Objective-C vs. Swift: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to creating any software solution, one of the key tasks is to decide on the appropriate programming language. For iOS applications, the most common variants to choose between are Swift or Objective-C.

This article makes a Swift vs. Objective-C comparison to help you realize which language is better-suited for your project.

Objective-C vs. Swift: History and Characteristics

Before we can compare these programming languages, let’s learn about their origin and main features.

Objective-C

This compiler-based language first appeared in the 1980s and is still being used by programmers around the world. Objective-C was acquired by Apple and became the fundamental basis for iOS and OS X apps development. Thus, a minimum knowledge of this programming language is a must for those who are willing to build a career path as an Apple developer.

The Objective-C model is based on sending messages to objects, it’s therefore called an object-oriented language. The goal of Brandon Cox, the creator of Objective-C, was to solve the problem of code reuse in order to reduce the requirements for system resources and improve the quality and performance of the code.

Created on the basis of Smalltalk paradigms and, at the same time, as an extension of the C language, Objective-C inherited a complicated syntax. It also uses dynamic typing and numerous coding rules that must be followed (one of them is capitalization known as camel case).

You should be aware that the threshold for entering the programming environment with this language is quite high. For beginners, the OOP principles and the verbose syntax are usually a hard nut to crack. Nevertheless, Objective-C shouldn’t be difficult to learn for those who are familiar with C-based programming languages, e.g. C# or Java, and advanced object-oriented languages, e.g. Python or Ruby. A sufficient amount of documentation and tutorials are available to master Objective-C as well.

Obj-C is used to code applications for any Apple device, be it an iPhone, Mac, Apple Watch or even CarPlay. So, Objective-C developers will be in great demand for at least another five years or more.

Read also: .NET Framework vs .NET Core: What’s the Difference? 

Swift

Though mature and time-tested, Objective-C is now becoming obsolete and is often replaced by the modern Swift.

A relatively young open-source language, Swift was specifically developed by Apple for iOS and OS X. It was released to the public in 2014, and from the very beginning, it has been considered to be a simple and clear language.

Swift vs. Objective-C are similar in their basic concepts such as extensible programming, dynamic dispatch and late binding. The difference is that Swift has borrowed positive features from Objective-C and C++, and abandoned outdated and complex elements. This significantly influenced the speed of development.

One of the main advantages of Swift over Objective-C is that it is faster due to modern features:

  • Generics and higher-order functions make the code more reusable
  • Type inference and optionals make the compilator, and not the programmer,  responsible for the code safety
  • Three-character-long keywords make the syntax less verbose

As a result, programmers can write fewer lines of code than in Objective-C to achieve the same quality and functionality. Using Swift, you can prevent a large number of crashes and speed up the development.

In 2017, both Swift and Objective-C were on the list of the most popular languages among software developers around the world, as reported by Statista. The former had minimal advantages over the latter.    

Most used programming languages among developers worldwide, as of early 2017

Popular–programming–languages–photo

Source: Statista

Still, there is no obvious winner among the two: some researchers highlight that Swift is getting ahead; others prove that Objective-C is still on a roll; while most developers agree that both languages are important and must be learned.

Why Use Objective-C?

It’s natural that any technology has its advantages and disadvantages. When you choose a programming language, it is important not only to compare it with other languages but to sum up its pros and cons. Here are some weighty arguments for using Objective-C.

Pros

  • Long-lasting experience. The language has been in use for more than 30 years. Such a long usage period has positively contributed to its development and maturity. Objective-C is well-tested; millions of code lines are written in it; a large number of libraries (including open-source) have been created; comprehensive documentation and tutorials are available. This provides reliability of the code and ensures that the answer to any question can be easily found.
  • Dynamic typing. This feature helps interpret the developer’s thinking and simplify the code. Dynamic typing enhances flexibility in class usage and doesn’t require typecasting of every written code line. Hence, it is possible to change the structure and purpose of classes during the development process.
  • Support for older versions. Since Objective-C is not young, it can work with earlier versions of iOS and macOS, facilitating the creation of universal projects. A young Swift can’t boast of such an ability. Moreover, Obj-C is smoothly compatible with the C languages.
  • Stability. The language is mature enough and it doesn’t need to release constant updates or new versions. You can safely develop your app without the fear that you will need to spend extra money and effort on migrating it to a new version every few months.

