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AsyncSequence explained with Code Examples

AsyncSequence is part of the concurrency framework and the SE-298 proposal. Its name implies it’s a type providing asynchronous, sequential, and iterated access to its elements. In other words: it’s an asynchronous variant of the regular sequence we’re familiar with in Swift.

Like you won’t often create your custom Sequence I don’t expect you to create a custom AsyncSequence implementation often. However, you’ll likely have to work with an asynchronous sequence due to working with types like AsyncThrowingStream and AsyncStream. Therefore, I’ll guide you through the usage of working with AsyncSequence instances.

What is an AsyncSequence?

An AsyncSequence is an asynchronous variant of the Sequence we’re familiar with in Swift. Due to its asynchronous fashion, we need to use the await keyword since we’re dealing with async-defined methods. I encourage you to read my article Async await in Swift explained with code examples if you’re new to async/await.

Values can become available over time, meaning that an AsyncSequence can contain none, some, or all of its values by the first time you use it.

It’s important to understand that AsyncSequence is just a protocol. It defines how to access values but doesn’t generate or contain values. Implementors of the AsyncSequence protocol provide an AsyncIterator and take care of developing and potentially storing values.

Creating a custom AsyncSequence

To better understand how an AsyncSequence works, I will demonstrate an example implementation. However, you probably want to use an AsyncStream instead when defining your custom implementation of an AsyncSequence since it’s more convenient to set up. Therefore, this is just a code example to understand better how an AsyncSequence works.

The following example follows the example given by the original proposal and implements a counter. The values are available right away, so there’s not much need for an asynchronous sequence. However, it does demonstrate the underlying structure of an AsyncSequence.

struct Counter: AsyncSequence {
    typealias Element = Int

    let limit: Int

    struct AsyncIterator : AsyncIteratorProtocol {
        let limit: Int
        var current = 1
        mutating func next() async -> Int? {
            guard !Task.isCancelled else {
                return nil
            }

            guard current <= limit else {
                return nil
            }

            let result = current
            current += 1
            return result
        }
    }

    func makeAsyncIterator() -> AsyncIterator {
        return AsyncIterator(howHigh: limit)
    }
}

As you can see, we defined a Counter struct that implements the AsyncSequence protocol. The protocol requires us to return a custom AsyncIterator which we solved using an internal type. We could decide to rewrite this example to take away the need for an internal type:

struct Counter: AsyncSequence, AsyncIteratorProtocol {
    typealias Element = Int

    let limit: Int
    var current = 1

    mutating func next() async -> Int? {
        guard !Task.isCancelled else {
            return nil
        }

        guard current <= limit else {
            return nil
        }

        let result = current
        current += 1
        return result
    }

    func makeAsyncIterator() -> Counter {
        self
    }
}

We can now return self as the iterator and keep all logic centralized.

Note that we have to help the compiler by providing the typealias to conform to the AsyncSequence protocol.

The next() method takes care of iterating overall values. Our example comes down to providing as many counted values until we reach the limit. We implement cancellation support by making checking for Task.isCancelled. You can read more about tasks and cancellations here.

Iterating over an Asynchronous Sequence

Now that we know what an AsyncSequence is and how it’s implemented under the hood, it’s time to start iterating over the values.

Taking the above example, we could start iterating using the Counter:

for await count in Counter(limit: 5) {
    print(count)
}
print("Counter finished")

// Prints:
// 1
// 2
// 3
// 4
// 5
// Counter finished

We have to use the await keyword since we might receive values asynchronously. We exit the for loop once there are no values to be expected anymore. Implementors of an asynchronous sequence can indicate reaching the limit by returning nil in the next() method. In our case, we’ll reach that point once the counter reaches the configured limit or when the iteration cancels:

mutating func next() async -> Int? {
    guard !Task.isCancelled else {
        return nil
    }

    guard current <= limit else {
        return nil
    }

    let result = current
    current += 1
    return result
}

Many of the regular Sequence operators are also available for asynchronous sequences. The result is that we can perform operations like mapping and filtering in an asynchronous manner.

For example, we could filter for even numbers only:

for await count in Counter(limit: 5).filter({ $0 % 2 == 0 }) {
    print(count)
}
print("Counter finished")

// Prints: 
// 2
// 4
// Counter finished

Or we could map the count to a String before iterating:

let counterStream = Counter(limit: 5)
    .map { $0 % 2 == 0 ? "Even" : "Odd" }
for await count in counterStream {
    print(count)
}
print("Counter finished")

// Prints:
// Odd
// Even
// Odd
// Even
// Odd
// Counter finished

We could even use the AsyncSequence without a for loop by using methods like contains:

let contains = await Counter(limit: 5).contains(3)
print(contains) // Prints: true

Note that the above method is asynchronous, meaning that it could potentially wait endlessly for a value to exist until the underlying AsyncSequence finishes.

Continuing your journey into Swift Concurrency

If you like what you’ve read about async sequences, you might enjoy the other concurrency topics as well:

Conclusion

AsyncSequence is an asynchronous alternative to the regular Sequence we’re familiar with in Swift. Like you would not often create a custom Sequence yourself, it’s unlikely you’ll create custom asynchronous sequences either. Instead, I’ll recommend having a look at AsyncStreams.

If you like to learn more tips on Swift, check out the Swift category page. Feel free to contact me or tweet me on Twitter if you have any additional tips or feedback.

Thanks!

 

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