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Add MutableCollection.swapAt(_:_:)


As part of the introduction of the Law of Exclusivity, the current swap(_:_:) function must be addressed, as this most common uses of swap directly violate the law. This proposal introduces an alternative: a method on MutableCollection that takes two indices for swapping two elements in the same collection.


The primary purpose of the current swap function is to swap two elements within a mutable collection. It was originally created to support the sort algorithm, which is why it is declared in stdlib/sort.swift.gyb. Here is some typical usage from that file:

  while hi != lo {
    swap(&elements[lo], &elements[hi])

Under changes proposed as part of the ownership manifesto, this will no longer be legal Swift: a single variable (in this case, elements) cannot be passed as two different inout arguments to the same function.

For more background on exclusivity and ownership, see the manifesto

Proposed solution

Introduce a new method on MutableCollection to the standard library that swaps the elements from two indices:

  while hi != lo {
    elements.swapAt(lo, hi)

As well as resolving the conflict with the proposed language change, this appears to improve readability.

Existing usage on two elements in a collection will need to be migrated to the new method.

While swap was only intended to be used on collections, it is possible to use it on other variables. However, the recommended style for these uses is to not use a function at all:

var a = 0
var b = 1

// can be rewritten as:
(a,b) = (b,a)

The existing swap method will remain, as under some circumstances it may result in a performance gain, particularly if move-only types are introduced in a later release.

Detailed design

Add the following method to the standard library:

protocol MutableCollection {
  /// Exchange the values at indices `i` and `j`.
  /// Has no effect when `i` and `j` are equal.
  public mutating func swapAt(_ i: Index, _ j: Index)

The current swap is required to fatalError on attempts to swap an element with itself for implementation reasons. This pushes the burden to check this first onto the caller. While swapping an element with itself is often a logic errror (for example, in a sort algorithm where you have a fenceposts bug), it is occasionally a valid situation (for example, it can occur easily in an implementation of shuffle). This implementation removes the precondition.

Deprecate the existing swap, and obsolete it in a later version of Swift.

Source compatibility

This is purely additive so should not be source breaking.

Effect on ABI stability


Effect on API resilience


Alternatives considered

A number of possible alternative names for this method were considered:

elements.swap(i, with: j)
elements.swap(at: i, j)
elements.swapElements(i, j)
elements.swap(elements: i, j)

elements.swapAt(i, with: j) was chosen on the basis of it reading most fluently, combined with adhering to the relevant parts of the naming guidelines:

"Omit all labels when arguments can’t be usefully distinguished”


"When the first argument forms part of a prepositional phrase, give it an argument label...An exception arises when the first two arguments represent parts of a single abstraction….In such cases, begin the argument label after the preposition, to keep the abstraction clear."

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