Loading and Saving in SwiftUI

To help me learn SwiftUI, Permanent Marker is primarily developed with that framework.

One of the first problems I had to solve: How do I handle loading / editing / saving files in SwiftUI? Here are the constraints I had:

  • Loading and saving files are async operations.
  • I don’t want to save on every keystroke. Instead, I want to autosave at periodic intervals.
  • However, when I’m done editing a file, I want to save any outstanding changes right away (rather than waiting for the autosave timer).

I’ve put together a sample app that shows the main parts of my solution. The core idea is a class I call FileBuffer. A FileBuffer manages:

  • The in-memory copy of the file contents
  • A flag isLoading that is true if the in-memory copy of the file has not yet been loaded from disk.
  • A flag isDirty that is true if the in-memory copy of the file contents have changed, and therefore needs to be saved back to disk.
  • FileBuffer manages autosaving dirty file contents at periodic intervals…
  • …while also exposing a save() method that saves the file contents right now.

Here are the key parts of FileBuffer. First, note its declaration: this is a @MainActor ObservableObject because its primary job is to communicate “truth” to UI elements.

final class FileBuffer: ObservableObject, Identifiable {
  // ...

Each FileBuffer exposes publishes three properties, only one of which (text) is settable. The isDirty and isLoading properties change as side-effects of other operations inside of FileBuffer.

  /// The in-memory copy of the file.
  /// This is a computed property! More details later.
  var text: String { get set }

  /// If true, this buffer contains changes that have not yet been saved.
  @Published private(set) var isDirty = false

  /// If true, the contents of the buffer have not yet been read from disk
  @Published private(set) var isLoading = true

When you first create a FileBuffer, isLoading starts as true. Once the contents of the file have been loaded from disk, isLoading becomes false and remains false for the remainder of the lifetime of the FileBuffer.

isDirty becomes true any time you make a change to text, and stays true until those changes have been saved to disk.

Speaking of text, let’s take a look at how that is implemented:

  /// The actual file contents. The stored property is private and is exposed through the computed property ``text``
  private var _text = ""

  /// Gets/sets the in-memory copy of the file contents.
  /// Setting the in-memory copy of the file contents sets ``isDirty`` to `true` and makes sure that autosave will run some time in the future.
  var text: String {
    get {
      assert(!isLoading, "Shouldn't read the value of `text` until it is loaded.")
      return _text
    set {
      assert(!isLoading, "Shouldn't write the value of `text` until it is loaded.")
      _text = newValue
      isDirty = true

Basically, the computed property text is responsible for three things:

  1. Validity checking: You shouldn’t be accessing text until the file contents have been loaded.
  2. Maintaining isDirty: Any time you change text, isDirty needs to get set to true.
  3. Ensuring that autosave will run after changes get made to text.

What is the “autosave task”? It’s an example of a technique I’ve been using in my apps that support Swift Structured Concurrency — to my brain, it’s the most natural way to say, “Run a function exactly once at some point in the future.” Here’s what that code looks like:

  private(set) var autosaveTask: Task<Void, Never>?

  /// Creates an autosave task, if needed.
  /// The autosave task will save the contents of the buffer at a point in the future.
  /// This lets you batch up saves versus trying to save on each keystroke.
  private func createAutosaveTaskIfNeeded() {
    guard autosaveTask == nil else { return }
    autosaveTask = Task {
      try? await Task.sleep(until: .now + .seconds(5), clock: .continuous)
      try? await save()
      autosaveTask = nil

Here’s how it works.

  • The private autosaveTask property serves as a flag to know if autosave has been scheduled to run in the future. If it’s nil, then there’s no autosave; if it’s non-nil, the autosave will run. While I don’t take advantage of this here, in this pattern I use a Task? instead of a Bool for this flag so you can write something like _ = await autosaveTask?.value to wait until the current task completes.
  • The first thing the autosave task does is sleep for some duration. I picked a fairly long one in this test code to make it easier to see delays.
  • After waiting, the task runs save() and clears the autosave task.

The final outcome of this work: As you type away in a document, repeatedly setting the text property and changing the in-memory copy of the file, the first change will create an autosave task. Subsequent changes within the autosave window will see that the task exists, so won’t create a new task. Finally, after the delay, the FileBuffer will save its contents to disk. The next change that happens to text will create a new autosave task.

save() is an interesting method. I got it wrong two times while working on this sample. This was my first attempt:

  func save() async throws {
    guard isDirty else { return }

    try await FakeFileSystem.shared.saveFile(_text, filename: filename)
    isDirty = false

Simple and elegant! If isDirty is false, there are no changes to save. Otherwise, save the changes and set isDirty to false. It turns out this code is also buggy. There is a race condition. Can you see it? (As an aside, I still haven’t fully internalized “running code on a single actor does not mean there are no race conditions.” I keep making mistakes like this.)

