TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Apr 97 Getting Started

Volume Number: 13 (1997)
Issue Number: 4
Column Tag: Getting Started

A First Look at Objective-C

By Dave Mark, ©1997, All Rights Reserved. http://www.spiderworks.com

Well, it finally happened. Apple made their OS decision, catching many of us by surprise. Personally, I am very excited by Apple's move. As was clear from the energy at Macworld Expo, things are finally moving. Apple has made a bold move. Now we have to retool and rethink our programming strategies.

As Apple made clear, the System 7.5 version of the Mac Toolbox still has some significant legs and will likely be part of our lives for some time to come. As I write this, the announced release schedule for Rhapsody (code name for the new OS) does not show a significant beta in our hands until January of next year. Nothing to complain about there. Of course, it will take time for Apple to marry their technology to that of NeXT and we all want this job done right.

My point is that there are some important decisions we all have to make, but the current schedule gives us the luxury of continuing down the current path (System 7.5 apps) without penalty, while giving us the time to plan for the new order.

What About Be?

Before we move on to the main focus of this column, I'd like to take a second to talk about the apparent loser in the OS wars: Be, Inc. You might think that because Be was not able to work out a deal with Apple, they have become damaged goods. Not so! As anyone who attended the first ever Be developer's conference will tell you, the BeOS is cool, the commitment from developers is there, and there's an excitement in the air, a feeling of being in on the ground floor of something big.

Bottom line, we now have two technological evolutions to follow. Things are about to get very interesting.

Java, C, C++, and Pascal vs. Objective-C

There are a number of questions raised by Apple's acquisition of NeXT. (See this month's Factory Floor interview with Avie Tevanian, Apple's new OS boss.) Among them, in what programming language will Rhapsody development be done? Is Objective-C the new sheriff in town? Will we be able to continue our C/C++ and Pascal efforts? And what about Java?

As we go to press, these issues are still not finalized. The story so far seems to be "all of the above." Objective-C is the language for NEXTSTEP, and should provide the most intimate access to Rhapsody. So far, it looks like C, C++, Pascal, etc. will all be supported, though in a slightly more distant relationship. Objective-C and Java support dynamic binding. C and Pascal support static binding, and C++ supports late binding.

In a nutshell, binding connects a called function to the function caller. Static binding means that the function being called is determined as the program is compiled. Though you can use function pointers to delay binding decisions in C, typically your binding decisions are made when you compile.

Dynamic binding is the opposite of static binding. The binding decision is delayed until runtime. This allows you to add components to your program while it is still running. If the runtime environment is designed to support this (and Rhapsody should be), it opens up a lot of interesting possibilities.

The C++ language supports a limited version of dynamic binding called late binding. In C++, a function call must type-match exactly the called function (called static typing) or else type-match exactly an inherited function. Though C++ virtual functions allow you to delay the binding until runtime, the type constraints still apply. Late binding is still restricted. Dynamic binding is unconstrained.

Java uses the same binding mechanism as Objective-C. Java offers the advantage of being a cross-platform solution, as well as tightly integrated with the Internet. It seems likely that Java will continue to grow and is likely to play a large role in Rhapsody.

What does all this mean for you? If you've been following this column over the past few months, you've already gotten a handle on Java. Over the next few months, we'll dig into Objective-C, starting with a review of some object programming terminology and a first look at the language syntax.

Finally, you can call the NeXT order desk at 800-TRY-NEXT (800-879-6398) to order books, manuals and software directly from NeXT, including "OpenStep Object-Oriented Programming and the Objective-C Language", "Enterprise Objects Framework Developer's Guide (for EOF 2.0)", "Working with Interface Builder (for Enterprise Objects Framework)", and "Discovering OPENSTEP: A Developer Tutorial (for Windows NT)."

Some Object Programming Terminology

Before we move on to the basics of Objective-C syntax, let's review a bit of object programming terminology, just to make sure we are all on the same page. We've already talked about dynamic, static, and late binding. Here are a few more.

Instances, methods, and instance variables. Just as in C++, an Objective-C class definition is a template for the creation of individual objects, also known as instances. The functions within a class (member functions) are known as methods, and the variables (data members) are known as instance variables.

