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Constraining protocols to classes to ensure mutability

Published on 02 Jan 2018
Basics article available: Protocols

Using the AnyObject constraint on protocols is not only useful when defining delegates (or other weak references), but also when you always want instances to be mutable without copying.

// By constraining a protocol with 'AnyObject' it can only be adopted
// by classes, which means all instances will always be mutable, and
// that it's the original instance (not a copy) that will be mutated.
protocol DataContainer: AnyObject {
    var data: Data? { get set }

class UserSettingsManager {
    private var settings: Settings
    private let dataContainer: DataContainer

    // Since DataContainer is a protocol, we an easily mock it in
    // tests if we use dependency injection
    init(settings: Settings, dataContainer: DataContainer) {
        self.settings = settings
        self.dataContainer = dataContainer

    func saveSettings() throws {
        let data = try settings.serialize()

        // We can now assign properties on an instance of our protocol
        // because the compiler knows it's always going to be a class
        dataContainer.data = data