Architecting iOS apps: Coordinators

When switching from Windows Phone development to iOS I had about 3 months to learn iOS and Swift before starting the work on an actual iOS application. I had a chance to build the application from scratch with a colleague so I wanted the application to be really well written and architected.

I started to look at some iOS tutorials and other peoples’ iOS code. Learning and using Swift was easy (read more about my Swift experience in a separate blog post) but when reading about using the iOS SDK and especially application architecture I found stuff that I really disliked.

There were three big things in particular that I disliked, that I want to show you together with solutions I found. This first post deals with navigation.

The problem

When going through some iOS tutorials I found code like this a lot

When you are a long-time iOS developer, you may have seen and probably written code like this. All the tutorials contain code likes this. It may look perfectly OK to you. But for me, coming from the .NET world, this was a real WTF moment:

  • Why would anyone write code like this?
  • Why the strong coupling between those two view controllers?
  • Why an assumption the view controller is embedded in a navigation controller and we always want to do a push?

This code looked absolutely awful to me and I never wanted to write a code like this. So I started looking for better approaches and solutions. And I found coordinators (sometimes called flow controllers).

The solution: Coordinators

The idea of a coordinator is simple. In your application you probably have some flows, like registration flow, user settings flow, product purchasing flow, etc. Every flow is managed by a coordinator. The role of the coordinator is to know which view controller to display at a certain time.

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Adding MobileIron AppConnect to a Swift application

If you work on an iOS application intended for corporate environments, you are probably familiar with MobileIron AppConnect, because it is the most commonly used MDM solution. They have an SDK for iOS with stated support for Objective-C, Xamarin C# bindings and an Cordova plugin. If your application is written completely in Swift, there is some bad news in the documentation:

NOTE: The AppConnect for iOS API supports apps written in Objective-C. It does not support apps written in Swift.

Luckily, this is not true, you can integrate the AppConnect SDK to an application written entirely in Swift, you just need to do a few more steps.

First, add the SDK to the project exactly as the documentation says:

  • Add AppConnect.framework to your Xcode project
  • Add the libcrypto.a library
  • Add the libProtocolBuffers.a library
  • Link the Security framework
  • Link the Mobile Core Services framework
  • Link the Local Authentication framework
  • Add linker flags
  • Copy bundle resources from AppConnect.framework
  • Register as a handler of the AppConnect URL scheme
  • Declare the AppConnect URL scheme as allowed

When you encounter the Use AppConnect’s UIApplication subclass step you have a problem, you cannot do it in a Swift application the same way as in Objective-C. You need to use the Info.plist in your project and add a key called NSPrincipalClass with the value of AppConnectUIApplication instead. This ensures your main application class inherits from the required AppConnect class.

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Writing a simple Pascal interpreter in Swift

About a month ago I stumbled on a series of blog post called Let’s build a simple interpreter by Ruslan Spivak. In these blog posts the author write about building a simple interpreter for the Pascal programming language in Python. It is very well written and explained, I would even say that all the concepts are explained better than in the compiler course I took at the university.

In that class I had to write a Pascal compiler not interpreter in C++ and with tools like lex and yacc so I remembered most concepts but the interpreter is a bit different than a compiler and not using any external tools makes you think more about the problem.

Motivation

I felt a bit nostalgic and wanted to tackle an algorithmically challenging problem, especially because Pascal was my first programming language back in high school so I decided to follow along and write a simple Pascal interpreter in Swift, the language I switched to from C# nearly a year ago.

Swift is a different language than Python so I had to do many things differently, especially those where the Python implementation relayed on the dynamicity of the language.

But the biggest challenge was that the series ended before introducing function calling and the call stack so I had to come with a good way to do this. I also wanted to support recursion and basic loops and flow controls.

Goal

The goal was to be able to interpret a Pascal program like factorial computation or a simple number guessing game.

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Workaround for receive remote notification callback not getting called in foreground on iOS 11

When your iOS application receives a push notification while in foreground, the didReceiveRemoteNotification method in the application’s AppDelegate gets called. You get the whole push notification payload and you can react to it. But there is a problem introduced in iOS 11, then fixed and then broken again (like many things done by Apple these days) that didReceiveRemoteNotification does not get called when a push notification arrives and the application is in foreground. This can be really bad if your application depends on reliable push notifications while running.

The worst thing about this problem is that everything seems to be working while you are debugging the application from XCode. The method gets called, the payload is available. But when you open the application in your iPhone or iPad without the debugger attached, didReceiveRemoteNotification just never gets called. There are many developers reporting this problem on the Apple forums and on StackOverflow.

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My experience with Swift after 9 months

About 9 months ago I basically left the world of Windows development because of the death of Windows Phone and me being really fed up with Microsoft. I got a chance to work on a complete native rewrite of an iOS application so I turned my desktop PC into a hackintosh and started learning Swift and iOS development.

