TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Safe Haquery Volume Number: 17 (2001)
Issue Number: 2
Column Tag: Mac OS X

The Art of Safe Haquery, Categorically Speaking

By Andrew Stone

The Subtitle in Italics

The Cocoa newcomer is constantly barraged with enthusiasm and praise of the Cocoa APIs by the early Cocoa adopters. These lofty feelings are indeed merited by the powerful and easy to use Cocoa development environment. Although Cocoa comes in both Java and Objective-C flavors, it's Objective-C which shines for ease of adding new functionality to existing classes through the Objective-C language mechanism known as Categories. This article will show you how to add and change functionality of an existing Cocoa class, the NSSavePanel, by using a category, a subclass and a tool which reveals all the methods in a class, classdump.

First, I must explain the spelling of haque and haquery, and how that came to be. In the field of Computer Science, we lovingly refer to the art of clever programming as hacking. But alas, the free press (albeit, controlled by only 5 men) has taken to using the term "hacker" for people engaged in unlawful computer cracking. Take back our term! By adding a slightly continental twist, voilà, le haque!

Before we embark on how to go below the API to accomplish tasks unaccomplishable through normal means, I am required by the unwritten laws of the unformed guild of responsible programmers to give my short lecture on using undocumented, unexposed API: Don't do it - you'll regret it - your program will break in a future release. The lecture always sounds better in the positive: if you strictly adhere to the Cocoa API, then not only will your application continue to function in future releases, it will actually run better as the dynamically loaded frameworks it depends on receive bug fixes from Apple.

That said, when you've decided that the only way to obtain behavior you desire is by using undocumented API, you need to make that code as safe as possible by assuming that the Apple implementation will change underneath you. We'll go over the tricks and tips when we look at the code below.

First, I wanted the ability to let the user create a new directory in a preset folder. I wanted to reuse the NSSavePanel because it knows how to get the name of a new directory and run as a sheet, Cocoa style. But the SavePanel is designed to allow the user to browse the directory structure and I don't want to allow that. When the SavePanel is in its "minimum" state with the File browser hidden, it's almost perfect for my needs. By disabling both the "reveal the browser" button and the Favorites popup, the panel is perfect for my needs:


Figure 1. This save panel has been tweaked to allow the user to create a new folder in the current folder only - there is no way for the user to navigate to other folders.

Unfortunately, there is no API to make the SavePanel not display the browser, New Folder button, Favorites popup, and other interface items which allow the user to leave the directory explicitly set by the program. So - how the heck can one programmatically shrink up the save panel? The best place to start looking is inside the NSSavePanel.nib file - which lives in /System/Library/Frameworks/AppKit.framework/Resources/English.lproj. Double-click that file to launch InterfaceBuilder.

We notice that the UI objects we need to mess with have outlets in the NSSavePanel class:

  • _favoritesPopup is the popup we need to disable
  • _expandButton is the button which makes the browser come and go

We also note that the expandButton's target is the SavePanel, and its action is: _expandPanel:. Right away, the leading underscore tips us off that this is an undocumented method. We do not want to call this directly; its name may change. Here's the trick: simply ask the expandButton to performClick:! That way, should Apple change the method which that button sends, our code will still work correctly. We are only in trouble if they remove _expandButton or change its name. Further safety could be had by noting the tag of the _expandButton in InterfaceBuilder, and using NSView's "viewWithTag" to find the button - thus never referring to the button by name. However, the creator of the nib file didn't assign a tag to either the expand button or the favorites popup, so that technique is useless here. You could also do a recursive search of the panel's contentView's subviews for a view of class NSPopUpButton to find the _favoritesPopup, but that would break if Apple added another popup to the panel.

Now, open the header file for NSSavePanel, found in:

/System/Library/Frameworks/AppKit.framework//Headers/NSSavePanel.h

You'll see the whole API - but here's what's interesting for us:

@interface NSSavePanel : NSPanel
{
    /*All instance variables are private*/
// Apple is telling you NOT TO RELY ON ANYTHING HERE!

