Apple event type mappings


The NSAppleEventDescriptor Foundation class provides a low-level wrapper around the Carbon Apple Event Manager APIs for building and sending Apple events, and for encapsulating the parameter and result data to be included in those events. NSAppleEventDescriptor defines a descriptorType property containing an OSType (a.k.a. "four-char code") that describes the type of value it holds (e.g. 'utxt' = typeUnicodeText = UTF16-encoded text), and a data property containing the value's data serialized as an NSData instance.

Apple event data types include:

NSAppleEventDescriptor includes methods for converting common Apple event data types to and from their Foundation equivalents (e.g. typeUnicodeTextNSString). SwiftAutomation extends and improves on these basic mappings as follows:

AppleScript typeDescriptor type Symbol nameSwift
booleantypeBoolean AE.booleanBool
integertypeSInt32 AE.integerInt
realtypeIEEE64BitFloatingPoint AE.realDouble
text [1]typeUnicodeText AE.UnicodeTextString
listtypeAEList AE.listArray
recordtypeAERecord AE.recordDictionary
datetypeLongDateTime AE.dateDate
aliastypeAlias AE.aliasURL [2]
«class bmrk»typeBookmarkData AE.bookmarkDataURL [2]
«class furl»typeFileURL AE.fileURLURL [2]
N/A [3]typeNull AE.nullPREFIXApp
referencetypeObjectSpecifier AE.referencePREFIXItem/PREFIXItems [4]
location referencetypeInsertionLoc AE.locationReferencePREFIXInsertion [4]
classtypeType AE.typeClassPREFIXSymbol [5]
constanttypeEnumerated AE.constantPREFIXSymbol [5]
propertytypeProperty AE.propertyPREFIXSymbol [5]

[1] While AppleScript treats string, text, and Unicode text keywords as synonyms for typeUnicodeText, the Apple Event Manager still considers them to be different types (typeChar, cText, typeUnicodeText). When specifying a command's requestedType: always use PREFIXSymbol.unicodeText (or just AE.unicodeText) as this is the standard UTF-16 representation that all current macOS apps should support.

[2] typeBookmarkData, typeAlias, typeFSRef, and typeFileURL descriptors are all unpacked Swift URL structs. URL structs are always packed as typeFileURL descriptors. (Be aware that Swift's URL structs only hold path information, so any alias/bookmark data identifying the original file system object is lost.)

[3] While the typeNull descriptor is used to represent the root application object in an object specifier, this root object is not visible within AppleScript which prefers to display the object specifier's target (e.g. application "NAME", «script») instead. AppleScript does define a null keyword, but this is never used.

[4] Each application glue file defines its own Item, Items, and Insertion subclasses for that particular application, prefixing them with a three-letter code by default; for example, the TextEdit glue defines TEDItem, TEDItems, and TEDInsertion classes. The Item and Items classes are equivalent to AppleScript's reference data type, except that they distinguish between object specifiers that identify a single property/element and object specifiers that identify multiple elements, whereas AppleScript does not.

[5] Each application glue file defines its own Symbol subclass for that particular application, prefixing it with a three-letter code by default. For example, the TextEdit glue defines a TEDSymbol class, with a shorthand TED typealias for convenience.

Mapping notes

While AE-Swift type conversions generally work quite seamlessly, it is sometimes useful to know some of the details involved, particularly when troubleshooting code that deals with older or buggy applications. The following sections provide additional information.

