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Adding in-place removeAll(where:) to the Standard Library


It is common to want to remove all occurrences of a certain element from a collection. This proposal is to add a removeAll algorithm to the standard library, which will remove all entries in a collection in-place matching a given predicate.


Removing all elements matching some criteria is a very common operation. However, it can be tricky to implement correctly and efficiently.

The easiest way to achieve this effect in Swift 3 is to use filter and assign back, negating the thing you want to remove (because filter takes a closure of items to "keep"):

var nums = [1,2,3,4,5]
// remove odd elements
nums = nums.filter { !isOdd($0) }

In addition to readability concerns, this has two performance problems: fresh memory allocation, and a copy of all the elements in full even if none need to be removed.

The alternative is to open-code a for loop. The simplest performant solution is the "shuffle-down" approach. While not especially complex, it is certainly non-trivial:

if var i = nums.index(where: isOdd) {
  var j = i + 1
  while j != nums.endIndex {
    let e = nums[j]
    if !isOdd(nums[j]) {
      nums[i] = nums[j]
      i += 1
    j += 1

Possibilities for logic and performance errors abound. There are probably some in the above code.

Additionally, this approach does not work for range-replaceable collections that are not mutable i.e. collections that can replace subranges, but can't guarantee replacing a single element in constant time. String is the most important example of this, because its elements (graphemes) are variable width.

Proposed solution

Add the following method to RangeReplaceableCollection:

nums.removeAll(where: isOdd)

The default implementation will use the protocol's init() and append(_:) operations to implement a copy-based version. Collections which also conform to MutableCollection will get the more efficient "shuffle-down" implementation, but still require RangeReplaceableCollection as well because of the need to trim at the end. Other types may choose

Collections which are range replaceable but not mutable (like String) will be able to implement their own version which makes use of their internal layout. Collections like Array may also implement more efficient versions using memory copying operations.

Since Dictionary and Set would benefit from this functionality as well, but are not range-replaceable, they should be given concrete implementations for consistency.

Detailed design

Add the following to RangeReplaceableCollection:

protocol RangeReplaceableCollection {
  /// Removes every element satisfying the given predicate from the collection.
  mutating func removeAll(where: (Iterator.Element) throws -> Bool) rethrows

extension RangeReplaceableCollection {
  mutating func removeAll(where: (Iterator.Element) throws -> Bool) rethrows {
    // default implementation similar to self = self.filter

Other protocols or types may also have custom implementations for a faster equivalent. For example RangeReplaceableCollection where Self: MutableCollection can provide a more efficient non-allocating default implementation. String is also likely to benefit from a custom implementation.

Source compatibility

This change is purely additive so has no source compatibility consequences.

Effect on ABI stability

This change is purely additive so has no ABI stability consequences.

Effect on API resilience

This change is purely additive so has no API resilience consequences.

Alternatives considered

removeAll(where:) takes a closure with true for elements to remove. filter takes a closure with elements to keep. In both cases, true is the "active" case, so likely to be what the user wants without having to apply a negation. The naming of filter is unfortunately ambiguous as to whether it's a removing or keeping operation, but re-considering that is outside the scope of this proposal.

Several collection methods in the standard library (such as index(where:)) have an equivalent for collections of Equatable elements. A similar addition could be made that removes every element equal to a given value. This could easily be done as a further additive proposal later.

The initial proposal of this feature named it remove(where:). During review, it was agreed that this was unnecessarily ambiguous about whether all the matching elements should be removed or just the first, and so the method was renamed to removeAll(where:).