612 lines (479 sloc) 23.6 KB

Limiting @objc inference


One can explicitly write @objc on any Swift declaration that can be expressed in Objective-C. As a convenience, Swift also infers @objc in a number of places to improve interoperability with Objective-C and eliminate boilerplate. This proposal scales back the inference of @objc to only those cases where the declaration must be available to Objective-C to maintain semantic coherence of the model, e.g., when overriding an @objc method or implementing a requirement of an @objc protocol. Other cases currently supported (e.g., a method declared in a subclass of NSObject) would no longer infer @objc, but one could continue to write it explicitly to produce Objective-C entry points.

Swift-evolution thread: here and here


There are several observations motivating this proposal. The first is that Swift's rules for inference of @objc are fairly baroque, and it is often unclear to users when @objc will be inferred. This proposal seeks to make the inference rules more straightforward. The second observation is that it is fairly easy to write Swift classes that inadvertently cause Objective-C selector collisions due to overloading, e.g.,

class MyNumber : NSObject {
  init(_ int: Int) { }
  init(_ double: Double) { } // error: initializer 'init' with Objective-C selector 'init:' 
      // conflicts with previous declaration with the same Objective-C selector

The example above also illustrates the third observation, which is that code following the Swift API Design Guidelines will use Swift names that often translate into very poor Objective-C names that violate the Objective-C Coding Guidelines for Cocoa. Specifically, the Objective-C selectors for the initializers above should include a noun describing the first argument, e.g., initWithInteger: and initWithDouble:, which requires explicit @objc annotations anyway:

class MyNumber : NSObject {
  @objc(initWithInteger:) init(_ int: Int) { }
  @objc(initWithDouble:) init(_ double: Double) { }

The final observation is that there is a cost for each Objective-C entry point, because the Swift compiler must create a "thunk" method that maps from the Objective-C calling convention to the Swift calling convention and is recorded within Objective-C metadata. This increases the size of the binary (preliminary tests on some Cocoa[Touch] apps found that 6-8% of binary size was in these thunks alone, some of which are undoubtedly unused), and can have some impact on load time (the dynamic linker has to sort through the Objective-C metadata for these thunks).

Proposed solution

The proposed solution is to limit the inference of @objc to only those places where it is required for semantic consistency of the programming model. Then, add some class-level and extension-level annotations to reduce boilerplate for cases where one wants to enable/disable @objc inference more widely.

Constructs that (still) infer @objc

Specifically, @objc will continue to be inferred for a declaration when:

  • The declaration is an override of an @objc declaration, e.g.,

    class Super {
        @objc func foo() { }
    class Sub : Super {
        /* inferred @objc */
        override func foo() { }

    This inference is required so that Objective-C callers to the method will appropriately invoke the overriding method

  • The declaration satisfies a requirement of an @objc protocol, e.g.,

    @objc protocol MyDelegate {
        func bar()
    class MyClass : MyDelegate {
        /* inferred @objc */
        func bar() { }

    This inference is required because anyone calling, whether from Objective-C or Swift, will do so via an Objective-C message send, so conforming to the protocol requires an Objective-C entry point.

  • The declaration has the @IBAction or @IBOutlet attribute. This inference is required because the interaction with Interface Builder occurs entirely through the Objective-C runtime, and therefore depends on the existence of an Objective-C entrypoint.

  • The declaration has the @NSManaged attribute. This inference is required because the interaction with CoreData occurs entirely through the Objective-C runtime, and therefore depends on the existence of an Objective-C entrypoint.

The list above describes cases where Swift 3 already performs inference of @objc and will continue to do so if this proposal is accepted.

Additional constructs that will infer @objc

These are new cases that should infer @objc, but currently don't in Swift. @objc should be inferred when:

  • The declaration has the @GKInspectable attribute. This inference is required because the interaction with GameplayKit occurs entirely through the Objective-C runtime.

  • The declaration has the @IBInspectable attribute. This inference is required because the interaction with Interface Builder occurs entirely through the Objective-C runtime.

dynamic no longer infers @objc

A declaration that is dynamic will no longer infer @objc. For example:

class MyClass {
  dynamic func foo() { }       // error: 'dynamic' method must be '@objc'
  @objc dynamic func bar() { } // okay

This change is intended to separate current implementation limitations from future language evolution: the current implementation supports dynamic by always using the Objective-C message send mechanism, allowing replacement of dynamic implementations via the Objective-C runtime (e.g., class_addMethod and class_replaceMethod). In the future, it is plausible that the Swift language and runtime will evolve to support dynamic without relying on the Objective-C runtime, and it's important that we leave the door open for that language evolution.

