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HRCoder is a replacement for the NSKeyedArchiver and NSKeyedUnarchiver classes. Although the NSKeyedArchiver writes data in the standard Plist format, the structure of the Plist makes it hard to read, and nearly impossible to generate by hand.

The HR stands for Human Readable. HRCoder saves files in a simpler format than NSKeyedArchiver; Standard objects such as strings, dictionaries, arrays, numbers, booleans and binary data are all saved and loaded using the standard Plist primitives, and any other type of object is saved as a simple dictionary, with the addition of a $class key to indicate the object type.

This makes it possible to easily generate HRCoder-compatible Plist files by hand, and then load them using the standard NSCoding protocol. You can also read and manually edit files saved by the HRCoder class without fear of corrupting the file.

The simple dictionary/array-based format used by HRCoding can also be easily stored as JSON, opening up more options for serialisation (NSKeyedArchiver is tied to Plists and cannot easily be used to save as JSON without creating a Plist as an intermediate step).

HRCoder is designed to work with the AutoCoding library (, which can automatically write the initWithCoder: and encodeWithCoder: methods for your classes. Check out the AutoTodoList example to see how this works.

HRCoder is also designed to work hand-in-hand with the BaseModel library ( which forms the basis for building a powerful model hierarchy for your project with minimal effort. Check the HRTodoList example included in the BaseModel repository for an example of how these libraries can work together.

Supported OS & SDK Versions

  • Supported build target - iOS 11.0 / Mac OS 10.12 (Xcode 9.0)
  • Earliest supported deployment target - iOS 9.0 / Mac OS 10.10
  • Earliest compatible deployment target - iOS 4.0 / Mac OS 10.6

NOTE: 'Supported' means that the library has been tested with this version. 'Compatible' means that the library should work on this OS version (i.e. it doesn't rely on any unavailable SDK features) but is no longer being tested for compatibility and may require tweaking or bug fixes to run correctly.

ARC Compatibility

As of version 1.3, HRCoder requires ARC. If you wish to use HRCoder in a non-ARC project, just add the -fobjc-arc compiler flag to the HRCoder.m class file. To do this, go to the Build Phases tab in your target settings, open the Compile Sources group, double-click HRCoder.m in the list and type -fobjc-arc into the popover.

If you wish to convert your whole project to ARC, comment out the #error line in HRCoder.m, then run the Edit > Refactor > Convert to Objective-C ARC... tool in Xcode and make sure all files that you wish to use ARC for (including HRCoder.m) are checked.

Thread Safety

It is not safe to access a single HRCoder instance from multiple threads concurrently, hower using the HRCoder class methods to encode and decode objects is completely thread-safe.


To use HRCoder, just drag the HRCoder.h and .m files into your project.

HRCoder properties

@property (nonatomic, assign) HRCoderFormat outputFormat;

This property can be used to set the output format when serialising HRCoded objects. Possible values are HRCoderFormatXML, HRCoderFormatJSON and HRCoderFormatBinary. The default value is HRCoderFormatXML, which produces an XML Plist.

HRCoder methods

HRCoder implements the following methods, which mirror those of the NSKeyedArchiver and NSKeyedUnarchiver classes.

+ (id)unarchiveObjectWithPlistOrJSON:(id)plistOrJSON;

Constructs an object tree from an encoded Plist or JSON object and returns it. The plistOrJSON parameter can be any object that is natively supported by the Plist or JSON formats. This would typically be a container object such as an NSDictionary or NSArray. If any other kind of object is supplied it will be returned without modification.

Note that this object need not actually be loaded from a Plist or JSON file you can create such an object programmatically.

+ (id)unarchiveObjectWithData:(NSData *)data;

Loads a serialised plist from an NSData object and returns an unarchived object tree by calling unarchiveObjectWithPlist: on the root object in the file. Supports text, JSON, XML or binary-formatted data. Data is deserialised using mutable containers to ensure that mutability of encoded arrays and dictionaries is preserved. If you'd prefer immutable objects, load the object yourself directly using the NSPropertyListSerialization or NSJSONSerialization classes.

+ (id)unarchiveObjectWithFile:(NSString *)path;

Loads a data file in Plist format and returns an unarchived object tree by calling unarchiveObjectWithData:.

+ (id)archivedPlistWithRootObject:(id)object;

Encodes the passed object as a hierarchy of Plist-compatible objects, and returns it. The resultant object will typically be one of NSDictionary, NSArray, NSString, NSData, NSDate or NSNumber. This object is then safe to pass to NSPropertyListSerialisation for conversion to raw data or saving to a file.

+ (id)archivedJSONWithRootObject:(id)object;

Encodes the passed object as a hierarchy of JSON-compatible objects, and returns it. The resultant object will typically be one of NSDictionary, NSArray, NSString, NSNumber or NSNull. This object is then safe to pass to NSPropertyListSerialisation for conversion to raw data or saving to a file.

