Igor Kulagin Igor Kulagin - 22 days ago 7
Swift Question

Swift protocol extension method is called instead of method implemented in subclass

I've encountered a problem that is explained in the code below (Swift 3.1):

protocol MyProtocol {
func methodA()
func methodB()
}

extension MyProtocol {
func methodA() {
print("Default methodA")
}

func methodB() {
methodA()
}
}

// Test 1
class BaseClass: MyProtocol {

}

class SubClass: BaseClass {
func methodA() {
print("SubClass methodA")
}
}


let object1 = SubClass()
object1.methodB()
//

// Test 2
class JustClass: MyProtocol {
func methodA() {
print("JustClass methodA")
}
}

let object2 = JustClass()
object2.methodB()
//
// Output
// Default methodA
// JustClass methodA


So I would expect that "SubClass methodA" text should be printed after
object1.methodB()
call. But for some reason default implementation of
methodA()
from protocol extension is called. However
object2.methodB()
call works as expected.

Is it another Swift bug in protocol method dispatching or am I missing something and the code works correctly?

Answer Source

This is just how protocols currently dispatch methods.

A protocol witness table (see this WWDC talk for more info) is used in order to dynamically dispatch to implementations of protocol requirements upon being called on a protocol-typed instance. All it is, is really just a listing of the function implementations to call for each requirement of the protocol for a given conforming type.

Each type that states its conformance to a protocol gets its own protocol witness table. You'll note that I said "states its conformance", and not just "conforms to". BaseClass gets its own protocol witness table for conformance to MyProtocol. However SubClass does not get its own table for conformance to MyProtocol – instead, it simply relies on BaseClass's. If you moved the
: MyProtocol down to the definition of SubClass, it would get to have its own PWT.

So all we have to think about here is what the PWT for BaseClass looks like. Well, it doesn't provide an implementation for either of the protocol requirements methodA() or methodB() – so it relies on the implementations in the protocol extension. What this means is that the PWT for BaseClass conforming to MyProtocol just contains mappings to the extension methods.

So, when the extension methodB() method is called, and makes the call out to methodA(), it dynamically dispatches that call through the PWT (as it's being called on a protocol-typed instance; namely self). So when this happens with a SubClass instance, we're going through BaseClass's PWT. So we end up calling the extension implementation of methodA(), regardless of the fact that SubClass provides an implementation of it.

Now let's consider the PWT of JustClass. It provides an implementation of methodA(), therefore its PWT for conformance to MyProtocol has that implementation as the mapping for methodA(), as well as the extension implementation for methodB(). So when methodA() is dynamically dispatched via its PWT, we end up in its implementation.

As I say in this Q&A, this behaviour of subclasses not getting their own PWTs for protocols that their superclass(es) conform to is indeed somewhat surprising, as has been filed as a bug. The reasoning behind it, as Swift team member Jordan Rose says in the comments of the bug report, is that:

[...] The subclass does not get to provide new members to satisfy the conformance. This is important because a protocol can be added to a base class in one module and a subclass created in another module.

Therefore if this was the behaviour, already-compiled subclasses would lack any PWTs from superclass conformances that were added after the fact in another module, which would be problematic.


As other have already said, one solution in this case is to have BaseClass provide its own implementation of methodA(). This method will now be in BaseClass's PWT, rather than the extension method.

Although of course, because we're dealing with classes here, it won't just be BaseClass's implementation of the method that's listed – instead it will be a thunk that then dynamically dispatches through the class' vtable (the mechanism by which classes achieve polymorphism). Therefore for a SubClass instance, we'll wind up calling its override of methodA().