Behind every iOS app, there is a programming language that makes it all possible. Users do not see the debate between developers: Swift vs Objective-C.
In the TIOBE Index for September 2023, Swift is impressively ranked in the top 16, while Objective-C holds a respectable position at 29. However, when it comes to iOS development, Objective-C has always been the trusted language. But since the introduction of Swift in 2014, developers have been pondering a challenging question: which one is the better choice?
While ranking is not the only thing that matters, it does show a trend. But this does not necessarily mean that Swift is better than Objective-C for developing iOS apps. Both have their own strengths and weaknesses, making it difficult to choose one over the other.
To help you make an informed decision, this blog post will discuss the pros and cons of both Objective-C and Swift for app development. Keep in mind that this debate is ongoing, and it all comes down to personal preference and project requirements.
What is Objective-C?
If you’ve been in app development for a while, chances are you’re familiar with Objective-C programming language. It’s been around for a long time, and many older iOS apps are built using Objective-C. So, to maintain these applications, it’s important to have someone who knows the language.
In this section of the blog, we will briefly explore some of Objective-C’s key features and its pros and cons.
How Objective-C started
Objective-C has been around since the early 1980s and was created by Brad Cox and Tom Love of the Stepstone Company. They based it on the C programming language, and it hit the market in 1988, and people loved it. In the same year, they wrote “Object-Oriented Programming: An Evolutionary Approach,” which played a big role in the success of this programming language.
But in the late 1980s, NeXT Computer, Inc. obtained the license for Objective-C, which became the standard for iOS app development for many years.
Features of Objective-C
Objective-C was actually born from the fusion of two programming languages: Smalltalk and C. That’s what gives it its unique and complex syntax. Smalltalk contributes to the object syntax, while C brings in the non-object syntax.
Here are the features that make Objective-C language stand out:
Class and object creation
Objective-C simplifies class and object creation by automating meta-class creation during runtime. Each class is an instance of a meta-class, allowing for easy management and flexibility. Creating objects is straightforward, as you can simply send a message to the desired class. Additionally, meta-classes are also treated as objects in Objective-C.
Dynamic and static typing
When it comes to dynamic and static typing, Objective-C offers both. With dynamic typing, variables can hold references to unknown objects at runtime. On the other hand, static typing allows developers to specify object types when they are certain. This feature has made Objective-C a popular language for iOS app developers.
In object-oriented programming, we communicate with objects by sending them messages. When a message is received, the corresponding method is invoked. However, objects have the flexibility to handle messages in various ways, such as forwarding them to another object or applying custom logic.
Expressive message syntax
In Objective-C, message patterns resemble natural language sentences with placeholders, allowing for expressive and meaningful code. This messaging approach originated from Smalltalk and enhances the readability and clarity of the code.
Automatic garbage collection
The automatic garbage collector in this system runs concurrently with the application code, using a generational model to prioritize memory zones likely to contain garbage. It can handle objects and C memory blocks allocated with specific functions.
Advantages of Objective-C
There are multiple advantages to using Objective-C for iOS app development. Here are a few:
- Legacy code compatibility: There are probably millions of lines of code written in Objective-C, along with numerous well-documented, third-party frameworks. By using Objective-C, developers can easily integrate their code with existing libraries and frameworks.
- Compatible with any available version of iOS: You don’t have to worry about iOS updates messing things up constantly. It makes Objective C a reliable choice for the long run.
- Stability: Developing an application in Objective-C can save you money on language migration in the future. There is no need to spend extra cash on transitioning to a new language version after just a few months.
Disadvantages of Objective-C
On the flip side, using Objective-C also has its drawbacks:
- Complex syntax: Due to its complex structure, it can be challenging to grasp. The intricate structure makes it tough for beginners to learn, and even experienced developers may encounter some difficulties when transitioning to Objective C.
- Steep learning curve: With a challenging syntax, it can take time to become proficient in Objective-C. This may not be the best option for developers who want to develop iOS apps quickly.
