Comparison of Swift vs Dart For iOS App Development

21 June 2024
Paulina Kłuś
Paulina Kłuś
Digital Marketing Specialist
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Contents

  • Intro

Languages like Swift and Dart are the magic behind countless applications that we use today. Developed relatively recently, these two languages are fast gaining traction in developer cycles due to their ease of use, powerful syntax, and modern features. Deciding which one of these is best for your project can be a bit difficult since they’re almost equally matched. Dart vs Swift performance is almost on the same level and they both share several other language features. 

While Swift is famous for iOS app development, Dart’s cross-platform capabilities mean it can be used to build apps for iOS devices as well. So which one should you pick for our mobile app development project? In this article, we’ll compare Swift vs Dart for iOS development, evaluating their similarities, differences, pros, and cons to help you make the right choice. 

  • Swift is Apple’s official programming language for building native iOS applications.
  • Dart is an object-oriented programming language designed specifically for cross-platform app development.
  • For iOS-centric applications that leverage native device features, Swift’s robust ecosystem and superior performance make it the language of choice.
  • Dart is better suited for cross-platform development, but delivers great iOS apps as well, with features that speed up app development. 

What Is Swift in Mobile App Development?

Swift is Apple’s proprietary programming language for building native iOS applications. The language was developed by Apple in 2014 and released to the general public the following year as an open-source project. 

In addition to iOS mobile app development, this robust and intuitive programming language can also be used to build macOS, watchOS, and tvOS apps. It can also be utilized to develop desktop and web-based applications.

Swift is a modern and powerful alternative to the Objective-C programming language which used to be the preferred choice for developing iOS apps. It has gained significant traction within a very short time, thanks to its intuitive nature, high coding speed, and comprehensive documentation that makes it easy to use for developers. 

Swift’s concise syntax allows developers to build the same application using fewer lines of code. It also prioritizes type safety, ensuring potential errors are caught on time and rectified quickly. 

Swift is compatible with Objective-C. This interoperability makes it easy for developers to adopt and incorporate it into their existing Objective-C code. It is written in Xcode, the integrated development environment (IDE) used for creating native iOS apps. To learn more about this programming language and how it compares to other coding languages, read our articles on “Kotlin vs Swift” or “React Native vs Swift“.

What Is Dart in Mobile App Development?

Dart is an object-oriented programming language designed specifically for cross-platform app development. It enables developers to build iOS and Android apps from a single codebase, meaning they won’t have to write separate codes to build apps for these operating systems. 

Dart was created and launched by Google in 2011. Just like Swift, it is an open-source project with a robust community of developers, maintaining and building tools for the language. Dart is renowned for its robust development capabilities, which allow developers to create native-like applications seamlessly. 

As a language for cross-platform development, Dart has become even more popular due to its association with Flutter. This open-source UI software development kit was created by Google to develop cross-platform applications with ease.  

Dart is a robust and flexible language with lots of modern features. It was created to help developers build rapidly while eliminating errors. The language is statically typed and also offers a built-in sound null safety feature that prevents null exceptions at run time. Dart is also known for its lightning-fast compilation speed, which further simplifies modern app development. 

To learn more about Dart and how it compares against other languages, read our “Dart vs Kotlin” article. 

Similarities of Swift and Dart

Dart and Swift are both excellent modern coding languages that can be used to build apps for iOS platforms. Although there are several variations between them in terms of their overall syntax, function, and performance, these languages have the same core concepts and overall feel. 

They are both open-sourced and based on similar programming concepts and type systems. Swift and Dart are also on the same level in terms of maturity. In fact, Swift developers may find Dart to be quite familiar and vice versa since both languages share many similar concepts. The following are some of the main similarities between Swift and Dart. 

Open Source Programming Language

While Swift and Dart were initially proprietary products owned by Apple and Google respectively, they were released to the public shortly after their release. The source code for these languages is freely available on the web.

Not only are they free to use, but developer communities can contribute to maintaining these languages and developing libraries or tools for them. This allows the rapid evolution of these programming languages and also makes it easier for developers to tailor them to their specific needs. Being open-source also helps create a rapidly growing ecosystem for these languages. 

Typing

Dart and Swift are both statically typed languages. For languages like this, type checking occurs at compile time (before the code is converted to machine-readable format) instead of run time. This means the type associated with every variable in the code must be explicitly defined before the code is compiled. This type of system prevents runtime errors. Strong typing also improves code readability and makes it easier to maintain app codes.

