Improving type system integration

The aeglue tool's -e, -s, and -t options can be used to insert custom Swift enums, structs, and typealiases in the generated glue files for improved integration between Swift's strong, static type system and the Apple Event Manager's weak, dynamic types. Each option may appear any number of times and takes a format string as argument.

Type aliases

For convenience, all glue files define the following typealias as standard as dictionary type to which Apple event records are mapped by default:

typealias PREFIXRecord = [PREFIXRecord:Any]

The aeglue's -t option can be used to add more typealiases to the glue file if needed. For example, to define a typealias for Array<String> named PREFIXStrings:

-t 'Strings=Array<String>'

The -t option's format string has the following structure:


The glue's PREFIX is added automatically to ALIASNAME, and to any reserved type names that appear within TYPE. For example, the following command:

aeglue -t 'Strings=Array<String>' TextEdit

adds the following typealias to a TextEdit glue:

typealias TEDStrings = Array<String>

Enumerated types

Unlike the AppleScript language, which has untyped variables to which any type of value can be assigned at any time, Swift requires all variables' types to be known at compile-time (Int, String, Optional<Int>, Array<String>, SomeClass, etc). This presents a challenge when sending application commands that return more than one type of value; for example:

  let path = try TextEdit().documents[1].path.get() as Any

may return either a String (e.g. "/Users/jsmith/ReadMe.txt") or a MissingValue constant, depending on whether or not the document has been saved to disk. Furthermore, the Swift compiler won't allow you to manipulate that value until path is cast to a specific type (e.g. String). The type-safe solution to this problem is to define an enumerated type (a.k.a. tagged union, or sum type) where each case holds a different type of value. For example, SwiftAutomation's built-in MayBeMissing<T> enum can hold either a value of type T or a MissingValue constant, thus:

  let path = try TextEdit().documents[1].path.get() as MayBeMissing<String>

ensures that the command's result is always a String value or MissingValue, and subsequent code can easily use a switch statement to determine which and extract the value for further use.

The aeglue tool's -e option makes it easy to include enumerations for other combinations of return types within a generated glue file. For example, if an application command you wish to use is known to return either a Symbol or a String value, add the following -e option to the aeglue command:

-e Symbol+String

The -e option must have the following format (square brackets indicate optional information):


ENUMNAME is the name to be given to the enumerated type, e.g. -e MyType=Symbol+Stringwill create an enum named PREFIXMyType. (Do not include the glue's PREFIX in ENUMNAME as one will be added automatically.)

If ENUMNAME is omitted, a default name is automatically generated, e.g. -e Symbol+String will create an enum named PREFIXSymbolOrString.

TYPEn is the name of an existing Swift type, for example, String or a standard SwiftAutomation type: Symbol, Object, Insertion, Item, or Items (the glue PREFIX will be added automatically). MissingValue may also be used, in which case a missing case is added so that the enumeration can also contain a MissingValue constant (see the Missing Value section in Chapter 5 for details).

CASEn is the name of the case to which values of that type are assigned. If TYPE is parameterized, a suitable CASE name must be given, e.g. strings:Array<String>. Otherwise the CASE name can be omitted, in which case a default name is automatically generated; e.g. if TYPE is Int then the default CASE name will be int.

Thus, the following command:

aeglue -e 'Color=Symbol+values:Array<Int>' 'System'

will generate a glue file for System Events containing an SEVColor enum that accepts either a symbol (,, etc) or an integer array representing an RGB color value (e.g. [0, 65535, 65535]):

enum SEVColor {
  case symbol(SEVSymbol)
  case values(Array<Int>)

which can then be used as follows:

let color = try SystemEvent().appearancePreferences.highlightColor.get() as SEVColor
switch color {
case .symbol(let colorName):
case .values(let rgbValues):

The order in which the enumerated types are declared is significant. SwiftAutomation will attempt to coerce an Apple event descriptor to each type in turn, returning a result as soon as it succeeds, or throwing an error if all coercions failed. The Apple Event Manager defines a variety of single- and bi-directional coercions: for instance, all values can coerce to a list (e.g. 3.14[3.14]), any number can coerce to a string (e.g. 3.14"3.14") but only numeric strings may coerce to a number (e.g. "3.14"3.14, but "forty-two" will fail); while symbol types will coerce to four-char-code strings (e.g. TED.document"docu"), but not vice-versa (and either way is probably not what you intended). For best results, order the types from most specific coercion to least, e.g. Symbol+String, not String+Symbol (which would always return a string).

Record structs

While SwiftAutomation packs and unpacks Apple event records as Dictionary<PREFIXSymbol:Any> values as standard, it is also possible to map part or all of a specific record structures to a Swift struct, simplifying member access and improving type safety. While it is not practical to generate these record structs automatically due to the incomplete and often inaccurate nature of application AETE/SDEF resources, aeglue does allow individual record structs to be manually defined, in whole or in part, using its -s option. For example, consider the following TextEdit command:

try TextEdit.documents[1].properties.get()
// [TED.class_: TED.document, "Untitled", TED.modified: false, TED.path: MissingValue, TED.text: ""]

By default, SwiftAutomation unpacks Apple event records as Swift dictionary values of type Dictionary<PREFIXSymbol,Any>. To map the TextEdit document's properties record to a Swift struct named TEDDocumentRecord instead, first add the following -s option to the aeglue command:

-s 'Document:document=name:String+modified:Bool+path:MayBeMissing<String>+text:String'

The -s option must have the following format:


STRUCTNAME is the name to be given to the record struct, e.g. DocumentTEDDocumentRecord (the PREFIX prefix and Record suffix are added automatically). CLASS is the record's terminology-defined 'class' name as it appears in the glue's SDEF documentation, e.g. document; if omitted, record is used.

NAMEn is the name of a property to appear on the struct, and TYPEn is the property's type; e.g. name:String describes a property named name which holds a value of type String. All record properties are declared as var, except for the special class_ property.

The above format string, when applied to a TextEdit dictionary, defines a struct with the following name and properties:

struct TEDDocumentRecord {
  let class_ = TED.document
  var name: String
  var modified: Bool
  var path: MayBeMissing<String>
  var text: String

To unpack a TextEdit document's properties record as a TEDDocumentRecord struct:

try TextEdit.documents[1].properties.get() as TEDDocumentRecord
// TEDDocumentRecord(class_:TED.document, name: "Untitled", modified: false, path: MissingValue, text: "")

MayBeMissing versus Optional

[TO DO: finish this section once a final decision is made on whether or not to keep MayBeMissing<T> and the special .missing(MissingValue) case in aeglue-generated enums.]

[Note that AEM's missing value symbol is roughly analogous to Swift's nil; however, advantage of MissingValue over nil is that it's concrete, not generic, so can be used, compared for equality, etc. even when variable's static type is Any. OTOH, Optional is idiomatic Swift, so will always be the preferred form used in typed code. SwiftAutomation accepts both when used as command parameters; when command's return type is Any, missing value descriptor is unpacked as MissingValue; when return type is Optional<T>, it's unpacked as Optional<T>.none instead. MayBeMissing<T> unpacks it as MayBeMissing<T>.missing(MissingValue); custom enums that include MissingValue in their -e format string unpack it as ENUMNAME.missing(MissingValue).]