Working with Core Foundation Types

Work directly with memory-managed Core Foundation types in your Swift code, and manually handle retains as needed.


When you import the Core Foundation framework, its types are imported as Swift classes. Wherever memory management annotations are provided, Swift automatically manages the memory of Core Foundation objects, including Core Foundation objects that you instantiate yourself. In Swift, you can use each pair of toll-free bridged Foundation and Core Foundation types interchangeably. You can also bridge some toll-free bridged Core Foundation types to Swift standard library types if you cast to a bridging Foundation type first. See Toll-Free Bridging for more information.

Use Memory Managed Objects

When Swift imports Core Foundation types, the compiler remaps the names of these types. The compiler removes Ref from the end of each type name because all Swift classes are reference types; therefore, the suffix is redundant. The CFTypeRef type completely remaps to the AnyObject type.

Core Foundation objects returned from annotated APIs are automatically memory-managed in Swift—you don't need to invoke the CFRetain, CFRelease, or CFAutorelease functions yourself.

If you return Core Foundation objects from your own C functions and Objective-C methods, you can annotate them with either the CF_RETURNS_RETAINED or CF_RETURNS_NOT_RETAINED macro to automatically insert memory management calls. You can also use the CF_IMPLICIT_BRIDGING_ENABLED and CF_IMPLICIT_BRIDGING_DISABLED macros to enclose C function declarations that follow the policy for Core Foundation ownership naming, in order to infer memory management.

Convert Unmanaged Objects to Memory-Managed Objects

When Swift imports APIs that have not been annotated, the compiler cannot automatically memory-manage the returned Core Foundation objects. Swift wraps these returned Core Foundation objects in an Unmanaged<Instance> structure. All indirectly returned Core Foundation objects are unmanaged as well. For example, here’s an unannotated C function:

CFStringRef StringByAddingTwoStrings(CFStringRef s1, CFStringRef s2)

And here’s how Swift imports it:

func StringByAddingTwoStrings(_: CFString!, _: CFString!) -> Unmanaged<CFString>! {
    // ...

When you receive an unmanaged object from an unannotated API, immediately convert it to a memory-managed object before you work with it. That way, Swift can handle memory management for you.

The Unmanaged<Instance> structure provides two methods to convert an unmanaged object to a memory-managed object—takeUnretainedValue() and takeRetainedValue(). Both of these methods return the original, unwrapped type of the object. You choose which method to use based on whether the API you are invoking returns an unretained or a retained object.

For example, suppose the C function above doesn't retain the CFString object before returning it. To start using the object, you use the takeUnretainedValue() function.

let memoryManagedResult = StringByAddingTwoStrings(str1, str2).takeUnretainedValue()
// memoryManagedResult is a memory managed CFString

You can also invoke the retain(), release(), and autorelease() methods on unmanaged objects, but this approach is not recommended.

For more information, see Ownership Policy in Memory Management Programming Guide for Core Foundation.

See Also

Cocoa Frameworks

Working with Foundation Types

Use bridged Foundation types in your Swift codebase to work with dates, times, and other values.