Keeping up with Open Source Swift

Editor’s note: If you’re looking for a quick way to start working with Swift now, try out our apt-get repository for Ubuntu.

Only weeks ago Apple released its Swift language into the open source community. Since then its various repositories have quickly climbed into the trending pages on Github. The projects are moving fast with thousands of commits a week and features being implemented on a daily basis. While one can certainly download the official SNAPSHOT release from the Swift downloads page, to stay on the bleeding edge you’ll want to learn how to compile your own release.

Getting Started

To effectively work with building Swift from the Github repositories you’re going to need a system with a decent amount of CPU and RAM. I’m personally using an 8-core desktop with 8G of RAM. In addition I suggest compiling against an SSD drive with an EXT4 filesystem. While I trust my long term data storage to ZFS with deduplication, I don’t want to compile against it.

Note: We’re using Ubuntu 14.04, and Apple also supports 15.10. I haven’t even tried building on a pure Debian release or RedHat installation.

First, let’s install some prerequisites:

sudo apt-get install git cmake ninja-build clang uuid-dev libicu-dev icu-devtools libbsd-dev libedit-dev libxml2-dev libsqlite3-dev swig libpython-dev libncurses5-dev pkg-config

If you are on Ubuntu 14.04 you will also need to upgrade to Clang 3.6:

sudo apt-get install clang-3.6
sudo update-alternatives --install /usr/bin/clang clang /usr/bin/clang-3.6 100
sudo update-alternatives --install /usr/bin/clang++ clang++ /usr/bin/clang++-3.6 100

Now we need to check out (sorry, clone) all of the repositories needed to “build Swift”. You might think that means just cloning the apple/swift repository, but you would be mistaken. We need to clone all of the following repositories, making sure to clone them into the prescribed directory names:

mkdir apple # You will want to do this where you have at least 4-6G of free space
cd apple
git clone swift
git clone llvm
git clone clang
git clone lldb
git clone cmark
git clone llbuild
git clone swiftpm
git clone
git clone

The swift repository comes with a build script that will be responsible for building everything, and it expects the swift, llvm, clang, etc. directories to be peers to one another.


While not quite as bad as building the Linux kernel, compiling Swift does take a while, particularly the first time. On my system it took roughly 40 minutes to compile and package everything. Rebuilding after updating the repository contents took around 7 minutes with no changes to the source, with most of that time spent executing the post-build testcases.

We’re going to use the buildbot_linux preset for the swift/utils/build-script utility. The preset is defined in build-presets.ini. Here you can see that it goes through specific build and install stages:

Here we go! In your ~/apple directory, or where you checked out all of the repositories:

./swift/utils/build-script --preset=buildbot_linux_1404 install_destdir=/tmp/install installable_package=/tmp/swift.tar.gz

You’ll notice our exact preset was buildbot_linux_1404, which for the time being is an alias to buildbot_linux. If you are building on an Ubuntu 15.10 system you can use builtbot_linux_1510. If you prefer you can choose a different install_destdir and installable_package.

The output of the packaging step is a standard /usr/ directory layout with:

/usr/binThe swift compiler, lldb debugger, and various other tools get put here.
/usr/includeFor now this contains only lldb include headers.
/usr/libAll of the libraries, shared and static, that make up the Swift environment are here. For example,,, etc.
/usr/localThe packaging builtbot creates this directory but nothing lies within.
/usr/shareFor now a single man page is included! Go ahead, try it out with man swift.

To test out your new Swift compiler:

cd /tmp/install
./usr/bin/swift --version
Swift version 2.2-dev (LLVM 7bae82deaa, Clang 4b3278bec5, Swift 0cc49187bb)
Target: x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu

The 2.2-dev information is baked into the source code in Version.cpp by gleaning the information from CMakeLists.txt. The hex strings for LLVM, Clang, and Swift are, you guessed it, the git hash that the binary was built from.

Swift man page
Swift man page

Updating and Rebuilding

To keep current with the latest submissions to the repositories you can use the update-checkout helper script:

./swift/utils/update-checkout --all

After updating to rebuild (without cleaning) use the previous command:

./swift/utils/build-script --preset=buildbot_linux_1404 install_destdir=/tmp/install installable_package=/tmp/swift.tar.gz

To run a distclean of sorts just remove the build/buildbot_linux directory that was created in your top-level directory, or you can selectively remove subdirectories within buildbot_linux to retrigger a build of that component. For example, if we want to clean out the artifacts for Foundation and the Swift Package Manager and then rebuild:

rm -rf build/buildbot_linux/foundation-linux-x86_64 build/buildbot_linux/swiftpm-linux-x86_64
./swift/utils/build-script --preset=buildbot_linux_1404 install_destdir=/tmp/install installable_package=/tmp/swift.tar.gz


I am a fan of using the /opt/vendor directory structure for vendor packages. Once the build is complete you can use rsync to get it placed in an appropriate directory.

sudo rsync -a /tmp/install/ /opt/apple/swift-2.2/

Note: If you aren’t familiar with rsync be aware that trailing slashes are important!

Update your PATH to include /opt/apple/swift-2.2/usr/bin and you should be good to go! Try out your own personal Swift build with the Swift Package Manager.

Get the Code

We’ve include some helper scripts on Github.

git clone

Start with running to clone all of the required Github repositories. Then for your first build, run and go watch an episode Walking Dead or Game of Thrones. When you get back you should have an install directory with your own version of Swift.

To refresh your sources run and then rebuild with

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