Swift’s print vs dump: A Deep Dive

Swift, Apple’s powerful and expressive language, is full of nuances that can either make your life easier or add a layer of complexity. Two seemingly simple yet profoundly distinct functions in Swift are print and dump. At first glance, both appear to display information, but when you delve deeper, you’ll see that they serve very different purposes. Using the provided sample code, let’s explore their differences.

Sample Code Overview

First, let’s dissect the provided sample:

class Person {
    let name: String
    let surname: String
    let age: Int

    init(name: String, surname: String, age: Int) {
        self.name = name
        self.surname = surname
        self.age = age

let person = Person(name: "John", surname: "Doe", age: 21)

Here, we have a simple Person class that stores an individual’s name, surname, and age. An instance of this class, person, is initialized with the values “John”, “Doe”, and 21, respectively.

The print Function

Let’s first discuss the print function:

print("--- Print ---")

When you run this, you might see something like:

--- Print ---

The print function displays the textual representation of the passed argument. For most Swift standard library types, this function will show a useful and clear representation. For example, if you pass a string or an array to print, it will pretty much show you the content as you’d expect.

However, when you pass a custom object, like our Person instance, you get a default representation (like Person) which isn’t particularly useful.

To make print more informative for custom types, you’d typically have to implement the CustomStringConvertible protocol and provide a description computed property:

extension Person: CustomStringConvertible {
    var description: String {
        return "\(name) \(surname), \(age) years old"

With this in place, print(person) would output:

John Doe, 21 years old

The dump Function

Now, let’s see what happens when we use the dump function:

print("--- Dump ---")

You’ll probably get output like this:

--- Dump ---
▿ Person
  - name: John
  - surname: Doe
  - age: 21

The dump function provides a detailed breakdown of the passed argument. In this case, it shows the internal properties of the Person instance.

This function is especially useful for debugging purposes. You don’t need to implement any additional protocols or provide a custom description. It just inspects the object and presents you with a more in-depth view of its contents.

Performance of print vs dump

Another aspect worth examining between print and dump is their performance impact. While for most casual use cases you might not notice a significant difference, when dealing with large datasets or frequently called operations, understanding the relative costs can be beneficial.

print Performance

The print function, especially when you’re using the default or custom string representations, tends to be lighter on performance. It simply takes an object’s representation and writes it to the standard output. When dealing with simple and small data types, the overhead introduced by print is minimal.

However, when you implement the CustomStringConvertible protocol to give a custom representation, there’s potential overhead depending on the complexity of the description computed property. The more operations and concatenations you perform, the slower it can become, especially if called frequently.

dump Performance

The dump function, being more introspective, can be a bit heavier on performance. It delves deep into the object, revealing not just top-level properties but also nested structures. This deeper dive can introduce more computational overhead, especially when dealing with complex and large objects or hierarchies.

In practice, using dump repeatedly on large structures might slow down your debugging sessions or, if mistakenly used in production code, your application’s performance. It’s designed for detailed introspection, and this depth comes at a cost.

dump and String Interpolation

An interesting quirk about the dump function is its behavior with string interpolation. When you attempt to use dump on a string that contains nested objects via interpolation, such as dump("Test: \(person)"), it doesn’t dissect the object within the string as you might expect. Instead, it treats the whole content similarly to how print would, displaying the string as-is without deeper introspection of the nested object. This can be misleading if you’re expecting the detailed breakdown that dump typically offers. When using dump, it’s best to directly pass the object of interest rather than nesting it inside a string to ensure you get the detailed output you’re seeking.

Structs and Readability in Swift

In Swift, structs enjoy a level of readability that often surpasses that of classes, especially when it comes to debugging and logging. Due to the way Swift’s compiler auto-synthesizes certain functionalities for structs, when you print a struct instance (even when nested inside a string), you usually get a clear and readable output without needing the introspective depth of dump. For example, executing print("Test: \(person)") with a struct version of our Person would yield a detailed output, showcasing all its properties. This inherent readability of structs provides an advantage in clarity, often rendering the use of dump unnecessary.


For general logging and display purposes in production, stick to print. If you need detailed introspection for debugging, use dump but be wary of its performance impact on larger structures. Always test performance in scenarios that mirror real-world usage, especially if logging or data display operations are frequent.

In conclusion, while both print and dump have their unique strengths, it’s essential to be mindful of their performance implications in specific scenarios.


While both print and dump allow you to display information about objects and data in Swift, they serve slightly different purposes:

  • print is for presenting a clean, human-readable representation, often requiring some customization for custom types.
  • dump is more for debugging and introspection, offering a detailed view of the internals of an object or data structure without any additional work on your part.

By understanding and using these functions appropriately, you can make your Swift development and debugging processes much smoother.

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