TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Apple's Developer Toolchain

Volume Number: 19 (2003)
Issue Number: 8
Column Tag: Viewpoint

Apple's Developer Toolchain

Or, how I learned to appreciate Objective C

by John C. Daub

Mac OS X has been publicly available for over two years. Many others and myself have come to appreciate the "native" offerings that Mac OS X brings, such as increased stability and true multitasking. But one thing that still boggles my mind is how many Mac OS software developers still balk at the "native" Mac OS X software developer toolchain; by that I mean: Cocoa, Project Builder, Interface Builder, and Objective C. I have found this toolchain greatly increases my productivity over my previous toolchain, and it pains me whenever I find a Mac OS software developer that simply refuses to give it a try. I admit I too had "bracket shock" when I first looked at Objective C source code, but I'm glad I didn't let that scare me away because I've found a way to develop software faster and better than the way I was previously developing.

Cocoa

Cocoa is the name for Apple's native object oriented application development frameworks. These days it's safe to say Cocoa's chief competitor is PowerPlant, Metrowerks' object oriented application development framework. Cocoa and PowerPlant work to accomplish the same goal: wrap up the procedures of the operating system and present them to the developer in an object oriented manner, along with utility and helper classes that solve common programming problems to facilitate faster application development. I believe Cocoa does it better, and I think that's due in part to the maturity of Cocoa as an API. I've found Cocoa's abilities to be very broad and very deep, providing me with just about everything I need apart from whatever specifics there are to my application's logic. As an example, I wanted to hack up a small application to help me keep my notes. I started in PowerPlant and after two weeks was greatly frustrated at how much work I had done and how little I had accomplished because in that time I was still struggling to get the foundation for the application established. I had just finished going through the Learning Cocoa book and decided to try using Cocoa to hack up my application. Even with my inexperience, within a day I had gotten further working in Cocoa than I did in PowerPlant, and I believe this was due to the breadth and depth of the API that Cocoa provides.

One thing about PowerPlant's design is the "buffet style" approach it takes. PowerPlant is intentionally designed so that its classes can be used together or separately; one is able to pick out and use what looks interesting. While I certainly find merit to this approach, in my years of using PowerPlant I've also found myself occasionally frustrated by this approach. When I worked for Pervasive Software developing Tango 2000 I used the MacApp framework, which is more of an "all or nothing" framework as it has a common base class which most all classes inherit from: TObject. Cocoa has a similar approach with most all classes inheriting from NSObject. I actually didn't find this approach as bad as I was lead to believe, and since my MacApp experiences I've grown to actually appreciate and prefer a common "object" base class. This is because I've found myself striving to write code in more of a true object oriented manner, and it helps when everything you're working with is an object.

When I work in Cocoa I feel like I'm programming the system in an object oriented fashion, unlike Carbon, which is procedural in nature. One thing that helps make this possible is how the Objective C language and runtime is integrated into the system. I'll speak more on Objective C later in the article. But along the lines of integration is the core development applications: Interface Builder and Project Builder.

Project Builder

Project Builder is Apple's project management tool. It's akin to the CodeWarrior IDE in terms of the problem it's providing a solution for - project management. Most Mac programmers these days have used CodeWarrior and feel that Project Builder isn't quite the tool that the CodeWarrior IDE is. I tend to agree with that assessment. There are a lot of nice things that Project Builder can do because of how it's implemented, such as how it takes advantage of the runtime environment that Mac OS X provides whereas the CodeWarrior IDE is still WaitNextEvent/Thread Manager based. I do find CodeWarrior's class browser features to be wonderful and miss them greatly when I work in Project Builder, but at least as of CodeWarrior Pro 8.3 its class browser didn't support Objective C (heck, the function popup still doesn't grok Objective C). But then I find Project Builder's integration with API documentation very handy. I find myself preferring Metrowerks' compilers to gcc and that the MSL C++ libraries are an excellent piece of work. But then tool integration like the CodeWarrior IDE and Constructor just isn't there like it is with Project Builder and Interface Builder.

