TJBinder is a lightweight but still powerful iOS implementation of the model -- view binding technology seen in Cocoa bindings for OS-X.
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README.md

TJBinder

TJBinder is a lightweight but still powerful iOS implementation of the model -- view binding technology seen in Cocoa bindings for OS-X. The aim is the same: to create a "technology that provide a means of keeping model and view values synchronized without you having to write a lot of glue code."

Introduction

This section explains why and when TJBinder is useful for you in a kind of storytelling style. If you want to jump straight inside the details continue reading with the next section.

The problem

Let's suppose that you have to write one more simple table view -- details view based MVC application. (If you have never done it before I suggest you to follow the excellent tutorial of Ray Wenderlich.) When it is the second or third time that you are writing such application you surely notice how many boiler plate code and similar actions you have to take:

  1. Create your UI in interface builder adding a for example a table view controller to your storyboard.
  2. Create a UITableViewController subclass where you retrieve an array or fetched results controller of your data model objects.
  3. If you need a cell with custom layout then you have to create a table view cell prototype in Interface Builder (if you are using storyboards) or a separate xib file for your cell (if you are using xibs) and add labels, image views and other UI elements to your cell.
  4. You have to write your own UITableViewCell subclass, create the IBOutlet @properties and connect them with the storyboard/xib elements.
  5. You have to configure the cells with the appropriate data model object when you are asked for it in the tableView:cellForRowAtIndexPath: method of your UITableViewDataSource implementation.

So now you have your table view functioning, the user taps to a cell and you want to show a details view for the selected data model object. What do you have to do? You have to pass through very similar steps, create a UIViewController subclass, design its layout in IB, create the outlets, connect them, write the code that configures the UI elements of your view control based on the data of your model object.

The things get even worse if your data object can change during the time, for example you want to show a clock or the GPS coordinates of the device. Then you have to implement the event listener, most likely through some delegate protocol, and update the view object with the new values every time you notice that the data object has changed.

The solution exists...

but until today it was available only for OS-X developers. It is called Cocoa bindings. Cocoa bindings is a very powerful technology where you can say directly in Interface Builder things like "I want the text property of my label to be bound directly to the albumName property of my data model object contained in my table view cell. At runtime the framework automatically takes care of updating the label with the data model. You save a lot of time by not having to do steps 4 and 5 from the previous list: subclassing the table view cell, creating @properties for your labels and other elements, connect them with the IB elements via outlets and write the update code. Matter of envy for iOS developers but now TJBinder allows you to do exactly the same.

Installation

The preferred way of installing TJBinder is via CocoaPods. You can add the dependency to TJBinder in your Podfile:

pod 'TJBinder'

If you do not want to use CocoaPods you can simply download all files from the TJBinder folder and add them to your project.

TJBinder allows you to use your favourit logger. Currently no logging, NSLog and CocoaLumberjack is supported.

Selecting logger using CocoaPods

You should specify your logger preference directly in your Podfile via post_install hooks. For example if you want to use CocoaLumberjack you could create a Podfile like this:

    platform :ios, '6.0'
    
    pod 'TJBinder'
    pod 'CocoaLumberjack'
    
    # available loggers:
    # - TJBINDER_LOGGER_NOLOG
    # - TJBINDER_LOGGER_NSLOG
    # - TJBINDER_LOGGER_COCOALUMBERJACK
    
    selectedLogger = 'TJBINDER_LOGGER_COCOALUMBERJACK'
    
    post_install do |installer|
      target = installer.project.targets.find{|t| t.to_s == "Pods-TJBinder"}
      target.build_configurations.each do |config|
        s = config.build_settings['GCC_PREPROCESSOR_DEFINITIONS']
        s = [ '$(inherited)' ] if s == nil;
        s.push("TJBINDER_SELECTED_LOGGER=#{selectedLogger}") if config.to_s == "Debug";
        config.build_settings['GCC_PREPROCESSOR_DEFINITIONS'] = s
      end
    end

You should specify the dependency to the pod of CocoaLumberjack and add set the selectedLogger variable to TJBINDER_LOGGER_COCOALUMBERJACK. You also should copy the post_install hook above to your Podfile. You can specify selectedLogger to one of the following options:

  • TJBINDER_LOGGER_NOLOG: no logging. This is the default option.
  • TJBINDER_LOGGER_NSLOG: logging with NSLog all log levels. No additional dependencies needed.
  • TJBINDER_LOGGER_COCOALUMBERJACK: logging with CocoaLumberjack. You should specify also the dependency pod 'CocoaLumberjack' in your Podfile.

