Category Archives: Swift

Xcode’s Secret Performance Tests

I was inspired today, by a question from another developer, to dig into Xcode’s performance testing. This developer had observed that XCTestCase exposes a property, defaultPerformanceMetrics, whose documentation strongly suggests can be used to add additional performance metrics:

This method returns XCTPerformanceMetric_WallClockTime by default. Subclasses of XCTestCase can override this method to change the behavior of measureBlock:.

If you’re not already familiar, the basic approach to using Xcode’s performance testing infrastructure is you add unit tests to your project that wrap code with instructions to measure performance. From the default unit test template:

func testPerformanceExample() {
	// This is an example of a performance test case.
	self.measure {
		// Put the code you want to measure the time of here.

Depending on the application under test, one can imagine all manner of interesting things that might be useful to tabulate during the course of a critical length of code. As mentioned in the documentation, “Wall Clock Time” is the default performance metric. But what else can be measured?


At least, according to any header files, documentation, WWDC presentations, or blunt Googling that I have encountered. There is exactly one publicly documented Xcode performance testing metric, and it’s XCTPerformanceMetric_WallClockTime.

I was curious whether supporting additional, custom performance metrics might be possible but under-documented. To test this theory, I added “beansCounted” to the list of performance metrics returned from my XCTestCase subclass. For some reason I couldn’t get Swift to accept the XCTPerformanceMetric pseudo-type, but it allowed me to override as returning an array of String:

override static func defaultPerformanceMetrics() -> [String] {
	return ["beansCounted"]

When I build and test, this fails with a runtime exception “Unknown metric: beansCounted”. The location of an exception like this is a great clue about where to go hunting for information about whether an uknown metric can be made into a known one! If there’s a trick to implementing support for my custom “beansCounted” metric, the answer lies in the method XCTestCase’s “measureMetrics(_: automaticallyStartMeasuring: forBlock:)”, which is where the exception was thrown.

By setting a breakpoint on this method and stepping through the assembly in Xcode, I can watch as the logic unfolds. To simplify what happens: first, a list of allowable metrics is computed, and then the list of desired metrics is iterated. If any metric is not in the list? Bzzt! Throw an exception.

I determined that things are relatively hardcoded such that it’s not trivial to add support for a new metric. I was hoping I could implement some magic methods in my test case, like “startMeasuring_beansCounted” and “stopMeasuring_beansCounted”

but that doesn’t appear to be the case. The performance metrics are supported internally by a private Apple class called XCTPerformanceMetric, and the list of allowable metrics is derived from a few metrics hardcoded in the “measureMetrics…” method:

  • “”
  • “”
  • “”
  • “”

As well as a bunch of others exposed by a private “knownMemoryMetrics” method:

  • “”
  • “”
  • “”
  • “”
  • “”
  • “”
  • “”
  • “”
  • “”
  • “”

How interesting! There are a lot more metrics defined than the single “wall clock time” exposed by Apple. So, should we use them? Official answer: no way! This is private, unsupported stuff, and can’t be relied upon. Punkass Daniel Jalkut answer? Why not? They’re your tests, and your the only one who will get hurt if they suddenly stop working. In my opinion taking advantage of private, undocumented system behavior for private, internal gain is much different than shipping public software that relies upon such undocumented behaviors.

I modified my unit test subclass to return a custom array of tests based on the discoveries above, just to test a few:

override static func defaultPerformanceMetrics() -> [String] {
	return [XCTPerformanceMetric_WallClockTime, "", "", ""]

The tests build and run with no exception. That’s a good sign! But these “secret peformance tests” are only useful if they can be observed and tracked the way the wall clock time can be. How does Xcode hold up? I made my demonstration test purposefully impactful on some metrics:

func testPerformanceExample() {
	self.measure {
		for _ in 1..<100 {
			print("wasting time")
		let _ = malloc(3000)

Now when I build and test, look what shows up in the Test navigator’s editor pane:

Screenshot of performance metrics after reducing the size of allocations and length of run.

