When it comes to developing an iOS app, you have may face the dilemma of choosing between Objective-C and Swift. It's pretty common now because both these scripting languages have become competitors. After tech giant Apple, launched Swift in 2014, it has caused a lot of confusion and discussion in the app developer community as most of the developers were using Objective-C for developing iOS-based apps.
I hear this question all of the time when I’m consulting with IOS developers.
Should I be using Objective-C or Swift?
In this article, we’ll compare these two popular languages. While both are fast and easy to use, Swift and Objective-C each have reasons for and against them as the development language for your future project.
Swift is a programming language that was released by Apple in 2014. It was created as an advancement of Objective-C, a programming language used for iOS development. The language is currently used for products with iOS 7 as well as MacOS 10.9 or higher. Since 2018, Swift is broadly used by agencies, software development companies, and freelance developers to create iOS apps.
Like Objective-C, Swift is mostly based on the C coding language. The style of programming is quite generic, and it implements many fixes to common errors and limitations of C-family languages. As a relatively new language, Swift also incorporates modern programming concepts and simplified syntax.
The Objective-C (Obj-C) programming language was developed by 2 computer scientists (Tom Love and Brad Cox) in the 1980’s. Though many people associate it with Apple and iOS, Obj-C was initially developed for the Productivity Products International company, and was later licensed by NeXT, which was eventually acquired by Apple. Thus, the language grew to become an integral part of the macOS and iOS operating systems, and demand for Objective-C development services became global.
As the name hints, Objective-C is mostly built on the C programming language, but extends it in certain aspects. For example, Obj-C supports reflection (inspection of code features at runtime) and is more focused on runtime decisions than C. Other key features supported in the language include dynamic typing, automated garbage collection, and expressive message syntax.
The official Apple website claims that Swift is 2.6 times faster than Objective-C. However some studies indicate that the difference is not as dramatic. Swift and Objective-C are both statistically typed languages that use the same iOS SDK and the high-quality Low Level Virtual Machine compiler. There are differences, however, that impact app performance and we’ll describe them below.
Swift was designed to improve the code safety for iOS products. It was created as a type-safe and memory-safe language. Type safety means that the language itself prevents type errors. The importance of type memory safety is that it helps avoid vulnerabilities associated with dangling or uninitialized pointers. These types of errors are the most common in development and difficult to find and debug. These advantages of the Swift language make it more attractive.
Managing files in Objective-C is a frustrating process because developers must manage two separate files. While Swift requires less maintenance and doesn’t require you to manage two files. The thing is that Swift automatically completes the reliances and performs an incremental build in the file.
In order to manage your program successfully, you need code that isn’t too hard to measure. The fewer code lines your app has, the easier it will be to maintain and update. Swift requires much less code for repetitive statements and string handling. This is due to Swift’s features such as adding two strings together using the “+” operator.
For a long time Objective-C was the first and only language for iOS development. After Swift entered the market, Objective-C took second place in the Apple world. Today the company actively educates future Swift users and rolls out features that make it the leading language for Apple.
Objective-C may no longer be the stylish language choice for Apple iOS and Mac OS development.
But proponents of Objective-C don't expect it to go away quietly anytime soon.
In fact, they believe it will be around for many years due to its familiarity and stability. "Apple is going to be supporting Objective-C for another decade."
While many existing apps written in Objective-C will have to be maintained (meaning, Objective-C won’t be obsolete anytime soon), Apple’s existing APIs require a bit of code adaptation to work with Swift. Xcode updates have caused it to change along with new releases, as well.
So let’s say you’re in the middle of a project and after reading all of this information you’re considering switching. Should you do it?
You can actually use both languages.
If you’re working on a project that’s written in Objective-C, you create a bridging header file in Xcode for your Swift language.
But attempting this will depend on the size of your project.
For those of you who are in the middle of a small project and want to switch, it’s reasonable.
So, back to the initial question, which one is better? Objective-C? Swift?
You’ll have to decide for yourself.
Objective-C is older and currently more popular. It’s a little bit more difficult to learn, but the majority of developers out there know how to use it.
Swift is still new, but it’s making progress fast. It’s perceived as a safer option compared to Objective-C, and it’s easier to learn. But with that said, it’s still not the best choice for large projects.
There are certain circumstances where you may lean towards one language over the other based on your experience, your team’s familiarity, or the size and timeline of your project. Don’t forget to weigh out the pros and cons of your tooling support, stability, runtime, and APIs. All of these elements need to be taken into consideration when you’re deciding which language to go with.
Regardless of what you decide, I think that Swift is the programming language of the future. So if you haven’t learned it yet, see if you can find the time to figure it out soon.