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Declaring executable targets in Package Manifests


This proposal lets Swift Package authors declare targets as executable in the package manifest. This replaces the current approach of inferring executability based on the presence of a source file with the base name main at the top level of the target source directory.

Letting package authors declare targets as executable allows the use of @main in Swift package targets. It also allows for better diagnostics, since the purpose of the target is unambiguous even if source files are moved or renamed.


The Swift Package Manager doesn’t currently provide a way for a package manifest to declare that a target provides the main module for an executable. Instead, SwiftPM infers this by looking for a compilable source file with a base name of main at the top level of the target directory.

It is important to know unambiguously whether or not a target is intended to be executable, because it affects the flags that are passed to the compiler at build time. It also affects the quality of diagnostics, such as detecting product declarations that mistakenly include more or less than a single executable target in an executable product.

Relying on specially named source files also doesn’t work when using @main to specify the entry point of an executable. In addition, there are ergonomic problems with using specially named source files (e.g. SR-1379) that would be addressed by being able to explicitly declare a target as being executable in the manifest.

Proposed solution

The most straightforward approach is to allow a target to be marked as executable in the manifest. This could take the form of either a parameter to the existing target type, or a new target type.

There is already an established pattern of using the type itself to denote the kind of target being declared (e.g. testTarget as a specialization of target), so this proposal suggests adding a new executableTarget type for this purpose.

Using a separate target type in the manifest would also support any future differences in parameters between an executable target and a library target. It would also be easier to read in a package manifest that includes a long list of target declarations.

Detailed design

The PackageDescription API is updated to add an executableTarget function, currently having the same parameters as the target function:

/// Creates an executable target.
/// An executable target can contain either Swift or C-family source files, but not both. It contains code that
/// is built as an executable module that can be used as the main target of an executable product.  The target
/// is expected to either have a source file named `main.swift`, `main.m`, `main.c`, or `main.cpp`, or a source
///  file that contains the `@main` keyword.
/// - Parameters:
///   - name: The name of the target.
///   - dependencies: The dependencies of the target. A dependency can be another target in the package or a product from a package dependency.
///   - path: The custom path for the target. By default, the Swift Package Manager requires a target's sources to reside at predefined search paths;
///       for example, `[PackageRoot]/Sources/[TargetName]`.
///       Don't escape the package root; for example, values like `../Foo` or `/Foo` are invalid.
///   - exclude: A list of paths to files or directories that the Swift Package Manager shouldn't consider to be source or resource files.
///       A path is relative to the target's directory.
///       This parameter has precedence over the `sources` parameter.
///   - sources: An explicit list of source files. If you provide a path to a directory,
///       the Swift Package Manager searches for valid source files recursively.
///   - resources: An explicit list of resources files.
///   - publicHeadersPath: The directory containing public headers of a C-family library target.
///   - cSettings: The C settings for this target.
///   - cxxSettings: The C++ settings for this target.
///   - swiftSettings: The Swift settings for this target.
///   - linkerSettings: The linker settings for this target.
@available(_PackageDescription, introduced: 999.0)
public static func executableTarget(
   name: String,
   dependencies: [Dependency] = [],
   path: String? = nil,
   exclude: [String] = [],
   sources: [String]? = nil,
   resources: [Resource]? = nil,
   publicHeadersPath: String? = nil,
   cSettings: [CSetting]? = nil,
   cxxSettings: [CXXSetting]? = nil,
   swiftSettings: [SwiftSetting]? = nil,
   linkerSettings: [LinkerSetting]? = nil
) -> Target {
   return Target(
       name: name,
       dependencies: dependencies,
       path: path,
       exclude: exclude,
       sources: sources,
       resources: resources,
       publicHeadersPath: publicHeadersPath,
       type: .executable,
       cSettings: cSettings,
       cxxSettings: cxxSettings,
       swiftSettings: swiftSettings,
       linkerSettings: linkerSettings

A new .executable case is also added to the TargetType enum in the PackageDescription API.

These are the only API changes that are visible to package manifest authors.

On the implementation side, this proposal also updates the logic in SwiftPM so that:

  • if the package tools-version is less than 5.4, a target is considered to be executable in exactly the same way as in versions of SwiftPM prior to 5.4
  • if the package tools-version is greater than or equal to 5.4, then:
    • if the target is declared using .executableTarget, then it is considered to be an executable target
    • if the target is declared using .target, then source files are examined using the same rules as prior to 5.4, and a warning suggesting that the target be declared using .executableTarget is emitted if the target is considered executable under those rules

The effect of this logic is that, starting with SwiftPM tools-version 5.4, declaring an executable target by using .target and having it inferred to be an executable by the presence of a source file with a base name of main is considered deprecated but still works.

This approach eases the transition for any package that adopts tools-version 5.4, and provides better diagnostics to change the declarations of executable targets to use .executableTarget. If technically feasible, the warning should have a fix-it to change the associated .target declaration to .executableTarget.

A future tools-version will remove the warning and treat any target that is declared using .target as a library target.

SwiftPM already passes different flags when compiling executable targets and library targets, and that remains unchanged. In particular, SwiftPM passes -parse-as-library when compiling a non-executable target, and will continue to do so with these changes. It will continue to not pass this flag when compiling executable targets, so that the compiler will continue to interpret main.swift as the main source file of an executable.

Impact on existing packages

There is no impact on existing packages. Packages that specify a tools-version of 5.4 or greater will get the new behavior. Any package graph can contain a mixture of old and new packages, and each target's executability will be determined according to the tools-version of the package that declares it.

As with any Swift module, the Swift compiler will not let an executable have multiple @main entry points, including one that is specified by having a main.swift source file in the target.

Alternatives considered

There are various other ways that could have been considered for designating a target as executable:

As a new parameter on target

Target declaration functions already have many parameters, and this would exacerbate that problem. It would also make it difficult to syntactically distinguish between executable targets and library targets in the package manifest. It would also make it difficult to add future parameters that applied to only library targets or executable targets.

Through some other designation outside the manifest

Since the intended executability of a target is a fundamental statement of purpose, it seems logical that this should be denoted in the package manifest. The Swift package manifest provides all the information other than what can be inferred from the file system.

Future directions

It is somewhat redundant that a package having only a single executable target that builds a single executable product will now have both a product and target with the word "executable" in its type. This is mitigated by the existing Swift Package Manager behavior of implicitly creating an executable product for any executable target if there isn't already a product with the same name (this behavior remains unchanged by this proposal).

Since a future goal is to find a way to unify product and target declarations in the package manifest, the redundant appearance of the word "executable" in both product and target type names is expected to be only a short-term issue.