Look at all those extra columns! And if I click the “Set Baselines…” button, then tweak my function to make it substantially less performant:

func testPerformanceExample() {
	self.measure {
		for _ in 1..<10000 {
			print("wasting time")
		let _ = malloc(300000)

Now the columns have noticably larger numbers:

Screenshot of Xcode's test results after running tests with

But more importantly, the test fails:

Screenshot of test errors generated by failing to meet performance baselines.

I already mentioned that by any official standard, you should not take advantage of these secret metrics. They are clearly not supported by Apple, may be inaccurate or have bugs, and could outright stop working at any time. I also said that, in my humble opinion, you should feel free to use them if you can take advantage of them. The fact that they are supported so well in Xcode probably implies that groups internal to Apple are using them and benefiting from them. Your mileage may vary.

The only rule is this: if Apple does do anything to change their behavior, or you otherwise ruin your day by deciding to play with them, you shouldn’t blame Apple, and you can’t blame me!


Accessible Frames

I love the macOS system-wide dictionary lookup feature. If you’re not familiar with this, just hold down the Control, Command, and D keys while hovering with the mouse cursor over a word, and the definition appears. What’s amazing about this feature is it works virtually everwyhere on the system, even in apps where the developers made no special effort to support it.

Occasionally, while solving a crossword puzzle in my own Black Ink app, I use this functionality to shed some light on one of the words in a clue. As alluded to above, it “just works” without any special work on my part:

Screen shot of Black Ink's interface, with a highlighted word being defined by macOS system-wide dictionary lookup.

Look carefully at the screenshot above, and you can see that although the dictionary definition for “Smidgen” appears, it seems to have highlighted the word in the wrong location. What’s going on here?

The view in Black Ink that displays the word is a custom NSTextField subclass called RSAutosizingTextField. It employs a custom NSTextFieldCell subclass in order to automatically adjust the font size and display position to best “fill up” the available space. In short: it behaves a lot like UITextField on iOS.

To achieve this behavior, one of the things my custom cell does is override NSTextFieldCell’s drawingRect(forBounds:). This allows me to take advantage of most of NSTextField’s default drawing behavior, but to nudge things a bit as I see fit. It’s this mix of customized and default behaviors that leads to the drawing bug seen above. I’ve overridden the drawing location, but haven’t done anything to override the content hierarchy as it’s reflected by the accessibility frameworks.

What do the accessibility frameworks have to do with macOS system-wide dictionary lookup? A lot. Apparently it’s the “accessibilityFrame” property that dictates not only where the dictionary lookup’s highlighting will be drawn, but also whether the mouse will even be considered “on top of” a visible word or not. So in the screenshot above, if the mouse is hovering over the lower half of the word “Smidgen”, then the dictionary lookup doesn’t even work.

The fix is to add an override to NSTextField’s accessibilityFrame method:

public override func accessibilityFrame() -> NSRect {
	let parentFrame = super.accessibilityFrame()
	guard let autosizingCell = self.cell as? RSAutosizingTextFieldCell else { return parentFrame }

	let horizontalOffset = autosizingCell.horizontalAdjustment(for: parentFrame)

	// If we're flipped (likely for NSTextField, then the adjustments will be inverted from what we
	// want them to be for the screen coordinates this method returns.
	let flippedMultiplier = self.isFlipped ? -1.0 as CGFloat : 1.0 as CGFloat
	let verticalOffset = flippedMultiplier * autosizingCell.verticalAdjustment(for: parentFrame)

	return NSMakeRect(parentFrame.origin.x + horizontalOffset, parentFrame.origin.y + verticalOffset, parentFrame.width, parentFrame.height)

Effectively I take the default accessibility frame, and nudge it by the same amount that my custom autosizing text cell is nudging the content during drawing. The result is only subtly difference, but makes a nice visual refinement, and a big improvement to usability:

Screen shot of dictionary lookup UI with properly aligned word focus.

I thought this was an interesting example of the accessibility frameworks being leveraged to provide a service that benefits a very wide spectrum of Mac users. There’s a conventional wisdom about accessibility that emphasizing the accessibility of apps will make the app more usable specifically for users who take advantage of screen readers and other accommodations, but more generally for everybody who uses the app. This is a pretty powerful example of that being the case!

