Wayne Hartman Wayne Hartman - 1 month ago 61
Swift Question

Why does a public class/struct in Swift require an explicit public initializer?

Consider the follow class (equally applicable to a struct, as well) in a module:

public class Foo {
public func bar() {
// method body
}
}


Note, it does not have an explicit initializer; this example doesn't need any special initialization. This class would be exposed to other modules because it is marked
public
. However, when code outside the module attempts to initialize it, the compiler complains:

let foo = Foo() // 'Foo' initializer is inaccessible due to 'internal' protection level


In order to satisfy the compiler, I have to define an explicit empty initializer marked
public
:

public class Foo {
public init() {
// This initializer intentionally left empty
}

public func bar() {
// do something useful
}
}


Why, if the class is explicitly
public
, do I need to explicitly define a public initializer? Shouldn't it implicitly have a public initializer?


There is a related question here, pertaining to unit testing, but I find it doesn't really get at the core of the design philosophy of what I find to be a surprising issue.

Answer

Marking a class public does not necessarily imply that the developer wants the class to be initialized publicly. For example, I often write base classes that exist solely for me to be able to subclass them. I give these superclasses internal initializers so that their subclasses can access them, but those in the outside world shouldn't be using them directly. For example, Operation in Foundation has no accessible initializers, yet the class is public. It is simply meant to be subclassed. This is considered an abstract class in Objective-C.

Since Swift doesn't contain explicit support for abstract classes, the act of making a class public but without public initializers basically serves as an abstract class (except each function must still have a default definition, either in the class itself or some protocol extension).

With this in mind, here are some Swift rules:

  • If your class is marked private, all variables, inits, and functions will default to private.
  • If your class is marked internal (which is default), public, or open, all variables, inits, and functions will default to internal.
  • A subclass's superclass must be at least as accessible.
  • classes and class members declared public in Objective-C are imported into Swift as open, due to there being no such distinction in Objective-C.

That second one is the one you are running into. The default init is picking up the default internal because the last thing Swift wants to do is expose your init as public API unless it is explicitly instructed to do so.

Note: In my tests (at least in the playground), it seems that with the introduction of fileprivate:

  • If a class is declared private or fileprivate, it seems that class members default to fileprivate unless explicitly annotated private.
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