Project Builder is certainly a more than usable product, but it does have a ways to go, especially if it wants to bring the die-hard CodeWarriors into the fold. As I revise my writing of this article, WWDC 2003 just ended and at the show Apple announced Xcode, their new integrated development environment (see Dave Mark's guided tour of Xcode elsewhere in this issue). I believe Project Builder is presently the weakest link in the Apple toolchain, but the features and promises that Xcode makes certainly raise the bar for Mac developer tools. Let's hope Xcode can deliver on those promises and that the competition between Apple and Metrowerks leads only to good things for Mac developers and ultimately Mac users. However, at present we still have to work with Project Builder and it remains the weakest link in the chain, but it doesn't bother me that much because I find Interface Builder to be one of the stronger links in the chain.

Interface Builder

In my experience, I have found Interface Builder to be a hands-down better tool than Constructor. Constructor is a good and necessary tool, indispensable for PowerPlant programming. But I have found Interface Builder better suits my needs.

I find the whole GUI layout process works nicer in Interface Builder. When laying out widgets, there are guides to help enforce the layout dimensions and measurements from the Apple Human Interface Guidelines - I'm not wasting time and straining my eyes to count pixels. I also love how I can try out my GUI from within Interface Builder to really get a good idea about how my GUI is going to look and feel. It's a terrific tool for RAD development and prototyping, not to mention mocking up screenshots for design documentation.

Even though the application is called Interface Builder, I consider it a tool for more than just building your GUI - it's a tool to build your objects and establish relationships between those objects. In Interface Builder you can not only construct your GUI objects, but you typically will create other objects such as controllers and data sources. From within Interface Builder you can create the (sub)class, instantiate the object, and even generate the skeleton source code which Interface Builder can automatically add to your project open in Project Builder. When generating source code, Interface Builder can generate it as Java or Objective C. While Java's a good language, when I'm developing Mac OS X software I'm finding that I prefer Objective C.

Objective C

The more I use Objective C the more I find it to be a really cool language. It looks scary at first, but it takes maybe 30 minutes to understand the basics of Objective C and perhaps a weekend of tinkering with tutorials and sample projects to really grok how the language works. If you're familiar with object oriented programming from C++ or Java, you'll find many similar concepts in Objective C; in fact, Objective C influenced Java's development. Once you understand how the language works, then you'll be ready to understand how Cocoa works.

Just because a language may not be widely popular, like Latin, there's sometimes still merit to learning and knowing that language. Objective C ultimately is C with, in my opinion, better object oriented concepts tacked onto it than C++ tacked on to C. The bracket syntax is better thought of as message passing. In C++ you might do this:

   object->Method();

or a PowerPlant programmer might do this:

   widget->BroadcastMessage(msg_SomeMessage, ioParam);

In Objective C you'd do this:

   [object method];

In terms of what it functionally means, it's all the same: having an object do something. What's different is the syntax for how messages are passed to objects: in C++ you call an object's function, in Objective C you're passing the object a message. What's also different but not apparent from looking at the code is in C++ the function and it arguments are joined together in compiled code, whereas in Objective C the message and the receiving object aren't bound together until the program is running and the message is actually sent; this is called dynamic binding. Dynamic binding gives Objective C a great deal of power as an object oriented programming language since at runtime a developer can vary not only the messages sent but the objects receiving those messages. Receivers and messages can be determined on the fly and be made contingent upon external factors like user input. Ultimately I think of Objective C as just another language in my toolset. But if you think about speaking languages (English, Spanish, French, etc.), the more languages you know the more you can understand, describe, and work with the world around you. Knowing more languages helps you think a little different, a little better - your horizons are broadened.

