Classes That Conform To Protocols

How to use type-erasers as a workaround

The other day, someone asked how to have a variable which stores a UIView that also conforms to a protocol. In Objective-C, you would simply write UIView<HeaderViewProtocol>. In current Swift, you can’t write something like that. This posts shows two workarounds.

First, let’s set the stage, and assume we have a HeaderViewProtocol:

protocol HeaderViewProtocol {
    func setTitle(_ string: String)

Until generalized existentials arrive, we’ll have to make do with a workaround. The most mechanical solution would be to write a struct which has two properties, one for the protocol and one for the UIView. Both point to the same reference:

struct AnyHeaderView {
    let view: UIView
    let headerView: HeaderViewProtocol
    init<T: UIView>(view: T) where T: HeaderViewProtocol {
        self.view = view
        self.headerView = view

let header = AnyHeaderView(view: myView)

Alternatively, we could also completely get rid of the protocol, and create a HeaderView struct which simply stores a view and a way to set the title:

struct HeaderView {
    let view: UIView
    let setTitle: (String) -> ()

var label = UILabel()
let header = HeaderView(view: label) { str in
    label.text = str

One benefit of this solution is that there are no protocols involved. More importantly, we can have multiple “implementations” of HeaderView for a single class. This eliminates the need to subclass. I prefer this solution, as it’s really simple: just bundle up a function and a view.

(If your protocol has associated types or a Self constraint, it will be a bit more work to write the type-eraser, see here for an explanation).

If you liked this article, check out our book Advanced Swift (updated for Swift 3), or check out our video series Swift Talk.