Higher order functions in Swift

Higher order functions (functions that can either accept functions or closures as arguments, or return a function/closure) are mega useful for writing nice clear succinct code. You can write your own, or there are a bunch all ready to take advantage of, from the Swift standard library.

If you look around the internets the most commonly mentioned higher order functions in Swift are generally map, filter, reduce and sort (or sorted). But there are so many more to play with!

Just take a look at Array – you will also find containsdrop, first, flatMap, forEach, partition  and split, – whaa?  You will never need to for-in loop that array again! That said, with so many fancy tools in your arsonry, sometimes you can pull one out, realize you can’t remember how to use it and resort reinventing the wheel.

Let’s take a look at some of these more obscure higher order functions, and compare how some would need to be coded in a for-in or while loop, but first let’s jog our memory of the big four: map, filter, reduce and sort.

Imagine first we have an array of fruits:

var fruits = ["Banana","Pineapple","Coconut","papaya","Kiwi","Rambutan"]


Perform an operation on every element in an array to build another array.

eg. Let’s create another array consisting of all of the fruits in lowercase.
Instead of:

var fruitLowercase:[String] = []
for fruit in fruits {
//["Banana", "Pineapple", "Coconut", "papaya", "Kiwi", "Rambutan"]

We can simply use map:

let fruitLowercase = fruits.map { $0.lowercased() }
//["Banana", "Pineapple", "Coconut", "papaya", "Kiwi", "Rambutan"]


Return every element in an array that satisfies a condition.

eg. Let’s say we want all of the fruits that start with A-K.
Instead of:

var fruitAK:[String] = []
for fruit in fruits {
  if ("A"..."K").contains(fruit.characters.first!) {
//["Banana", "Coconut", "Kiwi"]

We can simply use filter:

let fruitAK = fruits.filter { ("A"..."K").contains($0.characters.first!) }
//["Banana", "Coconut", "Kiwi"]


Generate a single value by performing an operation on every value of an array.

eg. Let’s say we need to know the letter count of all the fruits.
Instead of:

var totalLetters = 0
for fruit in fruits {

We can simply use reduce:

let totalLetters = fruits.reduce(0) {$0 + $1.characters.count}


Create a sorted version of an array. You don’t need to see an example of manually sorting an array to understand how this works!

Sort an array simply by describing how you want the sort to work. You can do this simply by indicating the direction of the sort with a > or <.

var fruitSorted = fruits.sorted(by: &lt;)
//["Banana", "Coconut", "Kiwi", "Pineapple", "Rambutan", "papaya"]

Notice that “papaya” comes last, as lower case letters come after upper case letters. You may want to ignore capitalization (or localization) differences:

var fruitSorted = fruits.sorted(by: {$0.localizedLowercase &lt; $1.localizedLowercase })
//["Banana", "Coconut", "Kiwi", "papaya", "Pineapple", "Rambutan"]

I go into sorting arrays of strings in more detail here. Of course if you want to sort the array itself rather than return a sorted version of the array, you can use sort.

Of course, there’s more than just the big four – let’s take a look at other higher order functions in Array:


Generate a true/false by checking if any element in your array satisfies a condition. Related to filter, but returns a Bool, rather than an array.

eg. Let’s say we need to know if our fruits array contains a four letter fruit.
Instead of:

var fruitContains4Char = false
for fruit in fruits {
  if fruit.characters.count == 4 {
    fruitContains4Char = true

We can simply use contains:

let fruitContains4Char = fruits.contains {$0.characters.count == 4}


Drops elements from your array while a condition is true, stops checking when it encounters an element that shouldn’t be dropped.

eg. Let’s say we want to drop all elements at the beginning of the array that contain the letter ‘a’.
Instead of:

var fruitDropA:[String] = fruits
while fruitDropA.count>0 && fruitDropA.first!.contains("a") {
  fruitDropA.remove(at: 0)
//["Coconut", "papaya", "Kiwi", "Rambutan"]

We can simply use drop:

let fruitDropA = fruits.drop { $0.contains("a") }
//["Coconut", "papaya", "Kiwi", "Rambutan"]


You’re probably familiar with the first property that retrieves the first element of an array, but did you know you can pass in a condition to get only the first element that meets that condition?

eg. Let’s say we want the first element of the array that contains the letter ‘i’.
Instead of:

var firstFruitI:String?
for fruit in fruits {
  if fruit.contains("i") {
    firstFruitI = fruit

We can simply use first:

var firstFruitI = fruits.first { $0.contains("i") }


Closely related to map, flatMap automatically removes any nil values from a map call, ensuring that the array returned does not contain optionals.

eg. Let’s say we have an array of String values:

let numbers = ["1","3","pineapple","2"]

And we want to convert these to an Array of Int. The map function would return an Array of Optional Int, and a nil value for “pineapple” that isn’t a number:

let numbersMapped = numbers.map { Int($0) }
//[Optional(1), Optional(3), nil, Optional(2)]

That’s not what we’re after, we want an array of Int!