Messages

In C++, an object's member function gets called. In Objective-C, a message is sent to an instance, known as the receiver. At runtime, the appropriate receiver method capable of handling the message is determined and the method is called.

Interface, implementation, and encapsulation

The interface to a class is the set of external methods defined for that class. The implementation is the internal workings of the class. The idea here is to keep the inner workings hidden from the user of a class, forcing them to access an instance via its interface. This mechanism is known as encapsulation. In Objective-C, all instance variables are encapsulated and access to them is limited to methods defined for the class.

Inheritance

Inheritance in Objective-C works pretty much as it does in C++. The parent class is known as a superclass and derived classes are known as subclasses.

A First Look at the Objective-C Language

Objective-C starts off with all the standard syntax of C. Objective-C source code files use the extension ".m", while header files stick with the extension ".h".

Objective-C features a generic object pointer type called id.

id myObject;

An id is designed as a generic pointer to an object's instance variables. The previous line of code didn't actually allocate an object. It created a pointer which will eventually be used to allocate the object. nil is defined as an id with a value of 0.

By using a generic object pointer type, Objective-C delays the type binding decisions until run time. This is a good thing, but it also puts a bit of extra overhead on the run-time system. Basically, in the NeXT world, all objects are derived from the root class Object. Object features an isa variable which is inherited by all Object subclasses (which should be all classes in your program). The isa instance variable specifies the class to which the object belongs.

Earlier, we talked about the separation of interface and implementation. In Objective-C, you declare the classes interface like this

 MySuperClass
{
 instance variable declarations
}
method declarations

Objective-C supports the standard C compiler directives that start with "#". In addition, Objective-C adds Objective-C specific compiler directives which start with "@". As you might expect, class names start with an upper case letter and variable names with a lower case letter. By convention, all identifiers are named using intercaps, yielding names like myVariable and MyClass.

Instance variable declarations are done just as they are in C and C++, though the type "id" is used pretty frequently in Objective-C and, obviously, is not built in to C or C++.

Method declarations are pretty funky. Here's a sample:

- (int)getX:(int)x andY:(int)y;

The leading minus sign marks this function as an instance method. A leading plus sign ("+") marks the method as a class method. (A class method is sort of like a static method in C++. We'll talk about class objects and class methods in a future column.)

The return type is specified in parentheses, just as if it were a typecast. If you leave off the return type, it defaults to the type id (just as a C function defaults to int if you leave off the return type). Note that a function that is not a method still defaults to a return type of int.

The name of the method specified above is getX:andY: and includes the colons in the name. Weird, eh? The idea is to have each chunk of the method end with a colon and correspond to a parameter. In this case, there are two parameters, x and y. The type of each parameter is also specified by a typecasting-like mechanism. Both x and y are ints.

Here's another example:

- getObj1:object1 andObj2:object2;

Note that this time all the type information was left out of the declaration. The return type and type of both arguments are the same, the default type "id".

Here's a sample class interface:

#import "Object.h"

 Object
{
 idmyVar;
}
- init;
- getLastObject:lastObject;

This interface declares a class named MyClass derived from the class Object. MyClass features a single variable, an id named myVar, and two methods, one named init and one named getLastObject, both of which return an id.

Note that the interface, which lives in a ".h" file, starts off with a #import compiler directive. #import replaces the #ifdef business you use in C++ to make sure you don't include an include file twice. Use #import to include any header files you need to include. Alternatively, you can just declare the classes you reference using the @class directive.


This directive tells the compiler that Object is a class. That's it. This delays any type analysis until run-time and can solve some knotty cross-dependancy problems where classes refer to each other. Bottom line, use the @class directive if you can get away with it, otherwise #import the classes' header file.

The implementation of a class looks like this:

 MySuperClass
{
 instance variable declarations
}
method definitions

Gee, doesn't this look familiar? Yup, the implementation looks almost identical to the interface. The differences? The implementation lives in a ".m" file instead of in a ".h" file and the method definitions replace the method declarations in the interface. Also, you are required to #import your classes' interface file in the implementation file. One nice benefit of this last fact is that you can leave the superclass and the instance variable declarations out of the implementation.

