swift vs objective c

How is Objective-C different from Swift programming language?

Estimated read time: 7 minutes

Developers earlier used Objective-C to create apps for Apple’s platforms. Later, Swift emerged as the choice for many developers. How do Objective-C and Swift differ? Their comparison is as follows:

1. Objective-C and Swift were developed for different purposes

Brad Cox and Tom Love, two software engineers at Stepstone developed Objective-C in the 1980s. They wanted to add object-oriented programming capabilities with the strengths of C, which is a procedural language. Cox and Love introduced syntax and semantics for this purpose.

Objective-C became a mainstay for programming on Apple’s platforms, and it retained this status for a long time. Developers in Apple used Objective-C to create operating systems like OS X and iOS. They also created the associated APIs using Objective-C.

Apple wanted a modern programming language for creating apps for its platforms. Chris Lattner collaborated with software engineers at Apple to create a new programming language. They created Swift in 2014. Developers can use this open-source language to create apps for iOS, Mac, Apple TV, and Apple Watch.

2. Capabilities of Objective-C and the Swift language

The capabilities of Objective-C and Swift vary as follows:

  • Swift requires static typing, and it’s strongly typed. Objective-C uses both static and dynamic typing. Swift helps to avoid mistakes due to static typing.
  • Swift uses “true” and “false” values for Boolean operators. On the other hand, Objective-C uses “YES”, “NO”, and “BOOL”.
  • Swift has extensive library support, however, Objective-C lacks template libraries.
  • Swift offers the “tuple”, which is a way to combine multiple elements into one variable. Objective-C doesn’t offer this.
  • You can “Command-click” a Swift class name to see its generated header. Furthermore, you can “Option-click” a symbol to view its type, attributes, etc. Objective-C doesn’t provide such a feature.
  • Swift allows you to have lines, characters, integers, and fractional numbers as “enum” values. This helps you to make your Swift code readable, and you can code less. Objective-C doesn’t allow this.

Swift offers more capabilities and features than Objective-C.

3. Learning curve and documentation for Swift and Objective-C languages

Objective-C has a more complex syntax than Swift. Objective-C developers need to write more code than Swift developers. The simple syntax and the need to write less code make it easier to learn. Developers can also fix bugs more easily in Swift.

Programmers can access extensive Swift documentation. They can also use the interactive Swift playground in Xcode to learn it. Swift has a much less learning curve than Objective-C.


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4. Performance of Objective-C vs Swift

Code compilation for Objective-C happens at the runtime. In the case of Swift, this happens at the time of compilation. This makes Swift faster than Objective-C.

The following other factors also make Swift faster than Objective-C:

  • Garbage collection in Swift is more effective than in Objective-C.
  • Swift has a simple syntax, which is checked during the compile time.
  • Swift has better memory-management capabilities than Objective-C. Swift supports ARC (automatic reference counting) extensively for this.
  • The support for dynamic libraries makes Swift faster than Objective-C.

5. Security offered by Swift vs the Objective-C language

Swift helps developers to avoid common programming errors. That helps developers write code with fewer application security vulnerabilities. Programmers can avoid type-related errors in Swift, furthermore, they can avoid memory-related errors.

Objective-C uses pointers. This feature in languages inspired by C is for exposing values to achieve certain objectives. However, unsafe pointer management is a common error. Null pointers can leave security vulnerabilities in programs. Swift doesn’t use pointers.

6. Maintaining Swift code vs Objective-C code

Programmers need to do less work for maintaining Swift code than Objective-C code. They need to maintain two separate files if they code in Objective-C. Both files have code.

Developers need to do this to make the development process efficient. However, they need to spend more time on this. They also need to manually synchronize comments and method names.

Swift developers don’t need to maintain separate files. The Swift compiler also helps to complete the incremental builds.

7. Writing cleaner code in Objective-C vs the Swift programming language

Swift helps in writing code that’s cleaner than Objective-C. The creators of Objective-C built it on the C language. While C has many advantages, programmers can find its syntax complex.

Objective-C carried that legacy forward. It uses the “@” symbol, lines, semicolons, and parenthesis conditionals.

On the other hand, the creators of Swift designed it based on industry standards and modern best practices. Swift has a simple syntax. Code written in Swift reads like the English language.

Developers need to write fewer code strings in Swift. They find it easier to write cleaner code in Swift. There are fewer chances of bad code, which makes fixing bugs easier.

8. You need to write less code in Swift than in Objective-C

You can achieve your objective by writing less code in Swift than in Objective-C. An app written in Swift might need only 30% of the lines of code that it needs in Objective-C.