One thing I should tell you is that years ago I worked as an employee of Metrowerks as a PowerPlant engineer. As much as I adore PowerPlant, I've really come to discover the limitations with the C++ language. I believe that C++ is a great language for generic programming (templates are awesome), but I'm finding Objective C to be a better language for object oriented programming. Objective C's support for dynamic typing, dynamic binding, and messaging feel to me to lend better to the paradigms of object oriented programming. And within Apple's developer toolchain, I believe Objective C is the linchpin that makes it all possible.

Sure I miss C++ isms like using stack-based classes for cleanup, but I'm also finding that with well-crafted code I don't need those facilities when I write in Objective C. I've found constructs like categories to be very useful so that I can extend a class without having to subclass and create a new type (e.g. I can add Str255 "constructors" to NSString via a category). What I find most powerful about Objective C is how the language is dynamic and binding occurs at runtime. This has allowed me to write some really neat code that I just couldn't do in a static compile-time binding language like C++. But I haven't abandoned C++ entirely because again it's a great generic programming language. Plus if you have to write code that's cross-platform, C++ makes for a good choice. You can write your generic engine code in C++ and share that across platforms, then write your platform-specific GUI code in Cocoa (for Mac). The Objective C++ language and compiler support allows C++ and Objective C code to live together in almost perfect harmony.

So what?

Sometimes it feels strange to me to use something (Cocoa) other than what I had a hand in creating (PowerPlant). Sometimes I feel that having Objective C on my resume won't get me as far as it would having Java on my resume. But I've gotten over these feelings. I've come to a point in my career where I no longer care to be a religious zealot about a computing platform or a programming language or a development framework. I just want to be a zealot for creating insanely great software for Mac OS X. My users don't care if I use Carbon or Cocoa, PowerPlant or REALbasic, C++ or Objective C, CodeWarrior or Apple tools. Users just want software that provides solutions and works well, and they want it today. So when I am presented with a programming problem, I don't first pick my toolset then cram my solution into it. I now analyze the problem and work to determine what tools will be most appropriate to solve the problem. Maybe Java and the Swing libraries will be the best solution. Maybe C++ and PowerPlant or Qt will be a more appropriate tool. Or maybe quickly hacking up a Perl script will be the best tool for the job. The more variety of tools I have in my toolchest, the more power I have to pick the right tool for the job to ensure I can do the job effectively.

I have discovered that when I use Apple's developer toolchain of Cocoa, Project Builder, Interface Builder, and Objective C all coupled with the killer environment that is Mac OS X, I find I can deliver more robust solutions in less time. It may not always be my toolset of choice for a particular project, but at least since I know about and how to use the toolchain I can see the disadvantages and advantages that it has. For example, a project I'm presently working on has requirements that forced me to drop Project Builder for CodeWarrior because of some issues with the -header-mapfile option that I couldn't work around any other way. But I'm still using Cocoa, Interface Builder, and Objective C (along with C, C++, and Objective C++) in this project. Generally speaking, Apple's toolchain is becoming my toolset of choice because of the power, speed, and flexibility inherent in the system. In a few years I may feel differently. PowerPlant X is on the horizon and I know Metrowerks is working hard to maintain their lead as a tools platform. And with the release of Apple's Xcode, it's obvious that Apple isn't resting on their laurels when it comes to developer tools. I hope this competition in the developer tools space will only lead to better solutions for developers, which means better software for end users, and that keeps us all in a job.

If you haven't given Apple's developer toolchain a try, dedicate a weekend to trying it out. Set your biases aside and just give it an honest try. Even if you don't stick with it, at least you've been able to evaluate it from a more hands-on perspective. By knowing a little bit more about the toolchain, it helps you to expand your knowledge and toolset. I believe that will make you a better and more valuable software developer.


