[swift-evolution] Standard ReactiveSteam definitions for Swift

Matt Gallagher mattxg at gmail.com
Sat Sep 23 21:36:45 CDT 2017

Some thoughts as a programmer who has written an atypical reactive programming library...

You're providing protocols that strongly imply ReactiveX semantics.

Some libraries (like my own CwlSignal) look a little like ReactiveX (in that CwlSignal implements all of the ReactiveX operators) but have some quite different semantics during graph construction and during other lifecycle events. For example, CwlSignal doesn't have public Subscriber concept (responsibilities are split between the private `SignalHandler` and the `SignalSender` interface) and while the core `Signal` class is a Publisher-like concept, it is single-use which would make it a very weird implementation of this `Publisher` protocol.

These differences can make protocols for interoperability a bit of a loaded shotgun. Joining two arbitrary libraries together is likely to cause problems when the libraries have different expectations.

In some respects, it would be better to have a single, standard, concrete implementation of a class that takes an event stream input and emits an event stream. This is sometimes called a PublishSubject. A generalized PublishSubject could act as the glue between different libraries on the input and output sides. That way, the semantics of the interoperability point are fixed and each library need only ensure they support the interoperability point, rather than the semantics of every other library that could be on the other side of a protocol.

To me, I feel like this would best be implemented as part of Actor model concurrency – taking inputs and emitting outputs is fundamentally what Actors *do*.

As for naming... I would *not* recommend using `Flow` it is far too generic, has been used in very different contexts and doesn't match terminology in the field. It's fine for a library to break with common terminology for its own purposes but an interoperability interface must use the established terminology. `Publisher` and `Subscriber` are fairly clear in context but can mean very different things *outside* of reactive programming. `Observable` and `Observer` are clearer but again, the `Observer` pattern in general programming is not the same as a reactive programming `Observer` so putting it in the Swift standard library would annoy some people. On an aesthetic note, I've always found `Observer` and `Observable` difficult to read – they are similar enough that I confuse inputs and outputs when I'm tired. This is one of the reasons these terms do not appear in my library.

My personal vote is that this topic simply can't be addressed by the standard library at this point. This is something where interoperability with Swift's Actor Model should be a primary concern and until it's done, any action now is only likely to be a headache later.

Matt Gallagher.

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