George Black

Chris Lattner's Interview, and Swift Sans Apple

July 21, 2019

I enjoyed reading this interview with Chris Lattner – the engineer often credited with the creation of LLVM and the Swift programming language.

Apple parades Swift as the language for building anything within their platforms. At WWDC19, they introduced the first Swift-only frameworks. The company truly is all-in.

What surprises me is how Swift began. Given how central it is to the company, I assumed it would start with something like an executive order – a carefully planned part of the company’s roadmap.

However, this was not the case. It began development as a long-evening-and-weekend side project. According to Lattner, Swift stemmed from a trailing thought on his previous work:

“…you can’t implement C++ without thinking, ‘gosh, there should be a better thing out there!’”

This gets at the heart of the Swift project: to make something better, not merely to meet Apple’s needs. Swift aims to be a really great general-purpose programming language.

On the same note, Lattner points out what I agree is among Swift’s biggest flaws:

“If you’re not an Apple developer, it can feel alienating that every time you search for some Swift thing you end up in an iOS discussion.”

Many developers see Swift and Apple as tightly-bound dance partners – you can’t have one without the other.

Building with Swift outside of Apple’s ecosystem will be critical to its future – and changing developers minds to untangle the company and the language could take some time.