Why doesn't Swift have a governing Foundation?

The main issue Swift suffers from is IMO a lack of adoption. I believe it's mostly because people think of it as an "apple language" and the lack of an independent foundation steering the language is not helping. I'm thinking of something similar to Rust, LLVM, Python, Kubernetes etc..

I believe Apple will also greatly benefit from increased adoption because they will have an easier time finding people already proficient in Swift and don't need training, not to mention proliferation of open source libraries to use and more people contributing to the compiler and standard library. I can't think of any drawback from doing this, especially because most members would still be Apple employees.

Moreover, let's not forget that Apple copy righted some language features, which I'm sure makes other companies think twice or ten times before using Swift for anything but writing iOS apps. I wouldn't be surprised if the reason Google and IBM backed off is partly because of Apple total control over the language (certainly not because of technical limitations).

Anyway, has Apple ruled this out or not yet?

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This one seems to have two parts. The first part, "what is Apple's policy?", tends not to get answered, here or elsewhere. The second part is to convince Apple to release Foundation into open source space. Unfortunately, AFAICT, the people here are not the right ones to convince, and you might have better luck going through the official channel (whatever that means for this particular case).

Either way, you could try, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

Let's not delve too deep into conspiracy theories, especially when it's nigh impossible to either prove or disprove it (unless, of course, we have solid evidence).

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Well I hope we as a community can convince apple to at least clarify if governing Foundation is even on the roadmap or has already been ruled out.
I'm not holding breath, but it's worth a shot.

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Are we talking about this kind of foundation, or Foundation?

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Was talking about the latter. Reading it again, it seems @Klay was talking about the former. Ah well... what I said still applied, as in, here's probably not the right place to convince Apple to do something.

That said, does a charitable foundation need to come from Apple :thinking:.

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That said, does a charitable foundation need to come from Apple

It would be a non-profit rather than a charity and yes it needs to come from Apple because it will formally take on the role of governing Swift and steering the language direction, but can still be managed by Apple employees.

Previous discussion (June 2018), started by @svanimpe: Crowdfunding world domination

If we really want to see our favorite language succeed in the outside world, we need much better cross-platform support, cross-platform tools, and so on. We cannot expect Apple to fund this, nor should we hope that some benevolent developer will offer up all his/her free time.

It would be great if Swift had a Foundation (like many other open source projects) that could accept our donations and use these to fund work the community needs. Has this ever been discussed?

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i just really don’t think swift has scaled to the point where the non-profit foundation idea would make sense for us. there are probably about 30–40 people in the world who are regularly involved in the direction of the language, and about two thirds of them already work at apple. key questions to answer might include:

  • what specifically do you want this foundation to do?
  • who would fund this foundation?
  • has the core team made any poor choices recently, and what would your new governing foundation have done differently?
  • is there a reason to have a big umbrella group instead of smaller subgroups like the swift server working group?
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This is a chicken and egg problem. If someone is interested in being involved in the direction of Swift, there's no clear process for joining this limited exclusive list of 30-40 people (other than being hired by Apple and progressing through its career ladder to get enough credibility to be included?). Without any transparency on this front this group won't ever significantly grow or become more diverse.

Compare this to the Rust Foundation, where Rust is about the same age as Swift, and arguably has less adoption than Swift if you compare it by some language popularity surveys. There's a big highlighted "Become a member" button at the top of the page, you can follow board meetings and related events. The list of supporting companies can also easily establish trust in the long-term future of the language. Correct me if I'm wrong, but there's also an active effort to prevent any company from gaining a majority role in the Rust Foundation. Thus if any member company fails and ceases all support, the future of the language won't be necessarily in danger after such event.

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I concur. The number of times people conflate Swift with iOS (not just Apple, specifically iOS) is infuriating.

That being said, I’m not entirely clear on what a Foundation would actually do to improve this. The biggest barrier to Swift’s adoption is Apple releasing APIs that aren’t open-source and aren’t cross-platform.

Slightly Off-Topic Response

I disagree: Foundation is extremely monolithic, full of things that are too specific to ever be platform-independent, and also burdened by the need for legacy support.

Instead, Apple should methodically disassemble Foundation into numerous open-source pure Swift packages and advocate that everyone transition to them instead. They should ultimately stop treating Foundation as a core library entirely.

I like to think they’re already in the process of doing this, thankfully.

In particular, Combine and SwiftUI should be open-source (separating the components that depend on things that never will be, like AppKit, into a system-provided overlay or something). Until then, all code touching them ceases to be “Swift” and is instead reduced to “Apple”. Avoiding them means all of Apple’s impressive work goes unused, so there’s really no winning here.

