DDGPreferences is a self-introspecting, self-persisting iOS class for maintaining preferences and settings.
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Almost every iOS application has individual user preferences. Some apps also use Apple's Settings app, some don't. If you develop many different applications, as I do in my development consulting practice, it is tedious to code up a custom preferences class for each app. My class, DDGPreferences, is an attempt to minimize the tedium by providing a very simple API to the NSUserDefaults class for both settings and custom preferences. In addition to DDGPreferences, I have included a set of standard logging macros, DDGMacros, and an example single view iOS app tying all of the pieces together.

The DDGPreferences project now supports syncing preferences through iCloud via the NSUbiquitousKeyValueStore. You can synchronize a subset of your preferences to iCloud.


I like simple APIs. They are easy to use and easy to share. I wanted this API to be no more than a list of properties. As in:

@interface Preferences : DDGPreferences

@property (nonatomic, copy)   NSString *nameSetting;
@property (nonatomic, assign, getter=isEnabledSetting) BOOL enabledSetting;
@property (nonatomic, assign) CGFloat sliderSetting;

@property (nonatomic, copy)   NSString *namePref;
@property (nonatomic, assign, getter=isEnabledPref) BOOL enabledPref;
@property (nonatomic, assign) CGFloat sliderPref;
@property (nonatomic, retain) NSData *rectPrefData;


Furthermore, the only difference between whether a property was visible in Apple's settings app should be if a key matching its exact name was present in the Root.plist in the Settings.bundle. In other words, each setting has an identifier/key which is identical to a property name. This post is not a tutorial on how to build an app that uses Apple's Settings application. That said the example app has only made minor changes to the fields created when you add a Settings.bundle to your app. (In particular, I changed the Key/Identifier from using under bars, _, as word separators to using standard Cocoa camel case.) In other words, I believe a beginner should be able to follow the logic of using this class without too much difficulty.

How do you use DDGPreferences?

Using DDGPreferences is simple. Make your Preferences class a subclass of DDGPreferences and then instantiate it. Really, that is all you have to do. Your preferences are limited to those supported by Apple's .plist files. This is not as restrictive as it might seem. Later, I'll show you how to convert an arbitrary NSCoding compliant class to a preference.

If you have default preference values which are different from the state of a freshly initialized object, then you must implement the DDGPreferences protocol's single method, -setDefaultPreferences. The example application has this method.

What about synchronizing changes between Apple's Settings app and yours while the app is in the background? When your app returns to the foreground, I recommend you read/write the Settings managed values in response to the UIApplicationDidBecomeActiveNotification, UIApplicationWillResignActiveNotification notification pair. The example app shows one way to do this. All other coordination with the Settings app is handled by DDGPreferences.

How do you use DDGCloudPreferences?

Using DDGCloudPreferences is simple. Make your CloudPreferences class a subclass of DDGCloudPreferences. Then instatiate your subclass using the -initWithPreferences: designated initializer. This ties the cloud preferences to your main preferences. Typically, you will copy the @property statements you wish to synchronize via iCloud from your Preferences class to your CloudPreferences class. (You may not want to synchronize all of your preferences between devices. For example, you probably do not want to synchronize a property that controls whether you synchronize your preferences across devices.)

DDGCloudPreferences manages synchronizing between the cloud and local storage. You do, though, have to be aware when properties might have changed while you are running. NSUbiquitousKeyValueStore will provide you a notification that this has occured with a NSUbiquitousKeyValueStoreDidChangeExternallyNotification notification. You will see in the DDGPreferences App that I update the UI on the next iteration of the main run loop.

The DDGPreferences App:

I've included an app showing how to use DDGPreferences. It is a single view iPhone app with an array of identical controls for both Apple's Settings app and the DDGPreferences app. You can change the preferences for the settings in both apps and they transfer bi-directionally. A simple CGRect is also initialized and stored. It is then displayed in a UILabel. How to store a complex structure, such as a CGRect, is described below. Traditionally, your preferences are stored with your application singleton. In this example, for pedagogical simplicity, I store them in the root view controller.