Playground Graphs

I was playing around with the Swift standard library’s “map” function, when I noticed a cool feature of Xcode Playgrounds. Suppose you are working with an array of numbers. In the Xcode Playgrounds “results” section, you can either click the Quick Look “eye” icon, or click the little results rectangle to get an inline results view of the expression you’re viewing:

Screenshot of Xcode Playgrounds's inline results view, revealing the values of an array of numb ers.

The linear list of values is revelatory and easy to read, but wouldn’t it be easier to understand as a graph? It turns out simply passing these values through the map function does just that:

Screenshot of the Xcode Playgrounds's result of the map function when returning numeric values.

I thought I had stumbled on some magical secret of Xcode, but it turns out the behavior is well documented, and applies to more than just the “map” function. You can even grab the edges of the result view and resize it to better suit your data. In fact, any looping numeric value seems to trigger the availability of this handy graphing functionality:

Screenshot of Xcode Playgrounds showing a graph of the results of Fibonacci sequence.

I am still frustrated by a lot of behaviors of Xcode Playgrounds, but little gems like these are nice to stumble upon.

Unified Swift Playgrounds

The announcement of Swift Playgrounds 2.0 has me thinking again about Xcode Playgrounds: both about what a revelation they are, and about how disappointing they continue to be.

When Xcode Playgrounds were first introduced (as “Swift Playgrounds”) in 2014, they were received as a groundbreaking new way for developers to write Swift code interactively. There were lots of rough edges on the feature, but it seemed reasonable to expect that because they were released in tandem with the Swift programming language itself, those rough edges would be smoothed out on a parallel pace with the language itself.

Two years later, Apple announced Swift Playgrounds again, immediately introducing a nomenclature confusion. This time the name referred to a dedicated, closed-source iOS app designed for interactively teaching programming concepts with Swift. The previous Xcode-coupled technology, now known as “Xcode Playgrounds” or simply “Playgrounds,” had seen modest improvements over the years but continued to be frustratingly slow, unpredictable, and crash-prone.

Today, in early 2018, the release of Swift Playgrounds 2.0 for iOS appears to represent Apple’s commitment to driving that product forward into the future. The latest version of Xcode Playgrounds, on the other hand, offers a lackluster interface, slow responsiveness, and a tendency to crash both within the Playground, and in ways that take down the entire Xcode app. In short: they’re not a very fun place to play.

I propose that Apple eliminate Xcode playgrounds, and invest all of their work in the field of interactive coding into the Swift Playgrounds app. It has been a nagging shortcoming that Swift Playgrounds is only available for iOS. Many people who would benefit from the educational opportunities of Swift Playgrounds could do so from Macs, whether in schools, homes, or workplaces. Porting Swift Playgrounds to the Mac would address that problem.

Where does that leave developers? After eliminating Xcode Playgrounds as we know them today, I envision adapting the Mac version of Swift Playgrounds so that playgrounds can be run either independently in a Swift Playgrounds app, or in “developer mode” within Xcode. In effect, Xcode would become a dedicated Swift Playgrounds authoring app, where such authoring capabilities would incidentally provide all the benefits that standalone Xcode Playgrounds currently provide.

Taking this course would allow Apple to maximize the output of its engineering and design efforts while eliminating the naming confusion that currently exists between Swift Playgrounds and Xcode Playgrounds.

For students and educators, it would broaden device requirements for Swift Playground materials, opening up learning opportunities for people who have access to Macs but not to iOS devices.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly for the developer ecosystem as a whole, it would eliminate the frustratingly problematic Xcode Playgrounds and hopefully provide developers with something more inspiring, more functional, and more reliable.

Radar #36910249.

Intrinsic String Encoding

I was baffled today while investigating a bug in MarsEdit, which a customer reported as only seeming to affect the app when writing in Japanese.

I pasted some Japanese text into the app and was able to reproduce the bug easily. What really confused me, though was that the bug persisted even after I replaced the Japanese text with very straight-forward ASCII-compatible English. I opened a new editor window, copied and pasted the English text in, and the bug disappeared. I copied and pasted back into the problematic editor, and the bug returned. What the heck? Two windows with identical editors, containing identical text, exhibiting varying behavior? I knew this was going to be good.

