TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Mac Prog FAQ Review

Volume Number: 13 (1997)
Issue Number: 2
Column Tag: Tools Of The Trade

Macintosh Programming FAQs

By Edward Ringel

Lots of information in a good package

Needed: A Guide for the Perplexed

Recalling my undergraduate course in organic chemistry, my textbook went through a rather lengthy description of a synthesis. I would read it and I would think I understood it. I'd then go on to the next page, and an equally daunting process would be left as "an exercise for the reader," implying that at this point the logic should be pretty straightforward and any dummy should be able to figure it out. It would be at this point that I would realize that I wasn't as smart as I thought.

So it is with Mac programming. The first time I tried to put a list in a dialog I carefully read through Inside Macintosh, Volume IV, and I crashed and burned when they started talking about event filter procedures and drawing procedures, with implementation left as an exercise for the programmer.

Things are different from 1986 and 1987, when the List Manager was young, and System 3.2/Finder 5.3 was new and exciting. There are numerous books and good examples of introductory techniques. There are very good guides to the proper construction of a Mac GUI, using standard design elements. Apple has improved its sample code considerably, and I would argue that it is fairly easy to get started if you are willing to spend the time.

The road gets rockier when we get to the next level of sophistication. How do you customize a menu? How do you get the Notification Manager to notify the user? How do you add the little things that make a program special and professional? Certainly, there is an accumulated lore and body of experience which is available on the Internet, in various college and university repositories, the Apprentice CD series, and even from Apple. However, the information is diffuse, often poorly documented, and highly variable in quality and content. For the "every man" mainstream programmer, the person using an unmodified MacHeader straight from Metrowerks or Symantec, bootstrapping to the next level of sophistication can involve an unreasonably steep learning curve.

Enter Mac Programming FAQs

Mac Programming FAQs, by Stephen Baker with Dave Mark, is this needed organized repository of more advanced programming techniques. It is a wonderful book. It consists of a 600 plus page book plus a CD (we'll get back to the CD contents in a bit.) After an introduction, the book consists of 650 frequently asked questions about Macintosh programming, each answered concisely and usually illustrated with code.

I enjoyed this book for several reasons. First, it is simply well written. Baker and Mark are a good team, and they used a terse, but easy to read style. There was little ambiguity in the presentation, but at the same time it was not technical or handbook-like; the information flowed freely from the page. Second, it is written in a single voice; the approach is that of one individual, and it is easy to stay tuned to the presentation. Third, the information was accurate. While there were a few typos and misstatements, there were very few errors of fact. Fourth, this book is a gold mine of information. I learned a heck of a lot of new stuff, and got a bunch of questions on some murky topics (for me, at least) answered concisely.

The book purports to address the needs of a wide spectrum of programming skill. While a few of the questions are those posed at the beginner level, the bulk of the book addresses advanced and intermediate programming techniques. I suspect that a beginning programmer who tried to attack this book would certainly get something out of it, but the experience would be akin to learning to swim at the deep end of the pool.


This book covers questions about mainstream programming. It does not cover networking issues, writing PCI card drivers, maximizing efficiency of QuickDraw GX printer drivers, etc. It does cover events, dialogs, lists, menus, printing, notification, windows, resources and the like. The book is organized along the lines of the various Managers. Typical questions include:

"How do I get the full path of a file referenced by a vRefNum, parent directory ID, and filename?" (File Manager.)

"How do I attach an icon to an application?" (Finder and Desktop.)

"How do I change the title of a menu in the menu bar after it has been installed?" (Menus.)

"Why can't I access QuickDraw globals like ‘thePort' anymore?" (QuickDraw: Drawing.)

"Given a handle to a resource, how can I determine which resource file it came from?" (Resources.)

"How do I draw dimmed (grayed out) text?" (Text: Fonts and Drawing.)

"How do I put a list in a Macintosh model dialog box?" (Lists and the List Manager.)

Some only take a line or two of text to answer. Others, such as the list question, took three or four pages. In general, I had a pretty good idea of how to do something once I had read the answer to the question. Questions are cross-referenced, with respect both to specific FAQs and other more general topics. The only serious criticism I have of this book is that it tries to address the Apple Event issue. I have found this to be one of the most difficult areas of mainstream Macintosh programming, and it seems almost silly to have a few pages of FAQs about this incredibly complex Manager. Fortunately, the authors have the sense to direct the reader to more appropriate, in-depth resources, and acknowledge the limited scope of coverage in the book.


