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IBM Moves Swift to the Enterprise

Apple announced the first Developer Preview of Swift 3.0 at its annual Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco (WWDC) this week, marking the next phase in the rapid evolution of this increasingly popular open-source programming language. The growth of the Swift ecosystem among third-party developers is something of a phenomenon, and IBM appears to be leading that burgeoning pack.

Since Apple released the language to open source last December, Big Blue has become one of the largest users of Swift for mobile app development. It was the first cloud provider to enable the development of applications in native Swift. The company likes to say it was "first to the table" with Apple to bring Swift to the enterprise. "We jumped in full-force in December," said John Ponzo, an IBM fellow and vice president and CTO of IBM's MobileFirst group. "We saw the potential right away to move this out to the server. We were all in right away."

To date, IBM has built more than 100 enterprise applications using Swift, and it has developed a range of tools for the language -- things like the newly announced IBM Cloud Tools for Swift (ICT), which is aimed at developers creating Swift apps "that span both client and server-side code." ICT is a Mac app designed to simplify the management and deployment of server-side assets, Ponzo explained. It allows developers to group client-side and server-side code written in Swift, deploy the server-side code to IBM's Bluemix cloud platform, and then manage projects using ICT.

Ponzo also pointed to the success of IBM's Swift Sandbox, a cloud environment that allows devs to write Swift code and execute it in a server environment on top of Linux. Each sandbox runs on IBM Cloud in a Docker container.

The company claims more than 1.5 million code runs on the Sandbox, up 200 percent since February.

IBM also announced Swift 3.0 beta on LinuxONE, IBM's Linux-based mainframe servers. Developers are now able to use Swift on LinuxONE, Ponzo said. The company plans to have a production-ready release when Swift 3.0 goes GA.

IBM sees great potential in Swift on the server side, Ponzo said. The company has been focusing its efforts on maturing the language at the backend and adding "first-class support" in the cloud. "This is really about addressing the key issues that enterprise developers are having," he said. "Swift has this combination of scripting-language-like syntax with a core systems language, and we're looking at how it can help developers who are building the next generation of cloud-based workloads. We'd like to make Swift a very big part of how those next generation services are built."

Big Blue also claims more than 1,500 client and server-side packages on the IBM Swift Package Catalog (up 400 percent since February), and more than 100 apps across 14 industries built on the IBM MobileFirst for iOS solution, which combines IBM's data and analytics with Apple's consumer experience.

Back in February, IBM introduced Kitura, an open source Web framework, written in Swift, that enables both the mobile front-end and back-end portions of an application to be written in the same language.

Launched at the 2014 WWDC, Swift is the successor to Apple's Objective-C. It sheds the "baggage of Objective-C," the company said at the time, to provide "an innovative new way of coding for Cocoa and Cocoa Touch." Where Objective-C relied on defined pointers, the Swift compiler infers the variable type. But it kept such features as well-defined namespaces, generics and operator overloading.

Posted by John K. Waters on June 15, 2016