A simple class for laying out a collection of views with a convenient API, while leveraging the power of Auto Layout.
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README.md

AloeStackView

A simple class for laying out a collection of views with a convenient API, while leveraging the power of Auto Layout.

Carthage compatible Version License Platform Build status

Introduction

AloeStackView is a class that allows a collection of views to be laid out in a vertical list. In a broad sense, it is similar to UITableView, however its implementation is quite different and it makes a different set of trade-offs.

We first started using AloeStackView at Airbnb in our iOS app in 2016. We have since used it to implement nearly 200 screens in the app. The use cases are quite varied: everything from settings screens, to forms for creating a new listing, to the listing share sheet.

Airbnb app 1 Airbnb app 2 Airbnb app 3 Airbnb app 11 Airbnb app 4 Airbnb app 8
Airbnb app 7 Airbnb app 6 Airbnb app 5 Airbnb app 9 Airbnb app 10 Airbnb app 12

AloeStackView focuses first and foremost on making UI very quick, simple, and straightforward to implement. It does this in two ways:

  • It leverages the power of Auto Layout to automatically update the UI when making changes to views.

  • It forgoes some features of UITableView, such as view recycling, in order to achieve a much simpler and safer API.

We've found AloeStackView to be a useful piece of infrastructure and hope you find it useful too!

Table of Contents

Features

  • Allows you to keep strong references to views and dynamically change their properties, while Auto Layout automatically keeps the UI up-to-date.

  • Allows views to be dynamically added, removed, hidden and shown, with optional animation.

  • Includes built-in support for customizable separators between views.

  • Provides an extensible API, allowing specialized features to be added without modifying AloeStackView itself.

  • Widely used and vetted in a highly-trafficked iOS app.

  • Small, easy-to-understand codebase (under 500 lines of code) with no external dependencies keeps binary size increase to a minimum and makes code contributions and debugging painless.

System Requirements

  • Deployment target iOS 9.0+
  • Xcode 10.0+
  • Swift 4.0+

Example App

The repository includes a simple example iOS app.

You can try it out by cloning the repo, opening AloeStackViewExample.xcworkspace, and running the app.

The example app shows a few ways AloeStackView can be used to implement a screen in an iOS app.

Example app

Usage

Creating an AloeStackView

The primary API is accessed via the AloeStackView class.

You can create an instance of AloeStackView quite easily in your code:

import AloeStackView

let stackView = AloeStackView()

AloeStackView is a UIView (specifically a UIScrollView), and thus can be used in the same way as any other view in your app.

Alternatively, if you want to build an entire UIViewController using AloeStackView, you can use the convenient AloeStackViewController class:

import AloeStackView

public class MyViewController: AloeStackViewController {

  public override func viewDidLoad() {
    super.viewDidLoad()
    stackView.addRow(...)
  }

}

AloeStackViewController is very similar to classes such as UITableViewController and UICollectionViewController in that it creates and manages an AloeStackView for you. You can access the AloeStackView via the stackView property. Using AloeStackViewController rather than creating your own AloeStackView inside a UIViewController simply saves you some typing.

Adding, Removing, and Managing Rows

The API of AloeStackView generally deals with "rows". A row can be any UIView that you want to use in your UI.

Rows are arranged in a vertical column, and each row stretches the full width of the AloeStackView.

To build a UI with AloeStackView, you generally begin by adding the rows that make up your UI:

for i in 1...3 {
  let label = UILabel()
  label.text = "Label \(i)"
  stackView.addRow(label)
}

Add rows

If the length of an AloeStackView ever grows too long for the available screen space, the content automatically becomes scrollable.

Add rows

AloeStackView provides a comprehensive set of methods for managing rows, including inserting rows at the beginning and end, inserting rows above or below other rows, hiding and showing rows, removing rows, and retrieving rows.

You can customize the spacing around a row with the rowInset property, and the setInset(forRow:) and setInset(forRows:) methods.

The class documentation in AloeStackView.swift provides full details of all the APIs available.

Handling User Interaction

AloeStackView provides support for handling tap gestures on a row:

stackView.setTapHandler(
  forRow: label,
  handler: { [weak self] label in
    self?.showAlert(title: "Row Tapped", message: "Tapped on: \(label.text ?? "")")
  })

label.isUserInteractionEnabled = true

Add rows

A tap handler will only fire if isUserInteractionEnabled is true for a row.