Synchronizing via iCloud requires that you create an entitlements file. Xcode v4.5.1 (4G1004) makes this a straightforward process and it is done for you in the included project. Apple's documentation is quite clear and readable. Hence, I don't repeat it here.

You can force a sync via iCloud by pressing the Push to iCloud button. You will notice that the IBAction method doesn't actually do anything to the CloudPreferences. It forces the Preferences to write themselves to disk. If the preferences are dirty, they will then write to the cloud. Here's the method:

- (IBAction) pushToCloud: (UIButton *) sender {

    [self refreshPrefs];

    [self.prefs writePreferences];

} // -pushToCloud:

This method reads the preferences from the UI and then writes them to disk. DDGCloudPreferences takes care of pushing them to the cloud. In other words, other than instantiating the CloudPreferences and watching for the rare cloud update, using this class is even simpler than DDGPreferences.

Saving complex classes:

In my prior version of this project, I used keyed archiving to save arbitrary strutures to my preferences. These are actually quite large (270+ bytes for a 16 byte CGRect). Hence, I revisted this decision and am now storing the structure directly as an NSData item. You can see the old way of doing this in the git archive and it is described in the initial blog post for this project.

UIKit has some additions to NSValue to more easily support passing common structures around. As I was passing a CGRect between devices, I chose to implement the same methods on NSData. These are defined in NSData+DDGValue.h/m. I also include a general method of creating an NSData from any NSValue. (This method is based upon ideas and code expressed on Stack Overflow by Steffen Itterheim.)

As DDGPreferences uses the properties to determine what needs to be persisted, you cannot just define a @property for your class that is not one of those supported by Apple's .plist format; you need to define an NSData typed instance variable to hold an archived instance of your class/structure. In the example, rectPrefData is that property. To access this data as your preferred type, you need to define "old school" Objective-C v1 style accessors. In the example, these are -rectPref/-setRectPref:. Somewhat obviously, these accessors will use rectPrefData to store the value. A example implementation of these methods is:

- (CGRect) rectPref {

    NSData *rectData = self.rectPrefData;

    // Guard against leftover archived data.
    if (rectData.length > sizeof(CGRect)) { 

        return [[NSKeyedUnarchiver unarchiveObjectWithData: rectData] CGRectValue];
    return rectData.CGRectValue;

} // -rectPref

- (void) setRectPref: (CGRect) rect {

    self.rectPrefData = [NSData dataWithCGRect: rect];

} // -setRectPref:

The above methods, for pedagogical purposes, are not key-value coding compliant. As this app may be an upgrade of the older version, I guard against reading the old data incorrectly.

There is a downside of sending the structure directly -- byte endianness. The keyed archiver, as it was developed in a multi-architecture era, almost certainly handles this. Using the NSData variant, will restrict you to ARM and Intel based little endian machines.


DDGPreferences is covered under a public attribution required version of the new BSD license. Why do I require that you acknowledge me publicly in your app? Similarly to many other developers, I make my code available under an open source license as an advertisement for my development consulting services. Hence, I need to be able to easily point to applications that use my code. While it is not necessary, I would appreciate it if you also sent me an email saying in which apps you use DDGPreferences.

From my experience making other code available under an open source license, some folks will write asking to be relieved of my public recognition requirement. Unless the requestor is willing to compensate me to change the licensing terms, I will always decline to change my agreement. I have put some time and care into crafting this class, app and this blog post. That time deserves compensation and I have chosen to be compensated by using this class as a marketing mechanism. I hope you understand.

Where to get the code:

This code is available from GitHub at this URL: <https://github.com/adonoho/DDGPreferences>. I will be tracking comments at both GitHub and this post on my personal blog, <http://blog.DDG.com/>. I, of course, encourage you to send in bug fixes and make suggestions to improve DDGPreferences for all of us.

I hope you find DDGPreferences useful.

In a future post for advanced programmers, I will describe how DDGPreferences functions.


I would like to thank Scott Gustafson and Mason Weems for their suggestions and support. In particular, I would like to thank Pace Bonner for showing me how to support child panes in the settings app. Also, Austin's local Mac OS X/iOS developer group, Cocoa Coders, organized by Jim Hillhouse and Rajat Datta, has been extremely helpful in my return to software engineering.