Swift Type Safety, Inference, and Optionals

title: Type Safety, Inference, and Optionals

Type Inference

Swift uses type inference. So if you write some code like the code in the example below it’s pretty obvious what each type is.


let iPhone: String = “iPhone” let yearIntroduced: Int = 2007 let isAwesome: Bool = true

So we can clean up the code to look like the example below, and Swift can infer the type for use.


let iPhone = “iPhone” // Inferred as String let yearIntroduced = 2007 // Inferred as Int let isAwesome = true // Inferred as Bool

Type Safety

Swift is a “type-safe” language. This means that by design the language helps programmers be more clear about the types they are using and helps mitigate and/or prevent common type errors – like trying to pass a string where it requires an integer. One core mechanism of this type-safe design are Optional Types.

Optional Types

When a variable’s type is an optional type it denotes that its value can have a value or no value at all (nil).

You declare an optional by appending a question mark at the end of the type declaration.

var optionalFloat: Float? // This is an Optional Float var optionalString: String? = "an optional string" // and an Optional String let normalFloat: Float = 0.5 // This is an ordinary Float var normalString = "a string" // and a String

Note: since optionalFloat is not assigned a value it is given a default value of nil

Unwrapping Optionals

Optionals are considered a different type then its non-optional variant. For example in the above code “optionalFloat” and “normalFloat” are not the same type. When you try to access an optional variable like you would a normal variable the value would be of Optional(SomeValue).

var optionalInt: Int? = 5 let normalInt = 10 print(optionalInt) // Optional(5)

If you try to utilize the optional variable like normal you will get an error.

let sumError = normalInt + optionalInt //error!

Instead you must first “unwrap” the optional before you can utilize the data. There are a couple of ways doing so: forced unwrapping it and optional binding.

Forced Unwrapping

If you are certain that an optional does contain a value, you can force-unwrap it by appending an exlamation mark at the end of it.

if(optionalInt != nil) { // make sure the optionalInt has a value, otherwise will get a runtime error let sum = normalInt + optionalInt! // <-- forced unwrapped }

Optional Binding

Optional Binding is a special kind of condition statement (either with an if or a while) at which it automatically unwraps an optional if it has a value, and then stores that value in the designated variable. That variable can then be utilized within the if/while statements body normally.

if let unwrappedInt = optionalInt { let sum = normalInt + unwrappedInt; // 15 }

If the optional does not have a value (nil), then the condition would be considered false and its code would not execute and the program will continue on normally.

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