The basics of Objective C programming for iOS apps by Marcio Valenzuela
The basics of Objective C programming for iOS apps

The Big Picture

ObjC is OOP which means objects send messages to other objects. Before getting into messages, let’s define objects.

This is very diverse. An object can be a string, a number, a Boolean, an integer, an array, a dictionary or even one you create yourself. There are any types of objects but let’s start at the root object.

The root object is called NSObject. You’ll see references to it in code but you’ll hardly ever use it directly. This is called the root object because it’s the starting point of any object. It’s like Adam and Eve rolled into one and ANY other kind of object in ObjC comes from it. An NSObject is defined as an object that takes un space in memory and that’s about it. Because any object will take up space, right? Now think of NSObject as sitting at the top of a family tree and all it’s descendants come from that point and thus share it’s traits, which is to say, any object takes up space.

Now we can think of objects as those already created for us and those we create. Objects created for us are such as NSString where we can ‘store’ text, NSNumbers where we can store numbers, NSDate for dates, NSArray for a sort of list of objects, NSDictionary for a sort of dictionary list where a key (word) has one corresponding value (definition), UIButton for buttons, UILabels for text labels, UIImageViews for images,UIWebViews for HTML pages, UIView for views and UIViewControllers for view controllers.

The first pre-made objects mentioned up to NSDictionary, can be thought of abstract objects. The next few objects I mentioned from UIButtons to UIViewControllers can be thought of more concrete and visible objects because you can actually see those objects in the resulting program or app. As you can see they have the prefix UI which refers to UserInterface whereas NS stands for NeXTSTEP.

Just to clear up the last few objects, an iOS app has 1 window. That one window usually has 1 UIView and every UIView requires a UIViewController which basically controls what happens in that view and how the user can interact with it.

So those are 2 categories of pre-made objects; abstract ones and concrete ones that basically have a graphical representation at runtime.

Now there are the objects we create ourselves. If I’m working on a Contacts app, I will probably create a special object to handle all the information related to a contact. What I will usually do is subclass (or use a more basic but the most related object) to create a foundation for my contact object. NSObject is the most basic object so I will subclass NSObject and add the things I think I might add to NSObject to best represent my info needs. So I might add a few NSStrings to hold first and last names as well as company and perhaps nickname. I might add NSNumbers to hold phone numbers, an NSArray of NSStrings for emails and so on. In the end, my Contact object would be based on NSObject but would represent a unique kind of object which I would call Contact instead of NSObject.

If on the other hand I needed to create an object that had more in common with a button than with an NSObject, I would subclass UIButton. If my object needed to be more like a special text label, I would subclass UILabel.

Ok so once I have all the objects I need, I need those objects to send messages. Objects need to send messages to communicate and they need to communicate in order to carry out tasks. Let’s call those messages methods. And let’s think of an object sending a message by calling a method. So for example, pre-made objects have pre-made methods in order to send pre-made messages.

For example; NSString has a pre-made method called capitalizedString. So how does it work? Well the format is:

[object methodName];

This calls the method called “methodName” on the object called “object”. We say that we are sending the “methodName” message to the “object” object. It just so happens that if your object is the hello world string:

object = @”hello world”;

Then the result of that message would be:


So how do we know what objects there are and what their methods are?

Apple developed the OS and has its documentation. It’s pretty cool because it’s OOP so there is a manual for every object and here is the one for NSString:

It has a lot of methods because it’s a very basic object. Ok so that’s a look at a pre-made abstract object. You can look at others such as NSArray and you’ll see it has methods consistent with things you might expect to do with a list, such as count which returns the number of objects in a list or addObject which adds a new item to a list and so on.

If you take a look at the pre-made concrete objects such as UIButton:

you’ll see methods like titleForState: which will set the button’s title for a particular state (selected or not). You will also notice some things called properties. Those are things like the button’s tintColor or enabled.

Ok, so what does it all mean Basil?

Well in an app, you are given a main window. You can add objects to that window such as a UIView and a UIViewController. The UIView may have a backgroundColor set to blue and a certain size. You may also want to tell that view that when the view loads, it should present a UIAlertView, which are those pop up views you see in iOS apps, that reads “Welcome user!”. To do that you need to add a special object called UIViewController. Then you might want to add a UITextField for the user to enter a code and a UIButton for the user to tap on once he/she is done to check if the code is correct. The code might be stored in an NSString object in order to check of its valid.

So how you do all this? In each object’s corresponding Class file set. Each object has a class file set consisting of an interface (.h) and an implementation(.m) file. The interface typically defines that object’s properties and methods whereas the .m file has the implementation of each method. So the .m contains the bull of the code.

A typical class file set might look like this:

@interface MyContact : NSObject

@property (nonatomic,strong) NSString *firstName;
@property (nonatomic,strong) NSString *lastName;
@property (nonatomic,strong) NSString *email;
@property (nonatomic,strong) NSArray *phoneNumbersArray;




And then in the .m you might have:

@implementation MyContact

//some code to bring up the Phone app and pass it the main phone number}

//return the list of all this contact’s phone numbers
return phoneNumbersArray;

To make an app you would need to create a view with its viewcontroller and add a MyContact class to create contacts and combine messages from the viewcontroller class to the MyContacts class and vice versa in order to make the app interact with the user.

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