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@DougGregor @sheng168 @benrimmington @kostiakoval @SwiftsNamesake @jessesquires @bejar37 @addisonleong @3lvis
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Allow (most) keywords as argument labels


Argument labels are an important part of the interface of a Swift function, describing what particular arguments to the function do and improving readability. Sometimes, the most natural label for an argument coincides with a language keyword, such as in, repeat, or defer. Such keywords should be allowed as argument labels, allowing better expression of these interfaces.


In some functions, the best argument label for a particular parameter happens to coincide with a language keyword. For example, consider a module-scope function that finds the index of a particular value in a collection. A natural name for this would be indexOf(_:in:):

indexOf(value, in: collection)

However, because in is a keyword, one would actually have to use backticks to escape the in, e.g.:

indexOf(value, `in`: collection)

When defining new APIs in Swift, authors will tend to pick other non-keyword words (e.g., within for this example), even if they aren't ideal. However, this issue also comes up when importing Objective-C APIs under the "omit needless words" heuristics, requiring escaping to use those APIs. For example:

event.touchesMatching([.Began, .Moved], `in`: view)
NSXPCInterface(`protocol`: SomeProtocolType.Protocol)

Proposed solution

Allow the use of all keywords except inout, var, and let as argument labels. This affects the grammar in three places:

  • Call expressions, such as the examples above. Here, we have no grammatic ambiguities, because " `:`" does not appear in any grammar production within a parenthesized expression list. This is, by far, the most important case.

  • Function/subscript/initializer declarations: aside from the three exclusions above, there is no ambiguity here because the keyword will always be followed by an identifier, ‘:’, or ‘_’. For example:

func touchesMatching(phase: NSTouchPhase, in view: NSView?) -> Set<NSTouch>

Keywords that introduce or modify a parameter—-currently just "inout", "let", and "var"—-will need to retain their former meanings. If we invent an API that uses such keywords, they will still need to be back-ticked:

func addParameter(name: String, `inout`: Bool)
  • Function types: these are actually easier than #2, because the parameter name is always followed by a ‘:’:
(NSTouchPhase, in: NSView?) -> Set<NSTouch>
(String, inout: Bool) -> Void

Impact on existing code

This functionality is strictly additive, and does not break any existing code: it only makes some previously ill-formed code well-formed, and does not change the behavior of any well-formed code.

Alternatives considered

The primary alternative here is to do nothing: Swift APIs will continue to avoid keywords for argument labels, even when they are the most natural word for the label, and imported APIs will either continue to use backticks or will need to be renamed. This alternative leaves a large number of imported APIs (nearly 200) requiring either some level of renaming of the API or backticks at the call site.

A second alternative is to focus on in itself, which is by far the most common keyword argument in imported APIs. In a brief survey of imported APIs, in accounted for 90% of the conflicts with existing keywords. Moreover, the keyword in is only used in two places in the Swift grammar--for loops and closures--so it could be made context-sensitive. However, this solution is somewhat more complicated (because it requires more context-sensitive keyword parsing) and less general.

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