Swift vs. Objective-C: A Look at iOS Programming Languages

Swift vs. Objective-C: A Look at iOS Programming Languages

Are you passionate about building iOS applications or interested in developing mobile applications for iOS? Then you must know the iOS programming languages available to decide which one best suits you.

The top two programming languages popularly used by iOS developers are Swift and Objective-C. You may find it challenging to know which of these two languages to use, but this article will help you decide.

This article describes the two programming languages and discusses other essential details to guide you in choosing a suitable option.

Swift vs. Objective-C: the differences

Swift is newer than Objective-C and has many features that Objective-C does not. Consider these key differences.

  • Type inference. Swift has type inference, allowing the compiler to automatically infer the type of a variable based on its value. This means that you don't have to explicitly declare the type of a variable, which can save time and make your code more concise.
  • Polymorphism. Swift's protocols enable you to write code that can be applied to any type that conforms to the protocol without knowing the specific type. In contrast, Objective-C's categories run directly in compile time and can only be used to extend the functionality of a specific type.
  • Type safety. Swift uses value types instead of reference types, which means variables are assigned a new copy of the data whenever they are modified. This can help prevent aliasing issues.
  • Dynamically typed. Objective-C is a dynamically typed language; hence variables can hold values of any type. Swift's variables can only hold values of a specific type. However, Swift has dynamic libraries that help boost the iOS app development performance.

Which to use?

There are many reasons to choose Swift over Objective C. For starters, Swift is easier to read and write than Objective-C. Swift also has a more concise syntax that makes it easier to understand code at a glance.

In addition, Swift is more type-safe than Objective-C, meaning that it is less likely to produce unexpected results due to type mismatches. A type-safe option like Swift can make code more reliable and easier to debug.

Swift has better memory management features than Objective-C, which can help improve performance. It uses lazy initialization, reducing memory usage since unused variables do not initialize—making it faster, easier to read and write, and safer.

Read on to learn more about  features, pros, and cons of Objective-C and Swift languages.

Objective-C overview

The Objective-C programming language is an object-oriented language used to develop various apps and software, including iOS and OS X. It’s a superset of the C programming language, meaning it can do everything C can. One of the main benefits of Objective-C is its ability to dynamically load code, meaning you can use it to create small, lightweight programs or large, complex programs.

The Objective-C programming language was invented in the 1980s by Brad Cox and Tom Love. They both had prior knowledge of Smalltalk while at ITT Corporation's Programming Technology Center, which further equipped them to develop Objective-C.

After creating the Objective-C programming language with class libraries, Cox and Love created the PPI, which they intended to use to aid the commercialization of their product. NeXT took over the Objective-C operation from StepStone and used it until Apple acquired it in 1996.

Features of Objective-C

The Objective-C programming language has many appealing features, making it invaluable in developing Apple's operating system and applications. These are:

  • Data hiding. The Objective-C programming language uses data hiding as its safety feature, significantly protecting data from unwanted access. The data hiding safety feature aids in the prevention of deliberate or accidental changes to the program and ensures that data access is restricted.
  • Encapsulation. With the encapsulation feature on Objective-C, programmers find it easier to limit other users from having direct access to the state values of every object variable. This Objective-C feature further makes it easy to hide data, adapt to new requirements, and flexibly set variables as either write-only or read.
  • Inheritance. As a user of Objective-C, you may want to create classes while having an existing one. The inheritance feature of the Objective-C programming language helps you achieve that. Besides creating classes, the inheritance feature enables you to reuse code, autonomously prolong the original program using accessible classes and interfaces, and design a modification while preserving the same features.
  • Fast program. The wish of every software developer is to engage in coding without any unnecessary delay from the programming software or language in use. With the fast program feature of Objective-C, you can have this wish granted as the programming language's design helps make programming more efficient and quick.
  • Polymorphism. The polymorphism feature of the Objective-C programming language enables users to access different objects through the same interface. The polymorphism feature has two types: static and dynamic.

Advantages of Objective-C

Objective-C as a programming language has countless benefits. A few of them are:

  • Simple and efficient. The core grammar used to build the Objective-C language is fairly straightforward to learn. The nature of Objective-C programming language makes it easy to understand and facilitates a programmer's ability to rebuild or develop a new application. It’s no wonder Objective-C is frequently used as an introductory language to teach programming to students.
  • An abundance of tools. Due to its over 30 years of use, Objective-C has a wealth of tools. These include the XCode and Cocoa framework provided by NeXT, third-party contributors, and Apple. These numerous tools play a remarkable role in the smooth running of Apple's operating system and in making developers feel more comfortable using it.
  • Compatible with virtually any available version of iOS. Compared with Swift, which can only work with iOS produced in recent times, the Objective-C programming language is more compatible with nearly all versions of iOS. This compatibility is due to its long years of existence and usage in producing many Apple applications.
  • Ability to extend. The Objective-C programming language was designed so a program can be extended quickly and easily. As a result, programmers can easily add new functions to existing software with just a few alterations, if any.
  • Function-rich libraries. Objective-C designers equipped the programming language with a sizable collection of libraries with many built-in features that make programming simpler. Opportunities are also made for programmers to develop their user-designed features and include them in the library.

