Some Interesting Swift Tidbits

Some interesting Swift tidbits with practical code examples. Implications: use them in your projects for more readable and maintainable code.

Declaring multiple values in a single line
Multiple variables or constants can be declared in a single line using commas to separate them:

var red = 141.0, green = 185.0, blue = 230.0, alpha = 1.0

They can also be declared in a single line by adding the type annotation to the final variable:

var red, green, blue, alpha: Double

Large number readability
For large numbers, we can use underscore for better readability:

let mapRadius = 100_000

Using typealias for readable code
Using typealias for more readable code. For example, var program contains AnyObject, the primary purpose of creating var program is to use it as a property list. So instead of declaring:

var program: AnyObject?

We can typealias PropertyList = AnyObject, and use PropertyList for the var program type.

typealias PropertyList = AnyObject
var program: PropertyList?

Defining optional variables with nil value
When defining an unknown optional variable it doesn’t need to be explicitly set to nil. Swift automatically sets the variable to nil. For example:

var error: String? = nil // Not needed
var error: String?       // Swift automatically sets it to nil

Multiple optional bindings for concise and legible code
Multiple optional bindings help avoid many layers of hard to read nested code. For example,

The pyramid of nested optional bindings (hard to read):

if let firstNumber = Int("123") {
    if let secondNumber = Int("456") {
        if firstNumber < secondNumber {
            print("\(firstNumber) < \(secondNumber)")
// prints "123 < 456"

Multiple optional bindings (elegant):

if let firstNumber = Int("123"), secondNumber = Int("456") where firstNumber < secondNumber {
    print("\(firstNumber) < \(secondNumber)")
// prints "123 < 456"

Nil coalescing operator
Helps provide a default value if the evaluation is nil. For example,

tipPercentageForRestaurant is nil, so tipPercentage is 0.0:

var tipPercentageForRestaurant: Double?
let tipPercentage = tipPercentageForRestaurant ?? 0
// prints 0.0

tipPercentageForRestaurant is 0.15, so tipPercentage is 0.15

var tipPercentageForRestaurant: Double?
tipPercentageForRestaurant = 0.15
let tipPercentage = tipPercentageForRestaurant ?? 0
// prints 0.15


CalculatorBrain: Assignment 2, Stanford University Winter 2015 (iOS)

CalculatorBrainThis project CalculatorBrain is a continuation of the previous project Calculator: Assignment 1, Stanford University Winter 2015 (iOS)

Source code available at Github

The ViewController code is now more lean and better organized since all calculation related logic has been moved to the model.

The project covers all the required tasks and most extra credit tasks.

In addition to the features listed in the previous project Calculator, this assignment provides:

  • A separate model for all calculations
  • Additional scientific functions
  • Memory functions
  • An Undo button (which previously functioned as the Backspace button)
  • Replaces the previous History function with a better implementation
  • Provides error messages

Two items were not implemented as described in the Extra Credit Hints section in the project specifications document:

  • The error messages come from the model with full error text instead of error codes for the ViewController to translate
  • Error handling is not implemented by associating any value (a function) with UnaryOperations and BinaryOperations

Video Demo:

Calculator: Assignment 1, Stanford University Winter 2015 (iOS)

calculator-assignment-1-stanford-university-ios-winter-2015Provides RPL (Reverse Polish Notation) calculator, where numbers are entered first then operations. For example, to add 6 and 4, you would:

6 Enter, 4 Enter, +
or 6 Enter, 4 +

This assignment solution covers all the required tasks including the ones listed under extra credit. Solution is Swift 2.0 and iOS 9.0 compatible.

Source code available at Github


1. Overloaded the enter function for user input, because we want add to add it the history. The enter function is also called from other places in the code where we don’t want to add to history.

2. As mentioned in the assignment hints, floating point implementation was possible to add with a single-line of code:

if (digit != ".") || (digit == "." && display.text!.rangeOfString(".") == nil)

3. Pi implementation does not use the performOperation function but inline code since it’s easy to add:

case "π": displayValue = M_PI; enter()

Video Demo:

Solution to Karel the Robot Assignment 1: Problem 3

From the Course Programming Methodology CS 106A Offered at Stanford University

Having spent more hours than I am willing to admit, finally solved Karel the Robot Problem 3 (from Assignment 1).

Please don’t look at the solution until you have solved it yourself. Otherwise you will be depriving yourself of a cool mental accomplishment.

Having said that, here’s my train of thoughts as I was trying to solve the problem:

1. Thought that ignoring the checkerboard might lead to a simpler solution. Think linearly about Karel dropping beepers alternatively on each move “over a single horizontal line” till the end is reached. Later turn the horizontal line into a checkerboard. Made some progress but the solution started getting increasingly complex.

2. Realized that the core of the problem is really the turns Karel needs to make while traversing through the checkerboard. Dropping beepers at alternate locations isn’t the real problem. So I ignored the beeper issue. This lead to a cleaner solution.

3. Karel’s movement itself shouldn’t be in any if/else control statement. It makes a mess of the code because of too many if/else checks. Karel should just move forward. Then figure out which direction it should face. You can see this behavior in lines 26-29 below. Lines 31-49 shows the logic behind setting Karel’s direction.

