[swift-evolution] Type-based ‘private’ access within a file

Nevin Brackett-Rozinsky nevin.brackettrozinsky at gmail.com
Wed Apr 5 11:54:26 CDT 2017

On Wed, Apr 5, 2017 at 12:02 AM, Chris Lattner via swift-evolution <
swift-evolution at swift.org> wrote:
>  - fileprivate should really become much more rare, which makes it more
> meaningful and significant where it occurs.  This was the original idea and
> intent behind SE-0025.

I would like to understand the reasoning here. I just looked back at
SE-0025 and I see this same assertion, but I cannot find the reasoning.
Could you explain it to me please?

Certainly I would love to make the *spelling* of “fileprivate” be entirely
nonexistent. But all the lines of logic I have come up with lead inexorably
to the conclusion that the *semantics* of “fileprivate” should be the
common, *de facto*, access level that people reach for when they need

1. Someone makes a file with a single type in it, and marks the
implementation details “private”. At this point, it does not matter matter
which meaning “private” has, they all work the same so far.

2. The developer adds a free function to the file. Or an extension of
another type. Or another type entirely. And they put it in the same file
because it needs to work with the implementation details of the existing

Now the difference between possible meanings of “private” matters. And if
it is anything short of “fileprivate”, then the developer has to go back
and change access levels. Things no longer “just work”.

The alternative scenario is that one adds something to the file which
doesn’t need privileged access to what’s already there. In which case the
questions are, “Why put it in the same file at all?” and “If there is a
good reason to put it in the same file, is there any *harm* in it being
able to see private members?”

Most developers most of the time should not have to think about
sub-file-level granularity. If things are in the same file it is because
they need to work together closely. We should be able to mark members
“private” and work with them across the file. This dramatically reduces the
cognitive burden, and the amount of time spent fiddling with access levels.

With any meaning of “private” less than “fileprivate”, developers end up
marking things “private”, then letting the IDE change it to “fileprivate”
when the compiler complains. This tells me that people actually want the
semantics of “fileprivate”, and they want it to be spelled “private”.

The main exception, where people truly desire and intend for
tighter-than-file encapsulation, is when certain invariants must be
preserved, and should not be touched except by dedicated methods. And
*that* is the important case worth making unambiguously explicit.

All the talk about calling out cross-type sharing within a file seems
superfluous. That is one of the principle reasons for putting multiple
types in one file to begin with. But preserving invariants, now *that*
deserves a meaningful and significant syntax, ideally something loud that
warns developers not to mess with it.

So, why exactly is there a desire to make the semantics of “fileprivate”

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