IBM is ceasing its development activities in support of the Swift open-source programming language running on servers.
Swift was originally developed by Apple in 2010 to make it easier for developers to build mobile applications. However, multiple groups, including IBM, have been working to extend Swift for server-side applications, participating in the Swift server workgroup. IBM has also been one of the primary contributors behind the Kitura server-side Swift framework. In late December, after almost four years of development effort, IBM decided to discontinue its server-side Swift efforts.
"While we expect Swift to continue to be adopted and continue to grow, Swift … hasn’t represented the market opportunity on the server that we had hoped," Chris Bailey, lead architect for application runtimes at IBM, told ITPro Today. "Over the last 12 months, we’ve been ramping down our contributions. At the end of last year, that included standing down from our leadership positions in the Swift Server Work Group [SSWG]."
Bailey did add that "Swift is a great technology, which we use extensively for native iOS app development."
Swift has a vibrant community, which IBM has been involved with since the open-source Swift.org project was announced, according to Bailey. IBM developers also contributed to the efforts to bring Swift to Linux and to enable it to be used in server and cloud environments, he said.
The commercial cornerstone of IBM's server-side Swift efforts is the Kitura framework, which provides an enterprise-grade platform for organizations. Bailey noted that the Kitura project has thousands of downloads each day, and a number of enterprises have talked publicly about how they are using it in production deployments.
"IBM is still supporting Kitura through any existing commercial agreement," he said. "At the same time, we’re working to enable interested parties from the community to pick up this technology."
With IBM reducing its contributions to Kitura, there is now more space and opportunity for the wider community to engage, Bailey said. Like any open-source project, Kitura's long-term success is dependent on there being an active community around it, and one where users are also willing to contribute to the technologies that they consume, he said.
Although IBM is moving away from server-side Swift, Bailey emphasized that the company remains committed to Swift for mobile, which is a key technology used by MobileFirst for iOS and IBM Services for Apple.
Lots of Server-Side Swift Options Remain
"While we're sad to see IBM change their focus, it will not negatively impact Swift on the server in the long term," Tanner Nelson, Vapor's core maintainer and a member of the Swift Server Work Group, told ITPro Today. "The Swift@IBM team did a lot of amazing work getting Swift on Linux to where it is today, and the community is ready to continue where they left off."
On the positive side, Vapor is seeing an influx of new users migrating away from Kitura, Nelson said. However, the downside is that competition is important for innovation, he added. That said, Nelson expects to see other frameworks pop up as interest remains strong in Swift.
"We see a lot of interest from iOS developers looking for more flexible back-end solutions compared to things like Apple's CloudKit or Google's Firebase," Nelson said. "We also see strong interest from back-end developers using scripting languages who are interested in the safety, performance and low-memory usage of Swift on the server."