    NSBrowser      *_browser;
    ...
    id                  _expandButton;
    ...
    id                  _favoritesPopup;
    ...
    struct __spFlags {
    ...
        unsigned int       collapsed:1;
    ...
    }                   _spFlags;
    ...
}

So, it looks like there is a way to determine if the panel is collapsed (_spFlags.collapsed), and we can disable the favorites button (_favoritesPopup) as well as ask the expandButton (_expandButton) to pretend the user clicked it.

We'll write a simple method to use in our application which checks the collapsed state of the panel, collapses it if it is expanded, and disables the folder navigation buttons. Because we're adding functionality and don't need to change any existing NSSavePanel methods, we'll use a category.

A category looks similar to class implementations, except:

  1. a category name comes after the class name
  2. no new instance variables can be declared

Here's our interface declaration:

@interface NSSavePanel(SuperTrickyStuff)
- (void)prepareToDisplayOnlyName;
@end

So a client of our SavePanel, who wants the collapsed version, will use calling code similar to this:

- (IBAction)newGalleryAction:(id)sender {

  // save panel configured for only creating new folders in the current one
  // Because we mess with this panel, we want our own copy so this doesn't
  // affect normal save panels used in the rest of the application:

    static NSSavePanel *savepanel = nil;
    if (!savepanel) {
        // If the save panel is to be reused, you must retain it!
        savepanel = [[NSSavePanel savePanel]retain];
    }
   // establish the folder where you want users to create a new folder:
   // note how subclasses could redefine where the saveDirectory is:
    [savepanel setDirectory:[self saveDirectory]];

   // Make the savepanel not require a filetype
   //  (directories don't require a path extension)
    [savepanel setRequiredFileType:@""];
    
    // Here's our invocation of our new category method
    // see explanation below as to why we use performSelector:withObject:afterDelay:
    [savepanel performSelector:@selector(prepareToDisplayOnlyName) withObject:nil afterDelay:.01];

   // following the Cocoa model of running save sheets, use NSSavePanel's
   // new API to run the save panel window modally:
   // This establishes the callback method, delegate, and context information
  // for use when, and if, the user ever finishes running the save panel:

    [savepanel beginSheetForDirectory:[self saveDirectory] file:@""
modalForWindow:[_controller window] modalDelegate:self
didEndSelector:@selector(didEndGallerySheet:returnCode:contextInfo:) contextInfo:NULL];

}

The only tricky part about calling our new category method is that we want it to happen AFTER the window has already come up on screen. And since the call to beginSheetForDirectory:file:modalForWindow:modalDelegate:didEndSelector: returns immediately, we need to schedule our call to prepareToDisplayOnlyName to occur AFTER the sheet appears on the window. Ideally you would do it before the window comes up so the user won't see the window collapse before her eyes - but it turns out that the Save panel does its own setting of the collapsed state if the user last collapsed another Save panel in the application. Once the save panel is displayed, then the programmatic "clicking" of the expand button will work correctly. NSObject defines a method, performSelector:withObject:afterDelay: for times when you need to schedule a call to happen after the current event loop goes around. If I tried to collapse it too early, it would further collapse and disappear!

Our implemenation of our Save panel category is also very straighforward - 8 lines of code:

@implementation NSSavePanel(SuperTrickyStuff)

// the user must be unable to use the Favorites popup 
// and the expand button, so we disable them:

- (void)disableButtons {
   [_favoritesPopup setEnabled:NO];
   [_expandButton setEnabled:NO];
}

// we temporarily enable the expand button just so we can send it the method
// performClick:

- (void)collapse:(id)sender {
   [_expandButton setEnabled:YES];
   [_expandButton performClick:nil];
   [self disableButtons];
}

// this is the only method we expose - and 
// all you need to call to set up the panel:

- (void)prepareToDisplayOnlyName {
    if (!_spFlags.collapsed) {
        [self collapse:nil];
    } else [self disableButtons];  
   // if it's already collapsed, we want the buttons disabled
}

Note that we need to call this every time we run the panel, because if the user sets another SavePanel into full file browser mode, the next time we run our save panel, it will once again try to set itself to the expanded state because of the inner workings of the NSSavePanel.