John C. Daub is a MacTech Magazine Contributing Editor, a Mac OS Software Developer for Aladdin Systems, Inc., and Grand Pooh-bah of Hsoi's Shop. John resides in Austin, Texas USA with his wife, three children, two cats, and a tank full of tropical fish. He strongly believes Californian's have no idea what good BBQ is. Thanx to Adriaan Tijsseling for the article review. You can reach John via email at hsoi@hsoi.com.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Merlin Project 4.3.3 - $289.00
Merlin Project is the leading professional project management software for OS X. If you plan complex projects on your Mac, you won’t get far with a simple list of tasks. Good planning raises... Read more
iMazing 2.5.2 - Complete iOS device mana...
iMazing (was DiskAid) is the ultimate iOS device manager with capabilities far beyond what iTunes offers. With iMazing and your iOS device (iPhone, iPad, or iPod), you can: Copy music to and from... Read more
Mac DVDRipper Pro 7.1 - Copy, backup, an...
Mac DVDRipper Pro is the DVD backup solution that lets you protect your DVDs from scratches, save your batteries by reading your movies from your hard disk, manage your collection with just a few... Read more
VOX 3.0.1 - Music player that supports m...
VOX just sounds better! The beauty is in its simplicity, yet behind the minimal exterior lies a powerful music player with a ton of features and support for all audio formats you should ever need.... Read more
Pinegrow 4 - Mockup and design webpages...
Pinegrow (was Pinegrow Web Designer) is desktop app that lets you mockup and design webpages faster with multi-page editing, CSS and LESS styling, and smart components for Bootstrap, Foundation,... Read more
iExplorer 4.1.11 - View and transfer fil...
iExplorer is an iPhone browser for Mac lets you view the files on your iOS device. By using a drag and drop interface, you can quickly copy files and folders between your Mac and your iPhone or... Read more
Evernote 6.13.1 - Create searchable note...
Evernote allows you to easily capture information in any environment using whatever device or platform you find most convenient, and makes this information accessible and searchable at anytime, from... Read more
Myriad 4.2.1 - Audio batch processor.
Myriad is, simply put, one of the best audio batch processors. Totally redesigned, it looks beautiful and delivers incredible performance. Let Myriad do the heavy lifting while you get back to doing... Read more
Garmin Express 5.8.0.0 - Manage your Gar...
Garmin Express is your essential tool for managing your Garmin devices. Update maps, golf courses and device software. You can even register your device. Update maps Update software Register your... Read more
Arq 5.10 - Online backup to Google Drive...
Arq is super-easy online backup for Mac and Windows computers. Back up to your own cloud account (Amazon Cloud Drive, Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Cloud Storage, any S3-compatible server... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

