Awesome Open Source
Awesome Open Source


An Objective-C simulator written in Swift.


With few exceptions, this project aims to simulate, in Swift, how Objective-C works under the hood (i.e. calls to objc_msgSend, inserted ARC functions, literal class-refs in class method calls, etc), as opposed to mirroring Objective-C style code and dynamism which Swift can accomplish already via @objc classes.

This project could theoretically be used as a dynamic runtime backend for a transpiled progamming language, and as such, this framework and its conventions were crafted with this idea in mind. Many of the constructs used here may seem to lack type-safety, but everything is perfectly safe if the code is generated by some other, more type-safe language. In short, this code is not meant to be written by hand if used for anything serious.


  • Dynamic method dispatch
  • Method swizzling / replacing
  • Creating entire classes at runtime
  • Non-fragile ivars

See Person.Swift for an examples of everything mentioned in the readme.


Runtime metadata types provided by this framework mirrors that of the public Objective-C runtime interface as closely as possible, declaring types such as Class, Ivar, Method, etc, all of which provide about as much information as their Objective-C counterparts.

Defining classes

A base class, RootObject, is provided for other classes to inherit from if they wish. New classes are defined by declaring a struct type to enclose the Class object in, with the class object itself being declared as a static let, followed by method variables.

struct Person {
    static let `class` = Class(
        isa: Person_meta.class,
        superclass: RootObject.class,
        name: "Person",
        ivars: [
            (name: "_name", type: .string),
            (name: "_age", type: .integer)
        methods: [_init, name, setName_, age, setAge_, description],
        properties: [
            Property(name: "name", getter: name, setter: setName_),
            Property(name: "age", getter: age, setter: setAge_),
        protocols: []
    // Methods go here as static vars
    static var _init = Method("init", returns: .object("this")) { this, _cmd, args in
        func init$(_ this: id, _ _cmd: SEL) -> id {
            _msgSend(this, "setName_", ("Bob"))
            _msgSend(this, "setAge_", (18))

            return msgSend(super: true, this, _cmd)

        return init$(this, _cmd)
    static var name = Method("name", returns: .string) ...

private struct Person_meta {
    static let `class` = Class(
        isa: nil,
        superclass: nil,
        name: "Person.meta",

It is good practice to declare a struct for the class itself and another for the metaclass, as above, to reduce ambiguity between class members and instance members (methods, properties, etc). The metaclass stores class members.

isa: should be the class's metaclass (or nil if the class is a metaclass itself). superclass: should be the superclass.

The Metaclass

Metaclasses inherit from the super-metaclass, not the superclass. It is convention to declare the compile-time variable like MyClass_meta and name it "MyClass.meta". So, Person inherits from Object.class, and Person_meta inherits from Object_meta.class.

Each metaclass can be looked up by using Class.named("Foo").isa or directly by name with Class.named("Foo.meta").



Methods should be defined as static var/let as well (as opposed to right inside the methods: argument to the .class initializer as I have done with properties:), in case you need to reference the method as an argument to a Property at compile-time. Declaring them inline also makes the initializer very hard to parse visually since method declarations are typically no less than 7 or 8 lines.

Method.init() structure

The Method initializer takes the name of the method, the return and argument types (Type) an implementation (IMP). The return and argument types default to .void and []. For initializers, it is convention to return .object("self") where you would use instancetype in Objective-C. You could use .object("anything you want"), but I find that "self" makes the most sense here. In cases where you return another object of a fixed type, use .object("ClassName"). This runtime aims to provide as much metadata for method type signatures as Objective-C does for property type signatures.

IMP arguments

Like Objective-C, all methods take two fixed arguments: this in place of self, and _cmd. However, due to limitations in the Swift type system, all method IMPs must return the same thing, Any, and without using assembly, they must all take Any as the variable arguments, even if a method takes no other arguments. An IMP is invoked by passing this, _cmd, and args where args is a tuple of the non-fixed arguments to the method.

Implementation conventions

To counteract the lack of type safety and enhance readability, I find it helpful to declare a function within the scope of the method IMP named with a traling $ to represent the actual type signature of the method (and to hold the non-trivial implementation), like so:

static var add__ = Method() { this, _cmd, args in
    // Actual implementation and type signature of method
    func add__$(_ this: id, _ _cmd: SEL, a: Int, b: Int) -> Int {
        return a + b
    // Cast out arguments and call method
    let args = args as! (Int, Int)
    return add__$(this, _cmd, args.0, args.1)

Arguments must be cast from Any to their actual types as a tuple before being used.