My next SavePanel challenge arose when the behavior of NSSavePanel changed for the worse in Public Beta. Now, when you go to save a file, all existing files are "disabled" and dimmed, so it's very hard to overwrite an existing file - you have to painstakingly and correctly type the exact name of the preexisting file. It used to be that you could simply double-click an existing file to save over it, and that behavior is what we want to restore to the panel. When outputting HTML, users may tweak something and then want to output the new version to a preexisting directory, essentially writing over the previous files. Since users complained about the apparent inability to write over old files, I decided it was time to peer deeper into the API.


Figure 2. This save panel has been tweaked to allow the user to select existing files - normally, they are disabled and unselectable.

After finding no available API to do what I wanted, I approached this by researching the private methods of NSSavePanel to try and deduce how this enabling/disabling was occurring. A piece of perennial software that has been companion to NeXTStep and OpenStep developers for years is now available for Cocoa: class-dump. This command line tool takes advantage of the Objective-C runtime to spit out all the instance and class methods in a program, bundle or framework. My friends at www.stepwise.com have a version via SoftTrak updated for OS X by James McIlrae: http://www.stepwise.com/SoftTrak/ and search for "class-dump". Once again, let me repeat that any developer who uses undocumented API deserves the headaches thus incurred! By using class-dump on the AppKit framework and searching for NSSavePanel, I found two methods that seemed extremely related to what I was trying to do:

- _itemHit:fp12;
- (BOOL)_enableLeaf:(id)fp12 container:(id)fp16 {

Moreover, from the nib file, I learned that the filename field is actually an NSForm. I also guessed correctly that the browser sends the method _itemHit: to the NSSavePanel when you click an item in the browser. To do what we want to do, we need to change _itemHit. Because we have absolutely no idea what the original implementation of _itemHit: is, we need to be able to call the original implementation. Because of this, we can't use a category, which would hide the original implementation. Instead, we create a subclass of NSSavePanel, SaveOverPanel, which allows us to call super's implementation to get the real work done, and then afterwards, monkey with the UI to obtain the behavior we desire.

How can we be safe in this instance? First off, our implementation is totally passive. By passive, I mean we are not assuming that NSSavePanel will respond to any undocumented method. Instead, if and only if the NSSavePanel calls _itemHit:, we call super to let the panel do the work. If Apple takes out this method, our subclass's implementation will not get called. Moreover, we'll test each of our UI elements to see if they are still the same class using isKindOfClass:. If their class changes, our code will simply call super's implementation. So all we really need to do is return YES for whether any particular node is enabled, and then when a user clicks on an item, transfer that string to the filename field.

// define a subclass of NSSavePanel with no new instance variables:
@interface SaveOverPanel : NSSavePanel

@end

// reveal the secret method so the compiler will not complain:
@interface NSSavePanel(superSecret)
- _itemHit:fp12;
@end

// the few lines of code needed to do what we want:

@implementation SaveOverPanel

- (BOOL)_enableLeaf:(id)fp12 container:(id)fp16 {
   // we want every cell to be enabled:
   // should Apple take out this method, then it will never be called
   // and our program continues to work, but without our new functionality
   return YES;
}

// the NSBrowser is the sender:
- _itemHit:fp12 {
    // first be absolutely sure we know what kinds of objects we think we have:
    if ([fp12 isKindOfClass:[NSBrowser class]] && [_form isKindOfClass:[NSForm class]]) {
        NSBrowserCell *cell = [fp12 selectedCell];

        // by calling super, we insure any internal work is done right:
        id returnValue = [super _itemHit:fp12];

        // if we have a leaf node, ie file, transfer that to filename field:
        if ([cell isLeaf]) [[_form cellAtIndex:0] setStringValue:[cell stringValue]];

        // return what we got back from super, whatever it is ;-) :
        return returnValue;
    } else return [super _itemHit:fp12];
}

@end

To use this type of Savepanel, just include the new class when you create the panel:

- (IBAction)createWebPagesAction:(id)sender {
        static SaveOverPanel * savepanel = nil;
        if (!savepanel)  {
            savepanel = [[SaveOverPanel savePanel]retain];
        }
        ...
}

Conclusion

There are many good programming practices, but using undocumented API is not one of them! However, if your users demand certain functionality and no exposed API exists for that functionality, you might want to tread this dangerous ground. If you apply certain preventative techniques to your haquery, you can minimize side effects and future problems.


