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Lesson 9 - Strings in Swift - Split

In the previous lesson, Strings in Swift - Working with single characters, we made clear that Swift Strings are essentially arrays of characters. In today's Swift tutorial, we're going to explain other String methods that I have intentionally kept from you because we didn't know that strings are similar to arrays :)

On strings we can use many methods and properties which we know from arrays in a similar fashion. For example: first, last, index() and others.

When you create an arbitrary variable and write a dot after it, XCode will show us all of the available methods and variables, that we can call on that variable (we'll go deeper into this in the OOP course). Let's try it out:

Swift autocomplete in Xcode

The same suggestion can also be accessed by pressing Ctrl + Spacebar when the text cursor is on the dot. Of course, this applies to all variables and classes (we'll use it further along the way, as well). The methods are ordered alphabetically and we can list them using the arrow keys. Xcode shows us the description of the methods, what they do, and what parameters do they need.

Let's talk about the following methods and demonstrate them on simple examples:

Additional String methods


Inserts a substring into the string at a specific position. The parameters are the position in the string and the substring.

var text = "I would banish all of these Internets."
text.insert(contentsOf: "n't", at: text.index(text.startIndex, offsetBy: 7))

The output:

I wouldn't banish all of these Internets.

remove() and removeSubrange()

The remove() method is very simple, but it can only remove one character at a given index. Again, the index must be specified as the String.Index data type we have already encountered. removeSubrange() removes a substring from our string, but again, we need to pass it String.Index via the Range data type which makes it more complicated.

Range represents an interval and we specify it using three dots. We've already met it with loops :) for i in 1...5, does that ring any bells? Similarly, we can create a Range from String.Index. Let's show a couple of examples.

var text = "He who laughs last is the admin."
text.remove(at: text.startIndex)


e who laughs last is the admin.

And a removeSubrange() example:

var text = "He who laughs last is the admin."
text.removeSubrange(text.index(text.startIndex, offsetBy: 2)..<text.endIndex)

The output:


Note that in Range we need to use the < (less than) operator, otherwise endIndex would make us overflow one position outside of the String via and the program would crash.


We use substring to retrieve part of a String. Earlier versions of Swift offered a method of the same name. But it's deprecated and now we use brackets to get a substring. This is called "slicing", as if we were slicing strings. Again, let's show some examples and then explain them.

let text = "He who laughs last. He's the admin!"
let endIndex = text.index(of: ".")!
let substring = String(text[...endIndex])

The output:

He who laughs last.

Let's try another example:

let text = "He who laughs last. He's the admin!"
let startIndex = text.index(of: ".")!
let substring = String(text[startIndex...])

The output:

. He's the admin!

And the last one:

let text = "He who laughs last. He's the admin!"
let startIndex = text.index(text.startIndex, offsetBy: 3)
let endIndex = text.index(startIndex, offsetBy: 14)
let substring = String(text[startIndex...endIndex])

The output:

laughs last

As you can see, we need to work with the String.Index types again so the code has multiple lines. We also used Range limited from one side only. This way, you can get the entire substring from a particular index or till a particular index. In the last example, we used the standard Range limited on both sides and we also retrieved the endIndex using the startIndex.   All these slicing operations don't return a String, but the Substring type which is best to convert back to a String right away. It's recommended by Apple in their documentation and one of the reasons for it is that Substring keeps the original String stored in memory, although we don't plan to work with it.


The method allows us to compare two strings alphabetically. We get the result of the comparison through the rawValue property. It contains -1 if the string is before the string given as a parameter, 0 if they are equal and 1 if the string is after one in the parameter:


The output:


Now let's look at 2 more, very useful, String methods.

split() and joined()

From the previous lesson, we know that parsing strings character by character can be rather complicated. Even though we made a fairly simple example. Of course, we'll encounter strings all the time, both in user inputs, e.g. from the console or from input fields in form applications, and in TXT and XML files. Very often, we're given one long string, a line in a file or in the console, in which there are multiple values separated by separators, e.g. commas. In this case, we're talking about the CSV format (Comma-Separated Values). To be sure that we all know what we're talking about, let's look at some sample strings:

Jessie,Brown,Wall Street 10,New York,130 00
.. ... .-.. .- -. -.. ... --- ..-. -
  • The first string clearly represents a user. We could, for example, store users into a CSV file (one per line).
  • The second string is Morse code characters and uses the space character as the separator.
  • The third string is a matrix of 3 columns and 3 rows. The column separator is a comma, whereas the row separator is a semicolon.

