Synthesizing Comparable, for enums

I solve this problem using CaseIterable. No leaking raw values into the API. No boilerplate. (It is probably slower at run‐time though.) See here.


Without commenting on the pitch, I just want to point out that you can do this with N cases:

static func minimum(lhs: Self, rhs: Self) -> Self {
  switch (lhs, rhs) {
  case (.priority,  _), (_, .priority) : return .priority
  case (.preferred, _), (_, .preferred): return .preferred
  case (.general,   _), (_, .general)  : return .general

static func < (lhs: Self, rhs: Self) -> Bool {
  return (lhs != rhs) && (lhs == minimum(lhs, rhs))

I would like this. I’ve wanted it a couple of times.

Yes. Given that CaseIterable already provides an implicit ordering that — even though that ordering isn’t guaranteed stable — could be source-breaking, it doesn’t seem like a leap to say that enums explicitly marked Comparable would have semantically significant case ordering in code.


I think the : Int solution wouldn't be as terrible if we had internal-only conformances, so you could use the integer values within your own module but not have them leak to clients. I've wanted to do this a number of times (mostly when wrapping C types), in situations both involving ordering and not. I'm less concerned about the associated value restriction because chances are if your enum has them, your comparison logic is going to involve something more than just the case anyway.

But for what it's worth (especially given the observation about CaseIterable), I could see derivation of Comparable for enums without associated values based on source order as being fairly uncontroversial.

Doing the same for enums with associated values or for structs feels a bit more wishy-washy, but maybe if it's well-documented it wouldn't be too bad...

This is kind of an aside, but...

Yes, I know. AllCases is only a Collection and could theoretically be reimplemented someday as a Set by default—hence the caveat in the documentation. Even then, a manual implementation can still override it as an Array specifying the order. It would still be the option with the least boilerplate (that I’m aware of), and provides enough information not just for <, but also things like next and previous.

Back on topic:

Regardless, I already use a form of it. Ergo, I think Comparable synthesis like proposed here is definitely useful.

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i think not having the associated values would be a huge loss,, i can think of lots of situations where you’d want to have associated values but not use them in comparison, for example you might want to associate ID numbers or metadata records

This is a contradiction: if Comparable were implemented this way, then all instances of the same case with different associated values must compare as equal. But Comparable inherits from Equatable, whose derived definition of == is that instances are equal based on the pairwise equality of their associated values (when they are all Equatable).


fair enough,, i do wish there was a way to generate “pure” enums from enums with associated values, and have a way to upcast a payload-bearing instance to a pure type without having to write the whole thing out, but that’s way beyond the scope of this pitch.


+1 for sure on Comparable-backed enums,
neutral on enums with no associated values
-0.5 for enums with associated values.

But...that got me thinking.

Is there a reason to not add it (opt-in) to RawRepresentable generally?

I've done this before:

extension RawRepresentable where Self: Comparable, RawValue: Comparable {
    static func < (lhs: Self, rhs: Self) -> Bool {
        return lhs.rawValue < rhs.rawValue

And it allows:

enum ComparableIntEnum: Int, Comparable {
    case first
    case second

print(ComparableIntEnum.first < ComparableIntEnum.second) // true

enum NonComparableIntEnum: Int {
    case first
    case second
 // *Error*
print(NonComparableIntEnum.first < NonComparableIntEnum.second) // *Error*
// *Error*

This is something I expected to already be possible as it feels like the naturally expected behavior.

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I don't think it's the case that everything that's RawRepresentable should sort the same way as the underlying values. Is it okay if it defaults to sorting that way? Probably not for string-backed enums…

Hence the reason it should be opt in and overridable like Codable

I can see restricting it to numerical Types, but as a default, opt-in behavior I can see use cases for Strings as well. And Strings are already comparable, so IMO it would just make things consistent.

The problem is that that would shadow any enum-case-ordering-based implementation. (We actually have this problem already with Hashable, where it prefers to hash the raw value.)

