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The Swift Programming Language

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Properties

Properties associate values with a particular class, structure, or enumeration. Stored properties store constant and variable values as part of an instance, whereas computed properties calculate (rather than store) a value. Computed properties are provided by classes, structures, and enumerations. Stored properties are provided only by classes and structures.

Stored and computed properties are usually associated with instances of a particular type. However, properties can also be associated with the type itself. Such properties are known as type properties.

In addition, you can define property observers to monitor changes in a property’s value, which you can respond to with custom actions. Property observers can be added to stored properties you define yourself, and also to properties that a subclass inherits from its superclass.

Stored Properties

In its simplest form, a stored property is a constant or variable that is stored as part of an instance of a particular class or structure. Stored properties can be either variable stored properties (introduced by the var keyword) or constant stored properties (introduced by the let keyword).

You can provide a default value for a stored property as part of its definition, as described in Default Property Values. You can also set and modify the initial value for a stored property during initialization. This is true even for constant stored properties, as described in Assigning Constant Properties During Initialization.

The example below defines a structure called FixedLengthRange, which describes a range of integers whose range length cannot be changed once it is created:

  • struct FixedLengthRange {
  • var firstValue: Int
  • let length: Int
  • }
  • var rangeOfThreeItems = FixedLengthRange(firstValue: 0, length: 3)
  • // the range represents integer values 0, 1, and 2
  • rangeOfThreeItems.firstValue = 6
  • // the range now represents integer values 6, 7, and 8

Instances of FixedLengthRange have a variable stored property called firstValue and a constant stored property called length. In the example above, length is initialized when the new range is created and cannot be changed thereafter, because it is a constant property.

Stored Properties of Constant Structure Instances

If you create an instance of a structure and assign that instance to a constant, you cannot modify the instance’s properties, even if they were declared as variable properties:

  • let rangeOfFourItems = FixedLengthRange(firstValue: 0, length: 4)
  • // this range represents integer values 0, 1, 2, and 3
  • rangeOfFourItems.firstValue = 6
  • // this will report an error, even though firstValue is a variable property

Because rangeOfFourItems is declared as a constant (with the let keyword), it is not possible to change its firstValue property, even though firstValue is a variable property.

This behavior is due to structures being value types. When an instance of a value type is marked as a constant, so are all of its properties.

The same is not true for classes, which are reference types. If you assign an instance of a reference type to a constant, you can still change that instance’s variable properties.

Lazy Stored Properties

A lazy stored property is a property whose initial value is not calculated until the first time it is used. You indicate a lazy stored property by writing the lazy modifier before its declaration.

Lazy properties are useful when the initial value for a property is dependent on outside factors whose values are not known until after an instance’s initialization is complete. Lazy properties are also useful when the initial value for a property requires complex or computationally expensive setup that should not be performed unless or until it is needed.

The example below uses a lazy stored property to avoid unnecessary initialization of a complex class. This example defines two classes called DataImporter and DataManager, neither of which is shown in full:

  • class DataImporter {
  • /*
  • DataImporter is a class to import data from an external file.
  • The class is assumed to take a non-trivial amount of time to initialize.
  • */
  • var fileName = "data.txt"
  • // the DataImporter class would provide data importing functionality here
  • }
  • class DataManager {
  • lazy var importer = DataImporter()
  • var data = [String]()
  • // the DataManager class would provide data management functionality here
  • }
  • let manager = DataManager()
  • manager.data.append("Some data")
  • manager.data.append("Some more data")
  • // the DataImporter instance for the importer property has not yet been created

The DataManager class has a stored property called data, which is initialized with a new, empty array of String values. Although the rest of its functionality is not shown, the purpose of this DataManager class is to manage and provide access to this array of String data.

Part of the functionality of the DataManager class is the ability to import data from a file. This functionality is provided by the DataImporter class, which is assumed to take a non-trivial amount of time to initialize. This might be because a DataImporter instance needs to open a file and read its contents into memory when the DataImporter instance is initialized.

It is possible for a DataManager instance to manage its data without ever importing data from a file, so there is no need to create a new DataImporter instance when the DataManager itself is created. Instead, it makes more sense to create the DataImporter instance if and when it is first used.

