Swift vs. Objective C: A Look at iOS Programming Languages
Objective-C is held in high regard in today’s world as the language is used to create iPhone apps. However, it was first created in 1980 and was thereafter licensed by NeXT Computer Inc., which was a company owned by Steve Jobs. Objective-C was deployed to create NeXTStep frameworks and subsequently became the foundation of a slew of iconic Apple products.
Objective-C finds its base in two other frameworks, C and Smalltalk. Its object syntax is drawn from Smalltalk, while its non-object-oriented operational syntax was derived from C. This makes Objective-C a language that has had ample time to mature and has seen entire generations of developers testing, tweaking, and writing code with it.
As for Swift, it was released by Apple in 2014, making it a comparatively newer framework. At first glance, Swift comes across as very similar to Objective-C, and yet it sports a multitude of features that are not present in its predecessor, Objective-C.
Ever since Swift was introduced, iOS developers have engaged in a heated debate over which language is better. Skeptics felt that even though Swift was transformational, it also came across as slightly forgettable. And yet, in a time span of just three years, Swift, the newer and easier way to build apps, became the fastest-growing programming language to have ever existed.
Why should you compare Objective-C vs. Swift?
To answer this question, there are two reasons why.
1. Both Objective-C and Swift are supported by Apple and are used extensively to build Apple products. Swift and Objective-C make native iOS applications ‘The most native.”
2. Swift is by no means a direct successor to Objective-C. Both languages have different capabilities and strengths, and developers often use these two languages interchangeably during iOS mobile app development.
So as a developers/project manager/enterprise, you must wonder which out of the two will work best for your project. To help answer your questions, here is a comprehensive list that details parameters in which Swift beats Objective-C when it comes to app development.
When faced with questions of business viability, cost efficiency, and development ease, the score-cards tally up for an overwhelming victory for Swift. But don’t just take our word for it. We present 8 reasons why Swift development can keep you ahead of the game.
Unfortunately, Objective-C programming carries all the burdens that are intrinsic to a language built on C. With a view of differentiating keywords and types from C types, Objective-C deployed new keywords prefixed by the @ symbol.
As for Swift, since it isn’t built on C, keyword unification is easy, and @symbols in front of object-related keywords and Objective-C types are no longer required.
Swift is known to drop legacy conventions, and therefore developers no longer need to enter semicolons to end lines. It also removes the need for parenthesis to cover the conditional expressions inside if/else statements. In Swift, there is no inter-nesting of method that helps developers evade bracket hell.
Even method and function calls in Swift are simplified by the utilization of industry-standard comma-separated parameter lists within parentheses resulting in a cleaner, simplified syntax and grammar leading to expressive, easy to write code.
Swift code has been simplified to the point that it resembles natural English, making it easier for programmers to adopt Swift over Objective-C.
2. Ease of maintenance
A great disadvantage that holds Objective-C back is its legacy. Objective-C cannot evolve before C evolves. Just like C, Objective-C requires developers to keep two code files to reduce build time, making the process risk-prone and rather tedious.
Swift development immediately scores over Objective-C by dropping the two-file requirement. Swift 1.2 sports Xcode and the LLVM compiler, which is capable of figuring out dependencies and performing automatic incremental builds. This means that the rote task of separating header files from implementation files is no longer a requirement.
In Swift programming, Xcode and the LLVM compiler works behind the scenes to synchronize method names and comments so that developers have to invest less time in bookkeeping and instead focus on creating app logic. Swift effectively eliminates boilerplate efforts and improves not only code quality but also the quality of comments and features.
In Objective-C, the line of code becomes a no-operation (no-op) if you attempt to call on a method with a nil pointer variable. In the short term, this is beneficial as it may not cause the code to crash, but it is, unfortunately, a massive source of bugs. No-ops lead to unpredictable behavior, which is detrimental to developer efforts of fixing crashes or stopping erratic behavior.
A nil optional value is very clearly visible in Swift code since it generates a compiler error causing a runtime crash. This crash stops on the line of code where the nil operational variable has been used, making it increasingly easy for developers to fix the issue right away. In Swift, issues can be addressed at the code writing stage and resultantly reduces the temporal and financial resources to be spent on bug removal.
4. Memory management
Both Swift and Objective-C do not suffer from a running garbage collector for unused memory like other popular languages like Java or C#. This is a crucial factor for programming languages that are to be used for lag-free responsive graphics and user input on touch devices like the Apple Watch or the iPhone.
In Objective-C, Automatic Reference Counting is supported within object-oriented code and the Cocoa APIs. However, ARC is not available for APIs like Core Graphics or procedural C code. Thus it becomes the developer’s task to manage memory while working with Core graphics APIs. This increases the risk of significant memory leakage.
