The as! Operator

Prior to Swift 1.2, the as operator could be used to carry out two different kinds of conversion, depending on the type of expression being converted and the type it was being converted to:

  • Guaranteed conversion of a value of one type to another, whose success can be verified by the Swift compiler. For example, upcasting (i.e., converting from a class to one of its superclasses) or specifying the type of a literal expression, (e.g., 1 as Float).
  • Forced conversion of one value to another, whose safety cannot be guaranteed by the Swift compiler and which may cause a runtime trap. For example downcasting, converting from a class to one of its subclasses.

Swift 1.2 separates the notions of guaranteed conversion and forced conversion into two distinct operators. Guaranteed conversion is still performed with the as operator, but forced conversion now uses the as! operator. The ! is meant to indicate that the conversion may fail. This way, you know at a glance which conversions may cause the program to crash.

The following example illustrates the change:

class Animal {}
class Dog: Animal {}

let a: Animal = Dog()
a as Dog		// now raises the error:  "'Animal is not convertible to 'Dog';
				// ... did you mean to use 'as!' to force downcast?"

a as! Dog		// forced downcast is allowed

let d = Dog()
d as Animal		// upcast succeeds

Note the analogy between the expression postfix operators ! and ? and the conversion operators as! and as?:

class Animal {}

class Cat: Animal {}

class Dog: Animal {
	var name = "Spot"

let dog: Dog? = nil
dog?.name		// evaluates to nil
dog!.name		// triggers a runtime error

let animal: Animal = Cat()
animal as? Dog	// evaluates to nil
animal as! Dog	// triggers a runtime error

It may be easiest to remember the pattern for these operators in Swift as: ! implies “this might trap,” while ? indicates “this might be nil.”

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