Swift is a fast, safe, modern programming language with an open governance model and a vibrant community. There’s no reason that it should be limited to just making apps. And indeed, many smart people are working hard to bring Swift to new platforms and evolve its capabilities for web development and machine learning.

Scripting is another point of interest for the Swift community, but the amount of setup required to use 3rd-party libraries has long been seen as a non-starter.

…that is, until now.

On Friday, Max Howell announced a new project called swift-sh. It provides a shim around the Swift compiler that creates a package for your script and uses it to automatically add and manage external dependencies imported with a special trailing comment.

Although in its initial stages of development, it’s already seemingly managed to solve the biggest obstacle to Swift becoming a productive scripting language.

This week, let’s take a very early look at this promising new library and learn how to start using it today to write Swift scripts.

Installation and Setup

Assuming you have Swift and Xcode on your system, you can install swift-sh with Homebrew using the following command:

$ brew install mxcl/made/swift-sh

Example Usage

The original Swift Package Manager examples provided a shuffleable Deck of PlayingCard values. So it feels appropriate to revisit them here. For this example, let’s build a Swift script to deal and print out a formatted representation of a hand of Bridge. The final result should look something like this:

♠ 10 9 8 7
♥ 6 5 4 3
♦ —
♣ 7 6 5 3 2
♠ 6 5 4 3 2


Meyer               Drax


♠ A K Q J
♥ 10 9 8 7 2 ♥ A K Q J
♦ J 10 2 ♦ A K
♣ — ♣ K J 9
♠ —
♥ —
♦ Q 8 7 6 5 4 3 2
♣ A Q 10 8 4

Importing Dependencies

Start by creating a new .swift file with a shebang at the beginning (more on that later).

$ echo '#!/usr/bin/swift sh' > bridge.swift

Next, add import declarations for three modules: DeckOfPlayingCards, PlayingCard, and Cycle.

import DeckOfPlayingCards // @NSHipster ~> 4.0.0
import PlayingCard
import Cycle // @NSHipster == bb11e28

The comment after the import declaration for DeckOfPlayingCards tells swift-sh to look for the package on GitHub in a repository by the same name under the NSHipster username. The tilde-greater-than operator in ~> 4.0.0 is shorthand for specifying a version “equal to or greater than in the least significant digit” according to Semantic Versioning conventions. In this case, Swift Package Manager will use the latest release whose major is equal to 4 and minor release is equal to 0 (that is, it will use 4.0.1 or4.0.0, but not 4.1.0 or 5.0.0).

For the PlayingCard module, we don’t have to add an import specification for because it’s already included as a dependency of DeckOfPlayingCards.

Finally, the Cycle module is an external package and includes an external import specification that tells swift-sh how to add it as a dependency. The notable difference here is that the == operator is used to specify a revision rather than a tagged release.

Recruiting Players

With all of our dependencies accounted for, we have everything we need to write our script.

First, create a Player class, consisting of name and hand properties.

class Player {
    var name: String
    var hand: [PlayingCard] = []

    init(name: String) {
        self.name = name

In an extension, conform Player to CustomStringConvertible and implement the description property, taking advantage of the convenient Dictionary(grouping:by:) initializer added to Swift 4. By convention, a player’s hand is grouped by suit and ordered by rank.

extension Player: CustomStringConvertible {
    var description: String {
        var description = "\(name):"

        let cardsBySuit = Dictionary(grouping: hand) { $0.suit }
        for (suit, cards) in cardsBySuit.sorted(by: { $0.0 > $1.0 }) {
            description += "\t\(suit) "
            description += cards.sorted(by: >)
                                .map{ "\($0.rank)" }
                                .joined(separator: " ")
            description += "\n"

        return description

Shuffling and Dealing the Deck

Create and shuffle a standard deck of 52 playing cards, and initialize players at each of the four cardinal directions.

var deck = Deck.standard52CardDeck()

var north = Player(name: "North")
var west = Player(name: "West")
var east = Player(name: "East")
var south = Player(name: "South")

In Bridge, cards are dealt one-by-one to each player until no cards remain. We use the cycled() method to rotate between each of our players to ensure an even and fair deal.

let players = [north, east, west, south]
var round = players.cycled()

while let card = deck.deal(),
    let player = round.next()

After the cards are dealt, each player has 13 cards.

for player in players {

Running the Card Game

We can run our completed Swift script from the command line by passing the file as an argument to the swift sh subcommand.