Missing Value

AppleScript's missing value symbol serves a similar purpose to Swift's nil, acting as a placeholder where a value is expected but none is available. On the Apple event side, it is represented as a descriptor of typeType with the code value cMissingValue ('msng'). SwiftAutomation provides a choice of mappings when unpacking a missing value descriptor as a Swift value:

Both MissingValue and nil values are packed as cMissingValue descriptors when used in a specifier or command:

// find everyone without a birthday
try Contacts().people[CONIts.birthDate == MissingValue].get() as [CONItem]

let date: Date? = nil
try Contacts().people[CONIts.birthDate == date].get() as [CONItem]

// clear all nicknames!
try Contacts().people.nickname(set: MissingValue)

let name: String? = nil
try Contacts().people.nickname(set: name)

Remember though that nil is generic so can only be used when its exact type is already known; e.g. the following code will give a compiler error "nil is not compatible with expected argument type 'Any'":

try Contacts().people.nickname(set: nil) // this won't compile

[TO DO: what about documenting MayBeMissing<T> and/or the .missing(MissingValueType) case in custom enums created via aeglue's -e option? there's an argument for removing those features to simplify the API, in which case MissingValue will only be returned when return type is Any]


SwiftAutomation normally maps typeBoolean descriptors to and from Swift's Bool type.

SwiftAutomation can also unpack descriptors of typeTrue and typeFalse, although these are not normally returned by applications.


SwiftAutomation supports Swift's standard integer and floating-point types: Int and UInt, including their 8/16/32/64-bit sized variants (Int8, etc), Float, and Double, with Int and Double as the preferred formats.

The Apple Event Manager defines a similar range of descriptor types with different widths and formats, though most applications use typeSInt32 (32-bit signed integer) and typeIEEE64BitFloatingPoint (Double) as standard.

Well-designed applications should accept any numeric descriptor type (coercing it when necessary), though to maximize compatibility across all application SwiftAutomation always packs Swift integers as typeSInt32 if possible; only switching to typeSInt64/typeUInt32/typeUInt64 (or typeIEEE64BitFloatingPoint if the isInt64Compatible option is false) for values that cannot fit into typeSInt32.

If an NSNumber instance is supplied as a command parameter, SwiftAutomation will pack it as typeBoolean if it can determine it represents a Boolean value, otherwise it will pack it as an integer or floating-point number according to its objCType property. (The NSNumber class cluster privately represents Boolean values as bridged CFBoolean (__NSCFBoolean) instances; however, its public objCType API does not distinguish between these and char values so SwiftAutomation cannot guarantee it will detect the correct type. If in doubt, cast the NSNumber to Bool/Int/Double first to ensure it packs as a specific type.)


When packing and unpacking String values, SwiftAutomation uses the NSAppleEventDescriptor class's +descriptorWithString: and -stringValue methods, both of which use descriptors of typeUnicodeText, coercing other types as needed.

Note that while the CoreServices framework's AEDataModel.h header states that typeUnicodeText is deprecated in favor typeUTF8Text and typeUTF16ExternalRepresentation, it remains in widespread use; therefore SwiftAutomation continues to use typeUnicodeText to ensure the broadest compatibility with existing scriptable applications.

Some older Carbon applications might return text values as descriptors of typeChar, typeIntlText, or typeStyledText. These types are long-deprecated and their use strongly discouraged in macOS. SwiftAutomation will coerce these descriptors to typeUnicodeText before unpacking them, or throw an UnpackError if the coercion fails.

File system references

// TO DO: SwiftAutomation currently uses Swift's URL struct, which doesn't provide the extra descriptor caching or explicit coercion methods (it also currently doesn't distinguish between path-style URLs and bookmark-style URLs, and treats everything as typeFileURL, which might cause problems on any older, poorly designed Carbon apps that explicitly typecheck their params as typeAlias instead of coercing them to that type as they're supposed to)

The Apple Event Manager defines a number of modern (typeFileURL, typeBookmarkData), legacy (typeAlias), and deprecated (typeFSRef, typeFSS) descriptor types for identifying file system objects. (Object specifiers of form {want:file,from:null,form:name,seld:"HFS:PATH:STRING"} are also recognized by most applications, though not recommended.) Fortunately, the Apple Event Manager also implements a number of coercion handlers for coercing between these types, so when interacting with most applications you should not need to know or care exactly which of these types are used: the application should coerce supplied values to whichever type(s) it requires.