Here's another look:

#import "MyClass.h"

Till Next Month...

Hopefully, you've got a feel for the basic structure of an Objective-C program. Next month, we'll talk about message receivers and message syntax, and present our first Objective-C program. To get a head start, check out the Objective-C specification on the NeXT web site. (See the URL earlier in the column.) You can buy the NEXTSTEP environment running under NeXT, WinNT, and on top of Mach. Also, you might want to check out CodeBuilder from Tenon InterSystems. CodeBuilder runs on a Mac and comes with (among a LOT of other stuff) an Objective-C compiler. You might also want to check out Apple's web site to find out the current release schedule for Rhapsody tool betas and the Metrowerks web site to find the status of their Rhapsody tools.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Lyn 1.7.2 - Lightweight image browser an...
Lyn is a fast, lightweight image browser and viewer designed for photographers, graphic artists, and Web designers. Featuring an extremely versatile and aesthetically pleasing interface, it delivers... Read more
Tunnelblick 3.6.7beta02 - GUI for OpenVP...
Tunnelblick is a free, open source graphic user interface for OpenVPN on OS X. It provides easy control of OpenVPN client and/or server connections. It comes as a ready-to-use application with all... Read more
jAlbum Pro 13.4 - Organize your digital...
jAlbum Pro has all the features you love in jAlbum, but comes with a commercial license. You can create gorgeous custom photo galleries for the Web without writing a line of code! Beginner-friendly... Read more
calibre 2.65.1 - Complete e-book library...
Calibre is a complete e-book library manager. Organize your collection, convert your books to multiple formats, and sync with all of your devices. Let Calibre be your multi-tasking digital librarian... Read more
jAlbum 13.4 - Create custom photo galler...
With jAlbum, you can create gorgeous custom photo galleries for the Web without writing a line of code! Beginner-friendly, with pro results - Simply drag and drop photos into groups, choose a design... Read more
Backblaze 4.2.0.966 - 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
Backblaze 4.2.0.966 - 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
Tunnelblick 3.6.7beta02 - GUI for OpenVP...
Tunnelblick is a free, open source graphic user interface for OpenVPN on OS X. It provides easy control of OpenVPN client and/or server connections. It comes as a ready-to-use application with all... Read more
calibre 2.65.1 - Complete e-book library...
Calibre is a complete e-book library manager. Organize your collection, convert your books to multiple formats, and sync with all of your devices. Let Calibre be your multi-tasking digital librarian... Read more
jAlbum Pro 13.4 - Organize your digital...
jAlbum Pro has all the features you love in jAlbum, but comes with a commercial license. You can create gorgeous custom photo galleries for the Web without writing a line of code! Beginner-friendly... Read more

