Whenever Apple releases a new version of Xcode one of the first things that I do is look at the default templates and see if there are any new or interesting things.
This year, with the release of Swift, there are some pretty radical changes. Yet the Core Data stack initialization code is still the same.
There is nothing wrong with the default template code but there isn’t really anything right about it either. It is far better than it once was but it is still overly verbose and hard to follow.
Therefore, I present my Swift Core Data stack code that I will be using as I grok this language.
I very rarely speak out against another blog post. I find the resulting argument back and forth draining. However, there are exceptions and one occurred over the weekend.
Brent Simmons has been blogging about his conversion of Vesper to a Core Data application. A recent post of his titled Core Data and Deleting Objects set my teeth on edge. Brent says:
“The best advice I’ve heard about deleting managed objects is to 1) not do it, or 2) do it only at startup, before any references to those to-be-deleted objects can be made.”
I do not know who is giving Brent advice but he must be playing tricks with him or just trying to wind him up. The advice was simple; don’t delete Core Data objects or if you are going to delete them, delete them at launch.
Will that work? Sure. Is it the right answer? Not even close.
Core Data and NSFetchedResultsController do clever things under-the-hood to improve performance, such as loading data in batches as it’s needed. But there’s a gotcha with grouping data with sectionNameKeyPath than can cause a big hit in performance. Check this out.
Importing data is a problem that feels like it should have a library of work ready for you to use. Especially when it comes to importing data into Core Data where you have a description of your data to work with. What if there was such a library, or reusable framework, of importing code that basically converts raw data to Core Data entities? Well, wonder no further because in this post, I’ll be discussing a new addition to the MagicalRecord toolset, MagicalImport available now on Github!
Whether you subscribe to Test Driven Development (TDD) or another testing practice, when it comes automated unit testing with Core Data, things can be a little tricky. But if you keep it simple, and take things step by step, you can get up and running with unit testing using Core Data fairly quickly. We’ll explore the what, how and why of unit testing with Core Data. We’ll also be using the helper library MagicalRecord. MagicalRecord not only lets us get up and running faster, but helps to cut down on the noise in our tests.
A few months ago I wrote here about a generic approach to safely take incoming JSON and save values to Core Data object. The goals of that code were twofold:
- Provide a safe, generic alternative to Cocoa’s
-setValuesForKeysWithDictionary:for use with NSManagedObject and its subclasses
- Handle cases where JSON data didn’t match up with what the managed objects expected. Getting a string where you expect a numeric value, or vice versa, for example, or getting a string representation of a date when you want a real NSDate object.
The first item was the most important. It’s tempting to use
-setValuesForKeysWithDictionary: to transfer JSON to a model object in one step. The method runs through the dictionary and calls
-setValue:forKey: on the target object for every entry. It has a fatal flaw though, in that it doesn’t check to see if the target object actually has a key before trying to set it. Using this method when you don’t have absolute control over the dictionary contents is an invitation to unknown key exceptions and nasty app crashes.
Fixing this for managed objects was relatively easy because Core Data provides convenient Objective-C introspection methods. The general approach was:
- Get a list of the target object’s attributes
- For each attribute, see if the incoming dictionary has an entry. If so,
- Compare the incoming type to the expected type, and convert if necessary.
-setValue:forKey:with that key and its value.
And then just last week I had the thought, wouldn’t it be nice if this worked for any object, not just for managed objects?
Recently on [StackOverflow](http://stackoverflow.com) I have seen several questions regarding the desire for a parent Entity to be updated whenever an attribute within the child has changed.
There are several different ways to solve this problem. The easiest is to have the child ping the parent whenever it changes and then the parent can update any values it needs to as a result of that ping.
*Note: This is a re-print from the Mac Developer Network.*
One of the nice things about developing software for OS X is all the “freebies” we get out of Cocoa. For example, when we are building a UI with text input we get undo support for free! How cool is that?
Likewise, when we are working with Core Data, it also has undo support built right in. Every `NSManagedObjectContext` has a NSUndoManager that we can use. However there are some situations where the default undo support is insufficient.
In this article we are going to walk through one such situation.
*Note: This is a re-print from the Mac Developer Network.*
I tend to frequent the StackOverflow website and watch for questions about Core Data. Generally if it is a question I can answer I will and if it is a question I can’t answer then I really dig in for a fun session of exploration and attempt to find the answer.
Core Data has many features, one of which is the Transient attribute. This type of attribute on a Core Data entity is part of a data model, but is not persisted in your Core Data persistent store. If you open up the raw SQLite store file and peek at the schema, you will not find any transient attributes. These transient attributes are still handy despite no data being persisted to the data store. One useful scenario is when a value is calculated based on other attributes. This calculation can be performed in an entity’s awakeFromFetch method, and stored at run time in this transient attribute.
One scenario I’ve been asked about on more than one occasion recently is that of temporary, or transient entities. It seems that more and more developers have a need for temporary, or transient instances of entities in your Mac or iOS apps. Having temporary object instances can be useful and necessary in certain situations. Unfortunately, Transient Entities do not technically exist within the Core Data framework, however there are simple solutions to add temporary, un-persisted, data within the context of Core Data. Let’s go over some methods to effectively use the concept of Transient, or more appropriately Temporary Entities in Core Data without direct built-in support.
Hi, I’m new here. You may know me as @atomicbird on Twitter. Just a few days ago my book Core Data for iOS: Developing Data-Driven Applications for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch (co-written with the excellent Tim Isted) was published, and Matt invited me to contribute some Core Data tips to CIMGF. I’m going to start off discussing taking JSON data from a web service and converting it to Core Data storage. Along the way I’ll cover how to inspect managed objects to find out what attributes they have and what the attribute types are.
Publishing lead times being what they are, this post covers information not included in the book.
I know I mentioned we would talk about customizing the fetch requests, however, I have been working on some code related to the Active Record Fetching project, which I am renaming to MagicalRecord, that is also just as useful as fetching–threading.
Whenever most cocoa developers mention threading and Core Data in the same sentence, the reaction I see most often is that of mysticism and disbelief. For one, multithreaded programming in general is hard–hard to design correctly, hard to write correctly, and debugging threads is just asking for trouble. Introducing Core Data into that mix can seem like the straw that broke the camel’s back. However, by following a few simple rules and guidelines, and codifying them into a super simple pattern, one that may be familiar to you, we can achieve safer Core Data threading without the common headaches.
First up, I want to thank Matt Long and Marcus Zarra for allowing me to guest post on CIMGF. This post is the first in a short series of topics describing how to I’ve made using Core Data a little simpler without giving up the power features you still need. The full project from which this series is derived is available on github.
Core Data, for both iPhone and Mac, is a very powerful framework for persisting your objects out of memory, and into a more permanent storage medium. With the enormous power of Core Data, it can be easy to slip into the trap of thinking that Core Data is very complex.
**This article is reprinted from the MDN**
The documentation on Core Data for the iPhone has lead to some confusion about how best to use Core Data on a Cocoa Touch device. One particular section seems to be the most confusing, specifically:
> A view controller typically shouldn’t retrieve the context from a global object such as the application delegate. This tends to make the application architecture rigid. Neither should a view controller typically create a context for its own use. This may mean that operations performed using the controller’s context aren’t registered with other contexts, so different view controllers will have different perspectives on the data.
> When you create a view controller, you pass it a context. You pass an existing context, or (in a situation where you want the new controller to manage a discrete set of edits) a new context that you create for it. It’s typically the responsibility of the application delegate to create a context to pass to the first view controller that’s displayed.
The idea behind this section is the issue of rigidity. Ideally, each view controller should be an island on its own. It should not rely on its parent, nor should it rely on the Application Delegate. Once a view controller is pushed onto the screen it should ideally be its own master.
## Why Rigidity is bad
It is fairly common when designing a Cocoa Touch application to “hard code” everything. Take the following navigation controller design:
![Navigation Controller Design](http://www.cimgf.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Image1.png “Standard Navigation Controller Design”)
When this design, it is common to code each view controller and make it “aware” of its parent. In that design, it would be common to see view controller B call methods or call back (to its delegate) view controller A. While there is nothing technically wrong with this design, it is very rigid. It is nearly impossible to either move view controller B to another location in the stack or to reuse view controller B somewhere else. This is the trap that the documentation is trying to help new developers avoid.
## Solution One
Again using a standard/normal navigation controller design, it is expected that the detail flows from left to right. The left most (or root) view controller contains the most vague information and the right most (or deepest) view controller contains the greatest detail.
In this case then the best solution is to use a `UIFetchedResultsController`. This controller can be considered a thin layer between the view controllers and the Core Data bits. The advantage is that the `UIFetchedResultsController` is designed to work with tables. The other advantage is that your least detailed view (the root most likely) can listen as the delegate of the `UIFetchedResultsController` for changes and update itself.
In this design, however, instead of passing around a context, you would hand off just the entity that the child view controller needs to know about. The Core Data Recipes example provided by Apple illustrates this design quite well.
How does this break rigidity? Each view controller, from the root on down, only knows what is passed into it. The root gets the `UIFetchedResultsController` passed into it. The child views only get the items it cares about passed into it. None of them care what their parent view controller is. There is no call back to a parent.
## Solution two
What happens when we don’t have a typical navigation controller design? Perhaps a child view can pop up a modal view that displays different information. Perhaps a child view, for whatever reason needs to access information that cannot be directly passed into it every time.
In these cases there are a few different options.
### View already has a `NSManagedObject`
Following our example above, lets say that view controller C needs to create a new object. Perhaps it is a detail view of a recipe and the user wants to add a new recipe type (perhaps she is a vegan and just discovered there is no vegan type in the list). In this case we have passed in an entity (the recipe) but not a reference to the `NSManagedObjectContext`. Fortunately this solution is easy to fix. The `NSManagedObject` retains a reference to its `NSManagedObjectContext` internally and we can access it. Therefore we can easily retrieve the `NSManagedObjectContext` from the `NSManagedObject` and create the new Type entity and pass it to the modal child or whatever our design calls for.
This again avoids rigidity because the view controller that represents the entity does not need to call up to a parent object or the `UIApplication` delegate. It is self contained and only manages view controllers that are down stream from it.
### View does not have a `NSManagedObject`
In this situation things are *slightly* more complicated. In this case we want to create a `@property` for the `NSManagedObjectContext` and require that our creator set the property.
@interface MyViewController : ViewController
@property (nonatomic, retain) NSManagedObjectContext *moc;
Again, the view controller is an island of its own because it does not care where that `NSManagedObjectContext` came from. All it knows is that it is required for the view to function. It does not care of it is a new `NSManagedObjectContext` specifically created for its use (perhaps for a cancelable edit tree) or if it is the same `NSManagedObjectContext` that has been passed around since the launch of the application. All it knows is that it has the elements it needs to perform its function.
By making the `NSManagedObjectContext` a settable property we can also transplant the view easily. If, at some point in the project lifecycle, we decide that it makes more sense to have the following design:
![Modal View Controller](http://www.cimgf.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Image3.png “Modal View Controller”)
Taking from Apple’s Recipes Application, perhaps we decide that moving from the table view directly to the image of the recipe is more pleasing to the users and that when they want to see how to make it they can “flip” the image over and see the detail.
Making this change with each view controller being an island is quite simple. We just rearrange the views without having to worry too much about breaking the application.
## Solution three
Up until now we have been looking at just a navigation controller design. But what about tab bars? In the situation of a tab bar we again want to avoid rigidity because it is even more common that tabs will get moved around.
The solution to this is to again use a `@property` for the `NSManagedObjectContext` and require that the creator set this property before the view is displayed on screen. If you are creating the tabs in code this is trivial because you are already calling init on the view controller and you can add one more line of code after the init to set the property.
If the user interface is being developed mostly in Interface Builder it is slightly more tricky. Personally I am not a fan of creating navigation controllers or tab bar controllers in Interface Builder. However if that is the design then I would recommend referencing the view controllers as properties and passing along the context upon initialization of the application. It may be possible to do this entirely in Interface Builder but I am not comfortable enough to recommend that as a solution.
The overall idea behind this article is to keep each view controller separate from anything up stream or in a different silo. This will make the design far more flexible in the long run. Any time that you feel the “need” to pass in a parent view controller to a child view controller, reconsider the design. Consider using a `@protocol` delegate design or NSNotification calls instead. Keep each view controller as its own private island.
Just a quick post to point out a great article written by Nick Harris of NewsGator fame. He has looked into the issues with Core Data and encryption.
It has always been a difficult question and fortunately Apple has addressed it for us. Even better, Nick has shared the code so we don’t even need to try and discover the solution ourselves.