gran_profaci gran_profaci - 5 months ago 20
Swift Question

Is Swift Pass By Value or Pass By Reference

I'm really new to Swift and I just read that classes are passed by reference and arrays/strings etc. are copied.

Is the pass by reference the same way as in Objective-C or Java wherein you actually pass "a" reference or is it proper pass by reference?


Types of Things in Swift

The rule is:

  • Class instances are reference types (i.e. your reference to a class instance is effectively a pointer)

  • Functions are reference types

  • Everything else is a value type; "everything else" simply means instances of structs and instances of enums, because that's all there is in Swift. Arrays and strings are struct instances, for example. You can pass a reference to one of those things (as a function argument) by using inout and taking the address, as newacct has pointed out. But the type is itself a value type.

What Reference Types Mean For You

A reference type object is special in practice because:

  • Mere assignment or passing to function can yield multiple references to the same object

  • The object itself is mutable even if the reference to it is a constant (let, either explicit or implied).

  • A mutation to the object affects that object as seen by all references to it.

Those can be dangers, so keep an eye out. On the other hand, passing a reference type is clearly efficient because only a pointer is copied and passed, which is trivial.

What Value Types Mean For You

Clearly, passing a value type is "safer", and let means what it says: you can't mutate a struct instance or enum instance through a let reference. On the other hand, that safety is achieved by making a separate copy of the value, isn't it? Doesn't that make passing a value type potentially expensive?

Well, yes and no. It isn't as bad as you might think. As Nate Cook has said, passing a value type does not necessarily imply copying, because let (explicit or implied) guarantees immutability so there's no need to copy anything. And even passing into a var reference doesn't mean that things will be copied, only that they can be if necessary (because there's a mutation). The docs specifically advise you not to get your knickers in a twist.