Featherweight Swift: A Core Calculus for Swift’s Type System
Swift is a modern general-purpose programming language, designed to be a replacement for C-based languages. Although primarily directed at development of applications for Apple's operating systems, Swift's adoption has been growing steadily in other domains, ranging from server-side services to machine learning. This success can be partly attributed to a rich type system that enables the design of safe, fast, and expressive programming interfaces. Unfortunately, this richness comes at the cost of complexity, setting a high entry barrier to exploit Swift's full potential. Furthermore, existing documentation typically only relies on examples, leaving new users with little help to build a deeper understanding of the underlying rules and mechanisms.
This paper aims to tackle this issue by laying out the foundations for a formal framework to reason about Swift's type system. We introduce Featherweight Swift, a minimal language stripped of all features not essential to describe its typing rules. Featherweight Swift features classes and protocol inheritance, supports retroactive modeling, and emulates Swift's overriding mechanisms. Yet its formalization fits on a few pages. We present Featherweight Swift's syntax and semantics. We then elaborate on the usability of our framework to reason about Swift's features, future extensions, and implementation by discussing a bug in Swift's compiler, discovered throughout the design of our calculus.