4. Finally the beeper code is in line 17, 19. Karel moves twice in each iteration of the while loop. Line 19 checks for even-count columns in Karel’s world. Line 21 puts a last beeper for odd-count column worlds.

5. Line 15 checks for a single-count column world.

I Googled for other solutions to compare after solving the problem. Feeling happy that the solution below is 50 lines of code. If you can think of a simpler solution then please let me know.

 * File:
 * ----------------------------
 * When you finish writing it, the CheckerboardKarel class should draw
 * a checkerboard using beepers, as described in Assignment 1.  You
 * should make sure that your program works for all of the sample
 * worlds supplied in the starter folder.

import stanford.karel.*;

public class CheckerboardKarel extends SuperKarel {

	public void run() {
		if (frontIsBlocked()) turnLeft();		
		while (frontIsClear()) {
			if (noBeepersPresent()) putBeeper();
			if (frontIsClear()) {
				if (noBeepersPresent()) putBeeper();
	private void moveKarelForward() {
	private void setKarelsDirection() {
		if (facingEast()) {
			if (frontIsBlocked()) {
		} else if (facingWest()) {
			if (frontIsBlocked()) {
		} else if (facingNorth()) {
			if (rightIsBlocked()) {
				if (leftIsClear()) {
			} else if (leftIsBlocked()) {

Testing Checkerboard Karel in different worlds:

Detecting if Headphones are Plugged-in to an iOS Device in Swift

Platform: iOS 8.x or later
Device: iPhone
Language: Swift
Motivation: when user unplugs their headphones, you wan’t to stop playing audio (iTunes like behavior) in your app

The following code snippet shows how to detect if headphones are plugged in (when the app starts or is woken up). The println() command below shows the state of the headphone connection.

let currentRoute = AVAudioSession.sharedInstance().currentRoute
if currentRoute.outputs != nil {
    for description in currentRoute.outputs {
        if description.portType == AVAudioSessionPortHeadphones {
            println("headphone plugged in")
        } else {
            println("headphone pulled out")
} else {
    println("requires connection to device")

In Line 4 above, we are checking if portType equals AVAudioSessionPortHeadphones. The full list of output port types are listed below:

  • AVAudioSessionPortLineOut
  • AVAudioSessionPortHeadphones
  • AVAudioSessionPortBluetoothA2DP
  • AVAudioSessionPortBuiltInReceiver
  • AVAudioSessionPortBuiltInSpeaker
  • AVAudioSessionPortHDMI
  • AVAudioSessionPortAirPlay
  • AVAudioSessionPortBluetoothLE

However while the app is running you can’t use the above code snippet to detect active changes in headphones connection. You will need to setup a notification observer for AVAudioSessionRouteChangeNotification in your app with the code below.

    selector: "audioRouteChangeListener:",
    name: AVAudioSessionRouteChangeNotification,
    object: nil)

In line 3 above, the audioRouteChangeListener: is the method that will get notified once a change in headphones connection occurs. The println() statements below show the change in headphones connection to the device.

dynamic private func audioRouteChangeListener(notification:NSNotification) {
    let audioRouteChangeReason = notification.userInfo![AVAudioSessionRouteChangeReasonKey] as UInt

    switch audioRouteChangeReason {
    case AVAudioSessionRouteChangeReason.NewDeviceAvailable.rawValue:
        println("headphone plugged in")
    case AVAudioSessionRouteChangeReason.OldDeviceUnavailable.rawValue:
        println("headphone pulled out")

In line 4 above, we are checking switch-case values for AVAudioSessionRouteChangeReasonKey (identified by the variable audioRouteChangeReason). We are interested in two cases, NewDeviceAvailable (headphones plugged in) and OldDeviceUnavailable (headphone pulled out). The full list of cases are provided below:

  • Unknown
  • NewDeviceAvailable
  • OldDeviceUnavailable
  • CategoryChange
  • Override
  • WakeFromSleep
  • NoSuitableRouteForCategory
  • RouteConfigurationChange

A demo app utilizing the code above can be found here:

Here’s a video showing how the app works:


Thanks to Udacity for the motivation to write this.

Solution to Exercise 3, Chapter 3: Programming Erlang by Joe Armstrong

The problem: From page 42, Exercise 3, Chapter 3, Programming Erlang by Joe Armstrong

Try representing a house using a tuple and a street using a list of houses. Make sure you can pack and unpack the data in the representations.

This is a very simple problem. Each house is a tuple, and the street is a list of tuples (houses). We create 4 houses that belongs to 4 famous fictional characters with varying reputation 🙂 Batman, Donald Duck, Sherlock Holmes and Spongebob Squarepants. We pack them in the street list (line 1) and then unpack them. First we get Batman’s house (line 2), then the resident (line 4).

