Hey all, I'm very excited to bring this pitch today to get more feedback from the community—it's an effort that my team at Google has been doing in collaboration with @dabrahams (co-author) and many other folks on the Swift team.
An Official Style Guide and Formatter for Swift
We propose that the Swift project adopt an official style guide and provide a formatting tool that lets users easily diagnose and update their code according to those guidelines.
At the time of this writing, there is no single style agreed on by developers using Swift. Indeed, even Apple's own Swift projects on GitHub—such as the standard library, Foundation, Swift NIO, and so forth—have adopted their own varying styles. Furthermore, in many cases the code in those projects—despite the owners' best efforts—is not always completely consistent in terms of style.
In the absence of strict language-specific guidelines, many organizations adopt company-wide or project-wide style guides, which other developers may, and do, choose to adopt. But going further than that and having official style guidelines from the language owners and community themselves, along with tooling that enforces those guidelines, provides a number of additional benefits:
- The guidelines serve as a clear and easily referenceable source of language best practices and patterns, rather than developers trying to glean these by reading existing code.
- Developers can move from one codebase to another without incurring the mental load of learning and conforming to a different style or being required to reconfigure their development environment.
- Developers spend less time worrying about how to format their code and more on the program's logic.
- Likewise, code reviewers spend less time commenting on code formatting issues and more on its logic and design.
The first two points in particular align well with the Swift team's goal of making the language easy to learn. They also remove learning barriers for developers who want to contribute to a new open-source project, or to the language itself.
This proposal consists of two parts, discussed below:
- We propose that Swift adopt an official style guide for the Swift language.
- We propose formally adopting a formatting tool into the Swift project that will diagnose and fix violations of that style.
This meta-proposal does not attempt to define any specific style guidelines. Its purpose is to answer the following existential question:
Should the Swift language adopt an official style guide and formatting tool?
If the answer to this is "yes", then a subsequent proposal will be pitched to discuss and ratify an official style guide.
If the proposal is accepted, the Swift project will adopt an official code formatting tool. The adoption of such a tool into the Swift project will not preclude other similar tools being written, but the expectation is that this tool will be officially maintained as part of the Swift project and will (once the details are decided) enforce the official style guide.
The proposal authors (among others) have collaborated on the
swift-format tool currently hosted at https://github.com/google/swift/tree/format and intend to propose its adoption into the Swift project.
The tool will be used as part of evaluating options for an official style guide, as part of a follow-up proposal on the details of the style guide itself.
One alternative would be to not bless an official style and leave it to individual developers and teams to create their own guidelines (if they so desired). That, of course, does not address the points listed in Motivation above.
Some Swift users have suggested that instead of having an official language style, tooling should be able to transform code to the developer's personal style upon checkout and then back to some canonical style upon check-in, allowing individual developers to code in whatever style they wished. While such ideas are intriguing, we find them to be more of an academic curiosity than a practical solution:
- Varying personal styles would hinder team communication. Team members should be able to discuss code on a whiteboard without it looking foreign to other people in the room, and to make API and language design decisions based on a clear idea of how the code will look.
- This approach assumes that all tools on all platforms used in the developer's workflow support this approach. The development experience would suffer if the code does not use the same format locally as it does on their code review system, or if remote builds reported errors at different line numbers because they used a checked-in snapshot with a different style.
- If the source of truth of the source code is saved in some canonical format and transformed when checked in/out, then there must still be some decision about what that canonical style is.
Indeed, nothing in this proposal would prevent a developer from using a workflow like the one described above, if they wished to implement it.
We gratefully acknowledge the following contributors, without whom this work would not have been possible:
- the other contributors to
swift-format: Austin Belknap (@dabelknap),
Harlan Haskins (@harlanhaskins), Alexander Lash (@abl), Lauren White (@LaurenWhite), and Andrés Tamez Hernandez (@atamez31),
- Argyrios Kyrtzidis (@akyrtzi) for his insight and help on using SwiftSyntax,
- and Kyle Macomber (@kylemacomber), who advocated for using results of existing research for
swift-format's implementation and found the Oppen paper, instead of inventing solutions from whole cloth.