Swift Language Classes Reference Semantics


Classes are reference types, meaning that multiple variables can refer to the same instance.

class Dog {
    var name = ""

let firstDog = Dog()
firstDog.name = "Fido"

let otherDog = firstDog  // otherDog points to the same Dog instance
otherDog.name = "Rover"  // modifying otherDog also modifies firstDog

print(firstDog.name)  // prints "Rover"

Because classes are reference types, even if the class is a constant, its variable properties can still be modified.

class Dog {
    var name: String // name is a variable property.
    let age: Int // age is a constant property.
    init(name: String, age: Int) {
        self.name = name
        self.age = age

let constantDog = Dog(name: "Rover", age: 5)// This instance is a constant.
var variableDog = Dog(name: "Spot", age 7)// This instance is a variable.

constantDog.name = "Fido" // Not an error because name is a variable property.
constantDog.age = 6 // Error because age is a constant property.
constantDog = Dog(name: "Fido", age: 6)
/* The last one is an error because you are changing the actual reference, not
just what the reference points to. */

variableDog.name = "Ace" // Not an error because name is a variable property.
variableDog.age = 8 // Error because age is a constant property.
variableDog = Dog(name: "Ace", age: 8)
/* The last one is not an error because variableDog is a variable instance and
therefore the actual reference can be changed. */

Test whether two objects are identical (point to the exact same instance) using ===:

class Dog: Equatable {
    let name: String
    init(name: String) { self.name = name }

// Consider two dogs equal if their names are equal.
func ==(lhs: Dog, rhs: Dog) -> Bool {
    return lhs.name == rhs.name

// Create two Dog instances which have the same name.
let spot1 = Dog(name: "Spot")
let spot2 = Dog(name: "Spot")

spot1 == spot2   // true, because the dogs are equal
spot1 != spot2   // false

spot1 === spot2  // false, because the dogs are different instances
spot1 !== spot2  // true