Explaining Optionals in Swift: 5 things you should know

Tram Ho

This is a translation from medium.com , please see the original article here: https://medium.com/better-programming/optionals-in-swift-explained-5-things-you-should-know-d737e2d52a9e

Optionals are in Swift’s core and have existed since the first version of Swift. A value Optional lets us write clean code while it may still be attentive to the possible value nil . If you are new to Swift, you may need to become familiar with the syntax of adding question marks behind properties. Once you get used to them, you can really start to benefit from them, as examples and extensions below.

What is the Optional value in Swift?

Before diving into the things you should know about Optional , first, we should do a good job of learning the basics first. The properties, methods, and registers may return an Optional , which means that the returned value may exist in the value or nil . Multiple queries that can be joined together are called optional chaining . This is an alternative solution for force unwrapping that is explained in more detail later. Below is an example of optional String and Optional chaining to print out the number of characters.

Attention: operator ?? ( nil coalescing ) will be explained below.

1. Forced Unwrapping Optionals

Force unwrapping an optional will return a value if it exists or cause an error when the application runs when its value is nil . But before we dive into force unwrapping , let’s first glance at the possibilities of opening an optional without coercion.

How to open an optional value

There are many ways to open an optional value in Swift. We can use the guard command:

Or, we can use the if let command:

Or, we can use the 2 question mark operator. It will return a value if an existing value or a default value exists. For example, the default value is 0.

Forced Unwrapping an optional using exclamation points (!)

An optional can be forcefully opened, using the exclamation point ( ! ) Immediately after the optional value.

Whenever the name variable in the above example is attached to nil , it could be the cause of the error when the program is running as follows:

Opening optional can be done in sequence

Optional chaining can be done as follows:

The result will be the same as we use force-unwrapping:

Please note that if we only open the last optional, we will still only get one result as optional. The example below shows force-unwrapping the title variable, but not the post variable. This means that if the post is nil , we may still not get the title :

Optionals are the best way, force unwrapping to catch programming errors

Use optional as a default, avoid using exclamation marks if not absolutely necessary. Some even recommend enabling force-unwrapping under SwiftLint rules . This will prevent a lot of unexpected incidents. However, there are occasional good cases to use force unwrapping, such as when an error is required when the value is nil . When we want to debug, use force unwrapping to catch errors early.

2. An optional is an Enum with 2 cases

It’s good to know that Optional is basically an Enum with 2 cases:

However, instead of using the .none case, we should use the value nil to indicate the absence of a value. Remember, we can define the name variable above as optional by using enum:

Or we can switch an optional like with a regular enum :

And looking at its documentation , you can see that an option comes with some handy methods, such as the map method:

Or the flatMap method, in the example below only returns the name if it has at least 5 characters:

Expand the optional

Now that we know that an optional is defined as an enum, we can guess that we can also write an extension for it! The most common example is to expand the optional String and handle the blank value:

3. Write Unit Test for optional

When you have Unit Tests, there is a good way to work with options without resorting to force unwrapping. If you use force unwrapping, you risk a fatal error that will prevent all of your unit tests from succeeding. You can use XCTUnwrap to throw an error if the optional doesn’t contain the value:

4. Methods of Optional Protocol

If you have experience with Objective-C, you may have missed the methods of Optional Protocol. Although there is a better way to write Optional Protocol methods in Swift, the most common way in standard libraries looks like this:

This allows you to call the method with a question mark like this:

5. Optional nested is valid

Although this document covers how to eliminate one of the most common causes of nested options, it is still a valid existence!

You can open an optional and still return another option. Was this the case when you used the try? operator try? in previous versions of Swift. A common example is when you work with dictionaries containing optional values:

You may find that it basically only requires you to use an extra exclamation point or question mark.

summary

We’ve covered a lot of things you need to know when working with optional options in Swift. From the basics of opening an optional using an exclamation point ( !! ) to advanced implementation of Optional enum expansion.

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