Andrew Stone, <andrew@stone.com>, is Chief Executive Haquer of Stone Design Corp - a New Mexican software house in its 13th year of producing Cocoa software.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Duplicate Annihilator 5.7.5 - Find and d...
Duplicate Annihilator takes on the time-consuming task of comparing the images in your iPhoto library using effective algorithms to make sure that no duplicate escapes. Duplicate Annihilator... Read more
BusyContacts 1.0.2 - Fast, efficient con...
BusyContacts is a contact manager for OS X that makes creating, finding, and managing contacts faster and more efficient. It brings to contact management the same power, flexibility, and sharing... Read more
Capture One Pro 8.2.0.82 - RAW workflow...
Capture One Pro 8 is a professional RAW converter offering you ultimate image quality with accurate colors and incredible detail from more than 300 high-end cameras -- straight out of the box. It... Read more
Backblaze 4.0.0.872 - 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
Little Snitch 3.5.2 - Alerts you about o...
Little Snitch gives you control over your private outgoing data. Track background activity As soon as your computer connects to the Internet, applications often have permission to send any... Read more
Monolingual 1.6.4 - Remove unwanted OS X...
Monolingual is a program for removing unnecesary language resources from OS X, in order to reclaim several hundred megabytes of disk space. If you use your computer in only one (human) language, you... Read more
CleanApp 5.0 - Application deinstaller a...
CleanApp is an application deinstaller and archiver.... Your hard drive gets fuller day by day, but do you know why? CleanApp 5 provides you with insights how to reclaim disk space. There are... Read more
Fantastical 2.0 - Create calendar events...
Fantastical is the Mac calendar you'll actually enjoy using. Creating an event with Fantastical is quick, easy, and fun: Open Fantastical with a single click or keystroke Type in your event details... Read more
Cocktail 8.2 - General maintenance and o...
Cocktail is a general purpose utility for OS X that lets you clean, repair and optimize your Mac. It is a powerful digital toolset that helps hundreds of thousands of Mac users around the world get... Read more
Direct Mail 4.0.4 - Create and send grea...
Direct Mail is an easy-to-use, fully-featured email marketing app purpose-built for OS X. It lets you create and send great looking email campaigns. Start your newsletter by selecting from a gallery... Read more

