Sharp Knives

After writing extensively with the Swift programming language, I recently spent time writing code in C++11. The experience has been very instructional, and I know have a much deeper appreciation for the guard rails that the language Swift has constructed. To my surprise, it has also left me with a renewed appreciation of the compiler tooling – LLVM, specifically the relative clarity of error messages.

C++ as a language was significantly more approachable to me after working on code using Swift for a while. There are a lot of parallels and similarities, which was particularly nice since I was porting code (re-writing the algorithms in another programming language). I think porting between programming languages is the rough equivalent of translating between human languages. In really comparing to allow you to move between the two, you become far more aware of the idiomatic conveniences and conventions.

One of the surprisingly pieces is my realization that I am far more attached to the swift concept of protocols than I had realized. C++ has a concept of interfaces, which is close – but definitely not the same in it’s breadth.

When combined with generic algorithms, the swift language feels far more capable and specific to me. In the swift programming language, you can constrain the implementation of your generic algorithms to only apply to specific protocols, which appears to be something you can’t easily do in C++ – or at least in C++11, which was the version I was working within. I found that programming with generics in C++ is far more reliant on convention, or possibly using subclasses – examples were a bit hard to come by for me.

My limited experience with C++ also leads me to think that the conventions followed between different groups of programmers is more diverse than Swift. The idiomatic patterns I found while reading other groups code had dramatically different patterns included within them. So much so that it was often hard to identify those patterns, and understand what was a team’s convention.

My time with the C++ components also makes me appreciate all the more the tendency of languages these days (to borrow from Python) to come “batteries included” with standard libraries. C++ standard library is more like tools to make tools, and some of the things commonly included with other languages (python, swift, etc) just have to be found individually and assembled.

While I have a bit more to do with C++ before I’ll be done with my project, I relish shifting back to the guard rails of swift. (I must admit, I’m now significantly more curious about the language Rust as well).

Published by heckj

Developer, author, and life-long student. Writes online at

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