Here’s the race condition:

  1. Change text to some value, like “version 1.” This sets isDirty to true.
  2. Call save(). You see isDirty is true, so you continue.
  3. You get to the point where you await saveFile(), and this operation suspends until the save completes.
  4. (This is the part I always forget can happen.) While waiting for the operation in Step 3 above to complete, change text to some new value, like “version 2.” This sets isDirty to true.
  5. The operation in Step 3 completes, and you resume executing save() after the await statement, setting isDirty to false. This is the bug. The value of text is “version 2”, and this hasn’t been saved to disk yet, so isDirty should be true. Since we set it to false, we’ll never save the string “version 2” to disk (unless something comes along and makes another change).

This was my first attempt to fix the race condition:

  func save() async throws {
    guard isDirty else { return }

    isDirty = false
    try await FakeFileSystem.shared.saveFile(_text, filename: filename)

This code looks wrong to me. “Surely,” my brain says, “you don’t want to set isDirty to false until you’ve saved the file?” However, waiting until the save finishes opens the door to the race condition described above. Setting isDirty = false before saving means that, when the code suspends in the await statement, any future changes to text will properly set isDirty back to true and we won’t overwrite that when we resume from the await. It fixes the race. However, this code creates a new bug. What happens if the saveFile() call fails? We’ve set isDirty = false, but we didn’t actually save the contents to disk, so isDirty should be true at the end of the function.

This leads to my third and hopefully final version of this function:

  func save() async throws {
    guard isDirty else { return }

    isDirty = false
    do {
      try await FakeFileSystem.shared.saveFile(_text, filename: filename)
    } catch {
      // If there was an error, we need to reset `isDirty`
      isDirty = true
      throw error

At this point, FileBuffer contains enough logic to connect files to SwiftUI. Here is an example of how to use a FileBuffer:

/// Creates a `TextEditor` that can edit the contents of a `FileBuffer`
struct FileEditor: View {
  @ObservedObject var buffer: FileBuffer

  var body: some View {
    Group {
      // (1)
      if buffer.isLoading {
      } else {
        // (2)
        TextEditor(text: $buffer.text)
    .navigationTitle((buffer.isDirty ? "• " : "") + buffer.filename)
    // (3)
    .onDisappear {
      Task {
        try? await buffer.save()
    // (4)

A quick guide to understanding this code:

  1. Remember to check the isLoading property on the buffer so you don’t attempt to read or write invalid contents!

  2. If you know the buffer has loaded, you can get a binding to the in-memory copy of the file with $buffer.text. Making changes through this binding will create an auto-save task that will ensure the changes get written at some later point in time.

  3. However, when we are done with this view, we want to save its contents immediately, rather than waiting for the auto-save task to run.

  4. If you forget the .id(buffer.filename) line, then the .onDisappear block might not run! Without this line, switching from one file to another could reuse the same FileEditor instance. An instance doesn’t “disappear” if it’s reused. The .id(buffer.filename) causes SwiftUI to treat FileEditors for different files as different View instances, which means .onDisappear will run.

    Incidentally, this is one of those SwiftUI cases where the order of modifiers matters. The code above works. This code doesn’t:

    .onDisappear {
      Task {
        try? await buffer.save()

    This is another one of those things I often get wrong! My mental model is that all of the view modifiers are setting properties on some object, whereas what really happens is each view modifier creates a new View with with a new property. In the broken code above, the .id modifier creates a new View with the id property set, and then the .onDisappear modifier creates yet another new View with an onDisappear block. That “onDisappear” view doesn’t have an id property tied to the filename, so the “onDisppear” View doesn’t actually disappear when the filename changes, so the “onDisappear” block doesn’t run. (At least I think this is what’s happening. I don’t know if my SwiftUI mental model is the best.)

I’m not sure this is the best way to work with files in SwiftUI, but it works for me. As you can see, there is some surprisingly tricky issues to work through. I hope this writeup helps others who are working on editing files in SwiftUI!

(A sample working SwiftUI app with all of the code referenced here is available at https://github.com/bdewey/SavingInSwiftUI.)