The RawValue being the canonical thing from which to order makes perfect sense, but I am a heavy user of enums so maybe thats why. :slight_smile:

However, I can understand it potentially confusing new users in cases like String. But in the case of a numerically backed enums, the only barrier to understanding I see is understanding how the values are already calculated.

The choice to be made between code order and raw value order is effectively this:

enum Month: String, Comparable {
    case january
    case february
    case march
    case april
    // ...
print(Month.january < .february) // True or false? What should it do?
// True if derived from code order.
// False if derived from raw values.

Right. I guess I see it as the expected behavior to be sorting based on the value of a case, not the order. Just as it is implicitly in (most) C-derived languages. Yes that's a tad weird with Strings, but I don't see any other way to make the behavior feel consistent.

e.g. you wouldn't this:

enum Day: Int {
    case two = 2
    case one = 1

to default to .two < .one being true

As long as it's, again, opt-in and overridable.

It's not satisfactory just because it's opt in. The problem is that what you're opting into is ambiguous (or rather, undesirable/confusing/error-prone in the case of string-based enums).

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If you dont like like the auto-generated implementation, you do have the option of writing your own.

To me, using the comparison of the rawValue is the behavior I expect to already be available. I can understand it being confusing for new users, but I guess I don't see this as a "new user" feature to begin with, much like Codable. However, I can understand (and support) more clarity around this kind of "magic".

One option would be something like

protocol RawValueComparable: Comparable { }

extension RawRepresentable where Self: RawValueComparable, RawValue: Comparable {
    static func < (lhs: Self, rhs: Self) -> Bool {
        return lhs.rawValue < rhs.rawValue

I'm unsure that's the best direction as far as Foundation APIs go, (that's a separate question), but it might be a good compromise between magic and clarity.

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To me, something like this seems like a code smell. Why would anyone write case two before case 1?

Alternatively if you wanted an enum that was like your Day example, it's much more likely that you would write this. Note also that an incremented value is already inferred by the ordering of the elements.

enum Day: Int { 
   case one = 1
   case two
 // case noWay = 2 (this generates an error: 'Raw value for enum case is not unique')

print("\(Day.two) -> \(Day.two.rawValue)") // two -> 2

Personally in my own coding, I would expect comparable to follow the source order of the cases. An int or string rawValue could represent some sort of json value or key to a backend or device:

Consider a device that has some sort of brightness that can be controlled:

enum ScreenBrightness: String {
   case low
   case medium
   case high

There are definitely reasons why you might want a string rawValue, but you would never want this sorted by its raw value.

Additionally, it's a lot easier to get the rawValue sorting order from a source defined order than the other way around.

enum BestLetterAcronym: String, CaseIterable {
   case bravo
   case alpha
   case charlie

   static let ordered = BestLetterAcronym.allCases.sortedBy { $0.rawValue < $1.rawValue }

print( { $0.rawValue }) // ["alpha", "bravo", "charlie"]

I'm not sure how you would convert a RawValue ordered enum to a user defined ordering with adding a switch case with an order value int.


It's an example, not a real world use case. But I will say I've seen stranger things :smile:. A more realistic example would be adding a new case to an already existing API

enum LocationAccuracy: Float {
    case decameter = 10
    case kilometer = 1000

    /// new option added
    @available(iOS 11.0, *)
    case meter = 1

Never's a strong word, but again this is a question of default, not capability. If someone wants custom sorting, they're free to do so. To me it seem obvious that for numerical enums, sorting should be based on the underlying value just as it would be in Objective-C or C/C++.

If this behavior is so undesired that it shouldn't be done for Strings, then IMO it would be better to not have it at all rather than it work inconsistently depending on RawValue's Type.

It should be pretty easy. This is about Comparable, not changing the generation of allCases (though I believe the ordering is technically undefined?):

static func < (lhs: YourEnum, rhs: YourEnum) -> Bool {
    return allCases.firstIndex(of: lhs)! < allCases.firstIndex(of: rhs)!
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