Behind the scenes, swift-sh creates a Swift package and tells the Swift Package Manager to fetch the dependencies for each commented import declaration (here, DeckOfPlayingCards and Cycle), and build an executable using those modules.

Running our project, the formatted description we implemented above for each of the players, as expected.

$ swift sh ./bridge.swift
North:  ♠︎ K 10 9 8 5 4
        ♡ K 3
        ♢ A 10
        ♣︎ A 4 2

West:   ♠︎ J 3 2
        ♡ 9 6 5
        ♢ Q 9 8 3 2
        ♣︎ 6 5

East:   ♠︎ Q 7
        ♡ A J 10 7 4
        ♢ K 5 4
        ♣︎ 10 7 3

South:  ♠︎ A 6
        ♡ Q 8 2
        ♢ J 7 6
        ♣︎ K Q J 9 8


Making an Executable

On Unix systems, a shebang (#!) indicates how a script should be interpreted. In our case, the shebang line at the top of bridge.swift tells the system to run the file using the sh subcommand of the swift command (/usr/bin/swift):

#!/usr/bin/swift sh

Doing so allows you to take the extra step to make a Swift script look and act just like a binary executable. Use mv to strip the .swift extension and chmod to add executable (+x) permissions.

$ mv bridge.swift bridge
$ chmod +x bridge
$ ./bridge

Talking the talk of a command-line program is fine for scripts on your local environment. But if you have any ambitions to share your script outside your system, a much better option would be to distribute a package instead.

Converting Scripts to Packages

Just as Xcode Playgrounds can be a great place to try out ideas before them into an iOS or macOS app, scripts offer a lightweight alternative to creating a Swift package from the start when prototyping functionality.

swift-sh streamlines the conversion from script to package with its built-in eject command. Similar to ejecting from a create-react-app setup, running swift sh eject copies over the underlying package structure of your script.

$ swift sh eject ./bridge
Created Bridge/

$ tree Bridge/
├── Package.swift
└── Sources
    └── main.swift

From here, it’s a piece of cake to distribute your Swift executable with Homebrew.

Current Limitations

As a very early release, it’s expected for there to be a few rough edges and missing features. Here are some important details to keep in mind as you’re getting started with swift-sh:

Dependency on GitHub

Imported dependencies can correspond to only GitHub repositories. There’s currently no way to specify other remote or local locations. We expect this to be added in a future release.

This is now supported in the latest version.

import Remote // https://example.com/Remote.git

Module Names Must Match Repository Names

swift-sh requires module names to match the name of their repository. In many cases, this isn’t a problem because projects typically have descriptive names. However, in our example, the DeckOfPlayingCards module was provided by the repository apple/example-package-deckofplayingcards.

You can now do this in the latest version.

import DeckOfPlayingCards // apple/example-package-deckofplayingcards == master

Lack of Support for Import Declaration Syntax

As described in last week’s article, Swift provides special syntax for importing individual declarations from external modules.

In our example, we import the Cycle package to access its cycle() function, which is used to iterate over the players during the initial deal repeatedly.

In a conventional Swift package setup, we could import that function only. However, that syntax isn’t yet supported by swift-sh.

// 🔮 Possible Future Syntax
import func Cycle.cycle() // @NSHipster/Cycle

Until full support for import declaration syntax is added, you’ll only be able to import external modules in their entirety.

Given the importance of this functionality, we think swift-sh is destined to become part of the language. As momentum and excitement build around this project, keep an eye out in the Swift forums for proposals to incorporate this as a language feature in a future release.


Questions? Corrections? Issues and pull requests are always welcome.

This article uses Swift version 4.2. Find status information for all articles on the status page.

Written by Mattt

Mattt (@mattt) is a writer and developer in Portland, Oregon.

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