The great majority of articles include some code, even if it just shows how to call a Toolbox function. The code varies from a snippet to a short program, but in my experience it a) always illustrated the point and b) worked when ran. Examples tended to be simple enough to follow, but complex enough not to be trivial and to illustrate the demonstration points successfully. Baker and Mark resisted the temptation to throw in tricks and to hot dog; I think Apple would approve of just about every technique demonstrated. All coding and examples are in ANSI C. There is a short series of FAQs about Pascal versus C, which was the only departure from this observation.

A CD Too!

The CD has three components. First, it contains complete projects (Code Warrior) for the longer examples. This means source, project file, and resource, as well as a compiled executable. Second, snippets are contained within Simple Text files for use in any environment. Third, there is a searchable database that includes every question asked in the book, with its answer, similarly cross referenced. As I said above, I experimented extensively with the code, compiled and ran as advertised; the quality assurance on this material was very good. The database worked well and delivered as promised. If you like working from the screen and using a search engine better than using a book and an index, you'll be very happy with the database.

Can I Ask for Better?

Not really. Frankly, I think this is the best forty bucks I've spent in a long time. I feel as though I have the resources to make my programs more professional in appearance, and I will waste less time in future projects. Indeed, I suspect that it is people such as myself, the serious hobbyist/intermediate level programmer who will find this book the most valuable, precisely for the reasons I just stated. Enjoy!

Mac Programming FAQs, by Stephen H. Baker with Dave Mark. IDG Books, Foster City, CA. Copyright 1996. ISBN 0-7645-4001-7. List price $39.95.


Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Opera 40.0.2308.90 - High-performance We...
Opera is a fast and secure browser trusted by millions of users. With the intuitive interface, Speed Dial and visual bookmarks for organizing favorite sites, news feature with fresh, relevant content... Read more
BetterTouchTool 1.93 - Customize Multi-T...
BetterTouchTool adds many new, fully customizable gestures to the Magic Mouse, Multi-Touch MacBook trackpad, and Magic Trackpad. These gestures are customizable: Magic Mouse: Pinch in / out (zoom... Read more
Backblaze - Online backup serv...
Backblaze is an online backup service designed from the ground-up for the Mac. With unlimited storage available for $5 per month, as well as a free 15-day trial, peace of mind is within reach with... Read more
Postbox 5.0.5 - Powerful and flexible em...
Postbox is a new email application that helps you organize your work life and get stuff done. It has all the elegance and simplicity of Apple Mail, but with more power and flexibility to manage even... Read more
Coda 2.5.19 - One-window Web development...
Coda is a powerful Web editor that puts everything in one place. An editor. Terminal. CSS. Files. With Coda 2, we went beyond expectations. With loads of new, much-requested features, a few surprises... Read more
Toast Titanium 15.1 - $99.99
Roxio Toast 15 Titanium, the leading DVD burner for Mac, makes burning even better, adding Roxio Secure Burn to protect your files on disc and USB in Mac- or Windows-compatible formats. Get more... Read more
Firetask 3.8.1 - Innovative task managem...
Firetask uniquely combines the advantages of classical priority-and-due-date-based task management with GTD. Stay focused and on top of your commitments - Firetask's "Today" view shows all relevant... Read more
Chromium 54.0.2840.71 - Fast and stable...
Chromium is an open-source browser project that aims to build a safer, faster, and more stable way for all Internet users to experience the web. Version 54.0.2840.71: Release notes were unavailable... Read more
Chromium 54.0.2840.71 - Fast and stable...
Chromium is an open-source browser project that aims to build a safer, faster, and more stable way for all Internet users to experience the web. Version 54.0.2840.71: Release notes were unavailable... Read more
Firetask 3.8.1 - Innovative task managem...
Firetask uniquely combines the advantages of classical priority-and-due-date-based task management with GTD. Stay focused and on top of your commitments - Firetask's "Today" view shows all relevant... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