This change therefore does two things. First, it makes it clear that the dynamic behavior is tied to the Objective-C runtime. Second, it means that well-formed Swift 4 code will continue to work in the same way should Swift gain the ability to provide dynamic without relying on Objective-C: at that point, the method foo() above will become well-formed, and the method bar() will continue to work as it does today through the Objective-C runtime. Indeed, this change is the right way forward even if Swift never supports dynamic in its own runtime, following the precedent of SE-0070, which required the Objective-C-only protocol feature "optional requirements" to be explicitly marked with @objc.

NSObject-derived classes no longer infer @objc

A declaration within an NSObject-derived class will no longer infer @objc. For example:

class MyClass : NSObject {
  func foo() { } // not exposed to Objective-C in Swift 4

This is the only major change of this proposal, because it means that a large number of methods that Swift 3 would have exposed to Objective-C (and would, therefore, be callable from Objective-C code in a mixed project) will no longer be exposed. On the other hand, this is the most unpredictable part of the Swift 3 model, because such methods infer @objc only when the method can be expressed in Objective-C. For example:

extension MyClass {
  func bar(param: ObjCClass) { } // exposed to Objective-C in Swift 3; not exposed by this proposal
  func baz(param: SwiftStruct) { } // not exposed to Objective-C

With this proposal, neither method specifies @objc nor is either required by the semantic model to expose an Objective-C entrypoint, so they don't infer @objc: there is no need to reason about the type of the parameter's suitability in Objective-C.

Re-enabling @objc inference within a class hierarchy

Some libraries and systems still depend greatly on the Objective-C runtime's introspection facilities. For example, XCTest uses Objective-C runtime metadata to find the test cases in XCTestCase subclasses. To support such systems, introduce a new attribute for classes in Swift, spelled @objcMembers, that re-enables @objc inference for the class, its extensions, its subclasses, and (by extension) all of their extensions. For example:

class MyClass : NSObject {
  func foo() { }             // implicitly @objc

  func bar() -> (Int, Int)   // not @objc, because tuple returns
      // aren't representable in Objective-C

extension MyClass {
  func baz() { }   // implicitly @objc

class MySubClass : MyClass {
  func wibble() { }   // implicitly @objc

extension MySubClass {
  func wobble() { }   // implicitly @objc

This will be paired with an Objective-C attribute, spelled swift_objc_members, that allows imported Objective-C classes to be imported as @objcMembers:

@interface XCTestCase : XCTest
/* ... */

will be imported into Swift as:

class XCTestCase : XCTest { /* ... */ }

Enabling/disabling @objc inference within an extension

There might be certain regions of code for which all of (or none of) the entry points should be exposed to Objective-C. Allow either @objc or @nonobjc to be specified on an extension. The @objc or @nonobjc will apply to any member of that extension that does not have its own @objc or @nonobjc annotation. For example:

class SwiftClass { }

@objc extension SwiftClass {
  func foo() { }            // implicitly @objc
  func bar() -> (Int, Int)  // error: tuple type (Int, Int) not
      // expressible in @objc. add @nonobjc or move this method to fix the issue

class MyClass : NSObject {
  func wibble() { }    // implicitly @objc

@nonobjc extension MyClass {
  func wobble() { }    // not @objc, despite @objcMembers

Note that @objc on an extension provides less-surprising behavior than the implicit @objc inference of Swift 3, because it indicates the intent to expose everything in that extension to Objective-C. If some member within that extension cannot be exposed to Objective-C, such as, the compiler will produce an error.

Side benefit: more reasonable expectations for @objc protocol extensions

Users are often surprised to realize that extensions of @objc protocols do not, in fact, produce Objective-C entrypoints:

@objc protocol P { }

extension P {
  func bar() { }

class C : NSObject, P { }

let c = C()
print(c.responds(to: Selector("bar"))) // prints "false"

The expectation that has an Objective-C entry point is set by the fact that NSObject-derived Swift classes do implicitly create Objective-C entry points for declarations within class extensions when possible, but Swift does not (and, practically speaking, cannot) do the same for protocol extensions.

A previous mini-proposal discussed here suggested requiring @nonobjc for members of @objc protocol extensions. However, limiting inference of @objc eliminates the expectation itself, addressing the problem from a different angle.

Source compatibility

The two changes that remove inference of @objc are both source-breaking in different ways. The dynamic change mostly straightforward:

  • In Swift 4 mode, introduce an error when a dynamic declaration does not explicitly state @objc (or infer it based on one of the @objc inference rules that still applies in Swift 4), with a Fix-It to add the @objc.

