Since the announcement of Swift, I’ve been finding what opportunities I can to get more acclimated to the language. To that end, I’ve been working on an app which makes use of NSTimer, and I’ve been working to maintain good Object Oriented practices in the process.

Because the functionality of NSTimer doesn’t belong in the controller, I’ve extracted it into its own class. This wouldn’t be a big deal in Objective-C - we would just send the controller instance and its respective method as arguments - but things are done differently in Swift; closures work better.


In the first pragraphs of the “Closures” chapter, The Swift Programming Language defines them thusly, “Closures are self-contained blocks of functionality that can be passed around and used in your code…Closures can capture and store references to any constants and variables from the context in which they are defined.”

They sound more complex than they are; closures are just methods (usually anonymous, i.e. unnamed), but when we pass them around as arguments they retain their scope and we give them a fancy name. (Note: I can’t hear, say, or write the word “fancy” without thinking of Kaylee from Firefly)

As mentioned earlier, the timer’s functionality doesn’t belong in the controller. The only thing the controller needs to do is provide a means to update the timer display. To do that, we’ll initialize whatever timer class we create, and provide a method (i.e. a closure) with which that class can interface. Here’s what the important bits of that controller method might look like:

@IBOutlet func displayTimeRemaining(elapsedTime) {
  var timeRemaining = self.duration - elapsedTime
  timerView.value = timeRemaining

The Timer Class

Our Timer class will have a couple properties and a few methods. We need know how long the Timer can run (duration), and how long it’s been running (elapsedTime). From there we could use the magic of basic arithmetic to figure out any other values.

We’ll need an init and a deinit - the deinit to ensure the timer is closed out. And we’ll also need three methods: start, stop, and one to handle what to do with each tick of the clock, tick.

import Foundation

class Timer {
  var timer = NSTimer()
  var handler: (Int) -> ()
  let duration: Int
  var elapsedTime: Int = 0
  init(duration: Int, handler: (Int) -> ()) {
    self.duration = duration
    self.handler = handler
  func start() {
    self.timer = NSTimer.scheduledTimerWithTimeInterval(1.0, 
                               target: self, 
                             selector: Selector("tick"), 
                             userInfo: nil, 
                              repeats: true)
  func stop() {
  @objc func tick() {


    if self.elapsedTime == self.duration {
  deinit {

Up Close

There are two key things to look at in this class: the handler, and the tick method. Let’s start with the handler method.

The first thing to note is its type. Whereas most variables are types, Int, Float, String, etc., variables associated to closures use the closure’s signature as the type. In the case above, it’s (Int) -> (), which is like saying, the closure receives an Int as an argument and has no return value - an empty tuple. Just to repeat that, (Int) -> () is the type for the variable.

Functions without a defined return type return a special value of type Void. This is simply an empty tuple, in effect a tuple with zero elements, which can be written as () – The Swift Programming Language (p. 168)

In our displayTimeRemaining method (the example method in the imaginary controller), we receive the elapsedTime as an argument and update the associated label.

Looking at our tick method next. The code is self-explanatory, but you should note that it’s here that we’re executing handler, which references the displayTimeRemaining method, and passing the elapsed time as the argument.

Off Topic

Ideally, I would not include the closure as part of the initializer, but instead pass it to the start method (i.e. dependency injection), but you can’t do this in Swift because all properties have to be declared and defined by the end of initialization.

Every property needs a value assigned—either in its declaration (as with numberOfSides) or in the initializer (as with name).
– The Swift Programming Language (p. 18)

The @lazy attribute helps a little, but things would be much easier if I could define a property other than in the initializer. The Ruby programming language has spoiled me.


The Swift programming language really is a lot of fun. It’s very Ruby-like in some ways, JavaScript-like in others, and it includes so many intelligent features which (I think) lower the barrier of entry. It “feels” more Object Oriented than Objective-C ever did.

It took a while to figure how Swift’s typing worked with closures, and the goal in this post was primarily to highlight that for anyone else experiencing that same difficulty.