It turns out there’s a bug in my app where I erroneously ask for a string’s “fastestEncoding” in the process of converting it. The bug occurs when fastestEncoding returns something other than ASCII or UTF8. For example, with a string of Japanese characaters, the fastestEncoding tends to be NSUnicodeStringEncoding.

But why did the bug continue to occur even after I replaced the text with plain English? Well…

The documentation for NSString encourages developer to view it as a kind of encoding-agnostic repository of characters, which can be used to manipulate arbitrary strings, converting a specific encoding only as needed:

An NSString object encodes a Unicode-compliant text string, represented as a sequence of UTF–16 code units. All lengths, character indexes, and ranges are expressed in terms of 16-bit platform-endian values, with index values starting at 0.

This might lead you to believe that no matter how you create an NSString representation of “Hello”, the resulting objects will be identical both in value and in behavior. But it’s not true. Once I had worked with Japanese characters in my NSTextView, the editor’s text storage must have graduated to understanding its content as intrinsically unicode based. Thus when I proceeded to copy the string out of the editor and manipulate it, it behaved differently from a string that was generated in an editor that had never contained non-ASCII characters.

In a nutshell: NSString’s fastestEncoding can return different values for the same string, depending upon how the string was created. An NSString constant created from ASCII-compatible bytes in an Objective-C source file reports NSASCIIStringEncoding (1) for both smallest and fastest encoding:

printf("%ld\n", [@"Hello" fastestEncoding]);	// ASCII (1)

And a Swift string constant coerced to NSString at creation behaves exactly the same way:

let helloAscii =  "Hello" as NSString
helloAscii.fastestEncoding			// ASCII (1)

But here’s the same plain string constant, left as a native Swift String and only bridged to NSString when calling the method:

let helloUnicode = "Hello"
helloUnicode.fastestEncoding		// Unicode (10)

As confusing as I found this at first, I have to concede that the behavior makes sense. The high level documentation describing NSString representing “a sequence of UTF-16 code units” says nothing about the implementation details. It’s a conceptual description of the class, and for the most part all methods operating on an NSString comprising the same characters should be heave the same way. But the documentation for fastestEncoding is actually pretty clear:

“Fastest” applies to retrieval of characters from the string. This encoding may not be space efficient.

As I said earlier, my usage of fastestEncoding was erroneous, so the solution to my bug involves removing the call to the method completely. In fact, I don’t expect most developers will ever have a legitimate needs to call this method. Forthose who do, be very aware that it can and does behave differently, depending on the provenance of your string data!

Selective Selector Mapping

I ran into an interesting challenge while porting some Objective-C code to Swift. The class in question served both as an NSTableView delegate and data source, meaning that it implemented methods both for controlling the table view’s behavior and for supplying its content.

Historically in Cocoa, most delegate relationships were established as informal protocols. If you wanted a particular class to be a table view data source, you simply implemented the required methods. For example, to populate a cell based table view, a data source would implement various methods, including one to indicate how many rows the view should have:

- (NSInteger) numberOfRowsInTableView:(NSTableView *)tableView;

In recent years, Apple has increasingly converted these informal protocols to formal Objective-C protocols. These give the compiler the opportunity to generate errors if a particular class declares compliance, but neglects to implement a required method. At runtime, however, the compliance-checking is still pretty loose. NSTableView consults its data source, checks to see that it implements a required subset of methods, and dynamically dispatches to them if it does.

The dynamic nature of NSTableView hasn’t changed with Swift. An @objc class in Swift that complies with NSTableViewDataSource must still implement the required methods such that Apple’s Objective-C based NSTableView can dynamically look up and dispatch to the required delegate methods. Swift’s method rewriting “magic” even ensures that a delegate method can be written in modern Swift style, yet still appear identically to older Objective-C code:

class MyDataSource: NSObject {
	@objc func numberOfRows(in tableView: NSTableView) -> Int {
		return 0

Given an instance of MyDataSource, I can use the Objective-C runtime to confirm that a the legacy “numberOfRowsInTableView:” selector is actually implemented by the class above:

let thisSource = MyDataSource()
thisSource.responds(to: Selector("numberOfRowsInTableView:")) // false

Or can I? False? That’s no good. I’m using the discouraged “Selector” initializer here to ensure I get Swift to look for a very specific Selector, even if it doesn’t appear to be correct to the Swift-adapted side of the runtime.