We could of course do this in a for loop:

var numbersMapped:[Int] = []
for number in numbers {
  if let int = Int(number) {
//[1, 3, 2]

But much easier using flatMap:

let numbersMapped = numbers.flatMap { Int($0) }
//[1, 3, 2]


The forEach higher order function is a cool tool for your programming arsenal – basically short-hand for the for-in loop.

eg. Let’s say we want print the lowercase version of every fruit in our fruits array.
Instead of:

for fruit in fruits {
  print(fruit.lowercased(), terminator: " ")
//banana pineapple coconut papaya kiwi rambutan

We can simply use forEach:

fruits.forEach { print($0.lowercased(), terminator: " ") }
//banana pineapple coconut papaya kiwi rambutan

And three lines become one!


The partition method partitions the elements of your array based on a condition. Elements that meet the condition are placed last in the array.

eg. Let’s say we want all of the fruit in our fruits array that contains the letter “i” to come last. We could do this with a for-in loop:

var partitionedFruit:[String] = []
var partition = 0
for fruit in fruits {
  if fruit.contains("i") {
  } else {
    partitionedFruit.insert(fruit, at: partition)
fruits = partitionedFruit
//["Banana", "Coconut", "papaya", "Rambutan", "Pineapple", "Kiwi"]

Notice that “Kiwi” and “Pineapple”, the only elements with an “i” are placed at the end of the array. Alternatively, we can do this with just one line of code with the partition method:

fruits.partition(by: { $0.contains("i") })
//["Banana", "Rambutan", "Coconut", "papaya", "Kiwi", "Pineapple"]

Notice that this method, rather than returning a new array, actually changes the array itself. Notice also that the order of the elements within each partition changes in a somewhat random fashion.


You may be familiar with the components method on String, used to split a String based on a separator.

eg. Let’s say we have a paragraph that we want to split into sentences. We could use the components method, checking for full-stops (aka periods):

let paragraph = "I can't believe it! These higher order functions are like magic. Don't you think? Well, maybe not magic, but pretty useful all the same."

let sentences = paragraph.components(separatedBy: ".")
//["I can\'t believe it! These higher order functions are like magic",
//" Don\'t you think? Well, maybe not magic, but pretty useful all the same",

What’s with that final element though? An alternative to the components method is the split method, which accepts a separator too, but by default will omit blank elements.

To use the split method on a String, you would use it on the String.characters property, which is a String.CharacterType, which adopts the Collection protocol, giving characters access to many of the same cool higher order functions that Array has access to. Once you’ve separated String characters with split, you’ll have an array of something called a SubSequence, that you can pass in when initializing a String – you can do this on each element of your new array using the map higher order function to end up with an array of Strings.

Phew – what does that look like?

let sentencesSubsequences = paragraph.characters.split(separator: ".")
let sentences = sentencesSubsequences.map{ String($0) }
//["I can\'t believe it! These higher order functions are like magic",
//" Don\'t you think? Well, maybe not magic, but pretty useful all the same",

But wait, that ignored exclamation marks and question marks – they also define the end of a sentence. How to separate our paragraph using all three?

The split method has a fancy higher order function option as well. You can use it to divide our paragraph by full stops, exclamation marks or question marks:

let sentencesSubsequences = paragraph.characters.split { $0 == "." || $0 == "!" || $0 == "?" }
let sentences = sentencesSubsequences.map{ String($0) }
//["I can\'t believe it",
//" These higher order functions are like magic",
//" Don\'t you think",
//" Well, maybe not magic, but pretty useful all the same"]

Well that’s it! I hope next time you need to perform some magic on an array, you too might remember and take advantage of one of these higher order functions, keep your code nice, pretty and succinct and remember that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel!

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Get started with iOS in Swift today

Grummitt-iOS-HIAre you thinking about getting into iOS in Swift, and are looking for an all-in-one guide?

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After covering some basics of iOS, we will build up an app from idea through to publishing our app on the App Store. On the way we’ll look at solving common iOS problems, laying out your app interface in code or using a storyboard, structuring your code in iOS, working with data on the device and in iCloud, best practices and what to do when things don’t go to plan.

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Size classes in Xcode 8

More devices, split view controllers (introduced in iOS 8), slide over and split view multitasking modes (introduced in iOS 9) have all made adjusting a layout to its environment more and more complex.


Interested to know about Size classes in Interface Builder in Xcode 8?

Check out my article on Medium here.


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Sprite Kit Easing in Swift

It really is surprising that SpriteKit, Apple’s framework for building 2D games doesn’t have better easing algorithms available.

I’ve just updated my solution, SpriteKitEasingSwift, to Swift 3, and added Carthage support. Here it is at github and CocoaPods.


Kudos to buddingmonkey who built the Objective-C library this framework was originally based on.


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Xcode Keyboard Shortcut for CamelCase!