Because it is marked with the lazy modifier, the DataImporter instance for the importer property is only created when the importer property is first accessed, such as when its fileName property is queried:

  • println(manager.importer.fileName)
  • // the DataImporter instance for the importer property has now been created
  • // prints "data.txt"

Stored Properties and Instance Variables

If you have experience with Objective-C, you may know that it provides two ways to store values and references as part of a class instance. In addition to properties, you can use instance variables as a backing store for the values stored in a property.

Swift unifies these concepts into a single property declaration. A Swift property does not have a corresponding instance variable, and the backing store for a property is not accessed directly. This approach avoids confusion about how the value is accessed in different contexts and simplifies the property’s declaration into a single, definitive statement. All information about the property—including its name, type, and memory management characteristics—is defined in a single location as part of the type’s definition.

Computed Properties

In addition to stored properties, classes, structures, and enumerations can define computed properties, which do not actually store a value. Instead, they provide a getter and an optional setter to retrieve and set other properties and values indirectly.

  • struct Point {
  • var x = 0.0, y = 0.0
  • }
  • struct Size {
  • var width = 0.0, height = 0.0
  • }
  • struct Rect {
  • var origin = Point()
  • var size = Size()
  • var center: Point {
  • get {
  • let centerX = origin.x + (size.width / 2)
  • let centerY = origin.y + (size.height / 2)
  • return Point(x: centerX, y: centerY)
  • }
  • set(newCenter) {
  • origin.x = newCenter.x - (size.width / 2)
  • origin.y = newCenter.y - (size.height / 2)
  • }
  • }
  • }
  • var square = Rect(origin: Point(x: 0.0, y: 0.0),
  • size: Size(width: 10.0, height: 10.0))
  • let initialSquareCenter = square.center
  • square.center = Point(x: 15.0, y: 15.0)
  • println("square.origin is now at (\(square.origin.x), \(square.origin.y))")
  • // prints "square.origin is now at (10.0, 10.0)"

This example defines three structures for working with geometric shapes:

  • Point encapsulates an (x, y) coordinate.

  • Size encapsulates a width and a height.

  • Rect defines a rectangle by an origin point and a size.

The Rect structure also provides a computed property called center. The current center position of a Rect can always be determined from its origin and size, and so you don’t need to store the center point as an explicit Point value. Instead, Rect defines a custom getter and setter for a computed variable called center, to enable you to work with the rectangle’s center as if it were a real stored property.

The preceding example creates a new Rect variable called square. The square variable is initialized with an origin point of (0, 0), and a width and height of 10. This square is represented by the blue square in the diagram below.

The square variable’s center property is then accessed through dot syntax (square.center), which causes the getter for center to be called, to retrieve the current property value. Rather than returning an existing value, the getter actually calculates and returns a new Point to represent the center of the square. As can be seen above, the getter correctly returns a center point of (5, 5).

The center property is then set to a new value of (15, 15), which moves the square up and to the right, to the new position shown by the orange square in the diagram below. Setting the center property calls the setter for center, which modifies the x and y values of the stored origin property, and moves the square to its new position.

image: ../Art/computedProperties_2x.png

Shorthand Setter Declaration

If a computed property’s setter does not define a name for the new value to be set, a default name of newValue is used. Here’s an alternative version of the Rect structure, which takes advantage of this shorthand notation:

  • struct AlternativeRect {
  • var origin = Point()
  • var size = Size()
  • var center: Point {
  • get {
  • let centerX = origin.x + (size.width / 2)
  • let centerY = origin.y + (size.height / 2)
  • return Point(x: centerX, y: centerY)
  • }
  • set {
  • origin.x = newValue.x - (size.width / 2)
  • origin.y = newValue.y - (size.height / 2)
  • }
  • }
  • }

Read-Only Computed Properties

A computed property with a getter but no setter is known as a read-only computed property. A read-only computed property always returns a value, and can be accessed through dot syntax, but cannot be set to a different value.