I was scratching my head, trying to figure out why Objective-C could not see my method. Did I forget an @objc marker? No. Did I forget to make MyDataSource a subclass of NSObject? No. I finally discovered that I could second-guess the default Swift selector mapping to obtain a result that “worked”:

class MyDataSource: NSObject {
	@objc func numberOfRowsInTableView(_ tableView: NSTableView) -> Int {
		return 0

let thisSource = MyDataSource()
thisSource.responds(to: Selector("numberOfRowsInTableView:")) // true

Instances of MyDataSource will get the job done for Objective-C calls to “numberOfRowsInTableView:”, but I’ve lost all the pretty formatting that I expected to be able to use in Swift.

There’s something else I’m missing out in my Swift implementation: type checking of MyDataSource’s compliance with the NSTableViewDataSource protocol. Old habits die hard, and I had initially ported my class over with an old-fashioned, informal approach to complying with NSTableViewDataSource: I declared a plain NSObject that happens to implement the informal protocol.

It turns that adding that protocol conformance onto my class declaration not only gains me Swift’s protocol type checking, but changes the way key functions are mapped from Swift to Objective-C:

class MyDataSource: NSObject, NSTableViewDataSource {
	func numberOfRows(in tableView: NSTableView) -> Int {
		return 0

let thisSource = MyDataSource()
thisSource.responds(to: Selector("numberOfRowsInTableView:")) // true

Armed with the knowledge that my class intends to comply with NSTableViewDataSource, Swift generates the expected mapping to Objective-C. Notice in this final case, I don’t even have to remember to mark the function as @objc. I guess when Swift is creating the selector mapping for a function, it does so in a few phases, prioritizing more explicit scenarios over more general:

  1. First, it defers to any explicit annotation with the @objc attribute. If I tag my “numberOfRows…” func above with “@objc(numberOfDoodads:)” then the method will be made available to Objective-C code dynamically looking for “numberOfDoodads:”.
  2. If there’s no @objc specialization, it tries to match function implementations with declarations in superclasses or protocols the class complies with. This is what gives us the automatic mapping of Swift’s “numberOfRows(in:)” to Objective-C’s “numberOfRowsInTableView:”.
  3. Finally it resorts to a default mapping based on Swift API Design Guidelines. This is what yielded the default “numberOfRowsIn:” mapping that I first encountered.

This is an example of a Swift growing pain that is particularly likely to affect folks who are adapting older source bases (and older programming mindsets!) to Swift. If you run across a completely vexing failure of Objective-C to acknowledge your Swift class’s protocol compliance, start by making sure that you’ve actually declared the compliance in your class declaration!

Better Swift Completion

Apple released Xcode 9 earlier this week, and in spite of a few glitches here and there, I have found the update to be an overall improvement over Xcode 8. It’s nice that Apple continues to invest in the core tools for Mac and iOS developers.

I’ve been dabbling in more and more Swift development lately, and it’s brought to light a shortcoming in Xcode’s code completion which has unfortunately not improved in Xcode 9: completion of Swift function calls when there is a large quantity of candidates.

Take for example NSAttributedString. If I want to initialize a new instance in Swift, I type “NSAttributedString(” to bring up the list of compatible init methods I can choose from:


The problem at this point is that I have to navigate the menu by hand. I can’t narrow down the list of completions any further by typing, because the very next character I type will be interpreted as the manual filling out of parameters of the NSAttributedString initializer.


This is a situation where Objective-C gets much nicer treatment in the editor. Because completion in Objective-C begins when I start typing “init”, and because the named first parameter is part of the init message name, I can winnow down the results quite a bit:

Pasted Image 9 22 17 11 24 AM

Better still, because Xcode performs a fuzzy match on the typing, I can proceed to type the names of additional parameters to zero in completely on the variation I want:

MEAppController AppDelegate m Edited

When I accept the completion, all of my typing is replaced with the expected, templated parameter placeholders for the chose initializer.

