Async Swift Scripting

A trick to use asynchronous callbacks in Swift scripts.

I was really inspired by this talk by Ayaka Nonaka. I personally believe that writing scripts in Swift will become A Thing very soon. It’s already happening for Mac OS X, the upcoming Linux compiler will bring it to a next level. There’s already plenty of useful frameworks available via CocoaPods or Carthage. The only thing that’s missing is a decent package manager for Swift frameworks, something like Homebrew. Swift Package Manager (SPAM) sounds like a nice name :)

Anyway, I wanted to use Alamofire in a simple Swift script. So I have copy-paste-edited sample code from their GitHub page and saved it as a Example.swift file.

Build Alamofire

To run this script I need to build Alamofire framework first. There are two ways to do that: using CocoaPods or Carthage.

Before I go on, it’s important to specify versions of the tools I use.


Start with a Podfile that looks like this:

Note that a file named .swift-version must exist in your working directory. The contents of the file are “4.0” indicating Swift language version to use.

Next run pod install to build the frameworks.

%{ gist 4654b77f53c1982ceee1de7e0f73b772 %}

You may want to use bundle exe pod install if you installed gems with Gemfile and bundler. Now you have Alamofire.framework ready for use in Rome directory.


Start with a Cartfile.

Then build.

Note the --platform mac option. The option is not really well documented, but it’s extremely important in this case. It tells carthage to build only Mac OS X targets, and that’s exactly what you need for Swift scripting.

You should now have Alamofire.framework ready for use in Carthage/Build/Mac directory.


Time to run the script. To point Swift compiler to location of 3rd party frameworks use -F option and make sure you put it before the name of the Swift file.

And the output is…


Wait a sec. How come? Well, that’s because…

It’s Async!

Yes, the callback from Alamofire is asynchronous. So the script finishes execution before it gets the response callback from Alamofire.

That means we have to keep the script alive and kicking until we get all async callbacks. You have probably thought about semaphores or mutexes right now. Good guess, but that won’t work. Consider this pseudo-code.

The problem is that callback block (closure) is dispatched to the same queue it was originally enqueued from. This is the case for Alamofire and I’m pretty sure for most of the libraries with async callbacks.

WAIT(MUTEX) code will lock the main queue and UNLOCK(MUTEX) line will never be executed.

Run Loop

The answer to this particular problem is Run Loop. Each OS X or iOS application has a main run loop that keeps the app alive and reacts to all kinds of input sources, such as timer events or selector calls. As a matter of fact, our Swift script has a run loop too, all we have to do is to keep it running until all async callbacks are received. The draft solution looks like this:

%{ gist 0f51d4036a48ca31f1178f14aab66e65 %}

In this example we get current run loop (runLoop) and then keep it running with help of runMode(_: beforeDate:) method. According to the documentation this method will return YES if the run loop ran and processed an input source or if the specified timeout value was reached; otherwise, NO if the run loop could not be started.

That’s the main difference from using mutexes or semaphores. runMode doesn’t block main queue, it just puts run loop to sleep until specified time in the future (for 0.1s in this example) and while asleep the run loop can be woken up by an input source. Asynchronous call to our JSON response closure is exactly the type of input source that can wake up a sleeping run loop, so each time runMode returns YES we also check for value of keepAlive and if it’s false, that means we have handled our async callback and the script can stop its execution.

Swift Script Runner

To make the task of writing scripts with async callbacks easier, I have created a SwiftScriptRunner framework. Here’s how you’d use it:

Then in Example.swift:

You can call lock() multiple times before wait(), just make sure you balance each lock() with unlock() to avoid deadlocks.

Published: October 08 2015

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