Properties in Swift

properties in swi

There are two types of properties in Swift: stored properties and computed properties. Stored properties store values (constant or variable) as part of an instance or type, whereas computed properties don’t have a stored value.

Hint: This post has been updated to Swift 4 


Stored properties

Let’s start by looking at stored properties. Imagine you have a class named circle:

Circle has an instance variable called  radius  with a default value of 0. In Swift, every instance variable is automatically a property. So now you have the possibility to add so called property observers. In Swift there a two types of property observers: One is called before the new value is assigned and the other one afterwards.

The property observer, which is called after the assignment, is marked with the keyword  didSet. In our example, you can use it for example to check the new assigned value:

In the property observer you can access the old value of the property through the variable  oldValue.

You can also use the property observer  willSet, which is called before the new value is assigned:

In  willSet  you have access to the new value of the property through the variable  newValue.

Computed Properties

Contrary to stored properties, computed properties don’t have a stored value. So each time you call a computed property, the value needs to be calculated. In the class  Circle  you can define the property  area as a computed property:

A computed property always needs a getter. If it lacks a setter, the property is called a read-only property. In our example, there is a good application for a setter though:

Now, after assigning a new value to area ,  radius  will be calculated.

Initilization of stored properties

Every stored property has to have a value after its instance has been created. There are two ways:

  • initialize the value inside the init method
  • set a default value for the property

The following example covers both cases:

If a stored property doesn’t have a value after its instance has been created, the code will not compile.

Lazy Properties

If a stored property with a default value is marked with the keyword  lazy, its default value will not be initialized immediately, but when the property is called for the very first time.

So if the property gets never called, it will never be initialized. You could use this feature for example, if the initialization is expensive in terms of memory or CPU usage.

Let’s take a look at the following (very simple) example:

The property will not initalized until it gets accessed. In this example this is not very obivious though. But since the initialization can also happen inside a block, we can make it a little bit more obvious:

The output of this example is:

So that means that the block is only called once – when the property is accessed for the very first time. Since this is stored property is variable, the initial value can be changed afterwards.

Type Properties

Type properties are part of an type but not of an instance – also know as static properties. Both stored and computed properties can be type properties. For that, you use the keyword  static:

As you can see, they are accessed by using the type name but not an instance. Furthermore, type properties always need a default value because there is not initialization.

Public Properties With Private Setters

As I’ve pointed out in more details in this post, it’s a common scenario that you don’t want to provide a public getter, but a private setter. This is a basic principle of encapsulation. By doing this, only the class itself can manipulate that property, but can still be accessed and read from outside of the class.

Take a look at the following example:

Here the properties area and diameter can be read from outside of the class, but only be set inside the class. For that you have to use the combination  public private(set). In my experience this feature is very rarely used in iOS development, but it’s very useful to create code, that has fewer bugs.


Title Image: @ Fabrik Bilder /