We can call the split() method on a String, which takes a separator as a Character. It'll then split the original string using the separator into an array of substrings and return it. This will greatly simplify value extraction from strings for our current intents and purposes.

The joined() method, on the other hand, merges an array of substrings using a separator into a single string. The parameter is the separator. The output of the method is the resulting string. The method can be also called without a parameter, thus joining strings without separators.

Right then, let's see what we've got up until now. We still don't know how to declare objects, users, or even work with multidimensional arrays, i.e. matrices. Nevertheless, we want to make something cool, so we'll settle with making a Morse code message decoder.

Morse code decoder

We'll start out by preparing the program structure, as always. We need two strings for the messages, one for a message in Morse code, the other one will be empty for now and we'll store the results of our efforts there. Next, we need letter definitions (as we had with vowels). Of course, we'll also need the Morse code versions of the letter definitions. We'll use arrays for both definitions this time since Morse letters consist of multiple text characters.

The structure of our program should now look something like this:

// the string which we want to decode
let s = ".. -.-. - ... --- -.-. .. .- .-.."
print("The original message: $s")
// the string with a decoded message
var message = ""

// array definitions
let alphabetChars = ["a", "b","c","d","e","f","g","h","i","j","k","l","m","n","o","p","q","r","s","t","u","v","w","x","y","z"]
let morseChars = [".-", "-...", "-.-.", "-..", ".", "..-.", "--.", "....", "..", ".---", "-.-", ".-..", "--", "-.", "---", ".--.", "--.-", ".-.", "...", "-", "..-", "...-", ".--", "-..-", "-.--", "--.."]

Why we defined the alphabet as an array too? It'll save us a lot of effort when searching for a character by the Morse character representation. Otherwise, we'd have to deal with conversion of an Array.Index to a String.Index and the code would be much longer.

We could also add other Morse characters such as numbers and punctuation marks, but we won't worry about them for now. We'll split the String s with the split() method into an array of substrings containing the Morse characters. We'll split it by the space character. Then we'll iterate over the array using a for in loop:

// splitting the string into Morse characters
let characters = s.split(separator: " ")

// iterating over Morse characters
for morseChar in characters {


Ideally, we should somehow deal with cases when the user enters e.g. multiple spaces between characters (users often do things of the sort). In this case, split() creates one more empty substring in the array. We should then detect it in the loop and ignore it, but we won't deal with that in this lesson.

In the loop, we'll attempt to find the current Morse character in the morseChars array. We'll be interested in its index because when we look at that same index in the alphabetChars array, there will be the corresponding letter. This is mainly because both the arrays contain the same characters which are ordered alphabetically. Let's place the following code into the loop's body:

let index = morseChars.index(of: String(morseChar))

// opening the Optional, character was found
if let index = index {
    message += alphabetChars[index]

We try to find the Morse code character index. If we succeed, we find the corresponding letter in the alphabet and we add it to the message. The += operator works the same as message = message + alphabetChar.

Now, we'll print the message:

println("The decoded message: $message")

The output:

The original message: .. -.-. - ... --- -.-. .. .- .-..
The decoded message: ictsocial

Done! If you want to train some more, you can create a program which would encode a string to the Morse code. The code would be very similar. We'll use the split() and joined() methods several more times throughout our Swift courses.

Special characters and escaping

Strings can contain special characters which are prefixed with backslash \. Mainly, the \n character, which causes a line break anywhere in the text, and \t, which is the tab character.

Let's test them out:

print("First line\nSecond line")

The "\" character indicates a special character sequence in a string and can be used also e.g. to write Unicode characters as \u{xxxx} where xxxx is the character code.

The problem might be when we want to write \ itself, in this case we've to escape it by writing one more \:

print("This is a backslash: \\")

We can escape a quotation mark in the same way, so Swift wouldn't misinterpret it as the end of the string:

print("This is a quotation mark: \"")

Inputs from the console and input fields in form applications are, of course, escaped automatically, so the user wouldn't be able to enter \n, \t, etc.. Programmers are allowed to write these characters in the code, so we have to keep escaping in mind.

Today we basically finished the on-line course on the Swift basic constructs. In the next lesson, Multidimensional arrays in Swift, we'll look at a bonus episode about multidimensional arrays and we'll briefly talk about mathematical functions. Nothing will surprise you from the basic language constructs anymore :) In fact, you could potentially start working with objects now, but I would suggest for you to read the next few lessons. You all still have a long way to go, but your future looks bright!



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