This post describes my experience and feelings about Swift, the language, tooling, resources after 9 months. I will probably write another post about my experience with iOS development and the iOS community.

Swift language

I think Swift is a nice modern language, it reminds me of a combination of C# and F#, so two languages I really like. The introduction of Swift got me first thinking about switching to iOS development, Windows Phone was already dying at that time.

I tried iOS development with Objective-C some time ago, did some tutorials but the language just felt wrong. Not only the strange syntax, I do not really care about that, but the expressiveness of the language compared to C#. I had to write so much more code to do anything. Swift is just much better with that.

As a side note I remember reading Masterminds of Programming a few years back, the interview with one of Objective-C authors and his hate about C++ saying he did everything better that Stroustrup and thinking “I really do not like this guy” (I do not remember if it was Cox or Love).

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Filling UITableView with data from bottom to top

If you work on something like an chat app, you may need to use the UITableView in a way where data is filled from bottom to top. An example of this is a chat detail screen, where you want the UITableView to show the latest messages at the bottom when loaded, new messages are added to the bottom and immediately shown and older messages are loaded on top when the user scrolls to the top of the UITableView.

There are multiple ways to achieve this, each with some advantages and disadvantages.

Scrolling

The first simplest idea that comes to mind is using the UITableView as is and just scrolling it when necessary:

  • Scroll to bottom when the initial messages are loaded
  • Scroll to bottom when a new message is added
  • When older messages are about to be added to the top, remember the position, add the older messages, scroll back to that position

The first two situations are easy to accomplish, but the last one is not. I could not find a way to make it works without a visible scrolling effect.

Rotating UITableView 180 degrees

Another solution is to rotate the UITableView by 180 degrees; rotating it upside down. Of course you have to also “flip” your data source but that is trivial to achieve. The advantage is that you do not have to do any scrolling when new messages are added to the bottom (which is the top of the rotated UITableView) and if you use batch updates instead of reload neither when older messages are loaded.

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Creating a dropdown menu from iOS navigation bar

Working on an iOS app I had to implement a filter for the table view displayed on screen. The filter should have contained 5 items and be accessible when tapping the screen title in the navigation bar. My first idea was to use an UIAlertController with those 5 options. It worked but it looked really ugly, So I started searching for a better, nicer solution. Ideally some kind of a dropdown menu.

I found multiple libraries for an iOS dropdown menu, but I liked BTNavigationDropdownMenu the best. The usage is really simple. First you define the items for the dropdown as an string array

create the menu instance

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iOS tip: Changing navigation bar vs tab bar title

The UI of the iOS app I currently work on contains a tab bar with “Profile” as the title of one of the included tabs. This “Profile” tab contains a view controller with a navigation bar where I wanted the title to be set as “You profile”.

So I set the tab bar item’s title to “Profile” and wanted to set the navigation bar title of the view controller the standard way

I noticed that this also changes the title in the tab bar. After some research I found out that changing the view controller’s title property changes bot the title in the navigation bar and in the bar bar. But you can change the title just for the navigation bar

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Using protocol default implementation instead of abstract classes

When I started using Swift the first thing I started missing was the support for abstract classes. I was used to using abstract classes for my ViewModels, especially to implement the template pattern, but also to provide some basic methods, like showing dialogs, that the ViewModels may need. Of course there are some “tricks” to do abstract classes like checking in the class type in constructor and throwing an error if it is the abstract class type, but Swift is a language based on protocols so there are better ways to achieve the same results just using the protocols.

Imagine you want to add a functionality to show iOS alerts to some of your ViewControllers. In a language like C# you would create an abstract class, something like BaseViewController, add a ShowAlert method to it and make all your ViewControllers inherit from this base class. Most languages nowadays only support single inheritance, so you would put all the functionality your ViewController may or may not need to your one abstract class. But you can typically implement as many interfaces as you like.

Using Swift and protocols there is another way. Protocols in Swift are really similar to interfaces in languages like Java or C# but with some neat stuff added to them like default protocol implementation.

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Simpler and safer iOS custom table view cells with Reusable

When you create a UITableViewCell that you want to use with multiple UITableViews and design its view using a XIB file you know that registering and using it involves the usage of string constants. When you register your custom UITableViewCell with the UITableView you use a string as XIB name and a string as the reuse identifier. Then you use the string reuse identifier again to actually use it. There must be a better, safer way, right? Of course there is, just use Reusable.

Reusable is a Swift mixin for reusing views easily and in a type-safe way for UITableViewCells, UICollectionViewCells, custom UIViews, ViewControllers, Storyboards. It contains protocols you add to your classes and let the magic (the default implementation for those protocols) happen.

So how do you get rid of all those strings when using custom cells with UITableView? First, add the NibReusable protocol to you custom cell class

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