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@erica erica/
Last active Nov 30, 2016

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Removing Setter/Observer Name Overrides

  • Proposal: TBD
  • Author: Erica Sadun
  • Status: TBD
  • Review manager: TBD


This proposal removes setter and observer name overrides from the Swift programming language, limiting their use to the defaults of newValue and oldValue.

Swift-evolution thread: TBD


Swift setters and property observers supply predefined symbols that represent value arguments. These are newValue for set and willSet, and oldValue for didSet. These implicit names are always available -- you don't need to take any action to have access to them -- and they are instantly recognizable in context.

Swift allows you to override newValue and oldValue by supplying a name in parentheses after the set/willSet/didSet keyword, for example:

set(temperature) { 
   // use temperature instead of newValue

This feature is an attractive nuisance for the following reasons:

Preferring newValue and oldValue to custom names is consistent. Someone reading code needn't recognize a new and unfamiliar symbol in setter or observer context.

Preferring newValue and oldValue to custom names avoids errors. Some developers prefer to name all mentioned values for the sake of consistency, clarity, and readability like this:

set(newValue) {...}

Developers who follow this rule may accidentally insert newValue or oldValue in the wrong observer. It is not that uncommon. (See this tweet, for example.) Swift does not check for name mismatches, specifically for the common error of using oldValue in place of newValue or vice versa.

Detailed Design

Upon adopting this proposal:

  • Swift removes name overrides from the language.
  • Swift allows the current grammar to be used but disallows the mention of any mismatched name:
set { ... } // okay
willSet { ... } // okay
didSet { ... } // okay
set(newValue) { ... } // okay, self-documenting
set(oldValue) { ... } // compiler error
willSet(newValue) { ... } // okay, self-documenting
willSet(oldValue) { ... } // compiler error
didSet(oldValue) { ... } // okay, self-documenting
didSet(newValue) { ... } // compiler error
didSet(bob) { ... } // compiler error

Type Members

As an optional extra, Swift could emit warnings for any type member named newValue or oldValue.

var newValue: T { ... } // warning

A more extreme step would disallow the use of newValue and oldValue members, reserving those words for setters and observers. This proposal does not go so far since newValue and oldValue are reasonable property names for a generic ChangeSet<T> struct.

Although a warning could be limited to the presence of property observers and setters, this is not recommended. Deferring warnings until there's a name conflict might introduce the desire to rename members and break APIs when observers and setters are added at a later date. That outcome is undesirable.

Please note that Swift properly differentiates between members (self.newValue) and the newValue argument, as in the following example.

struct Foo {
    var newValue: Int = 0
    var observedMember: Int {
        willSet {
            // newValue = 100 // error, `newValue` is immutable
            self.newValue = 100

var test = Foo(newValue: 0, observedMember: 50)
test.observedMember = 60 // prints 60
test.newValue // 100

Impact on Existing Code

This proposal is breaking. The migrator will need to remove overrides and rename their mentions to newValue and oldValue.


This proposal is breaking so needs to be considered in Swift 4 Stage 1

Alternatives Considered

  • If this proposal is not adopted, Swift could still warn or error on set(oldValue), willSet(oldValue), and didSet(newValue), since these can be considered to be always wrong.
  • Swift could entirely remove the parentheses syntax, although many developers prefer to explicitly mention the magic argument names.
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