You can simplify the declaration of a read-only computed property by removing the get keyword and its braces:

  • struct Cuboid {
  • var width = 0.0, height = 0.0, depth = 0.0
  • var volume: Double {
  • return width * height * depth
  • }
  • }
  • let fourByFiveByTwo = Cuboid(width: 4.0, height: 5.0, depth: 2.0)
  • println("the volume of fourByFiveByTwo is \(fourByFiveByTwo.volume)")
  • // prints "the volume of fourByFiveByTwo is 40.0"

This example defines a new structure called Cuboid, which represents a 3D rectangular box with width, height, and depth properties. This structure also has a read-only computed property called volume, which calculates and returns the current volume of the cuboid. It doesn’t make sense for volume to be settable, because it would be ambiguous as to which values of width, height, and depth should be used for a particular volume value. Nonetheless, it is useful for a Cuboid to provide a read-only computed property to enable external users to discover its current calculated volume.

Property Observers

Property observers observe and respond to changes in a property’s value. Property observers are called every time a property’s value is set, even if the new value is the same as the property’s current value.

You can add property observers to any stored properties you define, apart from lazy stored properties. You can also add property observers to any inherited property (whether stored or computed) by overriding the property within a subclass. Property overriding is described in Overriding.

You have the option to define either or both of these observers on a property:

  • willSet is called just before the value is stored.

  • didSet is called immediately after the new value is stored.

If you implement a willSet observer, it is passed the new property value as a constant parameter. You can specify a name for this parameter as part of your willSet implementation. If you choose not to write the parameter name and parentheses within your implementation, the parameter will still be made available with a default parameter name of newValue.

Similarly, if you implement a didSet observer, it will be passed a constant parameter containing the old property value. You can name the parameter if you wish, or use the default parameter name of oldValue.

Here’s an example of willSet and didSet in action. The example below defines a new class called StepCounter, which tracks the total number of steps that a person takes while walking. This class might be used with input data from a pedometer or other step counter to keep track of a person’s exercise during their daily routine.

  • class StepCounter {
  • var totalSteps: Int = 0 {
  • willSet(newTotalSteps) {
  • println("About to set totalSteps to \(newTotalSteps)")
  • }
  • didSet {
  • if totalSteps > oldValue {
  • println("Added \(totalSteps - oldValue) steps")
  • }
  • }
  • }
  • }
  • let stepCounter = StepCounter()
  • stepCounter.totalSteps = 200
  • // About to set totalSteps to 200
  • // Added 200 steps
  • stepCounter.totalSteps = 360
  • // About to set totalSteps to 360
  • // Added 160 steps
  • stepCounter.totalSteps = 896
  • // About to set totalSteps to 896
  • // Added 536 steps

The StepCounter class declares a totalSteps property of type Int. This is a stored property with willSet and didSet observers.

The willSet and didSet observers for totalSteps are called whenever the property is assigned a new value. This is true even if the new value is the same as the current value.

This example’s willSet observer uses a custom parameter name of newTotalSteps for the upcoming new value. In this example, it simply prints out the value that is about to be set.

The didSet observer is called after the value of totalSteps is updated. It compares the new value of totalSteps against the old value. If the total number of steps has increased, a message is printed to indicate how many new steps have been taken. The didSet observer does not provide a custom parameter name for the old value, and the default name of oldValue is used instead.

Global and Local Variables

The capabilities described above for computing and observing properties are also available to global variables and local variables. Global variables are variables that are defined outside of any function, method, closure, or type context. Local variables are variables that are defined within a function, method, or closure context.

The global and local variables you have encountered in previous chapters have all been stored variables. Stored variables, like stored properties, provide storage for a value of a certain type and allow that value to be set and retrieved.

However, you can also define computed variables and define observers for stored variables, in either a global or local scope. Computed variables calculate rather than store a value, and are written in the same way as computed properties.

Type Properties

Instance properties are properties that belong to an instance of a particular type. Every time you create a new instance of that type, it has its own set of property values, separate from any other instance.

You can also define properties that belong to the type itself, not to any one instance of that type. There will only ever be one copy of these properties, no matter how many instances of that type you create. These kinds of properties are called type properties.

Type properties are useful for defining values that are universal to all instances of a particular type, such as a constant property that all instances can use (like a static constant in C), or a variable property that stores a value that is global to all instances of that type (like a static variable in C).

For value types (that is, structures and enumerations), you can define stored and computed type properties. For classes, you can define computed type properties only.

Stored type properties for value types can be variables or constants. Computed type properties are always declared as variable properties, in the same way as computed instance properties.