- Fewer Objective-C developers: The community of Objective-C developers is shrinking as more and more developers transition to Swift. This makes it difficult to find experienced Objective-C developers to maintain existing codebases.
What is Swift?
Swift, created by Apple and exclusively for Apple, is currently one of the fastest-growing programming languages out there. As a modern alternative to the well-known Objective-C, Swift brings many advantages that place it at the forefront of iOS development.
This section of the blog will introduce you to Swift and its key features, as well as its pros and cons.
The beginning and rise of Swift programming language
In 2014, Apple introduced the Swift programming language, revolutionizing app development in iOS. This open-source language embodies modern programming methodology, empowering developers to create stunning applications for iOS, macOS, pdOS, tvOS, and watchOS environments.
The rise of Swift as the preferred language for iOS development is no coincidence. In the 2022 Stack Overflow survey, 63% of respondents expressed their love for working with Swift. With Apple’s support and its seamless integration into operating systems, Swift has quickly captured the hearts of developers and emerged as the go-to choice for native app development.
Features of Swift
Swift code has been designed with the goal of being easy to read and write. Its modern syntax is concise, expressive, and intuitive. Here are some features of Swift that make it stand out:
Automatic Reference Counting (ARC)
In Swift, ARC automatically removes unused class instances, reducing memory footprint. Before ARC, memory management and tracking of each class’s reference counts was done manually. ARC eliminates these tasks, improving performance without memory lag.
Generics in Swift are a powerful language feature that allows you to write reusable code that can work with different data types. By specifying a placeholder for the data type, you can use the generic code with various types when needed. Swift’s support for generics is crucial and widely used, making it easier to create types and classes.
Tuples and Multiple Values Return
In Swift, tuples let developers group and share values. They enable returning multiple values from functions as a single entity. Unlike C language, where pointers or structures are used, Swift simplifies returning multiple values.
Advance Control Flow
Swift offers a range of advanced features for controlling flow in addition to control transfer statements. These include a do statement to introduce scope, a guard statement for handling conditions and errors, a defer statement to perform clean-up actions, and a repeat statement for carrying out tasks in a repetitive manner based on a specific condition.
Closures unified with function pointers
Function pointers store the address of a specific function and refer to code rather than data. Instead of writing code directly, you can indicate a desired behavior by calling the function using a function pointer. Closures, on the other hand, encapsulate these function pointers. In Swift, closures and nested functions are closely related, allowing closures to access values from the enclosing functions.
Advantages of Swift
Swift features make programming more fun and less stressful. Here are some of the advantages of using Swift for iOS development:
- Easy to read and write: Swift’s syntax is designed to be easy to read with logical English function names. Developers can avoid using symbols like “@” and instead use a comma-separated list of parameters within parentheses.
- Beginner-friendly: Learning Swift from scratch varies based on your existing knowledge and experience. Beginners may take around a month or two to grasp the language basics. If you have prior programming experience, you can learn Swift more quickly.
- Enhanced code safety: Apps developed in Swift are less likely to have bugs and crashes. Why? Swift has features like generics, optionals, and type inference that make development smoother and safer.
Disadvantages of Swift
Being a programming language developed later than other languages like Objective-C, Swift still has a few disadvantages:
- New to the scene: Swift is a relatively new programming language, around 30 years younger than Objective C. As a result, much of the industry code is still in Objective C, and it will take time for the industry to transition to Swift.
- Incompatibility with older devices: Lack of backward compatibility hampers Swift’s growth as a programming language. Swift is incompatible with the previous version’s code bases, requiring changes with each new version.
Swift vs Objective-C: Differences that Set Them Apart
Swift and Objective-C bring unique features to the table; each has its advantages and disadvantages. Here are some key differences to keep in mind when choosing a language for iOS development:
Simplicity and ease of use
As mentioned earlier, Swift’s syntax is intentionally designed to be easy to read and write, making it a breeze to work with. On the other hand, Objective-C’s code structure can be quite complex, requiring heavy use of symbols like “@” and semicolons, as well as parentheses for conditionals.
With Swift, developers can say goodbye to symbols. Instead, they can simply list parameters within parentheses, separated by commas.