Concurrency 

Modern apps need to handle multiple tasks at the same time. For instance, an app may need to fetch data from a server while maintaining a responsive user interface. Both Dart and Swift address this problem through a concept known as concurrency. They offer robust support for asynchronous programming, simplifying the handling of potentially time-consuming multiple computations.

Null Safety

A null pointer exception is one of the most common error types that lead to app crashes. Both Swift and Dart prioritize null safety to deliver clean and reliable applications. Neither of these languages allows variables to be null by default. Swift uses optionals to handle the absence of a value. Dart, on the other hand, uses Nullable types which are checked at compile time. Although this provides efficient null safety, it is a weaker type of safety compared to Swift’s null safety feature. 

Similar Syntax and Features

Dart and Swift are C-style programming languages. They are both object-oriented languages with several similar features such as collections, concurrency, and generics. Swift and Dart also use async/await syntax and extensions to add functionality to existing classes. The similarities in their syntax make it easier to learn one or the other. Developers who are already familiar with Swift will find it easier to master Dart and vice-versa. 

Differences Between Swift and Dart

Now that you know the similarities between Swift and Dart, let’s analyze the differences between these programming languages. Here are some of the key differences between the two to help you figure out which one is best for your iOS app development project. 

Installation/Onboarding

To get started with iOS app development, the first step is to set up an IDE (Integrated Development Environment) where you’ll write your code and manage it. Generally, the installation or onboarding process is simpler for Swift app development than for Dart. To write Swift code for a new iOS app, all you have to do is install XCode. This is the most commonly used IDE for Swift development and it can be installed on any Mac device that meets the system requirements. Xcode is built with all the essential tools and the SDK needed for Swift iOS development. 

Dart programming is a little more complicated. In addition to installing XCode for Flutter setup, you’ll also need an IDE such as Visual Studio Code, IntelliJ IDEA, or Android Studio with the Flutter and Dart plugins installed. While this process is still quite straightforward, it involves more steps compared to setting up Xcode for Swift. Swift’s integration with Apple’s development tools and frameworks also helps to deliver a smooth development experience.

App Size

Your choice of coding language can influence the size and performance of your application, but several factors contribute to the final app size and memory consumption. Generally, iOS apps built with Swift tend to be more lightweight and efficient because Swift is optimized for Apple’s platforms and tightly integrated with the system frameworks.

In contrast, Flutter applications built with Dart can have a larger initial size due to the inclusion of the Flutter engine and framework components in the app package. This overhead can lead to larger app sizes compared to native Swift apps.

Development Cost and Time

Swift and Dart are generally affordable programming languages. They’re both open-source, meaning users will incur minimal expenses during development. However, businesses looking to cut time and cost on app development often favor Swift app development over Dart especially if the plan is to build an iOS-only application. Swift is a native iOS development tool designed specifically for speedy and efficient development. Yet, if you have plans to build both Android and iOS apps, Dart is clearly the recommended choice since it allows you to build for different devices from a single code base.  

Testing Methodologies

Both Swift and Dart enable developers to test their apps extensively during development. While their testing methodologies differ, the testing module for each language is quite robust and efficient. Dart has an inbuilt testing environment where developers can execute both functional and UI tests using the Dart driver. Swift, on the other hand, has a separate testing framework called XCTest which can be used to test the navigation, UI modules, performance, navigation, and even third-party integrations within the app.  

App Reloading Capabilities

When developers make changes or add new features to an app’s code, they need a way to preview those changes quickly. Both Swift and Dart have features for reloading app code automatically, but Dart’s Hot Reload feature, used with Flutter, is more efficient. With Dart’s Hot Reload, changes made to the app code are displayed almost instantly, typically within 1 to 2 seconds, without requiring a full restart of the app.

Swift also supports live preview capabilities, especially with SwiftUI, where changes to the UI code can be seen immediately in the design canvas without recompiling the entire app. However, when using traditional UIKit, the process may involve recompiling and reloading the app, which can take longer, often more than a few seconds but typically less than 12 seconds depending on the complexity of the app and the changes made.

User Interface 

Swift is an iOS native language. This makes it easy for developers to incorporate native UI features into their apps and develop a user interface that’s as close to that of iOS as possible. However, you’ll have to create each UI function from scratch with this programming language. Flutter, on the other hand, comes with a good number of ready-to-use UI elements such as Cupertino for iOS style. This simplifies the process of building app user interfaces. 

A Comprehensive Comparison of Swift and Dart Programming Languages

As discussed above, Swift and Dart both show several unique attributes as far as iOS development is concerned. While they’re efficient in their own ways, an understanding of the key differences between them will help you determine the ideal tool to use for your development project. Below is a table comparing Swift and Dart based on various criteria. 

