The sync closure

func processTwoNumbers(_ num1: Int, _ num2: Int, handler: (Int, Int) -> ()) {
    handler(num1, num2)

processTwoNumbers(10, 22, handler: { num1, num2 in 
    print(num1 + num2)

In the above, the handler is called in a sync matter. Same as below

(1...100).forEach { val in

Uniqueness: The block passed in is executed immediately at the call site.

The async closure — block isn’t stored.

enum Result {
    case success(Data?)
    case failure(Error?)

func startFlow(handler: @escaping (Result) -> ()) {
    let url = URL(string: "")!
    let task = URLSession.shared.dataTask(with: url) { data, response, error in
        if error == nil {
        } else {

Uniqueness: handler block is called by the startFlow function. Execution of the block is within the function itself. It gets called after some asynchronous operation.

The async closure — block is stored.

So you’d have the following definitions:

enum Result {
    case success
    case error

class FlowManager {
    var _exitHandler: ((Result) -> ())?
    func startFlow(exitHandler: @escaping o(Result) -> ()) {
        _exitHandler = exitHandler

    func handleFlowExit(result: Result) {

💡Uniqueness: exitHandler is not called by the startFlow function! exitHandler is called later. You don’t know really when. You’d have to look where it gets stored. And then where that stored block gets executed.

The usage would be something like:

class Controller {
    var flowManager = FlowManager()
    func start() {
         { [weak self] result in
            switch result {   
            case .success: self?.showSuccessScreen() // Line A
            case .error: self?.showFailureScreen // Line B
    func showSuccessScreen() {
    func showFailureScreen() {

Ask yourself: When do Lines A and B get executed?

Obviously, unlike the first example, they do not get executed before start() is finished.

More importantly, unlike the second example, the execution of the block passed in, is not controlled by the startFlow function. Instead the block is executed whenever handleFlowExit is called. But that’s not clear from the callsite at all!

Why would you want to do something like this?

When you want to tie blocks of code together — even though they’re not chained after another i.e. they’re just semantically related, but one block will execute now, the other depending on UX / business logic will execute later.

A real world example would be:
You start a flow. Your flow has five view controllers. At then end of the fifth view controller, you pop the viewcontroller and come all the way back to your root viewcontroller. Your handleFlowExit is called then, while its block is defined within the startFlow function.

Could the code be written differently?

Sure. It’s just that the event is multiple classes away from the class that can actually handle the event and you didn’t architecture things to be in a delegate based way.

So why did I mention all this?

To say that the following signature:

func startFlow(handler: @escaping (Result) -> ()) {

can operate differently between the second and third example. Having good documentation becomes key for diffrentiating and clarifying when the callback is called by the function itself vs another function/event.

Well it just so happens that background tasks are of the third way.

The expirationHandler is NOT executed by beginBackgroundTask(expirationHandler:) function.

Rather the block gets stored. And executed later — if the timeout was near and you haven’t called endBackgroundTask(_:) yet. I took my many many looks at:

var backgroundTaskID: UIBackgroundTaskIdentifier = .invalid
backgroundTaskID = UIApplication.shared.beginBackgroundTask() {

And always thought UIApplication.shared.beginBackgroundTask() is getting executed similar to our second example i.e. its block is about to get executed and the delay is just do due general async mechanics. That’s incorrect. It’s better read as such:

UIApplication.shared.tellOSIhaveATask(expirationHandler_whichGetsStored_andToBeCalledIfNeeded_inAbout30Seconds: {

tldr Think of expirationHandler as a parameter that gets passed around. It’s semantically different from most other compeletionHandlers iOS has

UIApplication internal implementation

From my understanding the internal architecture of UIApplication is something like this:

import Foundation 

typealias UIBackgroundTaskIdentifier = String

class UIApplication { 
    var _expirationHandler: (() -> Void)?
    var currentBackgroundTaskID: String? 
    func beginBackgroundTask(expirationHandler handler: (() -> Void)? = nil) -> UIBackgroundTaskIdentifier {
        _expirationHandler = handler
        return UUID().uuidString
    // After 25 seconds, checks to see if task is expired. Otherwise it will call the expirationHandler. 
    // The `expirationHandler` should call `endBackgroundTask`. Nonetheless due to programming mistake it's possible that it doesn't get called. 
    func scheduleExpirationCheck() {
        Timer.scheduledTimer(withTimeInterval: 25, repeats: false) { [weak self] _ in
            guard let self = self else { return }
            if self.currentBackgroundTaskID == "invalid" {
                // task has already ended. We don't need to end it.
            } else if let currentBackgroundTaskID = self.currentBackgroundTaskID {
                // task took too long. Let's call its expirationHandler before we suspend the app
    // Marks a taskIdentifier as invalid. 
    func endBackgroundTask(_ identifier: UIBackgroundTaskIdentifier) {
        currentBackgroundTaskID = "invalid"
    // Is called 5 seconds after the expirationHandler. It terminates the app if user didn't end the task in their expirationHandler.
    func terminateAppIfNeeded() {
        Timer.scheduledTimer(withTimeInterval: 5, repeats: false) { [weak self] _ in
            guard let self = self else { return }
            if self.currentBackgroundTaskID == "invalid" {
                // good! programmer called `endBackgroundTask(self.currentBackgroundTaskID)` from within their `expirationHandler`
            } else {
                // Terrible code!
                fatalError("terminate the app, as 25 + 5 seconds has passed but the user never told the OS that the task has ended!")

How are things different in +iOS13?

You don’t use beginBackgroundTask(expirationHandler:). Instead you use the BackgroundTasks framework. A lot of things change with that, but that’s beyond the scope of this article. The API is cleaner i.e. specifically for expiration, there is a property named expirationHandler that you need to set:

task.expirationHandler = {


Not every block is to be considered a completionHandler. Some blocks get stored for later execution. Some blocks may never get executed. It all just depends on the logic. The expirationHandler parameter of the beginBackgroundTask is a block that gets stored and may or may not get executed later.

Also see

Apple forums: UIApplication Background Task Notes. It addressses a lot of commons questions.