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Allow trailing closures in guard conditions

Introduction and Motivation

Swift-evolution thread: "Allow trailing closures in 'guard' conditions"

The three statements if, while, and guard form a family that all take a rich form of conditions that can include one or more boolean conditions, #available clauses, and let/case pattern bindings. These are described by the condition-clause production in the TSPL reference section and as a stmt-condition in the compiler source code.

Today, these do not permit trailing closures in any top-level expressions embedded in the condition, because that would be generally ambiguous with the body of an if or while statement:

if foo {   // start of trailing closure, or start of the if body?

While it would be possible to tell what is intended in some cases by performing arbitrary lookahead or by performing type checking while parsing, these approaches have significant consequences for the architecture for the compiler. As such, we've opted keep the parser simple and disallow this. Unrelated to this proposal, a recent patch in Swift 3 greatly improves the error messages in some of the most common cases where a developer accidentally tries to do this.

However, while this approach makes sense for if and while statements, it does not make sense for guard: The body of a guard statement is delineated by the else keyword, so there is no ambiguity. A brace is always the start of a trailing closure.

From a historical perspective, the current situation was an oversight. An earlier design for guard did not include the else keyword (it used the unless keyword), and I forgot to eliminate this requirement when we decided to resyntax it to guard/else.

Proposed solution

The solution is simple: allow trailing closures in guard bodies. As one example, it would allow this example (adapted from the "Advanced Swift" book) to compile correctly:

guard let object = someSequence.findElement { $0.passesTest() } else {

Detailed design

The compiler change to do this is extremely straight-forward, the patch is available here.

Impact on existing code

There is no impact on existing code. This only makes formerly invalid code start being accepted.

Alternatives considered

There are four primary alternatives:

  • Do nothing: It can be argued that this change would make guard inconsistent with the restrictions of if and while and that inconsistency would be confusing. On the other hand, I am arguing that this is an arbitrary restriction.

  • Expand the scope of if and while statements: Through enough heroics and lookahead we could consider relaxing the trailing closure requirements on if and while statements as well. While this could be interesting, it raises several ambiguity questions, which makes it non-obvious that it is the right thing to do. In any case, since this expansion would be compatible with this proposal, I see it as a separable potential extension on top of this basic proposal.

  • Change the syntax of guard: I only list this for completeness, but we could eliminate the else keyword, making guard more similar to if and while. I personally think that this is a really bad idea though: the guard statement is not a general unless statement, and its current syntax was very very carefully evaluated, iterated on, discussed, and re-evaluated in the Swift 2 timeframe. I feel that it has stood the test of time well since then.

  • Change the syntax of if and while: Brent Royal-Gordon points out that we could change if and while to use a keyword after their condition as well, e.g.:

if expr then {
while expr do {
for elem in expr do { code }
switch expr among { code }

This would make it easy to support trailing closures in if and while, but it has some disadvantages: it takes a new keyword (then), it diverges unnecessarily from the rest of the C family of languages.


On April 20, 2016, the core team decided to reject this proposal. The core team felt that the benefits from this change were outweighed by the inconsistency it would introduce with if and while.

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