Fast & Furious: Legacy's Creati...
| Read more »
N-Fusion and 505's Ember is Totally...
| Read more »
These are All the Apple Watch Apps and G...
The Apple Watch is less than a month from hitting store shelves, and once you get your hands on it you're probably going to want some apps and games to install. Fear not! We've compiled a list of all the Apple Watch apps and games we've been able to... | Read more »
Appy to Have Known You - Lee Hamlet Look...
Being at 148Apps these past 2 years has been an awesome experience that has taught me a great deal, and working with such a great team has been a privilege. Thank you to Rob Rich, and to both Rob LeFebvre and Jeff Scott before him, for helping me... | Read more »
Hands-On With Allstar Heroes - A Promisi...
Let’s get this out of the way quickly. Allstar Heroes looks a lot like a certain other recent action RPG release, but it turns out that while it’s not yet available here, Allstar Heroes has been around for much longer than that other title. Now that... | Read more »
Macho Man and Steve Austin Join the Rank...
WWE Immortals, by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and WWE, has gotten a superstar update. You'll now have access to Macho Man Randy Savage and Steve Austin. Both characters have two different versions: Macho Man Randy Savage Renegade or Macho... | Read more »
Fearless Fantasy is Fantastic for the iF...
I actually had my first look at Fearless Fantasy last year at E3, but it was on a PC so there wasn't much for me to talk about. But now that I've been able to play with a pre-release version of the iOS build, there's quite a bit for me to talk... | Read more »
MLB Manager 2015 (Games)
MLB Manager 2015 5.0.14 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 5.0.14 (iTunes) Description: Guide your favorite MLB franchise to glory! MLB Manager 2015, officially licensed by MLB.com and based on the award-... | Read more »
Breath of Light (Games)
Breath of Light 1.0.1421 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0.1421 (iTunes) Description: Hold a quiet moment. Breath of Light is a meditative and beautiful puzzle game with a hypnotic soundtrack by... | Read more »
WWE WrestleMania Tags into the App Store
Are You ready to rumble? The official WWE WrestleMania app, by World Wrestling Entertainment, is now available. Now you can get all your WrestleMania info in one place before anyone else. The app offers details on superstar signings, interactive... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro (refurbished) avai...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pros available for $829, or $270 off the cost of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free: - 13″ 2.... Read more
Save up to $80 on iPad Air 2s, NY tax only, f...
 B&H Photo has iPad Air 2s on sale for $80 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 16GB iPad Air 2 WiFi: $469.99 $30 off - 64GB iPad Air 2 WiFi: $549.99 $50 off - 128GB iPad... Read more
iMacs on sale for up to $205 off MSRP
B&H Photo has 21″ and 27″ iMacs on sale for up to $205 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 21″ 1.4GHz iMac: $1019 $80 off - 21″ 2.7GHz iMac: $1189 $110 off - 21″ 2.9GHz... Read more
Färbe Technik Offers iPhone Battery Charge LI...
Färbe Technik, which manufactures and markets of mobile accessories for Apple, Blackberry and Samsung mobile devices, is offering tips on how to keep your iPhone charged while in the field: •... Read more
Electronic Recyclers International CEO Urges...
Citing a recent story on CNBC about concerns some security professionals have about the forthcoming Apple Watch, John Shegerian, Chairman and CEO of Electronic Recyclers International (ERI), the... Read more
Save up to $380 with Apple refurbished iMacs
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished iMacs available for up to $380 off the cost of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free: - 27″ 3.5GHz 5K iMac – $2119 $... Read more
Mac minis on sale for up to $75 off, starting...
MacMall has Mac minis on sale for up to $75 off MSRP including free shipping. Their prices are the lowest available for these models from any reseller: - 1.4GHz Mac mini: $459.99 $40 off - 2.6GHz Mac... Read more
College Student Deals: Additional $50 off Mac...
Take an additional $50 off all MacBooks and iMacs at Best Buy Online with their College Students Deals Savings, valid through April 11, 2015. Anyone with a valid .EDU email address can take advantage... Read more
Mac Pros on sale for up to $260 off MSRP
B&H Photo has Mac Pros on sale for up to $260 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax in NY only: - 3.7GHz 4-core Mac Pro: $2799, $200 off MSRP - 3.5GHz 6-core Mac Pro: $3719.99... Read more
13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $100 o...
B&H Photo has the 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $999 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $100 off MSRP. Read more

Jobs Board

DevOps Software Engineer - *Apple* Pay, iOS...
**Job Summary** Imagine what you could do here. At Apple , great ideas have a way of becoming great products, services, and customer experiences very quickly. Bring Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
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
Sr. Technical Services Consultant, *Apple*...
**Job Summary** Apple Professional Services (APS) has an opening for a senior technical position that contributes to Apple 's efforts for strategic and transactional Read more
Lead *Apple* Solutions Consultant - Retail...
**Job Summary** Job Summary The Lead ASC is an Apple employee who serves as the Apple business manager and influencer in a hyper-business critical Reseller's store Read more
*Apple* Pay - Site Reliability Engineer - Ap...
**Job Summary** Imagine what you could do here. At Apple , great ideas have a way of becoming great products, services, and customer experiences very quickly. Bring Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.