Type Placeholders: New Swift 5.6 Feature

Type placeholders were recently introduced in Swift 5.6. Get in touch with new useful Swift feature.

Alex Dremov
Type Placeholders: New Swift 5.6 Feature

Type placeholders were recently introduced in Swift 5.6. And yes, they are a nice add-on to powerful Swift type inference system. If you are familiar with C++, you must know about an auto keyword. Type placeholders are almost the same.

Generics and type placeholder

let number: _ = 42 // Type placeholder
let anotherNumber = 42

Yes, Swift can infer variable's type, but type placeholders mean to be used for a type with multiple types in it. Generics. That's where they really shine.

Consider regular Result enum

enum Result<Success, Failure> where Failure : Error {
    case success(Success)
    case failure(Failure)

And what if we have some kind of complex object

var ohMy = [1: [3: (1, 2, 3, "That's a long tuple")]]

If you will try to create a Result  from ohMy, you'll see compilation error.

let result = Result.success(ohMy)
Generic parameter Failure could not be inferred

Bruh. So I need to write...

let result = Result<[Int : [Int : (Int, Int, Int, String)]], Error>.success(ohMy)
Use type placeholders to omit type that Swift can infer

Thanks to type placeholders, no. Swift can infer object's type by itself. So, we need to provide Failure type only.

let result = Result<_, Error>.success(ohMy) // Nice
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Collections and type placeholder

This feature also useful with collections. What if we need a dictionary with enum keys?

enum Foo {
	case bizz
	case bonk

let results = [
	.bizz: ohMy,
	.bonk: ohMy
Reference to member bizz cannot be resolved without a contextual type

So, let's provide this contextual type, but you remember how ohMy's type is bad-looking? Let's use type placeholder.

// 🚫
let results:[Foo: [Int : [Int : (Int, Int, Int, String)]]] = [
	.bizz: ohMy,
	.bonk: ohMy

// ✅
let results:[Foo: _] = [
	.bizz: ohMy,
	.bonk: ohMy

More examples

Examples of types containing placeholders are:

Array<_> // array with placeholder element type
[Int: _] // dictionary with placeholder value type
(_) -> Int // function type accepting a single type placeholder argument and returning 'Int'
(_, Double) // tuple type of placeholder and 'Double'
_? // optional wrapping a type placeholder

Final notes

That's a great feature and broadens Swift’s type inference capabilities. For now, it's some kind of less-known, but I think it will be more used in the future.

You can check out other less-known Swift features in my previous post:

Top 7 Subtle Swift Features | Alex Dremov
Here, I collected Swift features that are less known and can be useful when you prepare for interviews or want to deepen your Swift knowledge.


swift-evolution/0315-placeholder-types.md at main · apple/swift-evolution
This maintains proposals for changes and user-visible enhancements to the Swift Programming Language. - swift-evolution/0315-placeholder-types.md at main · apple/swift-evolution


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