Another way of handling tap gestures is to conform to the Tappable protocol:

public class ToggleLabel: UILabel, Tappable {

  public func didTapView() {
    textColor = textColor == .red ? .black : .red
  }

}

for i in 1...3 {
  let label = ToggleLabel()
  label.text = "Label \(i)"
  label.isUserInteractionEnabled = true
  stackView.addRow(label)
}

Add rows

Conforming to Tappable allows common tap gesture handling behavior to be encapsulated inside a view. This way you can reuse a view in an AloeStackView many times, without writing the same tap gesture handling code each time.

Dynamically Changing Row Content

One of the advantages of using AloeStackView is that you can keep a strong reference to a view even after you've added it to an AloeStackView.

If you change a property of a view that affects the layout of the overall UI, AloeStackView will automatically relayout all of its rows:

stackView.setTapHandler(forRow: label, handler: { label in
  label.text = (label.text ?? "") + "\n\nSome more text!"
})

Add rows

As you can see, there's no need to notify AloeStackView before or after making changes to a view. Auto Layout will ensure that the UI remains in an up-to-date state.

Styling and Controlling Separators

AloeStackView adds separators between rows by default:

Add rows

Turning Separators On and Off

You can easily hide separators for any rows that are added to an AloeStackView:

stackView.hidesSeparatorsByDefault = true

Add rows

The hidesSeparatorsByDefault property only applies to new rows that are added. Rows already in the AloeStackView won't be affected.

You can hide or show separators for existing rows with the hideSeparator(forRow:), hideSeparators(forRows:), showSeparator(forRow:), and showSeparators(forRows:) methods.

AloeStackView also provides a convenient property to automatically hide the last separator:

stackView.automaticallyHidesLastSeparator = true

Add rows

Customizing Separators

You can change the spacing on the left and right of separators:

stackView.separatorInset = .zero

Add rows

As with hidesSeparatorsByDefault, this property only applies to new rows that are added. Rows already in the AloeStackView won't be affected.

You can change the separator inset for existing rows with the setSeperatorInset(forRow:) and setSeperatorInset(forRows:) methods.

AloeStackView also provides properties for customizing the color and height of separators:

stackView.separatorColor = .blue
stackView.separatorHeight = 2

Add rows

These properties affect all of the separators in the AloeStackView.

Extending AloeStackView

AloeStackView is an open class, so it's easy to subclass to add custom functionality without changing the original source code. Additionally, AloeStackView provides two methods that can be used to further extend its capabilities.

configureCell(_:)

Every row in an AloeStackView is wrapped in a UIView subclass called StackViewCell. This view is used for per-row bookkeeping and also manages UI such as separators and insets.

Whenever a row is added or inserted into an AloeStackView, the configureCell(_:) method is called. This method is passed the newly created StackViewCell for the row.

You can override this method to perform any customization of cells as needed, for example to support custom features you've added to AloeStackView or control the appearance of rows on the screen.

This method is always called after any default values for the cell have been set, so any changes you make in this method won't be overwritten by the system.

cellForRow(_:)

Whenever a row is inserted into an AloeStackView, the cellForRow(_:) method is called to obtain a new cell for the row. By default, cellForRow(_:) simply returns a new StackViewCell that contains the row passed in.

StackViewCell, however, is an open class that can be subclassed to add custom behavior and functionality as needed. To have AloeStackView use your custom cell, override cellForRow(_:) and return an instance of your custom subclass.

Providing a custom StackViewCell subclass allows much more find-grained control over how rows are displayed. It also allows custom data to be stored along with each row, which can be useful to support any functionality you add to AloeStackView.

One thing to remember is that AloeStackView will apply default values to a cell after it is returned from cellForRow(_:). Hence, if you need to apply any further customizations to your cell, you should consider doing it in configureCell(_:).

When to Extend AloeStackView

These methods together provide quite a lot of flexibility for extending AloeStackView to add custom behavior and functionality.

For example, you can add new methods to AloeStackView to control the way rows are managed, or to support new types of user interaction. You can customize properties on StackViewCell to control the individual appearance of each row. You can subclass StackViewCell to store new data and properties with each row in order to support custom features you add. Subclassing StackViewCell also provides more fine-grained control over how rows are displayed.

