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Referencing Objective-C key-paths


In Objective-C and Swift, key-paths used by KVC and KVO are represented as string literals (e.g., "friend.address.streetName"). This proposal seeks to improve the safety and resilience to modification of code using key-paths by introducing a compiler-checked expression.

SE Draft, Review thread


The use of string literals for key paths is extremely error-prone: there is no compile-time assurance that the string corresponds to a valid key-path. In a similar manner to the proposal for the Objective-C selector expression SE-0022, this proposal introduces syntax for referencing compiler-checked key-paths. When the referenced properties and methods are renamed or deleted, the programmer will be notified by a compiler error.

Proposed solution

Introduce a new expression #keyPath() that allows one to build a compile-time valid key-path string literal (to allow it be used as StaticString and StringLiteralConvertible):

class Person: NSObject {
    dynamic var firstName: String = ""
    dynamic var lastName: String = ""
    dynamic var friends: [Person] = []
    dynamic var bestFriend: Person?

    init(firstName: String, lastName: String) {
        self.firstName = firstName
        self.lastName = lastName

let chris = Person(firstName: "Chris", lastName: "Lattner")
let joe = Person(firstName: "Joe", lastName: "Groff")
let douglas = Person(firstName: "Douglas", lastName: "Gregor")
chris.friends = [joe, douglas]
chris.bestFriend = joe

#keyPath(Person.firstName) // => "firstName"
chris.valueForKey(#keyPath(Person.firstName)) // => Chris
#keyPath(Person.bestFriend.lastName) // => "bestFriend.lastName"
chris.valueForKeyPath(#keyPath(Person.bestFriend.lastName)) // => Groff
#keyPath(Person.friends.firstName) // => "friends.firstName"
chris.valueForKeyPath(#keyPath(Person.friends.firstName)) // => ["Joe", "Douglas"]

By having the #keyPath expression do the work to form the Objective-C key-path string, we free the developer from having to do the manual typing and get static checking that the key-path exists and is exposed to Objective-C.

It would also be very convenient for the #keyPath to accept value (instead of static) expressions:

extension Person {
    class func find(name: String) -> [Person] {
        return DB.execute("SELECT * FROM Person WHERE \(#keyPath(firstName)) LIKE '%s'", name)

In this case, #keyPath(firstName) is understood to represent #keyPath(Person.firstName).

Collection Keypaths

As Foundation types are not strongly-typed, the key-path expression should only accept traversing SequenceType conforming types:

let swiftArray = ["Chris", "Joe", "Douglas"]
let nsArray = NSArray(array: swiftArray)
swiftArray.valueForKeyPath(#keyPath(swiftArray.count)) // => 3
swiftArray.valueForKeyPath(#keyPath(swiftArray.uppercased)) // => ["CHRIS", "JOE", "DOUGLAS"]
swiftArray.valueForKeyPath(#keyPath(nsArray.count)) // => 3
swiftArray.valueForKeyPath(#keyPath(nsArray.uppercaseString)) // compiler error

There is some implicit bridging going on here that could use some detailed design. If I refer to Person.lastName.uppercased, that's a method on the value type String. At runtime, we're depending on getting the uppercaseString method on NSString. This may be as simple as saying that we follow the _ObjectiveCBridgeable conformance for any value type encountered along the way.

Collection Operators

This proposal purposely does not attempt to implement Collection Operators as the current functionality stands on its own and is useful even without the Objective-C runtime (as can be seen in the previous example). On the contrary, collection operators will require more design, and are only useable with valueForKeyPath: which is not available on Linux.

Impact on existing code

The introduction of the #keyPath expression has no impact on existing code, and is simply a modification-safe alternative to using strings literal for referencing key-paths.

Alternatives considered

There does not seem to be any obvious alternatives. The only point of discussion was on the name of the expression. #key was proposed: it is shorter but does not seem to express that the expression accepts paths.