SwiftAutomation packs URL instances containing file:// URLs as descriptors of typeFileURL, which the majority of applications should accept. Non-file URLs are not supported and will result in a PackError being thrown. Occasionally, an older Carbon application may not accept file URL descriptor, in which case it may be necessary to convert the URL to a different form before passing it to the application command. For example, if an application requires an alias descriptor, then pre-pack the URL as a typeAlias descriptor as follows:

let myFile = URL(fileURLWithPath: "/Users/jsmith/MyFile.txt")

let myFileDesc = NSAppleEventDescriptor(fileURL: myFile).coerce(toDescriptorType: typeAlias) [TO DO: not sure this works on recent OS versions]

Similarly, some older Carbon applications may occasionally use colon-delimited HFS path strings even though macOS has long since deprecated these in favor of standard POSIX paths. SwiftAutomation includes the following compatibility functions for converting to and from HFS path strings where unavoidable:

HFSPath(fromFileURL: URL) -> String
fileURL(fromHFSPath: String) -> URL

For example:

let myFile = URL(fileURLWithPath: "/Users/jsmith/MyFile.txt")

let myHFSPath = HFSPath(fromFileURL: myFile)
// "Macintosh HD:Users:jsmith:MyFile.txt"

However, be aware that non-existent paths may not convert correctly, and that HFS paths, unlike POSIX paths, cannot distinguish between two mounted volumes which both have the same name (one of the reasons HFS was deprecated).


The typeAERecord AE type is a struct-like data structure containing zero or more properties. SwiftAutomation represents AE records as Dictionary<Symbol,Any> instances. The keys in this dictionary are normally instances of Symbol or glue-defined subclass representing SwiftAutomation-style property names, e.g. TEDSymbol.text. Dictionary keys may also be Symbol instances created with raw four-char codes (if no equivalent human-readable terminology exists), e.g. Symbol(code: "docu") or String instances representing "user-defined" keys (an AppleScript-ism, rarely used by applications).

If a dictionary includes a Symbol.class_ (or Symbol(code:"pcls")) key whose value is also a Symbol, SwiftAutomation will pack the other items into an AE record coerced to that value's' type. [TO DO: add example for clarity] Similarly, when unpacking an record-based descriptor that isn't typeAERecord, typeObjectSpecifier or other known type, SwiftAutomation will unpack it as an Dictionary instance with an additional Symbol.class_ key and Symbol value to indicate the descriptor's type.

AERecords may also be packed and unpacked as glue-defined record structs if preferred; see the section on creating and using custom record structs in Chapter 10.

Types and enumerators

SwiftAutomation represents both standard Apple event type names and application-defined class, property, and enumerator names as instances of the glue's Symbol subclass. For example, a standard TextEdit glue defines a TEDSymbol subclass, typealiased as TED for convenience:

// Standard Apple event data types

// Application-defined class names

// Application-defined property names

// Application-defined enumerators

Descriptors of typeType, typeEnumerated, and typeProperty are unpacked as Symbol subclass instances, using raw four-char codes instead of names when the corresponding terminology is not available, e.g.:

TEDSymbol(code: "ABCD", type: "type")

Be aware that symbol names for standard data types are derived from AppleScript, not Swift, terminology. Thus the symbolic name for the typeIEEE64BitFloatingPoint descriptor type, which maps to AppleScript's real type and Swift's Double type, is AE.real (or PREFIX.real), not AE.double. This avoids potential conflicts and ensures consistency with standard and custom terminology used by application dictionaries.

Other types

The Apple Event Manager defines many other AE types whose names and codes are defined by SwiftAutomation for completeness. A few of these types are of occasional interest to users, the rest can simply be ignored. In most cases, values of these types will be represented by NSAppleEventDescriptor instances as SwiftAutomation doesn't automatically convert them.