Cast your mind back to June 2nd 2014, when Apple managed to turn the heads of developers worldwide with the surprise launch of new programming language Swift. This wasn’t even the first time a Swift language had debuted. Apple’s offering was preceded by a Swift language designed for parallel scripting on multicores, clusters, clouds and supercomputers – which, funnily enough, failed to set the world alight in quite the same way as its usurper.
Neo-Swift had been in the works for four years before it made its Beta debut at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) 2014. Swift 1.0 officially went GA on September 9th, and has proceeded to ricochet up the programming language charts. It currently sits a 18 on the TIOBE, 11 on the PYPL PopularitY of Programming Language Index, and 22 on the RedMonk rankings.
One year later & “new iOS dev” already means “Swift-first”
— Francis Dierick (@macbookjockey) June 2, 2015
Before the advent of Swift, iOS developers had to default to general-purpose, object-oriented Objective-C, which is often criticised for being a demanding old school language that makes it all too easy to mangle code with the merest slip of a finger. Swift’s primary selling points over Objective-C are that it’s much easier to learn from the outset, and much harder to break. Moreover, Swift enables Apple developers to write and view the results of their code in real time, freeing them for the need for compilation.
Given how huge Objective-C’s user base is, as the officially sanctioned successor, there was always going to be a huge groundswell of interest in Swift (not to mention the cult-like reverence for Apple in certain quarters). Nonetheless, even when taking these factors into account, the language’s traction has certainly been impressive.
Analysts RedMonk noted back in January that dramatic growth from a language (normally a movement of 5-10 places) usually slows as it draws closer to the top 20 (just look at the case of Scala). However, Swift jumped a total of 46 spots between Q3 and Q4 last year alone.
Of course, a large part of this can be attributed to the fact that every Swift user is technically a newcomer to the language. A lot of the activity around it on StackOverflow and GitHub tends to be “either educational or infrastructure in nature,” but even when taking this into account, that’s still a remarkable leap. And that’s going to be the status quo for some time.
Developer Christopher Allen tells InfoWorld that there’s still a way to go before Swift really can be considered viable for serious projects – likely “two major releases — two years — before it is truly mature.” As Guilherme Silveira commented though, even if it’s still got some teething to do, if it can avoid the trap of adding too many “crappy” additional features early in its life, by this time in two years, we might already have a major mainstream language on our hands.