If you use CocoaLumberjack do not forget to define the ddLogLevel global variable in one of your .m files to your desidered log level:

const int ddLogLevel = LOG_LEVEL_VERBOSE;

Selecting logger without CocoaPods

If you do not use CocoaPods you should select the logger defining a TJBINDER_SELECTED_LOGGER macro to one of the logger options above (TJBINDER_LOGGER_NOLOG, TJBINDER_LOGGER_NSLOG or TJBINDER_LOGGER_COCOALUMBERJACK). If you do not define this macro it will default to TJBINDER_LOGGER_NOLOG. You could do this definition in the MyProject-Prefix.pch file of your project:

#define TJBINDER_SELECTED_LOGGER TJBINDER_LOGGER_COCOALUMBERJACK

or as a User-Defined Build Setting of your target in your Xcode project. To do so select: project file in Xcode > Build target > Build Settings > click on the + icon in the header > Add User-Defined Setting > set the name of the setting to TJBINDER_SELECTED_LOGGER and the value to your preference, for example TJBINDER_LOGGER_COCOALUMBERJACK.

How to use TJBinder

Unlike other libraries, using TJBinder does not require you to write a single line of new code. Contrarily you might have to delete some parts of your old code because TJBinder will do the job instead of you.

Let's suppose you have the following data model:

// Fruit.h

@interface Fruit : NSObject

@property (strong) NSString* name;
@property (strong) UIColor* color;

@end
// Fruit.m

@implementation Fruit
@end

You want to write a view controller with a UILabel that shows the name of the fruit in the same color as the fruit. With TJBinder all what you have to do is:

// FruitViewController.h

@interface FruitViewController : UIViewController
@end
// FruitViewController.m

#import <TJBinder.h>

#import "FruitViewController.h"
#import "Fruit.h"

@implementation FruitViewController

- (void)viewDidLoad
{
    [super viewDidLoad];
    
    // Retrieve your data object from an external resource here
    Fruit* fruit = [Fruit new];
    fruit.name = @"apple";
    fruit.color = [UIColor redColor];
    
    // Tell the root view what is its data object
    self.view.dataObject = fruit;
}

@end

The rest of the stuff you can do right in Interface Builder this way:

screenshot

There are two important things to note here:

  • You did not create an IBOutlet property for the label
  • There is no code setting the text and the textColor property of the label.

Instead you specify the relationship between the label and the fruit with specially formatted "User Defined Runtime Attributes" of the label, shown in the red box on the right side of the image. The two lines in this example says that the text property of the label should take its value from the name property of the data object of the superview and the textColor property of the label should be bound to the color property of the fruit. Earlier you assigned the data object to the main view of your view controller in FruitViewController.m and this main view is the superview of your label so TJBinder will be able to find your data object.

The rest will be carried out by TJBinder. It will traverse up the view hierarchy as you defined in the Key Path column, find the data object, extract the value from it and pass it to the specified property of your view object. If you run the application you will see a red "apple" text on the screen without writing any more code.

Advanced usage

Table views and collection views

TJBinder works excellently also with table views and collection views. You need to specify the data objects for the cell and the bindings of the UI elements of the cell. You can find more details in the example application on how to utilize these classes together with TJBinder.

Defining bindings

To be able to find your data object, TJBinder traverses the view hierarchy. You have to "guide" TJBinder in this hierarchy to the view that contains the data object with the key path defined by you in the User Defined Runtime Attributes field of Interface Builder.

Each key path has to start with bindTo. This triggers TJBinder to start a new binding process. The elements of the key path are divided by the dot (.) character. After the bindTo element TJBinder starts to traverse the view hierarchy starting from the current view i.e. the view for that this Runtime Attribute is defined. You can jump to the parent view in the hierarchy with the @superview or one of the @superviewWith... key path commands and traverse down to a subview by one of the @subviewWith... commands (although you will need this much rarer).

Once you arrived to the view that contains the data object you should add the dataObject key to the key path. This tells to TJBinder that it should stop traversing the view hierarchy and look for the data object of the current view. After the dataObject key you can add the property names (standard key path) of your data object so TJBinder can find the exact value that should be passed to the view object.

