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Book Review: Cocoa Recipes for MacOSX

Volume Number: 19 (2003)
Issue Number: 11
Column Tag: Review

Book Review: Cocoa Recipes for MacOSX

by Ron Davis

If you aren't new to the Macintosh and having programmed before there was Cocoa and then you decided early in the history of MacOS X you were going to learn Cocoa, you've probably been to and seen the Vermont Recipes. These were a series of tutorials on how to build OpenStep applications. They were the tutorials you first learned with because Apple had no tutorials, and there were no books on the subject at the time. Now these tutorials have a book of their own. They've been updated and fleshed out by Bill Cheesman and collected in the new book from Peachpit Press, Cocoa Recipes forMac OS X: The Vermont Recipes.

If you are new to the Mac, or are just now deciding to leave the dark ages and learn some Cocoa, this book provides a concrete set of examples of how to make Cocoa applications. Apple's documentation has improved greatly, but if you want a more complete step-by-step approach to developing a complete Cocoa application, this book is there to provide it for you.

The first question you'll probably ask is whether you should buy the book given many parts of it were on the web. Well the Vermont Recipes were based on OpenStep and even when Cocoa first came out there were differences. Now those differences are even greater. The book is the updated version.

The book starts out with some short introductory chapters where it discusses the philosophy of the book. The author wants to go through a real world application and build it a layer at a time. He's not trying to cover every aspect of Cocoa, every call, every API. Instead he is covering the things you really use.

They claim the book isn't a reference book, but it is more the kind of book you open when you need to do a particular thing and look for an example. Sitting down and going through the book one chapter after another will teach you a lot about programming in Cocoa, but you can still get value out of it by pulling it off the shelf when you want to find out how to make a contextual menu or put data in a keyed archive.

The book is organized into seven sections: Building An Application, User Controls, Data Storage, Menus, Windows, Additional Application Features, and Working With Mac OS X 10.2. Each section is broken up into recipes. Some sections have a lot of recipes like User Controls with nine. Some with only one like Data Storage.

Each recipe covers a large topic in the application development cycle. Each recipe is broken up into steps. A step is one set of things you need to add to accomplish the overall recipe. Each step is broken down into sub-steps, which is where the actual code is.

There is a lot of explanation in each step. Each sub-step tells you what you need to do and then shows you the code. Then the text explains what each piece of code does and means. There are sidebars throughout the book that cover, not the code, but the technology. The first recipe contains sidebars on Model-View-Controller and Dictionaries among others.

The first recipe creates a simple multi-document application complete with saving, icons and deployment builds. It is an introduction to using Project Builder and Interface Builder. It's also 149 pages long. This book is long. While it covers a lot, most of it is the basic stuff. The book just covers all of the basics.

The second recipe builds on the first adding a window with a bunch of buttons. While a somewhat contrived example, it is common to have to add controls as the next step in the developing a document app. Personally I would have created a Preference Window. These always require a bunch of controls. As this section on user controls continues more and more controls are added to the window. Ultimately every possible control is covered before the section ends.

After the really long section on controls there is a really short one covering keyed archiving. Then menus get covered. Not just menus in the menu bar, but contextual menus and dock menus. The fifth section covers windows adding drawers, alerts and dialogs. User preferences and help are covered in the last section before 10.2 only features. The section on 10.2 only features tells how to test for a feature and maintain backwards compatibility.

So what is missing? There is no discussion of toolbars, which I expected when talking about menus. Also there is no discussion of AppleScript or AppleEvents. And while table views are covered under user controls, there is no discussion of the outline view variant. But the book is already 750 pages long; you can't cover everything.

Of course like all computer books this one is dated almost as soon as it gets released. Given the major changes that Pather and Xcode are bringing, some of the things in the book are already in need of changes. Xcode brings a different development environment, and the introduction of Bindings fundamentally changes how Cocoa apps are written and structured. But in order to use bindings the developer is forced to use Pather only, which will limit the adoption of bindings in the near term.

Overall this is a great book for beginners and intermediate Cocoa programmers. It is well written, walking you through everything you need to know. Advanced programmers probably know everything in this book, but still might benefit from having it around to use as a refresher when they need to remember how to do something they don't do very often like dock menus.

Ron Davis


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