However, this flexibility inevitably comes with a trade-off in terms of complexity and maintenance. AloeStackView has a comprehensive API that can support a wide variety of use cases out-of-the-box. Hence, it's often better to see if the behavior you need is available through an existing API before resorting to extending the class to add new features. This can often save time and effort, both in terms of the cost of developing custom functionality as well as ongoing maintenance.

When to use AloeStackView

The Short Answer

AloeStackView is best used for shorter screens with less than a screenful or two of content. It is particularly suited to screens that accept user input, implement forms, or are comprised of a heterogeneous set of views.

However, it's also helpful to dig a bit deeper into the technical details of AloeStackView, as this can help develop a better understanding of appropriate use cases.

More Details

AloeStackView is a very useful tool to have in the toolbox. Its straightforward, flexible API allows you to build UI quickly and easily.

Unlike UITableView and UICollectionView, you can keep strong references to views in an AloeStackView and make changes to them at any point. This will automatically update the entire UI thanks to Auto Layout - there is no need to notify AloeStackView of the changes.

This makes AloeStackView great for use cases such as forms and screens that take user input. In these situations, it's often convenient to keep a strong reference to the fields a user is editing, and directly update the UI with validation feedback.

AloeStackView has no reloadData method, or any way to notify it about changes to your views. This makes it less error-prone and easier to debug than a class like UITableView. For example, AloeStackView won't crash if not notified of changes to the underlying data of the views it manages.

Since AloeStackView uses UIStackView under the hood, it doesn't recycle views as you scroll. This eliminates common bugs caused by not recycling views correctly. You also don't need to independently maintain the state of views as the user interacts with them, which makes it simpler to implement certain kinds of UI.

However, AloeStackView is not suitable in all situations. AloeStackView lays out the entire UI in a single pass when your screen loads. As such, longer screens will start seeing a noticeable delay before the UI is displayed for the first time. This is not a great experience for users and can make an app feel unresponsive to navigation actions. Hence, AloeStackView should not be used when implementing UI with more than a screenful or two of content.

Forgoing view recycling is also a trade-off: while AloeStackView is faster to write UI with and less error-prone, it will perform worse and use more memory for longer screens than a class like UITableView. Hence, AloeStackView is generally not appropriate for screens that contain many views of the same type, all showing similar data. Classes like UITableView or UICollectionView often perform better in those situations.

While AloeStackView is not the only piece of infrastructure we use to build iOS UI at Airbnb, it has been valuable for us in many situations. We hope you find it useful too!

Installation

AloeStackView can be installed with Carthage. Simply add github "airbnb/AloeStackView" to your Cartfile.

AloeStackView can be installed with CocoaPods. Simply add pod 'AloeStackView' to your Podfile.

Contributions

AloeStackView is feature complete for the use cases it was originally designed to address. However, UI development on iOS is never a solved problem, and we expect new use cases to arise and old bugs to be uncovered.

As such we fully welcome contributions, including new features, feature requests, bug reports, and fixes. If you'd like to contribute, simply push a PR with a description of your changes. You can also file a GitHub Issue for any bug reports or feature requests.

Please feel free to email the project maintainers if you'd like to get in touch. We'd love to hear from you if you or your company has found this library useful!

Maintainers

AloeStackView is developed and maintained by:

Marli Oshlack (marli@oshlack.com)

Fan Cox (fan.cox@airbnb.com)

Arthur Pang (arthur.pang@airbnb.com)

Contributors

AloeStackView has benefited from the contributions of many other Airbnb engineers:

Daniel Crampton, Francisco Diaz, David He, Jeff Hodnett, Eric Horacek, Garrett Larson, Jasmine Lee, Isaac Lim, Jacky Lu, Noah Martin, Phil Nachum, Gonzalo Nuñez, Laura Skelton, Cal Stephens, and Ortal Yahdav

In addition, open sourcing this project wouldn't have been possible without the help and support of Jordan Harband, Tyler Hedrick, Michael Bachand, Laura Skelton, Dan Federman, and John Pottebaum.

License

AloeStackView is released under the Apache License 2.0. See LICENSE for details.

Why is it called AloeStackView?

We like succulents and find the name soothing 😉