Sometimes it can be a pain moving around code in Xcode especially with long method and property names. Then I discovered an Xcode keyboard shortcut that rocks – move back and forward through camel case sub-words!

Use Control and Control to skip through camel case. Hold down shift to highlight as you go:


You may be wondering why this isn’t working on your machine – this does take a tweak to achieve, as the Xcode shortcut is usually usurped by an OS keyboard shortcut preference to move through full screen windows.

If you can handle removing full screen keyboard shortcuts to go left and right (you can just as easily swipe four keys on the trackpad) then open System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts and deactivate the ‘Move left a space’ and ‘Move right a space’ shortcuts:

Screenshot 2016-09-30 17.18.51.png

Alernatively, if you’re not keen on losing those shortcuts, you can always change the shortcut in Xcode – just look for Move Subword Back and MoveSubword Forward in Xcode Key Bindings Preferences.

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Why Swift?

With Swift 3 coming out of beta, some are still asking the question ‘Why Swift?’

Maybe you’re already an Objective-C developer – why learn a new language when the old one works fine?

Or maybe you’re learning iOS development and are facing the daunting question – should I learn Objective-C, the stalwart language that’s been around for many years, or Swift, the chic new up-and-coming language that keeps evolving!

I wrote an article recently on this question recently for medium – ‘Why Swift‘ – go check it out!

The article is actually an excerpt from my new book, iOS Development with Swift.



iOS Development with Swift is Deal of the Day for today, September 20! 

Half off iOS Development with Swift. Use code dotd092016au at http://bit.ly/2cI792G


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Any vs AnyObject vs NSObject in Swift 3

What is the difference between these three enigmatic types? A sometimes confusing topic, and to confuse things further Swift 3 has shaken it up by removing implicit bridging between Foundation and native data types. Aagh!

Let’s look at the current situation with a good old Venn diagram:


Let’s take a closer look at distinguishing these types with an example using arrays.

You probably know Swift is a type-safe language. For this reason, the compiler won’t permit you to type infer an array of different types that don’t share a common root:

//Error: Type of expression is ambiguous without more context
var test = ["a",0]

Strings and Ints in Swift don’t share a common root, so the compiler doesn’t know what you want it to do when type inferring the array.

There are three tricks for removing this error:

Solution 1: Array of NSObjects

If you import UIKit and cast the string as an NSString and the Int as an NSNumber the error goes away. Why?

import UIKit
//No error, test inferred to be [NSObject]
var test =  ["a" as NSString,0 as NSNumber]

UIKit Framework includes the Foundation framework. If you have imported the Foundation framework you can explicitly bridge common Swift data types to their Foundation Objective-C counterparts. (this bridging was automatic pre-Swift 3) String for example, bridges to NSString and Int can bridge to NSNumber.
Unlike in Swift, in Objective-C, most data types do have a root: NSObject is an actual class (docs here), that is the root of most classes if you’re using the Foundation framework.

If you option-click on the test variable, you’ll find that it has defaulted to [NSObject].

But then – out of curiosity – what happens if you add another variable to the array that does not have NSObject as a root, such as a class of your own?

class Test {}
var test = [Test(),"a" as NSString,0 as NSNumber]

The compiler can no longer find a root class to infer the array’s data type. You would need a way to indicate to the compiler that you know that the elements of the array are incompatible, and you’re ok with that.

Solution 2: NSArray

One solution would be to type the array as Foundation data type NSArray. NSArray is less strict than its Swift countertype; NSArray doesn’t enforce that elements it contains are the same data type.

//No error: test defined as NSArray
var test:NSArray =  [Test(), "a",0]

Solution 3: [Any] or [AnyObject]

If you specifically define the array as [Any], you are indicating to the compiler that you are aware that the elements are not of the same data type, and you are ok with that.

class Test {}
//No error, test is defined as [Any]
var test:[Any] = [Test(),"a",0]

You may be surprised to learn that unlike NSObject, Any is not actually a concrete data type. You won’t find a type description for it in documentation. Rather Any is an alias for any data type.

Similarly, AnyObject is an alias for any data type derived from a class. You can use it to define an array that contains more than one object derived from a class, that don’t share a common root class:

class Test {}
class Test2 {}
//No error, test is defined as [AnyObject]
var test:[AnyObject] = [Test(),Test2()]

(You could of course have used [Any] as well – [AnyObject] is just a little more specific.

Passing in a string and an integer for example, to an AnyObject array will cause an error, as these data types are structs in Swift.

//Error: String does not conform to element type 'AnyObject'
var test:[AnyObject] = ["a",0]

Of course, an Array which could contain any data type is unlikely to pop up in your code, and if it does, maybe you should double-check you’re following best practices!
Rather, this has been an exercise to explore Any, AnyObject, NSObject, NSArray and how Swift 3 now requires explicit bridging between Foundation and native data types. Hopefully this helps!

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