Overriding methods

To override a method, simply give your subclass another method with the same name as the method you wish to override. If you need to call the super implementation, simply pass super: true to your call to msgSend:

static var _init = Method("init", ...) { this, _cmd, args in
    func init$(_ this: id, _ _cmd: SEL) -> id {
        return msgSend(super: true, this, _cmd)
        print("init override: \(this)")

    return init$(this, _cmd)

If you're familiar with Swift, you may know that Swift doesn't allow you to use self before all ivars have been initialized. With some exceptions, the same is true here. That said, all ivars are initialized to 0 or nil, so it is not necessary to initialize primitive integral types to nil or 0.

Technically, if a class has no stored complex Swift structures in it (such as String), it should be safe to use prior to ivar initialization. I plan to make a wrapper for String and Array, etc, to counteract these edge cases.

Instance variables

Ivars are passed to the Class initializer as a tuple of their name and type. Their offset is detremined at runtime, and as a result, classes do not have fragile ivars.

Metaclasses can not have any instance variables; trying to use ivars on a metaclass is undefined behavior.


Properties take a name and one or two implementations. A property's type comes from its getter.


Creating objects

Instances of objects are allocated by calling class.createInstance(), i.e.:

let instance1 = Person.class.createInstance()
let instance2 = Class.named("Person").createInstance()

Calling methods

Like Objective-C, this runtime uses dynamic dispatch via the msgSend and _msgSend functions. _msgSend only exists as a shortcut for void-returning methods, or cases where you want to discard the return value.

let bob: id = msgSend(Person.class.createInstance(), "init")
let name: String = msgSend(bob, "name")
let age: Int = msgSend(bob, "age")
let description: String = msgSend(bob, "description")

Accessing ivars

Ivar access works similarly to how it works in Objective-C. You must retrieve the offset from the runtime and add it to this to access the ivar. A lot of casting is involved, and I've provided some operators to ease the pain:

let offset = this|.getClass.getIvarOffset("_someInt")!
let pointer: Pointer<Int> = ~pointer + offset
let ivarValue = pointer.pointee

this| is shorthand for this.pointee. ~pointer is shorthand for unsafeBitCast(pointer, to: T.self). Note that the runtime uses its own Pointer type, which allows + to offset it by bytes at at time.

The above is still pretty convoluted and heavily repeated, so I've provided yet another operator which returns ivarValue above:

let ivarValue: Int = this|"_someInt"

In general, | provides some form of dereferencing an object pointer. Here is another operator which can be used to set an ivar _foo to 5:

this |= (5, "_foo")


Type system "gotchas"

You're stuck with id

Since new classes are weakly defined as runtime metadata and not as concrete types in Swift code, you cannot declare a Pointer to a custom type directly. That is, all object references are typed as Pointer<Object> aka id, as defined by Object.swift (not to be confused with RootObject, which is akin to NSObject).

If you really want to declare a Pointer<Vehicle> for example, you could declare members on your Vehicle struct like so, alongside the static let class declaration:

struct Vehicle {
    let _super: Object
    let _capacity: Int
    static let `class` = Class(isa: ...)

/// Vehicle subclass
struct Car {
    let _super: Vehicle
    let make: String
    let model: String
    let year: Int
    static let `class` = Class(isa: ...)

Now, you could possibly do the following:

let fiesta: Pointer<Car> = msgSend(
    ("Ford", "Fiesta", 2014, ...)
fiesta.year = 2017

Be sure to continue to declare all ivars and methods inside the Class variable. Statically declaring the layout like this is only useful for extra type-safety and direct ivar access if you wish to bypass non-fragile ivar lookup.

Using Classes as objects

Class instances could only be made possible by making Class a Swift class and not a struct, due to limitations in Swift's type system and several abstractions Swift imposes on the user. Therefore, they do not have the same underlying structure as Object does (that is, Class does not start with the isa defined by the Object declaration). To call a class method on a class, pass .ref as this:

_msgSend(Person.class.ref, "someClassMethod")

In general, use class.ref whenever you wish to treat a Class as an object.

Other caveats

Class objects will not be available via Class.named(_:) until they have been accessed statically. You should "load" these classes manually by accessing all classes you define, like so:

func runtimeInit() {
    // Runtime initialization
    _ = RootObject.class
    _ = Person.class

Ideally this shouldn't be necessary, or should be easier. Please submit a pull request if you have suggestions on how to make this easier or unnecessary!


  • More tests
  • Zeroing deallocated references
  • Suggestions welcome!

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