing the role of the facade with an an `associatedtype
Storage : Unicode`.

An interesting variation on this design is possible if defaulted generic
parameters are introduced to the language:

struct String<U: Unicode = StringStorage> 
  : BidirectionalCollection {

  // ...APIs for high-level string processing here...
  var unicode: U // access to lower-level unicode details

typealias Substring = String<StringStorage.SubSequence>

One advantage of such a design is that naïve users will always extend “the right
type” (`String`) without thinking, and the new APIs will show up on `Substring`,
`MyUTF8String`, etc.  That said, it also has downsides that should not be
overlooked, not least of which is the confusability of the meaning of the word
“string.”  Is it referring to the generic or the concrete type?

### `TextOutputStream` and `TextOutputStreamable`

`TextOutputStreamable` is intended to provide a vehicle for
efficiently transporting formatted representations to an output stream
without forcing the allocation of storage.  Its use of `String`, a
type with multiple representations, at the lowest-level unit of
communication, conflicts with this goal.  It might be sufficient to
change `TextOutputStream` and `TextOutputStreamable` to traffic in an
associated type conforming to `Unicode`, but that is not yet clear.
This area will require some design work.

### `description` and `debugDescription`

* Should these be creating localized or non-localized representations?
* Is returning a `String` efficient enough?
* Is `debugDescription` pulling the weight of the API surface area it adds?

### `StaticString`

`StaticString` was added as a byproduct of standard library developed and kept
around because it seemed useful, but it was never truly *designed* for client
programmers.  We need to decide what happens with it.  Presumably *something*
should fill its role, and that should conform to `Unicode`.

## Footnotes

<b id="f0">0</b> The integers rewrite currently underway is expected to
    substantially reduce the scope of `Int`'s API by using more
    generics. [↩](#a0)

<b id="f1">1</b> In practice, these semantics will usually be tied to the
version of the installed [ICU](http://icu-project.org) library, which
programmatically encodes the most complex rules of the Unicode Standard and its
de-facto extension, CLDR.[↩](#a1)

<b id="f2">2</b>
[http://unicode.org/reports/tr29/#Notation](http://unicode.org/reports/tr29/#Notation). Note
that inserting Unicode scalar values to prevent merging of grapheme clusters would
also constitute a kind of misbehavior (one of the clusters at the boundary would
not be found in the result), so would be relatively costly to implement, with
little benefit. [↩](#a2)

<b id="f4">4</b> The use of non-UCA-compliant ordering is fully sanctioned by
  the Unicode standard for this purpose.  In fact there's
  a [whole chapter](http://www.unicode.org/versions/Unicode9.0.0/ch05.pdf)
  dedicated to it.  In particular, §5.17 says:

  > When comparing text that is visible to end users, a correct linguistic sort
  > should be used, as described in _Section 5.16, Sorting and
  > Searching_. However, in many circumstances the only requirement is for a
  > fast, well-defined ordering. In such cases, a binary ordering can be used.


<b id="f5">5</b> The queries supported by `NSCharacterSet` map directly onto
properties in a table that's indexed by unicode scalar value.  This table is
part of the Unicode standard.  Some of these queries (e.g., “is this an
uppercase character?”) may have fairly obvious generalizations to grapheme
clusters, but exactly how to do it is a research topic and *ideally* we'd either
establish the existing practice that the Unicode committee would standardize, or
the Unicode committee would do the research and we'd implement their

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