And here’s the best part: Swift’s concise code reduces the chances of coding errors and promotes clean code. Plus, it feels more like plain English, which is becoming the industry standard with modern programming languages like Kotlin.
When it comes to pure speed performance, Apple says that Swift can outperform Objective-C by up to 2.6 times. This big boost in speed can really amp up the efficiency and responsiveness of Swift apps.
The ARC system in Swift doesn’t just get rid of the hassle of manual memory allocation; it actually changes the whole game for developers. By handling memory management automatically, ARC saves developers time and resources so they can concentrate on the important stuff in app development. This boosts development speed and, in turn, a developer’s productivity.
In summary, Swift has more concise syntax, impressive safety features, and high performance, while Objective-C remains a strong contender with its rich history, extensive development, and reliable performance.
Static and Dynamic Libraries
Swift works with dynamic libraries, but Objective-C is dependent on static libraries in its development process, posing a significant disadvantage.
Dynamic libraries are smaller in size and stored differently in memory. In contrast, Objective-C files are larger due to their use of static libraries, which require external programs to be built into the executable files. This negatively impacts application performance and is incompatible with modern trends and industry standards.
On the other hand, dynamic libraries can be directly loaded into an app’s memory, optimizing performance and reducing file size. These libraries, supported by Swift, can update without depending on the Operating System. With this, your app stays up to date with the latest trends while also keeping the file size in check and improving overall performance, including loading speed.
The safety of your code
Objective-C is a dynamically typed language, whereas Swift is statically typed. With Swift, it checks if the data types match before runtime, which helps reduce the chances of crashes and bugs.
Swift was developed to enhance code safety for developers. It’s a type-safe and memory-safe programming language that prevents type errors and vulnerabilities caused by uninitialized or dangling pointers. By eliminating these errors, Swift offers faster and safer iOS app development.
Objective C uses null pointers as a safety feature, but they can lead to complex problems for developers. Calling a method with a nil pointer results in a no-operation (NOP), which can create unpredictable results and complicate bug finding and fixing. While it doesn’t crash, it can hinder prompt mistake clean-up.
We can all agree that the developer community plays a massive role in advancing and maturing programming languages and development tools. When developers work in the same language, they offer each other the support needed to tackle challenging tasks.
Open-source programming languages like Swift allow experienced developers to contribute by writing libraries, extensions, and code dependencies. These contributions make coding easier and more effective for the entire community.
Maintenance and compatibility
As mentioned before, Objective-C predates Swift. Consequently, most industry code remains in Objective-C, ensuring compatibility with older devices and operating systems.
When updating an application developed in Objective-C, it is advisable to stick with the same language. Objective-C and Swift are interoperable, allowing the use of both languages in the same app. However, it is important to have developers who are proficient in both languages to ensure smooth collaboration.
Objective-C or Swift: Which Should You Learn?
When it comes to Apple, Swift is undeniably the future. But Apple is well aware of the vast number of applications and open-source libraries written in C and Objective-C. They acknowledge that Objective-C will continue to thrive for many years to come.
Our advice: If you have the time and resources, learn both languages!
If not, learn Swift first.
Understanding the basics of Swift is important, but don’t overlook the benefits of spending time with Objective-C. It will boost your confidence as an iOS developer and deepen your understanding of memory management. With Swift’s open-source nature, learning the language can have broader applications beyond iOS and macOS.
In essence, investing in Swift now may pay off in the future, regardless of your development focus.
Hire iOS Developers from StarTechUP!
In the debate of Swift vs Objective-C, one thing remains constant: the need for skilled and experienced iOS developers.
Whether you choose to develop your app in Swift or Objective-C, knowing how to write clean, efficient code is key. This is what we ensure at StarTechUP!
We have a team of highly skilled and experienced iOS developers who are well-versed in both the languages. As a software development company in the Philippines, we’ve produced several mobile apps for success-driven businesses worldwide.
Get in touch with us today, and let’s work together to bring your app idea to life! Let’s make your app the next big thing on the App Store!