The many ways of iOS
After spending time refactoring a large legacy app, I’ve come to recognize a
fact about iOS: it’s TMTOWTDI as heck. Think about how many ways there are to
UIButton on screen. While I’m generally against TMTOWTDI in
languages, it’s manfestation on iOS is one of careful progress
rather than glib overcomplication. iOS is a flexible platform and It’s interesting
how many different ways there are to accomplish something; each with their own purpose
Consider placing a control on the screen at programmer defined coordinates.
Frame hell, the most basic way. Set a frame and stick on the screen. Varying screen sizes and orientations have made this less favorable. Complex UI often involves an unintelligible gob of magic constants and opaque calculations.
Autoresizing masks, springs struts. Define how a view shrinks or expands makes sense with this simple metaphor.
Autolayout; the way of the future (so far). Autolayout makes dealing with differnt device sizes and orientations better than Frames; however this comes at a steeper learning curve and harder debugging.
Creatiing a UI
Go “Code only” commando and forgo Interface builder. Perform all AutoLayout/Springs/Frame configuration within code. Benefits are source control merges are not life threatening and opening a large source file does not lock up Xcode for days (as when working with Storyboards…) Disadvantage is the inability to actually “see” what you’re doing. Complex layout become an exercise in mental gymnastics. A picture is worth 1000 words (of code.)
With Xibs, a single UI element is visually designed in a single file. The flow between screens is less obvious, but multiple contributors can work on UI without an inevitable merge collision. The ‘File’s Owner’ outlet can be a little confusing. ViewControllers which make use of Xibs must be instantiated with
init(nibName nibNameOrNil: String?, bundle nibBundleOrNil: NSBundle?)
In storyboards, the flow of an application can be understood by non-developers. Different types of segues connect mocked out screens and backing view controllers. Prototyping and coordinating with designers is easier, but more than one developer working with a storyboard will cause merge conflicts.
UINotifications are quick and easy solution when several object care about when something happens, and the data associated with that action. However strictly relying on NSNotifications produces code with lower cohesion.
Delegate Pattern and Protocols appear extensively within Cocoa. The interchangability combined with strict type checking and a clearly defined interface make this preferred when extending object functionality. A happy object is one that is closed to modification but open to extensibility.
Sometimes a delegate and protocol can be a bit heavy. My rule is when a delegate protocol has less than 3 methods, block based callbacks make more sense. Block still provide strict type checking, but don’t littler the codebase with sparse protocol declarations.
(I’m sure I forgot others, coupling and cohesion within OO languages is a vast topic.)
Most times, a simple
UIViewanimation is enough. The block based interface even allows configurable spring based movement for a custom feel. UIView provides convenience methods in the family of
animateWithDuration:animationswhich are great when animating transforms, opacity or other layer properties.
For more control, there’s
CAKeyFrameAniamtionswhich are added directly to the UIView layer. These offer more powerul customization and timing.
If you need realistic physics animations, there’s UIKit Dynamics. Bouncing, rolling, falling, colliding bodies are tricky to implement completely by hand. (or are not a physicist.)
NSUserDefaults provides key:value based persistence between launches. Of course, don’t abuse it as a full-fledged persistence solution. It’s main purpose is to provide sensible app defaults to the user.
Core Data is THE mobile database persistence framework for iOS. Entites and relations are modeled via an object graph. This is a higher abstration then thinking in tables and SQL relations. Core Data has a steep learning curve. Multithreaded data access and persistence while maintaining user responsiveness can be a tricky balancing act.
NSKeyedArchiver encodes objects into blobs of
NSData.The object must implement
encodeWithCoderand provide a way to encode it’s properties into appropriate representations. If your app doesn’t require querying associated data, this is a good choice to skip to overhead of Core Data.
Go it alone
In every area presented, there is enough low-level functionality exposed within the framworks for a developer to write a completely custom solution if desired. Maybe you have a better idea for a persistence framework or a new way to model UIView layout? Before running off to re-implement UIKit (poorly), I recommened getting to know the whys and hows of solutions presented above. In many cases, a solution can be found by tweaking and combining several technologies in a novel way.
What other areas does iOS offer varying ways to do things? Would love to hear from the community on areas I’ve passed over.