  • In Swift 3 compatibility mode, continue to infer @objc for dynamic methods. However, introduce a warning that such code will be ill-formed in Swift 4, along with a Fix-It to add the @objc.

  • A Swift 3-to-4 migrator could employ the same logic as Swift 3 compatibility mode to update dynamic declarations appropriately.

The elimination of inference of @objc for declarations in NSObject subclasses is more complicated. Considering again the three cases:

  • In Swift 4 mode, do not infer @objc for such declarations. Source-breaking changes that will be introduced include:

    • If #selector or #keyPath refers to one such declaration, an error will be produced on previously-valid code that the declaration is not @objc. In most cases, a Fix-It will suggest the addition of @objc.

    • If a message is sent to one of these declarations via AnyObject, the compiler may produce an error (if no @objc entity by that name exists anywhere) or a failure might occur at runtime (if another, unrelated @objc entity exists with that same name). For example:

      class MyClass : NSObject {
        func foo() { }
        func bar() { }
      class UnrelatedClass : NSObject {
        @objc func bar() { }
      func test(object: AnyObject) {  // Swift 3: can call method
                       // Swift 4: compiler error, no @objc method "foo()"  // Swift 3: can call or
                       // Swift 4: can only call
    • If one of these declarations is written in a class extension and is overridden, the override will produce an error in Swift 4 because Swift's class model does not support overriding declarations introduced in class extensions. For example:

      class MySuperclass : NSObject { }
      extension MySuperclass {
        func extMethod() { } // implicitly @objc in Swift 3, not in Swift 4
      class MySubclass : MySuperclass {
        override func extMethod() { }   // Swift 3: okay
           // Swift 4: error "declarations in extensions cannot override yet"
    • Objective-C code in mixed-source projects won't be able to call these declarations. Most problems caused by this will result in warnings or errors from the Objective-C compiler (due to unrecognized selectors); some may only be detected at runtime, similarly to the AnyObject case described above.

    • Other tools and frameworks that rely on the presence of Objective-C entrypoints (e.g., via strings) but do not make use of Swift's facilities for referring to them will fail. This case is particularly hard to diagnose well, and failures of this sort are likely to cause runtime failures (e.g., unrecoignized selectors) that only the developer can diagnose and correct.

  • In Swift 3 compatibility mode, continue to infer @objc for these declarations. We can warn about uses of the @objc entrypoints in cases where the @objc is inferred in Swift 3 but will not be in Swift 4.

  • A Swift 3-to-4 migrator is the hardest part of the story. The migrator should have a switch: a "conservative" option and a "minimal" option.

    • The "conservative" option (which is the best default) simply adds explicit @objc annotations to every entity that was implicitly @objc in Swift 3 but would not implicitly be @objc in Swift
    1. Migrated projects won't get the benefits of the more-limited @objc inference, but they will work out-of-the-box.
    • The "minimal" option attempts to only add @objc in places where it is needed to maintain the semantics of the program. It would be driven by the diagnostics mentioned above (for #selector, #keyPath, AnyObject messaging, and overrides), but some manual intervention will be involved to catch the runtime cases. More discussion of the migration workflow follows.

"Minimal" migration workflow

To migrate a Swift 3 project to Swift 4 without introducing spurious Objective-C entry points, we can apply the following workflow:

  1. In Swift 4 mode, address all of the warnings about uses of declarations for which @objc was inferred based on the deprecated rule.
  2. Set the environment variable SWIFT_DEBUG_IMPLICIT_OBJC_ENTRYPOINT to a value between 1 and 3 (see below) and test the application. Clean up any "deprecated @objc entrypoint` warnings.
  3. Migrate to Swift 4 with "minimal" migration, which at this point will only add @objc to explicitly dynamic declarations.

The following subsections describe this migration in more detail.

Step 1: Address compiler warnings

The compiler can warn about most instances of the source-breaking changes outlined above. Here is an example that demonstrates the warnings in Swift code, all of which are generated by the Swift compiler:

class MyClass : NSObject {
  func foo() { }

  var property: NSObject? = nil

  func baz() { }

extension MyClass {
  func bar() { }

class MySubClass : MyClass {
  override func foo() { }    // okay

  override func bar() { }    // warning: override of instance method
      // 'bar()' from extension of 'MyClass' depends on deprecated inference
      //  of '@objc'

func test(object: AnyObject, mine: MyClass) {
  _ = #selector(     // warning: argument of `#selector`
      // refers to instance method `foo()` in `MyClass` that uses deprecated
      // `@objc` inference

  _ = #keyPath( // warning: argument of '#keyPath'
      // refers to property 'property' in 'MyClass' that uses deprecated
      // `@objc` inference

