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Replace protocol<P1,P2> syntax with P1 & P2 syntax


The current protocol<> construct, which defines an existential type consisting of zero or more protocols, should be replaced by an infix & type operator joining bare protocol type names.

Discussion threads: pre-proposal, review thread 1, return for revision thread


A stated goal for Swift 3.0 is making breaking changes to prepare the way for features to be introduced in future features, especially those involving the enhancements to the generics system detailed in Completing Generics.

One such change described in Completing Generics is improving the existing protocol<> syntax in order to allow it to serve as a syntactic foundation for more generalized existential types. This is a straightforward change which will allow a later version of Swift to introduce better handling for existential types without making breaking changes, or changes whose functionality overlaps with that of existing features.

Proposed solution

The protocol<...> construct should be removed. In its place, an infix type operator & will be introduced.

An existential type comprised of more than one protocol will be defined by listing its types, separated by the & operator, as shown below in the examples.

The existing Any typealias, which represents all types that conform to zero or more protocols (i.e. all types), will become a keyword. Its meaning will not change.

Trivial example:

protocol A { }
protocol B { }
protocol C { }

struct Foo : A, B, C { }

let a : A & B & C = Foo()

Example with functions:

protocol A { }
protocol B { }

// Existential
func firstFunc(x: A & B) { ... }

// Generic
func secondFunc<T : A & B>(x: T) { ... }

The use of & instead of , more clearly conveys the intent of the syntactic construct: defining a composite type formed from the conjunction of two or more protocol types.

Impact on existing code

Programmers will need to update any code using protocol<...>. Code that uses Any, but no protocol composition, will be unaffected. Code that happens to use protocol<> must be changed to use Any instead.

Future directions

Whenever a generalized existential proposal is prepared, the syntax established by this proposal can be extended as appropriate to cover additional functionality (such as where clauses).

Alternatives considered

The original proposal suggested replacing protocol<> with either Any<> or any<>.


Matthew Johnson and Brent Royal-Gordon provided valuable input which helped shape the first version of this proposal.