+ (NSData *)archivedDataWithRootObject:(id)rootObject;

Encodes the passed object by calling archivedPlistWithRootObject: and then serialises it to data using the XML property list format.

+ (BOOL)archiveRootObject:(id)rootObject toFile:(NSString *)path;

Encodes the passed object by calling archivedDataWithRootObject: and then saves it to the file path specified. The file is saved atomically to prevent data corruption.

- (id)initForReadingWithData:(NSData *)data;

This method is used for creating an HRCoder instance from an encoded NSData object that can be passed directly to the initWithCoder: method of a class. It is included mostly for compatibility with the NSKeyedUnarchiver class, which has the same method. The data must contain a plist-encoded NSDictionary object. Other root objects types such as NSArray are not supported with this method (you can use the unarchiveObjectWithData: method to load data containing other root object types).

- (id)initForWritingWithMutableData:(NSMutableData *)data;

This method is used to create an HTCoder object for the purpose of writing to a data object. Once you have created the HRCoder instance, you can pass it to the encodeWithCoder: method of an object to encode it. Once you have written an object, calling finishEncoding will write the serialised plist data into the NSMutableData object.

- (void)finishDecoding;

Finishes decoding data that was opened using the initForReadingWithData: method.

- (void)finishEncoding;

When a file has been opened using the initForWritingWithMutableData: method, this will close it off and write the serialised data to the originally specified NSMutableData object.

Plist structure

Any ordinary Plist can be loaded using HECoder and it will behave the same way as if you loaded it using NSPropertyListSerialization. To add custom classes to the Plist, define the object as if it was a dictionary, but add an additional $class key with the class name of the object. For example, this code will result in an ordinary NSDictionary:


But this will load an object of class Greetings (assuming that class exists in your project).


Another feature of NSCoding that isn't supported by ordinary Plists is circular references. HRCoding supports this using the an aliasing mechanism. If you want to re-use an object in another place within your object hierarchy, you can do this using the following syntax:


The alias value is a key path to the original object within the hierarchy. To see this in context, here is a simple example of how this would work:

    <string>Hello World</string>

Once loaded, the object1 and object2 properties will both point at the same "Hello World" string instance (not just the same value, but the same actual object). This also works with arrays - just use the array index as the alias key:

    <string>Hello World</string>

Forward references are permitted in aliases (i.e. aliasing an object which is declared later in the hierarchy), however this should be avoided as possible as it involves inserting HRCoderAliasPlaceholder objects as the object tree is deserialised, and then replacing these later, which incurs a slight performance penalty.

Note that if you are using aliases you should be careful not to call methods on deserialised objects insider your initWithCoder: method, as they may not always be of the expected type until loading is complete.

Release notes

Version 1.3.3

  • Fixed warnings in Xcode 9

Version 1.3.2

  • Fixed crash when encoding binary data in JSON files (affected mutable strings)
  • Fixed some additional warnings in Xcode 6

Version 1.3.1

  • Fixed bug with encoding conditional objects
  • HRCoder can now encode NSData objects as JSON using base 64 encoding

Version 1.3

  • outputFormat enum is now of type HRCoderFormat, and includes JSON as an option
  • When using the JSON output format, NSData and NSDate objects are now encoded in a JSON-compatible format
  • HRCoder can now load data encoded in JSON format
  • Now complies with -Weverything warning level
  • Improved performance when using ARC
  • HRCoder now requires ARC

Version 1.2.3

  • Fixed a bug where objects that override isEqual would be incorrectly aliased
  • Objects of type NSNumber, NSDate and short NSStrings will no longer be aliased
  • Now complies with -Wall and -Wextra warning levels

Version 1.2.2

  • Fixed a bug where objects could be skipped when decoding, depending on the order of items in the plist
  • Added CocoaPods podspec

Version 1.2.1

  • Fixed bug where nested NSDictionaries were not decoded correctly

Version 1.2

  • Added initForReadingWithData: and initForWritingWithMutableData: methods, which improve compatibility with the NSKeyedArchiver/Unarchiver class interfaces.
  • Added outputFormat property for setting the Plist format when saving

Version 1.1.3

  • Fixed analyzer warning due to over-autorelease of decoded object

Version 1.1.2

  • Fixed crash when attempting to archive a nil object property

Version 1.1.1

  • HRCoder now calls the awakeAfterUsingCoder: method on objects after they are unarchived.
  • HRCoder now calls the classForCoder and replacementObjectForCoder: methods on an object prior to archiving.

Version 1.1

  • Added unarchiveObjectWithData: and archivedDataWithRootObject: methods
  • HRCoder now saves in XML format instead of binary by default
  • Now supports 32-bit CPUs on Mac OS 10.6

Version 1.0

  • Initial release