Clean Text (Productivity)
Clean Text 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Productivity Price: $3.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
Gemini - A Journey of Two Stars (Games)
Gemini - A Journey of Two Stars 1.0.1 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0.1 (iTunes) Description: *** SPECIAL LAUNCH SALE: $2.99 (25% off) *** "A mesmerizing and unexpectedly emotional journey." -- Los... | Read more »
How to get four NFL superstars for your...
Even though you're probably well on your way to building a top notch squad for the new season in Madden NFL Mobile, let's say you could beef it up by adding Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, Von Miller, and Todd Gurley to your roster. That's... | Read more »
Cartoon Network Superstar Soccer: Goal!!...
Cartoon Network Superstar Soccer: Goal!!! – Multiplayer Sports Game Starring Your Favorite Characters 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Become a soccer superstar with your... | Read more »
NFL Huddle: What's new in Topps NFL...
Can you smell that? It's the scent of pigskin in the air, which either means that cliches be damned, pigs are flying in your neck of the woods, or the new NFL season is right around the corner. [Read more] | Read more »
FarmVille: Tropic Escape tips, tricks, a...
Maybe farming is passé in mobile games now. Ah, but farming -- and doing a lot of a other things too -- in an island paradise might be a little different. At least you can work on your tan and sip some pina coladas while tending to your crops. [... | Read more »
Become the King of Avalon in FunPlus’ la...
King Arthur is dead. Considering the legend dates back to the 5th century, it would be surprising if he wasn’t. But in the context of real-time MMO game King of Avalon: Dragon Warfare, Arthur’s death plunges the kingdom into chaos. Evil sorceress... | Read more »
Nightgate (Games)
Nightgate 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: *** Launch Sale: 25% OFF for a limited time! *** In the year 2398, after a great war, a network of intelligent computers known as... | Read more »
3 best fantasy football apps to get you...
Last season didn't go the way you wanted it to in fantasy football. You were super happy following your drafts or auctions, convinced you had outsmarted everyone. You were all set to hustle on the waiver wire, work out some sweet trades, and make... | Read more »
Pokemon GO update: Take me to your leade...
The Team Leaders in Pokemon GO have had it pretty easy up until now. They show up when players reach level 5, make their cases for joining their respective teams, and that's pretty much it. Light work, as Floyd Mayweather might say. [Read more] | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Global Tablet Shipments Projected to Increase...
Digitimes’ Jim Hsiao reports that global tablet shipments will increase by 16.3 percent sequentially to reach nearly 47 million units in 2016′s third quarter, but that volume will still be down over... Read more
Apple’s 2016 Back to School promotion: Free B...
Purchase a new Mac or iPad using Apple’s Education Store and take up to $300 off MSRP. All teachers, students, and staff of any educational institution qualify for the discount. Shipping is free, and... Read more
Apple refurbished iPad Air 2s available start...
Apple has Certified Refurbished iPad Air 2 available starting at $339. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free: - 128GB Wi-Fi iPad Air 2: $499 - 64GB Wi-Fi iPad... Read more
13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro available for $961...
Overstock has the 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pro available for $961.63 including free shipping. Their price is $138 off MSRP. Read more
Clearance 12-inch Retina MacBooks, Apple refu...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2015 12″ Retina MacBooks available starting at $929. Apple will include a standard one-year warranty with each MacBook, and shipping is free. The following... Read more
BookBook Releases SurfacePad, BookBook &...
BookBook has released three new covers just for iPad Pro: SurfacePad, BookBook and BookBook Rutledge Edition. BookBook for iPad Pro is a gorgeous leather case reminiscent of a vintage sketchbook.... Read more
Clean Text 1.0 for iOS Reduces Text Cleanup a...
Apimac today announced availability of Clean Text for iOS, a tool for webmasters, graphic designers, developers and magazine editors to reduce text cleanup and editing time, and also for any iPhone... Read more
27-inch iMacs on sale for up to $220 off MSRP
B&H Photo has 27″ Apple iMacs on sale for up to $200 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 27″ 3.3GHz iMac 5K: $2099 $200 off MSRP - 27″ 3.2GHz/1TB Fusion iMac 5K: $1899 $100... Read more
Apple refurbished 13-inch MacBook Airs availa...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2016 and 2015 13″ MacBook Airs now available starting at $849. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each MacBook, and shipping is free: - 2016 13″ 1.6GHz/8GB/... Read more
Apple refurbished iPad mini 2s available for...
Apple is offering Certified Refurbished iPad mini 2s for up to $80 off the cost of new minis. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free: - 16GB iPad mini 2 WiFi: $... Read more

Jobs Board

Hardware Design Validation Engineer - *Apple...
Changing the world is all in a day's work at Apple . If you love innovation, here's your chance to make a career of it. You'll work hard. But the job comes with more Read more
*Apple* /Mac Support Engineer - GFI Digital,...
FI Digital, Inc. is currently seeking candidates for a full time Apple Support Engineer to add to our Maryland Heights, Missouri IT team. Candidates must be dynamic Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Apple (United...
Apple Solutions ConsultantJob Number: 51218534Pleasant Hill, California, United StatesPosted: Aug. 18, 2016Weekly Hours: 40.00Job SummaryAs an Apple Solutions Read more
SW Engineer *Apple* TV - Apple Inc. (United...
The Apple TV team is looking for excellent software engineers with experience in hardware, media management, media playback, content delivery and a passion for Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.