Disadvantages of Objective-C

Despite its numerous strengths, Objective-C still has a few key shortcomings.

  • Time-consuming. Compared with modern programming languages like Swift, Objective-C takes more time to program. The time-consuming factor of Objective-C code can, in turn, cost programmers more and delay the launching of their software applications.
  • Syntax is complicated and tedious. Compared to other modern programming languages like Swift, whose syntax resembles plain modern English, Objective-C's syntax is more tedious and difficult to write.

Swift overview

Swift is a programming language developed by Apple. It was first announced in 2014 and released to the public in 2015.

Swift is easy to read and write and more resilient to errors than other languages. It is an open-source language and can be used on many different platforms. It is compatible with Objective-C and can be used to develop software for iOS, macOS, tvOS, watchOS, and Linux.

Swift features

Swift, an advanced development on C-based codes, has some distinguishing features that make it easier to read and write. A few of Swift's features include a powerful error handling system, generics that are easy to use, a fast and concise iteration over a range of collections, a functional programming pattern, tuples, multiple return values, and power flow control.

  • Automatic memory management system. With Swift’s Automatic Reference Counting (ARC) feature that automatically handles memory management, a programmer does not have to waste time and effort thinking about the memory a project takes.
  • Swift is easy to learn. Swift’s features make it one of the easiest codes to learn, even for people without coding experience. Swift also has a playground where beginners can easily and independently learn how to use Swift.
  • Concise code syntax. Swift has a concise code syntax that enables developers to perform much with few codes. It reduces the number of codes required for repetitive statements and string manipulation.
  • Swift is fast. Swift has an optimized compiler that generates faster code across the board and relieves you of the burden and stress of bookkeeping.
  • Safe programming language. The Swift programming language reduces the possibility of making an error. Swift also eliminates tendencies of bugs by triggering a runtime crash that compels programmers to fix the issue immediately.

Swift advantages

A few key advantages of Swift include:

  • Swift is fast. Swift's simple and direct syntax makes it over two times faster than Objective-C. Unlike Objective-C, Swift has new features that enable coders to have a swift and seamless coding experience.
  • Swift has an Automatic Reference Counting feature. The ARC feature helps programmers manage an app's memory usage, which protects programmers from wasting time.
  • Swift's codes are easy to read and write. Swift algorithms are easy to read and write, similar to Java, JavaScript, and other C languages. Swift is a modern programming language with a relatively simplified and concise syntax.
  • Swift has an open-source community. An open-source community is a community of people who come together to build projects and share ideas about their common area of interest. Swift has a publicly accessible open-source community where you can learn new ideas about Swift.
  • Swift offers playgrounds. Swift has an interactive playgrounds application you can download on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac to learn how to use the Swift algorithm and codes. Use these playgrounds to accelerate your learning of Swift programming, even as a beginner.
  • Swift is safe and less prone to error. Swift is designed in such a way that it eliminates classes of unsafe code. It has a compiler feature that makes code writing safer and prevents a series of runtime crashes in your apps.

Swift disadvantages

The Swift programming language has a few drawbacks.

  • The language is still new. Unlike Objective C, which has existed since the 1980s, Swift is a new language created in 2014. Swift is a new programming language and undergoes frequent updates, making it incompatible with previous iOS versions.
  • Backward compatibility issues. Backward compatibility refers to a software feature that allows new updates to work with interfaces and data from earlier system versions. Swift evolves, making new versions of Swift incompatible with older versions of the iOS operating system. Swift supports projects that run on iOS7 and macOS 10.9 or higher, thus driving developers who need to maintain or build apps for older versions to use Objective-C.
  • Interoperability with third-party tools and IDEs. Due to constant updates and Swift’s lack of backward compatibility, finding third-party tools and Integrated Development Environment (IDE) that communicate and function with Swift isn’t easy. You can, however, use IDEs like Atom, App code, and Swift libraries for Swift.

Bottom line

After weighing the features, advantages, and drawbacks of both programming languages, it’s safe to say that Swift offers more extensive advantages than Objective-C. The Swift programming language is concise and easier to understand, even if you’re not a programmer.

Swift is more reliable and less likely to crash because Swift eliminates many errors that can occur in other languages. Finally, Swift code is faster than other languages, uses less memory, and is a better choice for iOS application development.

Further resources for mobile development

If you want to develop an app for the App Store and Apple platforms, Swift is the way to go. However, Objective-C is more versatile and better for building an SDK or working with C++ libraries. Once you determine the goal of your application, visit Upwork to hire qualified independent Swift developers and Objective-C developers.

Use the following resources to learn more about iOS and software development:

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Swift vs. Objective-C: A Look at iOS Programming Languages
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