Posted on Tue 15 January 2013

Cocoa learning

Recently I started learning Objective-C and Cocoa framework. I thought it would be easy as I already have some experience with C# and Java. But it appears to be not that easy. Here are some notes I took to map Objective-C to C#.


  • Weakly typed
  • Object oriented
  • Has manual memory management (Arc)
  • Uses LLVM or GCC compiler
  • Using LLVM we can combine C, C++, Objective-C code in one file


Three main frameworks:

  • Foundation (Strings, Dates, etc)
  • AppKit (UI related framework)
  • Core Data (persistence framework)

Naming conventions

  • NSObject class names are capitalized
  • dealloc method names are started with lowercase
  • camelCase for local vars

Some new info for me

  • Instance variables that are pointers to other objects are called outlets.
  • Methods that can be triggered by user interface objects are called actions.
  • Single inheritance
  • Objective-C keywords are prefixed with @ sign
  • Option+Click on any piece of code shows docs
  • @ sign before string literal means Objective-C string class NSString
  • NSLog has printf-like syntax, but has different identifiers (%d, %qi for long long, hi for short, etc)
  • In NSLog %@ accepts object pointer and expands it to string by calling [obj description].
  • NSObject.isEqual:anotherObject by default compares pointers
  • Methods starting with - are instance methods, starting with + are class methods, or static methods
  • ARC - automatic reference count is GC and can be disabled for project for manual memory management
  • To get selector for method use macros @selector(method-name).
  • Document-based application means application runs several copies of itself per opened file, like text editor. System Preferences, for example, is not a document-based application.

Some types and constants

  • id is pointer to any type of object
  • BOOL is the same as char but is used as Boolean
  • YES is 1, NO is 0
  • IBOutlet is a macro that avaluates to nothing. Ignore it. (IBOutlet is a hint to Interface Builder).
  • IBAction is the same as void. It also acts as a hint to Interface Builder
  • nil is the same as NULL. We use nil instread of NULL for poiners to objects.
  • NSArray can not have nil in it
  • NSArray, NSNumber and NSString are immutable

Manual memory management rules

  • If you create an object by using a method whose name starts with alloc or new or contains copy, you have taken ownership of it. (That is, assume that the new object has a retain count of 1 and is not in the autorelease pool.) You have a responsibility to release the object when you no longer need it. Some of the common methods that convey ownership are alloc (which is always followed by an init method), copy, and mutableCopy.
  • An object created through any other means, such as a convenience method, is not owned by you. (That is, assume that it has a retain count of 1 and is already in the autorelease pool and thus doomed unless it is retained before the autorelease pool is drained.)
  • If you don’t own an object and want to ensure its continued existence, take ownership by sending it the message retain. (This increments the retain count.)
  • When you own an object and no longer need it, send it the message release or autorelease. (The message release decrements the retain count immediately; autorelease causes the message release to get sent when the autorelease pool is drained.)
  • As long as it has at least one owner, an object will continue to exist- (When its retain count goes to zero, it is sent the message dealloc.)



Can be oval, square, checkbox. Most common messages sent to buttons:

- (void)setEnabled:(BOOL)yn
- (NSInteger)state
- (void)setState:(NSInteger)aState


Used to select values in ranges. Can be vertical, horizontal and circular. Can send messages continiously while dragging and can send once on mouse button release. Can have markers and prevent selecting values between markers. Two most used messages:

- (void)setFloatValue:(float)x
- (float)floatValue


Single line input field. Uneditable fields are used as labels. NSSecureTextField is subclass which is used for passwords.

- (NSString *)stringValue
- (void)setStringValue:(NSString *)aString
- (NSObject *)objectValue
- (void)setObjectValue:(NSObject *)obj

Second pair is used in case you use NSFormatters or just description method of object.


  • You can programmatically set actions to methods:

    objectivec SEL mySelector; mySelector = @selector(drawMickey:); [myButton setAction:mySelector]; - For selector at runtime from string use NSSelectorFromString(@"drawMickey:");.

Helper objects

Many classes in the Cocoa framework have an instance variable called delegate, you can set the delegate outlet to point to a helper object. After some events occur class will refer to helper object. You do not need to implement all helper methods described in documentation. Unimplemented methods will be ignored.

So helper object is object that implements certain protocol (interface in Java). BTW syntax of implementing protocol:

@interface ClassName : ParentClass <Interface1, Interface2, ... > {
    // vars

// methods
// properties


Key-Value Coding

Similarly to to JS, we can refer to objects instance property by string key.

@interface Student : NSObject
    NSString *firstName;
Student *s = [[Student alloc] init];
[s setValue:@"Larry" forKey:@"firstName"];
NSString *x = [s valueForKey:@"firstName"];

KVC works in pair with binding to GUI, which does not work with direct access to variable. If there are getters and setters for variable, they will be used by methods setValue:forKey: and valueForKey: only if names of getter and setter satisfy convention foo and setFoo for property foo.

To make other methods affect to bindings, use getters-setters or KVC for changing variable.

Attributes of property

Syntax for attribute:

@property (attributes) type name;

Types of attributes (copy-paste from book): - assign (the default) makes a simple assignment happen. This attribute is most commonly used for scalar, nonpointer types, such as integers and floating-point values. - strong says that this property is a strong reference. It keeps the object being pointed to from being deallocated while this pointer is set. It is specific to ARC code; if you are not using ARC, the retain attribute is equivalent. - weak denotes a weak reference. It is similar to assign, except that once the object being pointed to is deallocated, this property will be set to nil. It is supported only by code compiled with ARC. - copy makes a copy of the new value and assigns the variable to the copy. This attribute is often used for properties that are strings and other classes with mutable subclasses.

There is also nonatomic which is self-explanatory, by default getters and setters are atomic.

Key pathes

If you look better, objects create directed graph. So to any object we can find several pathes, including that starts in itself. You can use it to access variable:

NSString *mn = [selectedPerson valueForKeyPath:@"spouse.scooter.modelName"];

You even can use operators in pathes such as @avg, @count, @max, @min, @sum:

NSNumber *theAverage = [employees valueForKeyPath:@"@avg.expectedRaise"];

Programmatical binding

You can bind programmatically one object to another using pathes:

[textField bind:@"value" toObject:employeeController withKeyPath:@"arrangedObjects.@avg.expectedRaise" options:nil];

And unbind:

[textField unbind:@"value"];

Programmatically add observer

Similarly to C#'s += and -= event operators(but less functionally reach) you can add observer for value:

[theAppDelegate addObserver:self

The method that is triggered looks like this:

- (void)observeValueForKeyPath:(NSString *)keyPath
                        change:(NSDictionary *)change
                       context:(void *)context

My mappings for Cocoa objects

  • NSMutableArray <=> vector
  • NSString <=> string
  • for (LotteryEntry *entryToPrint in array) <=> foreach
  • NSAssert <=> assert
  • interface + implementation <=> class
  • protocol <=> interface

© Slava Kim. Built using Pelican. Theme by Giulio Fidente on github. .