I filed Radar #34594940 requesting better completion for Swift.

Debugging Swift: Error in Auto-Import

Have you ever tried debugging Swift code in an embedded framework, and met resistance from lldb in the form of a cryptic AST context error?

error: in auto-import:
failed to get module 'RSAppKit' from AST context:

<module-includes>:1:9: note: in file included from <module-includes>:1:
#import "Headers/RSAppKit.h"
error: [...]/RSAppKit.h:1:9: error: 'RSAppKit/SomeHeader.h' file not found
#import <RSAppKit/SomeHeader.h>

error: could not build Objective-C module 'RSAppKit'

After hours of trying to unravel this mystery, I discovered the root cause: the framework that is embedded in my app does not, in fact, contain any headers. They were stripped by Xcode when it copied the framework into the app.

In my opinion, Xcode and/or lldb should be smart enough to handle this situation, by preferring the version of the framework in the “Built Products” directory, which still has its header files in-tact. Radar #31502879 requests this, hopefully Apple will fix it.

In the mean time, you can work around the problem by setting the REMOVE_HEADERS_FROM_EMBEDDED_BUNDLES build setting to NO in the app that embeds the framework:

Xcode build settings showing REMOVE_HEADERS_FROM_EMBEDDED_BUNDLES set to NO for DEBUG builds.

You probably want to make sure it remains set to YES for Release builds, so that you don’t ship your framework’s header files to your customers.

System Level Breakpoints in Swift

Any great software developer must inevitably become a great software debugger. Debugging consists largely of setting breakpoints, then landing on them to examine the state of an app at arbitrary points during its execution. There are roughly two kinds of breakpoints: those you set on your own code, and those you set on other people’s code.

Setting a breakpoint on your own code is simple. Just find the line of source code in your Xcode project, and tap the area in the gutter next to the pertinent line:


But what if you need to set a breakpoint on a system API, or a method implemented in a drop-in library for which you don’t have source code? For example, imagine you are hunting down a layout bug and decide it might be helpful to observe any calls to Apple’s own internal layoutSubviews method on UIView. Historically, to an Objective-C programmer, this is not a huge challenge. We know the form for expressing such a method symbolically and to break on it, we just drop into Xcode’s lldb console (View -> Debug Area -> Activate Console), and set a breakpoint manually by specifying its name. The “b” shorthand command in lldb does a bit of magic regex matching to expand what we type to its full, matching name:

(lldb) b -[UIView layoutSubviews]
Breakpoint 3: where = UIKit`-[UIView(Hierarchy) layoutSubviews], address = 0x000000010c02f642

If you’re intimidated by the lldb console, or you want the breakpoint to stick around longer than the current debug session, you can use Xcode’s own built-in symbolic breakpoint interface (Debug -> Breakpoints -> Create Symbolic Breakpoint) to achieve the same thing:

Image of Xcode's symbolic breakpoint editor

In fact, if you add this breakpoint to your iOS project and run your app, I am pretty sure you will run into a breakpoint on Apple’s layoutSubviews method. Pop back into the lldb console and examine the object that is being sent the message:

(lldb) po $arg1
<UIClassicWindow: 0x7f8e7dd06660; frame = (0 0; 414 736); userInteractionEnabled = NO; gestureRecognizers = <NSArray: 0x60000004b7c0>; layer = <UIWindowLayer: 0x600000024260>>

Now, continue and break on the symbol again. And again. Examine the target each time by typing “po $arg1” into the lldb console. You can imagine how handy it might be to perform this kind of analysis while tracking down a tricky bug.

But what about the poor Swift programmers who have come to our platforms, bright-eyed and full of enthusiasm for Swift syntax? They who have read Apple’s documentation, and for whom “-[UIView layoutSubviews]” is impossible to parse, whereas “UIView.layoutSubviews” not only looks downright obvious, but is correct for Swift?

Unfortunately, setting a breakpoint on “UIView.layoutSubviews” simply doesn’t work:

(lldb) b UIView.layoutSubviews
Breakpoint 3: no locations (pending).
WARNING:  Unable to resolve breakpoint to any actual locations.

