What is Swift? A look at the open source programming language

By Jonathan Hassell

If you’ve been listening to the latest craft beer talk among developers, you may be asking yourself, “What is Swift?”

Swift is a modern, easy to use and powerful programming language pioneered by Apple, and it makes it much easier for developers to build and deliver great app experiences. Released to open source in December 2015, Swift’s appeal is growing quickly, with community efforts now underway to take the language to new platforms and use it for more than just iOS app development.

Swift is fast, secure from the beginning, requires significantly less code and is quickly usable by even novice programmers. With Swift, you’ll still have the programming concepts common to all development languages, including variables, loops, structures and arrays, but these elements are exposed in a more intuitive way that makes it easy to see and understand what’s happening in your app.

Key features of Swift

There are a few distinct features that make Swift’s latest iteration, known as Swift 2, a compelling option for both new and seasoned developers interested in writing everything from apps for the iOS platform to server-side services that run in the cloud. The following are features that contribute to the language’s unique value proposition:

  • It’s fast, secure and easy to use
    Swift was designed from the ground up to be fast, secure and easy to use. Though you might have a function that requires 10 or 15 lines of code in Objective-C, you can accomplish the same objective with two or three lines in Swift. The syntax is conversational and easy to follow, and the Swift compiler protects the developer from security flaws that come from using unsafe classes of code, such as runtime defined variables, overflow verification and general memory management.
  • It’s an open source platform
    With Swift as an open source project, the entire community can now see inside Swift, extend its capabilities and create more powerful integration and interoperability with other languages and support it on new platforms, such as servers running Linux. Its popularity as a platform programming language continues to grow since its release as an open source project, which enabled it to be extended by the community. Fueled by the move to open source, Swift has moved quickly up the language rankings, now ranking number 17 in the latest RedMonk programming language report.
  • You can see your code executed in real time
    The coding environments in Swift are allowing developers to see their code being executed in real time. Xcode, the Swift interactive playground, delivers a window pane that lives right beside the window in which you write code. The IBM Swift Sandbox delivers a similar experience in the cloud through which developers can learn and play with Swift, including the rapidly evolving list of Swift versions. This means there is no need to build an executable and then wait to run the program. These environments make it easy to use Swift and share code with your peers and the community.

Try Swift Today

Swift for server-side programming

Since Swift was delivered as an open source project to the community, IBM has supported developers with the ability to run Swift on the server. Previously, Swift was only used to program and compile on the client side, and other languages were used to execute server-side or cloud workloads such as location services, transaction processing, order fulfillment and anything else a cloud-connected app would need to do.

However, this development model meant a company deploying apps would need developers proficient in potentially multiple languages — Swift and whatever languages were being used on the server. Now, Swift developers can write services that are deployed to and executed on the cloud, so the same development team can write and deploy Swift code to execute on the right tier in the architecture at the right time. Mobile apps can be made more efficient, scalable and secure due to the ability to build and run services written in Swift in the cloud.

So, what is Swift? In a nutshell, it’s a modern, powerful, intuitive, open source programming language that is opening the doors for a new generation of developers to build high-quality, fast and secure apps and services.

Written By

Jonathan Hassell

President, 82 Ventures

Jonathan Hassell runs 82 Ventures, a technical writing and consulting firm based in Charlotte, NC. He centers his focus around network administrator, security, the cloud, and mobile technologies.

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