You should insert the key path constructed this way to the "Key Path" column of the "User Defined Runtime Attributes" section of your view object in Interface Builder. The "Type" of the attribute should be always set to "String" and you should specify a property of your view object as "Value". For example you could define text for a UILabel if you want to bind the value of your data object property to the text of the label. Another example could be the textColor value for a UILabel view to bind the color of a label to a color object exposed by your data object.

Important

You should ensure that the data type TJBinder finds at the end of the key path is the same type that the property of your view object.

For example for the UILabel view of the FruitViewController above we specified a Fruit object as dataObject. The Fruit object has a color property of the UIColor* type that we can bind to the textColor property of the UILabel that has the same UIColor* type.

How does it work?

TJBinder adds a category on UIView that defines the bindTo property that is the entry point for TJBinder. If you add "User Defined Runtime Attributes" to a view object in Interface Builder then at runtime, when the view is instantiated, IB will call the setter or getter method of these properties of your view via Key-Value Coding.

Specifying bindTo as the first element of the key path will cause the bindTo method to be called right after the UIView object is instantiated and configured by Interface Builder. bindTo will create an associated object for the view with the type of BindProxy where the rest of the binding mechanism is implemented.

The successive elements of the key path defined by you in IB will be evaluated by BindProxy. This class overrides valueForUndefinedKey: and setValue:forUndefinedKey: methods of NSObject allowing BindProxy to parse arbitrary key path following the bindTo key. BindProxy parses the rest of the key path including the special @superviewWith... and @subviewWith... path elements and traverses the hierarchy of the associated view object based on these elements until it finds the dataObject path element.

dataObject is another property defined by the UIView category and it simple allows to store a named Objective-C id object associated with a view. You set this object on the view in the view controller. When TJBinder has found the dataObject it continues the traverse on the key path of the data object until it founds the leaf property defined by the last element of the key path.

Limitations

Due to the nature of Key-Value Coding TJBinder and the compiler can not check the existence of the properties and the validity of the key path defined by you at compile time. If you receive "this class is not key value coding-compliant for the key ..." exceptions at runtime, double-check the key path you entered in Interface Builder paying particular attention to:

  • When you define a binding TJBinder will not check whether the type of the leaf property of the data object matches the property of the view. You should ensure this yourself. For example if TJBinder finds a UIColor object in the property of the data object it will try to assign it to the property of the view object even if it has a different type. This can cause a series of hard-to-debug bugs, including "unrecognized selector sent to instance" exceptions, EXC_BAD_ACCESS signals, or even worse, silent failing. Always check the type matching of your bindings.

Key path operator reference

TJBinder supports the standard properties of UIView allowing you to define the data object search path with superview and window properties or if you define a named property of your UIView subclass then you can refer to it with the property name.

You will find more useful however the key path operators defined by TJBinder to simplify the traversing of the view hierarchy. These operators are prefixed by the @ character and allows you to jump to another view in the view hierarchy. Here are a reference table for all key path operators:

Example Argument Description
@superview none Alias to superview: returns the parent view
@rootview none Traverses up the view hierarchy until it finds a view that does not have a superview. Attention: if you use container views for showing embedded view controllers the root view might be different from the view property of your view controller.
@superviewWithTag[12] view tag (int) Traverses up the view hierarchy until it finds a superview with the specified tag. This example returns the closes superview with tag == 12
@superviewWithRestorationID[myUd] view restoration id (string) Traverses up the view hierarchy until it finds a superview with the specified restoration ID. This example returns the closes superview with restorationIdentifier == myID.
@superviewWithClass[UITableViewCell] class name (string) Traverses up the view hierarchy until it finds a superview with the specified class. This example returns the superview that inherits from UITableViewCell. Probably the most useful key path operator.
@subviews[2] subview index (int) Returns the element from the subviews array of the view at the specified index. This example returns the 3rd element from the subviews array.
@subviewWithTag[12] view tag (int) Finds and returns the element from the subviews array of the view with the specified tag. This example returns the subview with tag == 12.
@subviewWithRestorationID[myId] view restoration id (string) Finds and returns the element from the subviews array of the view with the specified restoration identifier. This example returns the subview with restorationIdentifier == 12.
@subviewWithClass[UILabel] class name (string) Finds and returns the first element from the subviews array of the view that is an instance of the specified class. This example returns the first UILabel from the subviews array.
@cell none Traverses up the view hierarchy until it finds a superview with UITableViewCell or UICollectionViewCell class. A kind of shortcut to @superviewWithClass[UITableViewCell] and @superviewWithClass[UICollectionViewCell]