This fails because there is no Swift type named UIView implementing a method called layoutSubviews. It’s implemented entirely in Objective-C. In fact, a huge number of Objective-C methods that are exposed to Swift get compiled down to direct Objective-C message sends. If you type something like “UIView().layoutIfNeeded()” into a Swift file, and compile it, no Swift method call to layoutIfNeeded ever occurs.

This isn’t the case for all Cocoa types that are mapped into Swift. For example, imagine you wanted to break on all calls to “Data.write(to:options:)”. You might try to set a breakpoint on “Data.write” in the hopes that it works:

(lldb) b Data.write
Breakpoint 11: where = libswiftFoundation.dylib`Foundation.Data.write (to : Foundation.URL, options : __ObjC.NSData.WritingOptions) throws -> (), address = 0x00000001044edf10

And it does! How about that? Only it doesn’t, really. This will break on all calls that pass through libswiftFoundation on their way to -[NSData writeToURL:options:error:], but it won’t catch anything that calls the Objective-C implementation directly. To catch all calls to the underlying method, you need to set the breakpoint on the lower level, Objective-C method.

So, as a rule, Swift programmers who want to be advanced debuggers on iOS or Mac platforms, also need to develop an ability for mapping Swift method names back to their Objective-C equivalents. For a method like UIView.layoutSubviews, it’s a pretty direct mapping back to “-[UIView layoutSubviews]”, but for many methods it’s nowhere near as simple.

To map a Swift-mapped method name back to Objective-C, you have to appreciate that many Foundation classes are stripped of their “NS” prefix, and the effects of rewriting method signatures to accommodate Swift’s API guidelines. For example, a naive Swift programmer may not easily guess that in order to set a breakpoint on the low-level implementation for “Data.write(to:options)”, you need to add back the “NS” prefix, explicitly describe the URL parameter, and add a mysterious error parameter, which is apparently how cranky greybeards used to propagate failures in the bad old days:

(lldb) b -[NSData writeToURL:options:error:]
Breakpoint 13: where = Foundation`-[NSData(NSData) writeToURL:options:error:], address = 0x00000001018328c3


For those of you mourn the thought of having to develop this extensive knowledge of Objective-C message signatures and API conventions, I offer a little hack that will likely get you through your next challenge. If the API has been rewritten using one of these rules, it’s almost certain that the Swift name of the function is a subset of the ObjC method name. You can probably leverage the regex matching ability of lldb to zero in on the method you want to set a breakpoint on:

(lldb) break set -r Data.*write
Breakpoint 14: 107 locations.

Now type “break list” and see the massive number of likely matches lldb has presented at your feet. Among them are a number of Swift cover methods that are part of libswiftFoundation, but you’ll also find the target method in question. In fact, you’ll also see a few other low-level Objective-C methods that you may want to break on as well.

To make the list more manageable, given your knowledge that the target methods are in a given Objective-C framework, add the “-s” flag to limit matches to a specific shared library by name:

(lldb) break set -s Foundation -r Data.*write
Breakpoint 17: 8 locations.

Among these breakpoints there are a few false hits on the NSPageData class, but the list is altogether more manageable. The single breakpoint “17” has all of its matches identified by sub-numbers. Prune the list of any breakpoints that get in your way, and you’re good to go:

(lldb) break disable 17.6 17.7 17.8
3 breakpoints disabled.
(lldb) c

Apple’s mapping of Objective-C API to Swift creates an altogether more enjoyable programming experience for Swift developers, but it can lead to great confusion if you don’t understand some of the implementation details, or how to work around lack of understanding. I hope this article gives you the tools you need to debug your Swift apps, and the Objective-C code that you are unavoidably leveraging, more effectively.

Update: I filed two related bugs: Radar #31115822 requesting automatic mapping from Swift method format back to underlying Objective-C methods, and Radar #31115942 requesting that lldb be more intuitive about evaluating terse Swift method signatures.