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Off-Topic Response's Response

Your opinions and beliefs on what Apple should do or what it is doing are something you're wholly entitled to. I stand firm in my statement that this is not the right place to inquire or negotiate about those.

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That being said, I’m not entirely clear on what a Foundation would actually do to improve this

For one thing it can prioritize cross-platform support and actually fund work that improves Swift on other platforms rather than leaving it to volunteers. If nothing more it will be a signal to other companies that the language is independent and are encouraged to invest and participate in shaping the language like what Google did for a while. Google, Facebook, Amazon and Alibaba are investing huge amounts in Rust because they can have a seat in the foundation. That makes a difference.

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Did last month's advent of code completely in Swift and lost count of how many of my colleagues asked me very surprised if Swift wasn't just for iOS but could be used for normal scripting as well...

Also Rust has a bunch of working groups that focus on the different aspects of everything that entails the language. We’ve seen how successful the server group is being and it would be great to see the same in other camps.

Is worth mentioning that even in this community we often talk about Swift as own by Apple, and the feeling that everything must come from them (even tho SE is an open space). So we can’t blame the rest of the world for thinking Swift = Apple when we sometimes forget about the distinction :joy:

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As I said, it's a vicious circle. Seeing how many server-side Swift frameworks were abandoned, how Swift is not really usable outside of Xcode, I stopped following server-side Swift development and considering Swift for use outside of iOS and macOS. Even though I'm co-maintaining the WebAssembly target, I totally understand that almost no one takes it seriously, especially given that our work isn't merged with upstream Swift.

Thus it's expected that the vast majority of Swift devs are macOS and iOS devs. There's no independent Swift foundation non-profit because there's very little use of Swift outside of Apple's ecosystem. But there's no consideration for Swift in those niches also, in part, because there's no independent governing non-profit that could market, develop, and push Swift further.

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There's a difference between "Swift is owned/controlled by Apple" (or in the terms of the Swift project itself, Apple is the "project lead"), and "Swift is a language for Apple platforms only." The former is explicitly true, the latter is a misconception (that is likely perpetuated in part by the former).

Of course, if ownership/control of the Swift project were spun off into its own foundation, then the former would cease to be true as well.

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6 out 8 Core Team members are currently employed by Apple. I hesitate to say how many commits to toolchain repositories is done by Apple employees, but I wouldn't be surprised that the vast majority of them originate that way. Apple isn't only the "project lead", but apparently the only company that employs a significant number of people working on Swift toolchain, core libraries, and language design full-time.

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IMO "Apple is the 'project lead'" is a stronger statement than "most contributions to Swift are made on behalf of Apple." As project lead, Apple is the arbiter of the Swift project and has absolute control over what is and isn't part of the language. But I'm splitting hairs at this point—both of these realities are worth pointing out. :slightly_smiling_face:

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there is no clear process for anything in life. you earn a say in the direction of the language by following discussions and putting proposals forward. certainly, there is no requirement that you have to work for apple, it’s really more of a time commitment thing where the people who currently work for apple have the most influence over the language because they are literally getting paid to design it. personally the vibe i have gotten is that the core team enjoys getting contributions from other community members, including large contributions, but they do not have time to process and integrate most of them into the language. this is a problem that adding another bureaucratic organization to the mix would exacerbate, not improve.

certainly with the amount of time we spend arguing about superficial naming in the language, it’s not clear to me at all that “growing” this group would be a positive development for the language. sometimes i reread an old topic i participated in and realize that 95% of the posts did not contain any useful insights whatsoever, because none of us really understood what we were talking about in the first place, and we were just talking in circles.

kind of shocked no one has brought this up yet, but.

do we really want google, facebook, and amazon to own 75% of swift?

this i think is just untrue. i say that as someone who

  • uses swift for their entire server-side stack
  • primarily writes swift on linux, in the Atom text editor
  • maintains multiple cross-platform, pure-swift frameworks
  • is getting ready to spin off about a half dozen networking libraries and evolution proposals from aforementioned server-side project

also, i would say swift outside of macOS/Xcode has come a long way since the 3.0 days. (only real ones remember)

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This is a bit off-topic, but I think that if the WASM port were upstreamed, there would be a lot more interest in it. I quite regularly see people express that they'd love to write web applications in Swift, so I point them to Tokamak, and they're really shocked and say they had no idea it was even possible.

From what I've seen, the compiler maintainers are certainly willing to include WASM support in upstream Swift, but the changes aren't always trivial so a bit of iteration is required on the PRs and it takes a little while. It might be worth reaching out to some of them and asking if they'd be willing to work more closely with you and @kateinoigakukun to get it fully upstreamed this year.

Anyway, just an off-topic comment. Carry on :slight_smile:

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