Erlang/OTP 17 [erts-6.3]  [64-bit] [smp:8:8] [async-threads:10] [hipe] [kernel-poll:false] [dtrace]

Eshell V6.3  (abort with ^G)
1> Street = [{house, {resident, "Batman"},{address, "Wayne Manor, Gotham City"}}, {house, {resident, "Donald Duck"}, {address, "1313 Webfoot Walk, Duckburg, Calisota"}}, {house, {resident, "Sherlock Holmes"}, {address, "221B Baker Street"}}, {house, {resident, "Spongebob SquarePants"}, {address, "124 Conch Street, Bikini Bottom"}}].
        {address,"Wayne Manor, Gotham City"}},
 {house,{resident,"Donald Duck"},
        {address,"1313 Webfoot Walk, Duckburg, Calisota"}},
 {house,{resident,"Sherlock Holmes"},
        {address,"221B Baker Street"}},
 {house,{resident,"Spongebob SquarePants"},
        {address,"124 Conch Street, Bikini Bottom"}}]
2> [HouseBatman,_,_,_] = Street.
        {address,"Wayne Manor, Gotham City"}},
 {house,{resident,"Donald Duck"},
        {address,"1313 Webfoot Walk, Duckburg, Calisota"}},
 {house,{resident,"Sherlock Holmes"},
        {address,"221B Baker Street"}},
 {house,{resident,"Spongebob SquarePants"},
        {address,"124 Conch Street, Bikini Bottom"}}]
3> HouseBatman.
       {address,"Wayne Manor, Gotham City"}}
4> {_,HouseBatmanResident,_} = HouseBatman.
       {address,"Wayne Manor, Gotham City"}}
5> HouseBatmanResident.

Solution to Exercise 4, Chapter 2: Programming Erlang by Joe Armstrong

The problem: From page 37, Exercise 4, Chapter 2, Programming Erlang by Joe Armstrong

Run the file client and server code. Add a command called put_file. What messages do you need to add? Find out how to consult manual pages. Consult the manual pages for the file module.

Additional Specifications

  • We should be able to run “erl” from a directory of our choice other than where the .erl source files are located
  • We should be able to specify a directory of our choice in afile_server:start Dir argument
  • We should be able to put a file from a directory other than the current directory to the directory specified in Dir argument above


{Client, {put_file, File}} ->
  Source = filename:absname(File),
  Destination = filename:join(Dir, filename:basename(File)),
  Client ! {self(), file:copy(Source, Destination)}</pre>
  • We will use the file:copy function. copy/2 has a source and a destination
  • source = the absolute filename
  • destination = dir name + base filename

Testing the solution

1> c("../erlang/afile_server").
2> c("../erlang/afile_client").
3> FS = afile_server:start("../erlang").
4> afile_client:ls(FS).
5> afile_client:put_file(FS, "../foo").
6> afile_client:put_file(FS, "").
7> afile_client:ls(FS).

The files foo and are now showing up in the response from aflile_client:ls(FS) in line 7 above.

Full source code


-export([start/1, loop/1]).

start(Dir) -> spawn(afile_server, loop, [Dir]).

loop(Dir) ->
    {Client, list_dir} ->
      Client ! {self(), file:list_dir(Dir)};
    {Client, {get_file, File}} ->
      Full = filename:join(Dir, File),
      Client ! {self(), file:read_file(Full)};
    {Client, {put_file, File}} ->
      Source = filename:absname(File),
      Destination = filename:join(Dir, filename:basename(File)),
      Client ! {self(), file:copy(Source, Destination)}


-export([ls/1, get_file/2, put_file/2]).

ls(Server) ->
  Server ! {self(), list_dir},
    {Server, FileList} ->

get_file(Server, File) ->
  Server ! {self(), {get_file, File}},
    {Server, Content} ->

put_file(Server, File) ->
  Server ! {self(), {put_file, File}},
    {Server, Status} ->

Developing iOS 8 Apps with Swift by Stanford University Now Available on iTunes

Stanford University has released a new course on iTunes a few days ago on developing iOS 8 apps with the Swift language:

So far lectures 1 to 5 has been released:

  1. Logistics, iOS 8 Overview
  2. More Xcode and Swift, MVC
  3. Applying MVC
  4. More Swift and Foundation Frameworks
  5. Objective-C Compatibility, Property List, Views

The high quality of the instructional material in this course follows in line with the previous iOS courses as taught by Paul Hegarty. Having followed the last iOS 7 course, suffice to say that these lectures provided by Stanford University for free are better than many paid online courses on iOS.

Paul Hegarty, who currently teaches at Stanford University used to work at NeXT Computers. Here’s a video of him talking about Steve Jobs.

Install Erlang on Mac OS X

Though provides pre-built binaries for Mac OS X (among other OS), an alternate and easy way to install Erlang on Mac OS X is via brew. Simply type:

brew install erlang

Once installed, you can test it by typing “erl” in the Terminal to fire up the Erlang interactive shell:

Now that you have Erlang installed, what next? Highly recommend Joe Armstrong’s Programming Erlang (2nd Edition). It’s always nice to read programming books authored by language creator themselves. Joe Armstrong’s Github page also has some goodies related to the book and other information.


For a little inspiration, here’s “Erlang the Movie”: