Down with Magic Strings!
Developing iOS apps in Xcode is pretty great. With Objective-C and llvm we get type checking and autocompletion of all our classes and method names which is a nice improvement over my favorite dynamic languages. Unfortunately there are still some places where the compiler can’t help us. There are various resources we load from files like images, nibs & xibs and other resources which we need to specify by name, like a view controller we want to load from a storyboard.
NSFetchedResultsController -sectionNameKeyPath discussion
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.
Saving JSON to Core Data
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.
Many technologies we use as Cocoa/Cocoa Touch developers stand untouched by the faint of heart because often we simply don’t understand them and employing them can seem a daunting task. One of those technologies is found in Core Animation and is referred to as the CATiledLayer. It seems like a magical sort of technology because so much of its implementation is a bit of a black box and this fact contributes to it being misunderstood. CATiledLayer simply provides a way to draw very large images without incurring a severe memory hit. This is important no matter where you’re deploying, but it especially matters on iOS devices as memory is precious and when the OS tells you to free up memory, you better be able to do so or your app will be brought down. This blog post is intended to demonstrate that CATiledLayer works as advertised and implementing it is not as hard as it may have once seemed.
Passing around a NSManagedObjectContext on iOS
**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](https://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](https://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.
Core Data and Encryption
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.
Core Data and Enterprise iPhone Applications – Protecting Your Data
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.
Differentiating Tap Counts on iOS [UPDATED]
In your iPhone/iPad apps you often need to know how many times your user tapped in a view. This can be challenging because, though the user may have tapped twice, you will receive the event and it will look like they tapped once as well as twice. If the user triple-tapped, you will get the event for one tap, two taps, and three taps. It can get a little frustrating, but the trick is timing. You simply have to wait a period of time to see if another tap comes. If it does, you cancel the action spawned by the first tap. If it doesn’t you allow the action to run. There’s a few little nuances to getting it to work, but it can be done. Here is how.
So Marcus is the Core Data guy, but I’ve been working with it a good bit myself lately and was recently faced with having to add re-ordering for a list of entities in a UITableView. The methods I found online for accomplishing this all suggested using an NSMutableArray as the data source for the table view. That will work, but I came up with another method, though similar, that achieved what I need without having to switch from using my NSFetchedResultsController as the data source behind the UITableView. In the end, I did use an NSMutableArray, however, I end up using it just to take advantage of its indexing. Read on to see what I mean.
Creating a NSManagedObject that is Cross Platform
An interesting question came up on Stackoverflow today so I decided to expound upon it in a short blog post.
A situation that I believe we are going to be seeing more and more often is one where application developers are writing multiple “versions” of their applications to be used on the desktop, their iPhone and now the iPad.
Because of that situation, it is becoming even more important that we write as much portable code as possible. Fortunately, our model can be completely portable between the two platforms.
Accessing The Cloud From Cocoa Touch
Everything is moving toward the cloud and unless you’re building calculators, unit converters, or miniature golf score keepers your iPhone app needs to know how to get data from it. In this blog post I intend to demonstrate how to set up a simple server application and how to retrieve data from it and post data to it using Cocoa Touch. I have chosen to use PHP on the server side because of it’s simplicity and ubiquity, and because I’ve know it, somewhat. You should, however, be able to implement something similar using your server side language of choice.
In many cases when you go to access remote data, you do so through a web service API. While services based on such technologies as SOAP or XML-RPC are standards that provide reasonable methods for retrieving and updating data, REST seems to be the methodology gaining the most ground lately. For our purpose in this post I won’t get into great detail of how to implement a REST base web service as, again, REST is not a specific implementation but rather a methodology. (Read up on it elsewhere if you don’t understand what this means). However, I will talk about it briefly so that you can get on the right path for doing your own REST implementation.
Getting “Real Work” Done
I had to post a link to this one as well as Fraser does such a great job explaining why the iPad is so compelling . From Fraser’s post:
The tech industry will be in paroxysms of future shock for some time to come. Many will cling to their January-26th notions of what it takes to get “real work” done; cling to the idea that the computer-based part of it is the “real work.”
It’s not. The Real Work is not formatting the margins, installing the printer driver, uploading the document, finishing the PowerPoint slides, running the software update or reinstalling the OS.
The Real Work is teaching the child, healing the patient, selling the house, logging the road defects, fixing the car at the roadside, capturing the table’s order, designing the house and organizing the party.
Exactly! The iPad is genius and it will revolutionize not just books, magazines, etc., but it will revolutionize computing as we know it. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got the new SDK fired up and ready to start rocking some apps and it is a very exciting new platform!
Fun With UIButtons and Core Animation Layers
Upon first glance, the UIButton class doesn’t seem to provide what you might expect in terms of customization. This often causes developers to resort to creating buttons in an image editor and then specifying that in the Background field in Interface Builder. This is a fine solution and will likely give you what you need, but with Core Animation layers there is a simpler way to achieve the look you want without having to create an image. This post will demonstrate how.
The PragPub Magazine
Last month I was given the opportunity to write an article for The Pragmatic Programmers great magazine called “PragPub”. I am happy to say that the article I wrote for them was published in this month’s edition. The article, titled “Touching the Core”, is a walk through Apple’s great addition to the Core Data API for the iPhone.
Specifically this article walks through using the NSFetchedResultsController and some best practices in its use. The magazine is available for free on their website, [The Pragmatic Bookshelf](http://pragprog.com/magazines).
Automatically save the dSYM files.
For those not aware, when you compile an Objective-C application, whether it be for the desktop or for Cocoa Touch devices, the debugging symbols are stripped out of the binaries. Therefore, unlike other languages such as Java, when a crash occurs, there is virtually no way to determine where the crash occurred. However, when the applications are compiled, a dSYM bundle is generated. This bundle allows us to match up the debugging symbols with the application’s crash log to help determine the cause of the crash.
Marching Ants With Core Animation
Our Core Animation book should be available by the end of the year. Go ahead and pre-order it now at Amazon if you would like ;-). When we started writing for Addison-Wesley back in September of 2008, I had no idea how long to expect it to take to finish a technical book as this was my first. One thing I discovered though, is that it is when you are about ready to go to production you start to realize all of the things that you probably should have added to the book, but didn’t think of in time. This blog post will cover one such item as a way to make up for not thinking of it in time. I may include this in a second edition if there is one, but consider this one a freebie. (more…)