  _ = object.baz?()              // warning: reference to instance
      // method 'baz()' of 'MyClass' that uses deprecated `@objc` inference

For mixed-source projects, the Swift compiler will annotate the generated Swift header with "deprecation" attributes, so that any references to those declarations from Objective-C code will also produce warnings. For example:

#import "MyApp-Swift.h"

void test(MyClass *mine) {
  [mine foo];   // warning: -[MyApp.MyClass foo] uses deprecated
      // '@objc' inference; add '@objc' to provide an Objective-C entrypoint

Step 2: Address (opt-in) runtime warnings

Swift 3 compatibility mode augments each of the Objective-C entrypoints introduced based on the deprecated @objc inference rules with a call to a new runtime function swift_objc_swift3ImplicitObjCEntrypoint. This entry point can be used in two ways to find cases where an Objective-C entry point that will be eliminated by the migration to Swift 4:

  • In a debugger, one can set a breakpoint on swift_objc_swift3ImplicitObjCEntrypoint to catch specific cases where the Objective-C entry point is getting called.

  • One can set the environment variable SWIFT_DEBUG_IMPLICIT_OBJC_ENTRYPOINT to one of three different values to cause the Swift runtime to log uses of these Objective-C entry points:

    1. Log calls to these entry points with a message such as: ***Swift runtime: entrypoint -[MyApp.MyClass foo] generated by implicit @objc inference is deprecated and will be removed in Swift 4
    2. Log (as in #1) and emit a backtrace showing how that Objective-C entry point was invoked.
    3. Log with a backtrace (as in #2), then crash. This last stage is useful for automated testing leading up to the migration to Swift 4.

Testing with logging enabled should uncover uses of the Objective-C entry points that use the deprecated rules. As explicit @objc is added to each case, the runtime warnings will go away.

Step 3: Migrate to Swift 4

At this point, one can migrate to Swift 4. Building in Swift 4 will remove the Objective-C entry points for any remaining case where @objc was inferred based on the deprecated rules.

Effect on ABI stability

This proposal has no effect on the Swift ABI, because it only concerns the Objective-C entry points for Swift entities, which have always been governed by the already-set-in-stone Objective-C ABI. Whether a particular Swift entity is @objc or not does not affect its Swift ABI.

Effect on API resilience

The library evolution document notes that adding or removing @objc is not a resilient API change. Therefore, changing the inference behavior of @objc doesn't really have an impact on API resilience beyond the normal concerns about errors of omission: prior to this proposal, forgetting to add @nonobjc meant that an API might be stuck vending an Objective-C entry point it didn't want to expose; with this proposal, forgetting to add @objc means that an API might fail to be usable from Objective-C. The latter problem, at least, can be addressed by exposing an additional entrypoint. Moreover, adding an Objective-C entrypoint is "less" ABI-breaking that removing an Objective-C entrypoint, because the former is only breaking for open or dynamic members.

Alternatives considered

Aside from the obvious alternative of "do nothing", there are ways to address some of the problems called out in the Motivation section without eliminating inference in the cases we're talking about, or to soften the requirements on some constructs.

Mangling Objective-C selectors

Some of the problems with Objective-C selector collisions could be addressed by using "mangled" selector names for Swift-defined declarations. For example, given:

class MyClass : NSObject {
  func print(_ value: Int) { }

Instead of choosing the Objective-C selector "print:" by default, which is likely to conflict, we could use a mangled selector name like __MyModule__MyClass__print__Int: that is unlikely to conflict with anything else in the program. However, this change would also be source-breaking for the same reasons that restricting @objc inference is: dynamic behavior that constructs Objective-C selectors or tools outside of Swift that expect certain selectors will break at run-time.

Completely eliminating @objc inference

Another alternative to this proposal is to go further and completely eliminate @objc inference. This would simplify the programming model further---it's exposed to Objective-C only if it's marked @objc---but at the cost of significantly more boilerplate for applications that use Objective-C frameworks. For example:

class Sub : Super {
  @objc override func foo() { }  // @objc is now required

class MyClass : MyDelegate {
  @objc func bar() { }  // @objc is now required

I believe that this proposal strikes the right balance already, where @objc is inferred when it's needed to maintain the semantic model, and can be explicitly added to document those places where the user is intentionally exposing an Objective-C entrypoint for some reason. Thus, explicitly writing @objc indicates intent without creating boilerplate.


Thanks to Brian King for noting the inference of dynamic and its relationship to this proposal.

Revision history

Version 1 of this proposal did not include the use of @objcMembers on classes or the use of @objc/@nonobjc on extensions to mass-annotate.