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You can handle strings in Swift by writing less code than Objective-C. Swift offers the “+” operator to add two strings together, furthermore, developers can use string interpolation.

On the other hand, Objective-C code requires special string tokens like “%s”, “%d”, and “%@” for string manipulation. These require more lines of code. Objective-C developers also must use the correct string token to avoid fatal bugs.

9. Swift offers better memory management capabilities than Objective-C

Developers find memory management easier with Swift than with Objective-C. “Automatic Reference Counting” (ARC) is important for memory management, and both languages support it.

However, Swift supports ARC for both object-oriented code paths and procedural code paths. It can’t have massive memory leaks.

Objective-C utilizes ARC that’s supported by the Cocoa API. However, it can’t support ARC for procedural C and APIs like core graphics. There can be significant memory leaks in Objective-C.

10. Swift supports dynamic libraries

Swift supports dynamic libraries, whereas Objective-C lacks this support. Therefore, Swift is useful for iOS developers and programmers targeting other Apple platforms.

In addition to better performance, supporting dynamic libraries offers the following advantages:

  • These libraries can be linked to programs during the time of execution.
  • The process loads the shared code only once. Many programs can then use it.
  • Software engineers can modify and recompile the code in a dynamic library without recompiling apps that use that library.
  • When users download an app that uses dynamic libraries, the download package of the app store automatically includes the dynamic libraries.

11. Popularity and long-term outlook: A key factor in Swift vs Objective-C comparison

Both Objective-C and Swift are used for iOS development, however, Swift is more popular than Objective-C. The TIOBE index shows that Swift is the 12th most popular language. It shows that Objective-C is the 16th most popular language.

The Stack Overflow Developer Survey also indicates that Swift is more popular than Objective-C. This survey indicates that 63.56% of the respondents love Swift. However, only 26.93% of respondents love Objective-C.

We believe that Apple will continue to support Objective-C for the foreseeable future. That’s because many apps are written in it. Furthermore, many existing Objective-C developers continue to use it.

However, Apple is encouraging developers to create apps in Swift. The company is also enhancing this relatively new language rapidly. That indicates that Apple considers Swift the language of the future.

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More developers will learn Swift in the future than Objective-C. You will find more Swift developers in the future than Objective-C.

12. Community support available for the two languages

Objective-C has a mature developers’ community. However, this community will likely diminish. We don’t foresee too many new developers learning Objective-C.

Swift has a growing community of developers. It’s an open-source language. Therefore, an increasing number of developers contribute to its enhancement. The vibrant developers’ community also creates useful resources. In the future, you will get better community support for Swift than Objective-C.

Objective-C and Swift are interoperable programming languages

While there are differences between Objective-C and Swift, these two programming languages are interoperable. You can use Swift and Objective-C code together in the same project. You don’t need to replace Objective-C code since it’s completely compatible with Swift. Add Swift code and take advantage of its powerful features.

Swift vs Objective-C: When should you use which program language?

Choose Swift in the following circumstances:

  • You want to develop an entirely new app targeting several operating systems offered by Apple. There’s no earlier codebase.
  • You want to hire competent developers quickly. More developers nowadays learn Swift than Objective-C.
  • You want the powerful language features and advantages offered by Swift.
  • Your proposed app is a strategic one. Naturally, you want source code that’s easily maintainable.

You should use Objective-C in the following circumstances:

  • Your app needs to support older versions of operating systems. Swift supports iOS 7 and higher. It supports macOS 10.9 and higher. Objective-C supports older versions.
  • Use Objective-C if you need to use C or C++ frameworks. Objective-C is built on the foundation of C. That makes it a better choice than Swift if your project needs C/C++ frameworks.
  • Continue to use Objective-C if you have a large app written in this language. There are many apps written in Objective-C that target Apple’s platforms. These include many native iOS applications. Apple will not withdraw its support for Objective-C anytime soon.

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1. Is Objective-C an open-source language?

Objective-C is not an open-source language. It has a developer community. Apple supports it. However, this is an area where Objective-C lags behind Swift. Swift is an open-source language. A growing developer community is enhancing Swift and creating useful resources.

2. How faster is Swift when compared to Objective-C?

Apple states that a common search algorithm in Swift completes up to 2.6 times faster than Objective-C. Note that the performance of Swift might vary in your project based on several factors.

3. Which well-known apps use Swift?

Facebook, Uber, Slack, Lyft, WhatsApp, Instagram, CNN, Fitbit, Medium, Twitter, Pandora, Kickstarter, Khan Academy, Clear, Sky Guide, LinkedIn, Airbnb, Everbrite, and Hipmunk are a few examples of well-known iOS apps that use Swift.


Alexey Semeney

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