Automatic mapping of keys in Objective-C Key-Value Coding
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KVC Mapping is the automatic translation of external data to your internal model objects. It's useful when importing data, e.g. JSON from a webservice, into your CoreData backend.

KVC Mapping features

  • Mapping the keys of the external representation to the property names of your model,
  • Including mapping of the same key to several properties in the same entity.
  • Mapping the keys in the external representation to relationships between your model's entities,
  • A conversion mechanism:
  • using automatic coercion for trivial cases (e.g. strings to numbers)
  • configurable NSValueTransformers for more complex cases.
  • Reverse mapping of objects

KVC Mapping does not (yet) support :

  • mapping subdictionaries in the imported data,
  • mapping several keys of the imported data to a single property of the model.

KVC Mapping

Let’s say you have a datamodel, representing people, with a name, surname, and birthdate. The corresponding Objective-C class would look like :

@interface Person : NSObject
    @property NSString * name;
    @property NSString * surname;
    @property NSString * birthdate;
    @property BOOL likesCoffee;

You also happen to have a source for your data, for example a webservice providing JSON data. Unfortunately, the JSON data looks like :


Unfortunately, the JSON uses different keys for the "name", "surname", and "birthdate". Now you could go through your JSON array, and for every object compare the key string and assign it to the right property, but that looks a bit tedious.

The point of KVCMapping is to declare a mapping between the keys used in your models, and the keys used in the data you're importing.

In the above example, a simple dictionary :

    name1 = name;
    name2 = surname;
    caffeine = likesCoffee;

would be enough to parse the name and surname. You would then write :

NSDictionary * mapping = @{

for( NSDictionary * personAsDictionary in arrayFromJSON)
    Person * person = ...; // create the data object, for example in CoreData
    [person kvc_setValues:personAsDictionary withMappingDictionary:mapping options:0];

Voilà !

Value Transformers

But what about birthdate? NSDates are a little tougher to parse, because there's typically no "date" object in raw data. Dates are typically saved as strings, using a variant of a standard encoding. Unfortunately, there's no safe way to determine the exact encoding based only on the data. We have to give a hint to the parser.

In Objective-C, dates are converted to and from strings using NSDateFormatter. Another useful class here is NSValueTransformer, which is used to convert abritrary data from one representation to another. In KVCMapping, value transformers can be specified by name, right in the mapping dictionary.

Let's do this for the above example :

// Create a value transformer with the date formatter
// I'm using [Mattt’s excellent TransformerKit]( 
// for block-based value-transformers :
[NSValueTransformer registerValueTransformerWithName:@"ISO8601StringToDate"
                               transformedValueClass:[NSDate class] 
              returningTransformedValueWithBlock:^id(id value) {
    // Setup a date formatter for our external date representation
    // In the real world, you probably want to specify locale and cache the date formatter.
    NSDateFormatter * dateFormatter =;
    [dateFormatter setDateFormat:@"yyyy/MM/dd"];
    return [dateFormatter dateFromString:value]

The full mapping dictionary is :

NSDictionary * mapping = @{

Automatic conversions

Type coercion

Key-Value Coding supports, to some degree, automatic conversion between objects and scalars, but there's nothing in the Objective-C runtime to prevent you from assigning an NSNumber to an NSString property, or any other object.

In CoreData, NSManagedObjects know a lot more about their own properties, using NSAttributeDescription.

When used with NSManagedObjects, KVCMapping automatically converts objects to the wanted type:

  • NSNumbers are converted to NSStrings, as decimals.
  • NSStrings are converted to NSNumbers using - boolValue, - intValue, - longlongValue, - floatValue, - doubleValue, or to NSDecimalNumbers depending of the expected attribute type.

Automatic collections

When attempting to set a single object to a to-many relationship, KVCMapping automatically boxes the single-object in a one-item collection.


KVCMapping is a multi-layered API, but each level is useful in itself.

The foremost API are the kvc_setValue(s):withMapping: methods on NSObject (NSObject+KVCMapping.h|m). They take external value(s), and use mapping info to assign it to their receiver. The mapping iself is a KVCEntityMapping, typically created from an NSDictionary using a (relatively) friendly syntax. (KVCEntityMapping+MappingDictionary.h|m)

A KVCEntityMapping describes how to map external values to an internal model class. It’s composed of several KVCKeyMappings, for each specific type of mapping: property (KVCPropertyMapping), relationship (KVCRelationshipMapping) or subobject (KVCSubobjectMapping). (KVCEntityMapping.h|m).

The exact mechanism used when mapping a value to and from its external representation is in KVCEntityMapping+AssignValue.h|m. For NSManagedObjects, it uses entity description to do the mapping, and coercion. (NSAttributeDescription+Coercion.h|m, NSManagedObject+KVCRelationship.h|m, NSManagedObject+KVCSubobject.h|m). KVCFetching is used when setting a relationship to an existing object in a CoreData context. (NSEntityDescription+KVCFetching.h|m).

Several KVCEntityMapping are typically needed to map a complete data model to and from its external representation: that’s what KVCModelMapping is for (KVCEntityMapping.h|m). It’s used when importing batch data in CoreData context (NSManagedObjectContext+KVCMapping.h|m). It optionally uses a KVCEntitiesCache (KVCEntitiesCache.h|m) to avoid numerous fetch requests.

Mapping types

  • A value mapping is identifier by its key in the external data

  • Property Mapping -> input is a value -> an internal property (identified by its name), -> optionally using a value transformer

  • Relationship Mapping -> input is a value, used as a key for the relationship. -> uses a relationship (identified by its name) -> and the foreignKey to use to fetch this object.

  • Subobject Mapping -> input is a dictionary (or array), an external representation of the subobject. -> uses a relationship (identified by its name) -> and an entity mapping for the subobject.

  • KVCMapping can map external representations from Dictionary and Arrays -> For dictionaries (the usual case), mapping keys are strings -> For arrays, mapping keys are numbers (as indexes)

  • An EntityMapping can map the same external key to several internal properties or relationships.

  • An EntityMapping can map several external keys to the same internal property or relationship.

Reverse Mapping

  • When reverse mapping from internal objects to external data, only the first mapping is used for each key.