- Google stirred a minor controversy when it came out that it had “forked” Swift — a mega-popular programming language created by Apple.
- If it had forked Swift, it would mean that Google was looking to take the Swift language and make its own version, which could split the Swift community in two.
- However, Business Insider has confirmed that Google only “forked” Swift so it could make its own contributions to the language. It’s another sign of Swift’s quick rise to Silicon Valley superstardom.
In the world of programming, “forking” a software project means making a copy that you modify into a whole new product. For instance, Amazon’s FireOS for tablets is a specialised fork of Google’s own Android. The news that Google had forked Swift fuelled speculation that the search giant was going to take the language and run with it.
Well, not so. Chris Lattner, who created Swift at Apple, did a short stint as a VP at Tesla, and now works at Google, tells Business Insider the whole situation is a “misunderstanding.” Rather, it’s a sign of how much Google’s corps of programmers loves the Swift language.
The problem is terminology: On GitHub, the code-sharing site where the Swift project is housed, “forking” and “copying” are the same thing. Google had merely copied the Swift code to its own GitHub space, such that the search giant’s own programmers could pore over it and make their own suggestions for improvements to the main project.
“Swift at Google has enough folks working on it that we need a staging ground/integration point, and we decided it should be public,” Lattner said on Twitter. And he notes to Business Insider that this is pretty standard practice for working on a project as big as Swift, with over 6,500 similar, so-called “forks” of the language out there already.
Swift at Google has enough folks working on it that we need a staging ground/integration point, and we decided it should be public. https://t.co/hyphe0KrU0
— Chris Lattner (@clattner_llvm) November 15, 2017
Another Googler chimed in on Twitter that his team is, indeed, planning on contributing code back to the main Swift project, a sign that Google isn’t looking to take its ball and go home.
On Hacker News, another Googler explained what, exactly, the search giant is using Swift to do: A team is using Swift to build internal tools to help with the creation of iPhone and iPad apps.
The clarity should be a relief for programmers — if Google had, indeed, forked Swift, it would have basically split the programming language’s sizable community in two. Swift for iPhone may have, perhaps, been incompatible with the still-in-development Swift for Android, making programmers’ lives that much more difficult.
Meanwhile, Google’s love for Swift isn’t new. In 2016, it was reported that Google was actually considering making Swift one of the preferred ways for developers to build Android apps. Ultimately, Google chose to go with a language called Kotlin, instead.
Still, take this as another sign that Apple is on to something big with Swift. In just three short years, Swift has won fans all over the world, establishing itself as one of the fastest-growing programming languages ever. This whole fiasco just proves that it’s even won over Google.