Type Property Syntax

In C and Objective-C, you define static constants and variables associated with a type as global static variables. In Swift, however, type properties are written as part of the type’s definition, within the type’s outer curly braces, and each type property is explicitly scoped to the type it supports.

You define type properties for value types with the static keyword, and type properties for class types with the class keyword. The example below shows the syntax for stored and computed type properties:

  • struct SomeStructure {
  • static var storedTypeProperty = "Some value."
  • static var computedTypeProperty: Int {
  • // return an Int value here
  • }
  • }
  • enum SomeEnumeration {
  • static var storedTypeProperty = "Some value."
  • static var computedTypeProperty: Int {
  • // return an Int value here
  • }
  • }
  • class SomeClass {
  • class var computedTypeProperty: Int {
  • // return an Int value here
  • }
  • }

Querying and Setting Type Properties

Type properties are queried and set with dot syntax, just like instance properties. However, type properties are queried and set on the type, not on an instance of that type. For example:

  • println(SomeClass.computedTypeProperty)
  • // prints "42"
  • println(SomeStructure.storedTypeProperty)
  • // prints "Some value."
  • SomeStructure.storedTypeProperty = "Another value."
  • println(SomeStructure.storedTypeProperty)
  • // prints "Another value."

The examples that follow use two stored type properties as part of a structure that models an audio level meter for a number of audio channels. Each channel has an integer audio level between 0 and 10 inclusive.

The figure below illustrates how two of these audio channels can be combined to model a stereo audio level meter. When a channel’s audio level is 0, none of the lights for that channel are lit. When the audio level is 10, all of the lights for that channel are lit. In this figure, the left channel has a current level of 9, and the right channel has a current level of 7:

image: ../Art/staticPropertiesVUMeter_2x.png

The audio channels described above are represented by instances of the AudioChannel structure:

  • struct AudioChannel {
  • static let thresholdLevel = 10
  • static var maxInputLevelForAllChannels = 0
  • var currentLevel: Int = 0 {
  • didSet {
  • if currentLevel > AudioChannel.thresholdLevel {
  • // cap the new audio level to the threshold level
  • currentLevel = AudioChannel.thresholdLevel
  • }
  • if currentLevel > AudioChannel.maxInputLevelForAllChannels {
  • // store this as the new overall maximum input level
  • AudioChannel.maxInputLevelForAllChannels = currentLevel
  • }
  • }
  • }
  • }

The AudioChannel structure defines two stored type properties to support its functionality. The first, thresholdLevel, defines the maximum threshold value an audio level can take. This is a constant value of 10 for all AudioChannel instances. If an audio signal comes in with a higher value than 10, it will be capped to this threshold value (as described below).

The second type property is a variable stored property called maxInputLevelForAllChannels. This keeps track of the maximum input value that has been received by any AudioChannel instance. It starts with an initial value of 0.

The AudioChannel structure also defines a stored instance property called currentLevel, which represents the channel’s current audio level on a scale of 0 to 10.

The currentLevel property has a didSet property observer to check the value of currentLevel whenever it is set. This observer performs two checks:

  • If the new value of currentLevel is greater than the allowed thresholdLevel, the property observer caps currentLevel to thresholdLevel.

  • If the new value of currentLevel (after any capping) is higher than any value previously received by any AudioChannel instance, the property observer stores the new currentLevel value in the maxInputLevelForAllChannels type property.

You can use the AudioChannel structure to create two new audio channels called leftChannel and rightChannel, to represent the audio levels of a stereo sound system:

  • var leftChannel = AudioChannel()
  • var rightChannel = AudioChannel()

If you set the currentLevel of the left channel to 7, you can see that the maxInputLevelForAllChannels type property is updated to equal 7:

  • leftChannel.currentLevel = 7
  • println(leftChannel.currentLevel)
  • // prints "7"
  • println(AudioChannel.maxInputLevelForAllChannels)
  • // prints "7"

If you try to set the currentLevel of the right channel to 11, you can see that the right channel’s currentLevel property is capped to the maximum value of 10, and the maxInputLevelForAllChannels type property is updated to equal 10:

  • rightChannel.currentLevel = 11
  • println(rightChannel.currentLevel)
  • // prints "10"
  • println(AudioChannel.maxInputLevelForAllChannels)
  • // prints "10"