Memory leaks in iOS development with Swift are completely eliminated. ARC in Swift works for both object-oriented as well as procedural code, resulting in the removal of mental context switches for developers. Because the ARC handles memory management during compile times, developer efforts can focus on core app logic and new features instead of memory management.
5. Coding ease
Text strings in Objective-C is a very verbose and multi-step process. Swift, on the other hand, significantly reduces the code required to be written by adding two-strings together with a unique “+” operator.
The complexity of code standards is further reduced in app development with Swift, given that its compiler can recognize types. With String interpolation, Swift coding removes the need to remember tokens while allowing developers to insert variables into user-facing strings like button titles or labels. Swift’s string interpolation and inferencing system eliminate the need to provide lists of comma-separated variables, mitigating one of the most common crash reasons.
As mentioned earlier, Swift has dropped many legacy objective-C conventions resulting in enhanced performance. According to GeekBench, which is a performance tool, Swift is close to the performance characteristics of C++ while using the Mandlebrot algorithm.
Xcode further improves Swift’s performance by a factor of 1.4 in the GEMM algorithm, which is memory-bound and has sequential access to large arrays. With FTT implementation that sports random access of large arrays, Swift has displayed a speed improvement of 8.5x, much faster than Objective-C
7. Reduced name collisions
One major issue that has kept Objective-C developers up at night is its lack of namespace support, which was used by C++ to tackle filename collisions. Name collisions in Objective-C trigger linker errors stopping the app in questions. There are workarounds in objective-C for this situation but are replete with complexity and possible pitfalls. Conventionally Objective-C developers use two to three-letter prefixes to recognize Objective-C code written by external programs vs. their own code.
The people’s champ Swift provides developers with namespaces that facilitate the existence of the same code file across multiple projects without build failures. This feature keeps developers focused on logic by reducing bookkeeping.
In Swift, namespaces allow developers to differentiate between classes and values through the namespace identifier tool. This, in turn, facilitates the seamless incorporation of open source projects, libraries, etc., into the code. Swift’s namespaces enable software companies to create identical file names without having to bother about collisions during open-source integrations.
8. Dynamic library support
Swift has switched from static to dynamic libraries, which are basically executable blocks of code that can be added to an app enabling existing Swift apps to link with newer versions of Swift as it evolves.
In Swift programming, apps and libraries are submitted together by developers, and both are digitally certified to ensure integrity. This means that Swift can face a faster evolution than iOS, which is a crucial requirement for every programming language.
iOS did not support dynamic libraries before Swift and iOS8 were launched, even though Mac has now been supporting them for a long time. Dynamic libraries feature in the app bundle in the App store even though they are external to app executables. This reduces the initial size of the app as external code is linked to the app only when it is utilized.
Swift’s ability to re-direct loading in an iOS mobile app or an Apple watch embedded app thus improving user perceptions of performance. This is one of the major reasons why the iOS ecosystem feels so responsive. Apple has been focused for a long time on loading resources and now even compiled linked code during runtimes. This form of loading significantly reduces wait times, thus keeping users engrossed and appeased.
Advantages of Swift
Now that you are aware of the aspects in which Swift triumphs over Objective-C, it’s time to take a look at a few more advantages of mobile app development in Swift-
- Thanks to the usage of static typing, optionals, and optional chaining Swift is much safer than Objective-C.
- Swift supports clear and concise mutability syntax and functional patterns.
- Swift offers a highly interactive development experience thanks to Playgrounds
- Swift has a smoother learning curve than Objective-C
- Swift has built space of its own in server-side development with high performance and a low memory footprint.
- Swift has great support from the Swift standard library that sports 42.5% code written with Swift.
- Swift provides instant visual feedback (with Xcode) without having to run the project on a simulator.
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Today if you enter a developer community and ask members to choose between Objective-C and Swift for ioS app development, you will witness an overpowering response in favor of Swift. Swift was created to be an improvement of Objective-C, and so far, it has delivered all it promised. However, the choice between the two should be strategically examined. A few questions that you could ask yourself are-
- What language is your team most comfortable with?
- What is the timeframe before the project commences?
- What is the scale and scope of your project?
- What is your budget?
- What are your future expectations from the project?
Developers adept at Objective-C might find it difficult to adapt to Swift, but learning Swift is remarkably easy if you do have time to spare. IF you are even further pressed for time, you could outsource your iOS development project to an offshore partner like Radixweb.
For over a decade now, Radixweb has maintained a market leader’s enviable position in iOS app development utilizing Swift. With over 4900 completed projects under our belt and satisfied clients spread across 25 countries, you can rest assured that your Swift app development is in good hands. Radixweb invites you to begin your iOS App development project with us and match world-class programming standards.