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Functional Programming in Swift

By David Li on 2023-12-22T09:17:57.000Z

Functional Programming in Swift

Swift is a powerful, modern programming language developed by Apple. It combines the best features of both object-oriented and functional programming paradigms, resulting in a powerful and expressive language. In this article, we’ll explore the functional programming capabilities of Swift and how they can be used to write clean, reusable, and maintainable code.

What is Functional Programming?

Functional programming is a programming paradigm that treats computation as the evaluation of mathematical functions and avoids changing state and mutable data. In functional programming, functions are first-class citizens, meaning they can be passed as arguments to other functions, returned as values from other functions, and assigned to variables. This allows for a more declarative and expressive style of programming, leading to code that is easier to reason about, test, and maintain.

Functional Programming Concepts in Swift

Swift incorporates several functional programming concepts, such as higher-order functions, immutability, and pattern matching. We’ll discuss each of these in more detail below.

Higher-order functions

Higher-order functions are functions that either take other functions as arguments, return functions, or both. Swift supports higher-order functions through closures and function types.


Closures are self-contained blocks of code that can be passed around and used in your code. They have similar functionality to functions but have a more compact syntax. Closures can capture and store references to variables and constants from the surrounding context, even after the context has gone out of scope.

let numbers = [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]
let doubledNumbers = numbers.map { (number) -> Int in
    return number * 2
print(doubledNumbers) // Output: [2, 4, 6, 8, 10]

In the example above, map is a higher-order function that takes a closure as its argument. The closure takes an integer and returns a new integer after doubling its value.

Function types

Function types allow you to define a type that represents a function with a specific parameter and return type. You can use function types to declare variables or constants that can store functions or closures of a certain type.

typealias IntToIntFunction = (Int) -> Int

let square: IntToIntFunction = { (number) in
    return number * number

let result = square(4) // Output: 16

Here, we define a function type IntToIntFunction that takes an integer and returns an integer. We then declare a constant square of that type and assign a closure that squares the input integer.


Immutability is an important concept in functional programming, as it enables us to write code that is easier to reason about and test. Swift encourages immutability through the use of constants, value types, and the let keyword.

struct Point {
    let x: Int
    let y: Int

let p1 = Point(x: 2, y: 3)
// p1.x = 4 // Error: Cannot assign to property: 'x' is a 'let' constant

In this example, we define a Point struct with two immutable properties, x and y. Once we create an instance of Point, we cannot modify its properties directly.

Pattern matching

Pattern matching is a powerful feature in Swift that allows you to compare a value against a series of patterns and execute a block of code based on the first matching pattern. Swift’s pattern matching capabilities are provided through the switch statement and the if case, while case, and for case statements.

enum TrafficLight {
    case red, yellow, green

let currentLight = TrafficLight.red

switch currentLight {
case .red:
case .yellow:
    print("Prepare to stop")
case .green:
// Output: Stop

In this example, we define an enumeration TrafficLight with three cases. We then use a switch statement to perform pattern matching on the currentLight constant and execute the appropriate block of code.


Recursion is a technique used in functional programming to repeat the same operation or process by having a function call itself. This avoids mutating state and reliance on loops.

func factorial(_ number: Int) -> Int {
  if number == 0 {
    return 1 
  } else {
    return number * factorial(number - 1)

print(factorial(5)) // Output: 120

Here, we calculate the factorial of a number recursively without using a loop construct. The function calls itself repeatedly until the base case is reached.


Functional programming allows you to write Swift code that is concise, readable, and easy to reason about. Concepts like immutability, higher-order functions, and pattern matching facilitate a declarative style of programming that avoids side effects. While Swift is not a pure functional language, incorporating functional concepts results in code that is efficient, modular, and less prone to bugs.

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