IBM hopes its tailored Swift will lure you onto BlueMix cloud

Now available to all – and a 'breath of fresh air' says top Big Blue engineer

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Swift ... Still playing second fiddle to Rust

Swift, the second-most-loved programming language by Stack Overflow's estimation, has showed up on IBM's BlueMix cloud platform, dressed for general availability.

She began performing as a runtime on BlueMix in February, when IBM provided a way to load a Swift binary into Linux containers, to build it as an application, and to serve it to the adoring world.

Further progress was made at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference in June, with the release of Kitura, a Swift web application framework, and assorted packages to handle sockets, security, networking, storage, and the like.

Supported by Kitura, which last week hit 1.0, and other web application frameworks like Perfect, Swift Express, Tailor, Vapor, and Zewo, Swift has become viable as a way to write server-based applications.

Swift 3.0, released earlier this month, advances that cause with an official Swift Package Manager, which simplifies the integration and maintenance of the various libraries and whatnot that developers invariably end up adding to their applications.

Patrick Bohrer, distinguished engineer at IBM's Mobile Innovation Lab, suggests Swift is fun for developers because it offers the simplicity of a scripting language with the type of safety and performance of a compiled language.

Certainly it's more fun than the sort of workforce reduction that has made IBM's moniker "Big Blue" into an emotional directive for redundant employees. And it's more fun than quirky JavaScript or excessively verbose Objective-C. But Swift's effect might be better described as less aggravating than pleasurable.

Bohrer told The Register, "It's just generally a breath of fresh air to code in."

There are not a lot of companies that have inhaled to date, which Bohrer attributes to the fact that proper Linux support only arrived with the version 3.0 release.

"This is now a version of the language, a web framework, and a runtime that we can stand behind," said Bohrer. "This is really the starting line."

IBM's affinity for Swift dates back to its 2014 partnership with Apple, through which IBM took on the creation of enterprise mobile apps for Apple's iOS, and to Apple's decision to open source Swift last year. By making Swift capable of server applications, IBM ensures that its organization has the technical skills to help other companies create, deploy, and manage Swift-based apps, ideally in conjunction with its cloud services.

Bohrer suggested Swift could be appealing to organizations because Swift applications can be written with lower memory requirements than similar applications written in other languages.

"You have the ability to pack more runtimes on a given server," said Bohrer, noting that IBM had compared Swift to JVM languages and scripting languages.

There may be heartbreak ahead for Swift, however. Apple's Chris Lattner in May said that application binary interface (ABI) stability isn't in the cards until Swift 4.0 at the earliest. Swift 3.0 should bring source and API stability, but binary incompatibilities could still arise with the next iteration of the language, requiring apps to be rebuilt. What fun. ®

PS: That's Apple's Swift, by the way, not the original Swift that was trampled over by the iGiant.


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