Implicit Swift Dependencies

If you’re developing in Swift for Mac or iOS, you need to ensure that any standard Swift libraries are also copied into your app bundle. Typically this is handled automatically by Xcode when it detects the presence of any Swift files in your app. If your app is entirely Objective-C, but you link against your own frameworks that themselves depend on Swift, you have to ensure the required libraries are embedded. This can be done by setting the “Always Embed Swift Standard Libraries” checkbox in your target’s build settings to “Yes”:


When this option is set, Xcode scans the bundled frameworks in your app and, if any of them contains Swift code, it copies the pertinent libraries into your app’s bundle.

This approach falls down a bit when it comes to Unit Testing targets. Because a Unit Test bundle doesn’t typically copy the framework it is testing into its own bundle, Xcode seems to deduce dependencies by examining the list of frameworks the test bundle links to. If you enable the “Always Embed” option above for a Unit Testing bundle, then any framework the bundle links against will be examined for Swift code, and the required libraries copied in.

But what if none of the linked frameworks themselves require Swift, but they depend upon other frameworks that do? In projects of a substantial size, you may have higher-level frameworks implemented entirely in Objective-C, that depend upon lower level frameworks that use Swift. In this scenario, Xcode’s CopySwiftLibs build phase does not identify the deeper dependency, and neglects to embed the required Swift libraries. When your unit tests run, you’ll see a runtime error like this:

The bundle “RSTextFilteringTests” couldn’t be loaded because it is damaged or missing necessary resources. Try reinstalling the bundle.
(dlopen_preflight([...]/RSTextFilteringTests): Library not loaded: @rpath/libswiftAppKit.dylib
  Referenced from: [...]/RSAppKit.framework/Versions/A/RSAppKit
  Reason: image not found)
Program ended with exit code: 82

So “Always Embed Swift Standard Libraries” doesn’t always embed them. I’ve filed Radar #30832923, requesting that the CopySwiftLibs build phase look harder for Swift dependencies. In my opinion it should look not only at the directly linked frameworks, but at any developer-supplied frameworks that those in turn depend upon. This would cause “Always Embed” to behave as expected when a developer adds Swift dependencies to frameworks at any level of their code base.

There are many possible workarounds to the problem, and each has its own drawbacks. Here are a few:

  1. Add a Swift-based unit test file to your test bundle. This simple workaround will work in most situations, because the test itself will impose many Swift library dependencies on your bundle. There is a shortcoming, though: if the test code doesn’t generate all the Swift dependencies that your frameworks do, you’ll still be left with missing Swift libraries. For example if a dependent library requires the Swift library for Apple’s Contacts.framework, your Swift test file is not sufficient to cue Xcode to copy the required libSwiftContacts library.
  2. Manually link to Swift-dependent frameworks. Suppose your unit tests target HighLevel.framework, and LowLevel.framework depends upon Swift. By adding LowLevel.framework to the list of linked libraries for your testing bundle, you will cue Xcode to also embed the required Swift libraries for that framework. This has the advantage of ensuring that whatever Swift libraries are required get copied, but it has the drawback of requiring explicit dependency on a lower level framework from your unit test bundle.
  3. Stop! Abort mission! Revert to Objective-C only. Many Swift dabblers probably feel this emotion from time to time. The unexpected costs of adding a modest amount of Swift to a project are frustrating, and one can’t help but wonder whether they would be better off waiting until Swift support is more baked in to the system. The obvious downside of this approach is that Apple’s progress with Swift is moving quickly, and the longer you put off testing the waters, the harder it may be for you to catch up when ignoring it is no longer a viable option.

The workaround I’ve settled on for now is #2. Adding unnecessary direct dependencies to my test bundle feels a little inappropriate, but it is both easily undone in the future, and unlikely to cause any real problems in practice.

In the course of investigating this problem, it also occurred to me that unit test bundles in particular are such a special case, that Apple should probably give them special treatment to eliminate a number of pitfalls. I filed Radar #30832983 suggesting that unit test bundles should default to “Always Embed Swift Standard Libraries,” on the assumption that Swift code may be present in some library.

Thinking further on that point, it seems that Unit Tests could be safely run in an environment in which all Swift support libraries are available at runtime to be resolved by DYLD. Because test bundles are not built to be shipped to customers, it’s of primary that they link and run successfully. Such an approach would do away with the need for Unit Test bundles to either specify that Swift libraries be bundled, or to fret about which of those libraries in particular need to be copied.