Swift vs Dart comparison table

Pros and Cons of Swift for iOS App Development

Pros of Swift

  • Powerful and expressive syntax: Swift’s syntax is clean and easy to read. This speeds up the app development process and also makes it easy for new developers to learn the language.
  • Native code: Swift is a native development language. Leveraging native code enables iOS developers to create apps that can access native device features, improving an iOS app’s performance and capabilities.
  • Improved app performance: Swift is a natively compiled language, which results in better-performing and high-quality iOS apps. Swift also promotes advanced memory management with automatic reference counting (ARC).
  • Strong type system: Swift is a strongly typed programming language. Errors are caught at compile time rather than at runtime, enhancing code performance and improving error handling. 
  • Active community and support: Swift is officially backed by Apple and has a large, vibrant community of developers who contribute to improving the language and sharing resources.

Cons of Swift

  • Limited to native iOS Development: Swift is limited to developing apps for Apple’s ecosystem.
  • Rapid evolution: As a relatively young open-source language, Swift is rapidly evolving. However, regular updates may lead to compatibility issues between different versions. 
  • Steep learning curve: Swift offers several complex features that may be difficult for new developers to learn. 

Pros and Cons of Dart For iOS App Development

Pros of Dart 

  • Versatile and flexible programming language: Dart’s cross-platform compatibility is one of its most notable attributes. Dart, used with the Flutter framework, allows for the development of apps for both Android and iOS using the same codebase.
  • Development time: Dart’s seamless integration and setup process makes it a quick way to create apps for multiple platforms. You can build Dart apps for iOS and Android devices using a single code base.
  • Easy to learn: Dart’s concise syntax and robust documentation make it quite easy to learn. Flutter also comes with several in-built UI widgets that simplify the development process. Dart’s community is growing gradually as well thanks to the growing popularity of Flutter development.
  • Hot Reload feature: Dart’s Hot Reload feature enables developers to preview code changes almost instantly, speeding up the app development cycle.

Cons of Dart 

  • Limited outside Flutter: Dart’s usage is intricately tied to Flutter. The language isn’t widely used outside of this framework, limiting its utility in other contexts.
  • Smaller developer community: While Dart (and Flutter) has been growing in popularity in recent years, it still has a smaller community compared to older and more established languages and frameworks.
  • Immature ecosystem: Dart’s ecosystem is less mature, which means there are fewer resources and libraries available for developers, potentially leading to limitations in some use cases.

Swift vs Dart: Conclusion

There’s no straightforward way to settle the Swift vs Dart argument. Both languages are famous in their own right and can be effective for native iOS app development. Dart is the more versatile option since it can do more than just iOS app development.

Swift, on the other hand, is Apple’s official language for developing iOS apps. It lets users leverage native device capabilities, allowing them to write code and build powerful iOS apps that leverage platform-specific features effectively. 

At the end of the day, choosing between both languages comes down to your specific project requirement. To learn more about native iOS app development with Swift or Dart, contact a reliable software development company like CrustLab. We love finding solutions to complicated problems and can help you navigate the complex process of choosing the right language and designing efficient iOS applications. Contact us now to get started. 

FAQ

  • What is easier to learn: Swift or Dart?

    The answer to this depends on your previous experience and the platform you intend to build for. Swift is generally easier to learn for developers who are familiar with the iOS platform. However, it is a statically typed language, so programmers coming from a JavaScript or Python background might find it a little difficult to master. On the other hand, learning Dart is easier for developers with some experience with C-style languages. The learning curve for this language is a little less steep and the Flutter developer community provides resources to help learners.

  • Is Dart better than Swift?

    Both Dart and Swift are excellent programming languages with unique attributes. There’s no better option between them as it all depends on your project requirements. The only area where Dart clearly outranks Swift is in cross-platform development.

  • What is the Swift programming language used for?

    Swift is primarily used to create applications for the Apple ecosystem. This native app development language integrates seamlessly with the Apple development framework, enabling developers to build apps for iOS mobile, Apple TV, watchOS, and macOS devices in line with Apple’s engineering culture. Swift can potentially work for server-side application development as well, but it isn’t currently popular for this purpose.

  • What is Dart programming language used for?

    Dart is a versatile programming language for cross-platform app development. It is the foundation for Flutter, an open-source development framework for building user interfaces (UI) for mobile, web, desktop, and embedded devices from a single codebase. It can be used to build apps for multiple platforms including iOS and Android apps.

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