WitchSpring2 (Games)
WitchSpring2 1.27 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.27 (iTunes) Description: This is the story of Luna, the Moonlight Witch as she sets out into the world. This is a sequel to Witch Spring. Witch Spring 2... | Read more »
Best Fiends Forever Guide: How to collec...
The fiendship in Seriously's hit Best Fiends has been upgraded this time around in Best Fiends Forever. It’s a fast-paced clicker with lots of color and style--kind of reminiscent of a ‘90s animal mascot game like Crash Bandicoot. The game... | Read more »
5 apps for the budding mixologist
Creating your own cocktails is something of an art form, requiring a knack for unique tastes and devising interesting combinations. It's easy to get started right in your own kitchen, though, even if you're a complete beginner. Try using one of... | Read more »
5 mobile strategy games to try when you...
Strategy enthusiasts everywhere are celebrating the release of Civilization VI this week, and so far everyone seems pretty satisfied with the first full release in the series since 2010. The series has always been about ultra-addictive gameplay... | Read more »
Popclaire talk to us about why The Virus...
Humanity has succumbed to a virus that’s spread throughout the world. Now the dead have risen with a hunger for human flesh, and all that remain are a few survivors. One of those survivors has just called you for help. That’s the plot in POPCLAIRE’... | Read more »
Oceans & Empires preview build sets...
Hugely ambitious sea battler Oceans & Empires is available to play in preview form now on Google Play - but download it quickly, as it’s setting sail away in just a few days. [Read more] | Read more »
Rusty Lake: Roots (Games)
Rusty Lake: Roots 1.1.4 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.1.4 (iTunes) Description: James Vanderboom's life drastically changes when he plants a special seed in the garden of the house he has inherited.... | Read more »
Flippy Bottle Extreme! and 3 other physi...
Flippy Bottle Extreme! takes on the bottle flipping craze with a bunch of increasingly tricky physics platforming puzzles. It's difficult and highly frustrating, but also addictive. When you begin to master the game, the sense of achievement is... | Read more »
Plants vs. Zombies Heroes guide: How to...
Plants vs. Zombies Heroes surprised us all, presenting a deep deck building experience. It's a great CCG that stands up well to the competition. There are a lot of CCGs vying for players' attention at the moment, but PvZ Heroes is definitely one... | Read more »
Arcane Online takes Online RPG’s to anot...
If you think that you need a desktop to enjoy high quality MMO gaming then Arcane Online hopes to prove you emphatically wrong. An epic fantasy Online RPG set in the land of Eldine, Arcane Online offers an abundance of features and content that... | Read more »

Price Scanner via

Apple’s Thursday “Hello Again” Event A Largel...
KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has a strong record of Apple hardware prediction accuracy, forecasts in a new note to investors released late last week that a long-overdue redo of the... Read more
12-inch Retina MacBooks on sale for $100 off...
Amazon has 2016 12″ Apple Retina MacBooks on sale for $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free: - 12″ 1.1GHz Silver Retina MacBook: $1199.99 $100 off MSRP - 12″ 1.1GHz Gold Retina MacBook: $1199.99 $100 off... Read more
Save up to $600 with Apple refurbished Mac Pr...
Apple has Certified Refurbished Mac Pros available for up to $600 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each Mac Pro, and shipping is free. The following... Read more
PixelStyle Inexpensive Photo Editor For Mac W...
PixelStyle is an all-in-one Mac Photo Editor with a huge range of high-end filters including lighting, blurs, distortions, tilt-shift, shadows, glows and so forth. PixelStyle Photo Editor for Mac... Read more
13-inch MacBook Airs on sale for $100-$140 of...
B&H has 13″ MacBook Airs on sale for $100-$140 off MSRP for a limited time. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 13″ 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air (sku MMGF2LL/A): $899 $100 off... Read more
2.8GHz Mac mini available for $988, includes...
Adorama has the 2.8GHz Mac mini available for $988, $11 off MSRP, including a free copy of Apple’s 3-Year AppleCare Protection Plan. Shipping is free, and Adorama charges sales tax in NY & NJ... Read more
21-inch 3.1GHz 4K on sale for $1379, $120 off...
Adorama has the 21″ 3.1GHz 4K iMac on sale $1379.99. Shipping is free, and Adorama charges NY & NJ sales tax only. Their price is $120 off MSRP. To purchase an iMac at this price, you must first... Read more
Check Apple prices on any device with the iTr...
MacPrices is proud to offer readers a free iOS app (iPhones, iPads, & iPod touch) and Android app (Google Play and Amazon App Store) called iTracx, which allows you to glance at today’s lowest... Read more
Apple, Samsung, Lead J.D. Power Smartphone Sa...
Customer satisfaction is much higher among smartphone owners currently subscribing to full-service wireless carriers, compared with those purchasing service through a non-contract carrier, according... Read more
Select 9-inch Apple WiFi iPad Pros on sale fo...
B&H Photo has select 9.7″ Apple WiFi iPad Pros on sale for up to $50 off MSRP, each including free shipping. B&H charges sales tax in NY only: - 9″ Space Gray 256GB WiFi iPad Pro: $799 $0 off... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions- Napervi...
Job Description:SalesSpecialist - Retail Customer Service and SalesTransform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
Security Data Analyst - *Apple* Information...
…data sources need to be collected to allow Information Security to better protect Apple employees and customers from a wide range of threats.Act as the subject Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (Multi-L...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions- New Yor...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions- Yonkers...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.