These are the reasons that answer the question, “Why use Objective-C?” Now, take a look at some disadvantages of this language.

Cons

  • A steep learning curve. The language is based on OOP principles and has a complicated syntax that are hard to learn for newcomers. The code is not easy to read, which adds more hardships to programmers.
  • Decreasing number of developers. Objective-C was incredibly popular years ago, when there were no better alternatives. Today, there are more lightweight and easy-to-learn options, and numerous programmers refuse to learn an obsolete language. It is quite possible that in a couple of years, the number of Obj-C developers will greatly reduce.
  • Limited functionality. It’s natural that the language created decades ago lacks many useful modern features, which often leads to poorer performance.
  • Security issues. The maturity of the language, which is considered an advantage, has a flip side.  An app developed in Objective-C could be more vulnerable to hacking attacks, as numerous hacking tools have been in parallel to the language development.
Read also: PHP vs. Node.js: Which Is the Best for Server-Side?

Why Use Swift?

For those who are more inclined to choose a modern programming tool, it’s time to learn about Swift advantages and disadvantages.

Pros

  • Simplicity. The main goal of Swift developers was to build a simple language that everyone can easily pick up. They successfully achieved this goal. The Swift code is clear and concise. This leads to other benefits such as the reduced development timing and the ease of learning for newbies.
  • Open-source. Swift doesn’t require license fees and can be used both by commercial and non-commercial companies.
  • Safety. Apps in Swift are less vulnerable to crashes and bugs due to features such as generics, optionals and type inference.
  • Advanced functionality. In comparison with Objective-C, Swift offers more functions; in particular, the optimized memory management, support for dynamic libraries, namespace differentiation. It can also fully interact with the Objective-C code.
  • Faster development. Swift frees programmers from redundant work. They can fulfill a task writing fewer code lines, which is time-saving. More concise code means fewer errors and eliminates the need to redo the work and fix bugs, also saving time. As a result, Swift provides faster time-to-market and better app monetization.
  • Potential for cross-platform development. In 2016, Google announced that soon, Swift would be available for its mobile Android development. There has already been some success. Swift is likely to turn into a cross-platform language, meaning that its implementation will be increasing and more IT companies will benefit from it.

Cons

  • Constant changes. Swift is still a “raw” product, requiring improvements and updates. Hence, the weakest point of developing with Swift is the necessity to frequently migrate to the newest versions, which costs money and time.
  • No support for earlier versions. Again, because Swift is young, it doesn’t support versions earlier than iOS 7.0 and macOS 10.9. Therefore, it’s impossible to create universal apps that will be able to support all platforms.   

Differences Between Objective-C and Swift

We’ve compiled a chart so that you could compare these languages at a glance.

Comparison chart: Objective-C vs. Swift differences

Objective–C–vs–Swift–comparison–image

Bottom Line

Both Objective-C and Swift can be used to fulfill certain tasks due to a range of their inherent advantages. As of now, it is hard to choose the apparent leader. Though Swift is simple, it is still in the process of development and requires numerous improvements. Objective-C, in turn, is a stable and thought-out instrument, but it is loaded with many outdated features.

If you need help deciding what to choose for your iOS project, SaM Solutions can be of assistance. Our development expertise includes various technologies and tools, Swift and Objective-C among them.

SaM Solutions offers a wide range of services: consulting, planning, end-to-end development, testing, reengineering and further maintenance. Contact us to discuss your project or if you have any questions.

Request consultation with SaM Solutions' specialist





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