Swift, Apple’s New Programming Language, Was Born Four Years Ago


When Tim Cook took the stage on Monday morning to start this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference, he pointed to the three topics of the Apple keynote: OS X, iOS, and Dev. And since the WWDC is a sort of “geek Christmas”, Apple has announced a new programming language, Swift, the perfect gift to attract young developers (via TechCrunch).

As we heard during the keynote, Swift builds upon the compiler, runtime, and libraries iOS and Mac OS X developers use with Objective-C today. In other words, for developers working with Objective-C, the transition to Swift will be effortless. And to demonstrate how easy it is to use, a developer has built a Flappy Bird clone with Swift in about nine hours.

As it turns out, Swift isn’t as new as some suspected: the programming language has been in the works for the past four years. And it has a father, Chris Lattner, director of Apple’s Developer Tools Department, who tweeted recently that he will be the only one with more than four years of Swift programming experience.

I started work on the Swift Programming Language (wikipedia) in July of 2010. I implemented much of the basic language structure, with only a few people knowing of its existence. A few other (amazing) people started contributing in earnest late in 2011, and it became a major focus for the Apple Developer Tools group in July 2013, Lattner writes on his personal website.

The Swift language is the product of tireless effort from a team of language experts, documentation gurus, compiler optimization ninjas, and an incredibly important internal dogfooding group who provided feedback to help refine and battle-test ideas. Of course, it also greatly benefited from the experiences hard-won by many other languages in the field, drawing ideas from Objective-C, Rust, Haskell, Ruby, Python, C#, CLU, and far too many others to list.

In 2011 a few select engineers joined his project, but Apple started focusing on Swift only since last year in July. Swift represents a fresh and fun approach to coding, and Apple is taking a huge gamble with this: “Write the code. Change the world”, the motto of WWDC 2014 says.

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