Apple’s top secret Swift language grew from work to sustain Objective-C, which it now aims to replace
Feature By Daniel Eran Dilger
Work on Swift—Apple’s surprise new programming language unveiled at WWDC—started development four years ago in conjunction with efforts to keep Objective-C relevant. Swift now aims to quickly replace Objective-C for modern Cocoa development on iOS and OS X.
Rather than being an entirely new “beta” idea, work on Swift started in the summer of 2010, according to the new language’s originator Chris Lattner (below), who has worked at Apple since 2005. Lattner is probably best known for LLVM, the Low Level Virtual Machine compiler infrastructure project with a wyvern dragon mascot (above).
LLVM: A new compiler for Objective-C
LLVM originated as Lattner’s research project while a student at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 2000. It was first publicly released as version 1.0 in 2003. In 2004, Lattner was a summer intern at Microsoft Research, where he worked on the Phoenix complier infrastructure, working to allow LLVM to compile and run .NET code.
Lattner caught the attention of Apple after posting questions about Objective-C to the company’s objc-language mailing list. Apple in turn began contributing to Lattner’s LLVM open source project in 2005 and subsequently hired Lattner and began funding his work.
In 2007, the LLVM project released Clang, a front end code parser for Objective-C/C/C++ aimed to provide fast compiling with low memory use, expressive diagnostics, a modular library-based architecture, and tight integration within an IDE such as Apple’s Xcode.