Using Imported C Structs and Unions in Swift

Learn how Swift represents imported C structures and unions, including types with bitfields and unnamed fields.


Swift imports any C structure declared in a C header as a Swift structure. The imported Swift structure contains a stored property for each C structure field and an initializer whose parameters correspond to the stored properties.

Structures with Default Values

If all imported members have default values, Swift also provides a default initializer that takes no arguments. For example, given the following C structure:

struct Color {
    float r, g, b;
typedef struct Color Color;

When you import the Color structure, the Swift version is equivalent to the following:

public struct Color {
    var r: Float
    var g: Float
    var b: Float
    init(r: Float, g: Float, b: Float)


Swift imports C unions as Swift structures. Although Swift doesn’t support natively declared unions, a C union imported as a Swift structure still behaves like a C union. For example, consider a C union named SchroedingersCat that has an isAlive and an isDead field:

union SchroedingersCat {
    bool isAlive;
    bool isDead;

In Swift, it’s imported like this:

struct SchroedingersCat {
    var isAlive: Bool { get set }
    var isDead: Bool { get set }
    init(isAlive: Bool)
    init(isDead: Bool)

Because unions in C use the same base memory address for all of their fields, all of the computed properties in a union imported by Swift use the same underlying memory. As a result, changing the value of a property on an instance of the imported structure changes the value of all other properties defined by that structure.

In the example below, changing the value of the isAlive computed property on an instance of the SchroedingersCat structure also changes the value of the instance’s isDead computed property:

var mittens = SchroedingersCat(isAlive: false)
print(mittens.isAlive, mittens.isDead)
// Prints "false false"
mittens.isAlive = true
// Prints "true"

Bit Fields

Swift imports bit fields that are declared in structures, like those found in Foundation’s NSDecimal type, as computed properties. When accessing a computed property corresponding to a bit field, Swift automatically converts the value to and from compatible Swift types.

Unnamed Structure and Union Fields

C struct and union types can define fields that have no name or that are of an unnamed type. Unnamed fields consist of a nested struct or union type with named fields.

For example, consider a C structure named Cake that contains the fields layers and height nested within an unnamed union type, and a field toppings of an unnamed struct type:

struct Cake {
    union {
        int layers;
        double height;
    struct {
        bool icing;
        bool sprinkles;
    } toppings;

After the Cake structure has been imported, you can use the default initializer to create an instance and use it as follows:

var simpleCake = Cake()
simpleCake.layers = 5
// Prints "false"

The imported Cake structure and its nested types are imported with a memberwise initializer that you can use to initialize the structure with custom values for its fields:

let cake = Cake(
    .init(layers: 2),
    toppings: .init(icing: true, sprinkles: false)
print("The cake has \(cake.layers) layers.")
// Prints "The cake has 2 layers."
print("Does it have sprinkles?", cake.toppings.sprinkles ? "Yes." : "No.")
// Prints "Does it have sprinkles? No."

Because the first field of the Cake structure is unnamed, its initializer’s first parameter doesn't have a label. Because the Cake structure has fields with unnamed types, you use the .init initializers (allowed due to Swift's type inference) to set the initial value for each of the structure’s unnamed fields.

See Also


Using Imported C Functions in Swift

Learn how to call imported functions that are declared in a C header.

Using Imported C Macros in Swift

Use imported C-defined macros as constants.