CoatySwift Design Rationale

This document aims to explain some of the rationale behind our decisions when building CoatySwift, the problems we faced, and how we decided to solve them. Several sections include coding examples and provide background explanations on why things had and have to be done in a certain way to make CoatySwift do exactly what you want it to do.

The Pleasure and Pain of Static Languages

We decided to use the Codable protocol for all communication event and object encoding and decoding tasks. The Codable protocol is part of the Swift standard library and is recommended to be used for object conversion from and to JSON.

Swift is a statically typed language, which makes easy interaction with JSON objects non-trivial.

By implementing Codable we avoid third-party dependencies such as SwiftyJSON. SwiftyJSON, for example, could only provide a limited form of type safety in our context, and the user would be left to manually parse objects and create them ‘on the go’.

Codable, on the other hand, allows a standardized interaction with the object encoding / decoding API and enables the application programmer to extend the predefined object types by overwriting the encode(to:) / init(from:) methods and calling their base implementations. Relying on traditional JSON parsing frameworks would require to reimplement this functionality entirely for each custom object.

Working with untyped JSON objects in Swift is another way to use JSON data. This approach casts the data to [String: Any] dictionaries and eliminates the power of compiler based type checks what makes this approach inferior to our implementation.

NOTE: Codable is relatively new and under active development. For future releases we hope for better support of heterogenous data structures to simplify the decoding of custom Coaty objects.

The Importance of Registering Custom Object Types

As previously mentioned, Swift is a statically typed language and thus does not provide an easy option of creating dynamic types on the go. This limits us greatly when decoding Coaty objects in CoatySwift, because the application programmer can introduce completely new object types that need to be sent over the wire.

To integrate application-time Coaty objects into CoatySwift while considering the constraints given by Codable as well as Swift itself, we require a mapping between custom Coaty objects and their corresponding Swift class implementations. The mapping is realized by registering the class for the corresponding object type (an arbitrary String) in a class variable initializer:

import Foundation
import CoatySwift

final class ExampleObject: CoatyObject {

    // MARK: - Class registration.

    override class var objectType: String {
        return register(objectType: "hello.coaty.ExampleObject", with: self)

    // MARK: - Properties.

    let myValue: String

    // MARK: - Initializers.

    init(myValue: String) {
        self.myValue = myValue
        super.init(coreType: .CoatyObject,
                   objectType: ExampleObject.objectType,
                   objectId: .init(),
                   name: "ExampleObject Name :)")

    // MARK: Codable methods.


Since Swift only executes class variable initializers lazily on first usage, we also have to register the custom object type class in the container Components, so that container bootstrapping can run the class variable initializer once before corresponding objects are received over the wire and decoded.

Note that the registered object type is also used for the corresponding initialization parameter of the initializer. It is also useful when observing objects of this object type, like this:

try! self.communicationManager
        .observeAdvertise(withObjectType: ExampleObject.objectType)
        .subscribe(onNext: { (event) in

Decoding Coaty Objects

Using the information gathered from registering object types, we are able to provide type safety even with custom objects. We have implemented this decoding strategy in a helper class named AnyCoatyObjectDecodable. It supports decoding of any Coaty object, either as a core type or as a custom, i.e application-specific object type as follows:

  1. Try to decode by registered object type

    If the Coaty object type specified in the decodable JSON object has been registered as a Swift class, an instance of the corresponding class type is created with all core type and custom type properties filled in. Any extra fields present on the decodable object are ignored.

  2. Try to decode by built-in core type

    If the Coaty object type has not been registered, an instance of the core type class as specified in the decodable JSON object is created with all core type properties filled in. Any other fields present on the decodable object are added to the custom dictionary property of the created instance.

    This approach is especially useful if you want to observe Coaty objects of arbitrary object types for which no Swift class definitions exist in your app.

  3. Throw a decoding error

    If the core type given in the decodable JSON object has no corresponding class predefined by CoatySwift, a decoding error will be thrown, as there is no type information that can help us infer the actual type of the object.

NOTE: You can also use the AnyCoatyObjectDecodable class to decode a custom property value that is of any (variable) Coaty object type or a collection thereof. For an example, see the Snapshot core type class which decodes any CoatyObject in its object property.

NOTE: If you need to decode or encode a property value of a custom Coaty object type that can be any valid JSON data, and you don’t know the JSON structure in advance, declare the property type as AnyCodable. Using this type, you can decode or encode mixed-type values in dictionaries and other collections that require Decodable or Encodable conformance.