The best Black Friday deals for Apple ga...
Black Friday is hours away at this point, but many popular retailers are getting a jump on things with plenty of pre-Black Friday sales already available. Many of those early bird sales including some sharp discounts on the latest Apple phones... | Read more »
The Inner World 2 (Games)
The Inner World 2 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Solve mind-bending puzzles in a world full of mystery and save the family of the flute-noses! Their dynasty has been... | Read more »
warbot.io wants you for the robot wars
Fans of epic gundam-style battles will find a lot to love in warbot.io, the first game for up and coming developer Wondersquad. The game saw a lot of success when it first launched for browsers and Facebook, and now even more people are getting the... | Read more »
Uncover alien mysteries in cross-genre s...
If the Alien franchise taught us anything, it’s that landing on a strange planet at the behest of a faceless corporation is probably asking for trouble. And Eldritch Game’s Deliria doesn’t prove otherwise. In 2107, Dimension LG7 is rich with... | Read more »
The best mobile games to play during dre...
| Read more »
Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp beginner...
Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, was just announced yesterday, but it's already in soft launch in Australia. No matter where you are in the world, you can still get access to the soft launch on iOS, so we've devised a few beginner tips for folks who... | Read more »
The mobile gamer's guide to Black F...
We're starting to catch wind of some exciting deals in the mobile gaming space for Black Friday. There are big discounts on mobile phones and accessories cropping up already, so you might want to get a move on things ahead of the big day. It's... | Read more »
The best pre-Black Friday deals - Novemb...
Black Friday will soon be upon us, but online retailers are already getting a headstart on the steep discounts. Don't wait until Friday—you'll find some pretty good deals all over the internet without waiting in lines or competing with other... | Read more »
Mighty Battles guide - how to build a so...
Mighty Battles, the latest title from Hothead Games, is set to take the App Store by storm. The game puts a welcome twist on lane battlers, adding FPS elements to spice things up a bit. You'll collect cards to put your own military unit to gether,... | Read more »
Rules of Survival guide - how to be the...
The PUBG craze makes its way to mobile, with more and more battle royale games debuting on iOS and Android. Rules of Survival joins the ranks of mobile PUBG-likes, offering a classic battle royale experiences that doesn't vary too much from its... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Lowest Black Friday prices on Apple MacBooks:...
Save $150-$420 on the purchase of a MacBook Pro, MacBook, or MacBook Air this Black Friday and Holiday weekend with Certified Refurbished models at Apple. In many cases, Apple’s refurbished prices... Read more
Black Friday: Apple Watch Series 1 for $70 of...
Macy’s has discounted Series 1 Apple Watches by $70 on their online store as part of their Black Friday sale: – 38mm Series 1 Apple Watch: $179, $70 off – 42mm Series 1 Apple Watch: $209, $70 off... Read more
Apple offers 2016 13-inch MacBook Airs, certi...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2016 13″ MacBook Airs available starting at $809. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each MacBook, and shipping is free: – 13″ 1.6GHz/8GB/128GB MacBook Air: $... Read more
Black Friday sale: Mac minis for $100 off MSR...
B&H Photo has Mac minis on sale for up to $100 off MSRP as part of their Black Friday sale, each including free shipping plus NY & NJ sales tax only: – 1.4GHz Mac mini: $399 $100 off MSRP – 2... Read more
Use your Apple Education discount to save up...
Purchase a new Mac using Apple’s Education discount, and take up to $300 off MSRP. All teachers, students, and staff of any educational institution with a .edu email address qualify for the discount... Read more
Adorama posts Black Friday deals on Apple Mac...
Adorama has posted Black Friday sale prices on many Macs, with MacBooks and iMacs available for up to $200 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and Adorama charges sales tax in NJ and NY only: MacBook Pros... Read more
Save up to $300 on 15″ 2.2GHz MacBook Pros
B&H Photo has the 15″ 2.2GHz MacBook Pro available for $200 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY & NJ sales tax only: – 15″ 2.2GHz MacBook Pro (MJLQ2LL/A): $1799 $200 off MSRP Amazon.com... Read more
Save up to $180 with Apple Certified Refurbis...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2017 13″ MacBook Airs available starting at $849. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each MacBook, and shipping is free: – 13″ 1.8GHz/8GB/128GB MacBook Air (... Read more
Black Friday deals on Apple Macs now live at...
Amazon has MacBook Pros, MacBook Airs, MacBooks, and iMacs on sale for up to $200 off MSRP for Black Friday week. Shipping is free. Note that stock of some Macs may come and go during the week, so... Read more
Black Friday pricing on Macs and iPads now av...
B&H Photo has lowered prices on many Macs, iPads, and iPad Pros as part of their Black Friday week sale. Save up to $200 on MacBooks and iMacs and up to $150 on iPads. B&H charges sales tax... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
Business Development Manager, *Apple* Pay -...
# Business Development Manager, Apple Pay Job Number: 112919084 Santa Clara Valley, California, United States Posted: 18-Aug-2017 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Summary** Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Apple (United...
# Apple Solutions Consultant Job Number: 56553863 North Wales, Pennsylvania, United States Posted: 17-Jun-2017 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Summary** Are you passionate Read more
*Apple* Professional Learning Specialist - A...
# Apple Professional Learning Specialist Job Number: 112952232 Dallas, Texas, United States Posted: 07-Sep-2017 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Summary** The Apple Read more
*Apple* Professional Learning Specialist - A...
# Apple Professional Learning Specialist Job Number: 112953711 Houston, Texas, United States Posted: 07-Sep-2017 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Summary** The Apple Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.