TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Screen Savers in Cocoa

Volume Number: 20 (2004)
Issue Number: 6
Column Tag: Programming

Screen Savers in Cocoa

by Scott Knaster

One of the classic mantra-like goals for computer science over the past 20 years or so has been to "Make simple things simple, and complex things possible". Programming with Cocoa has a sometimes-complex learning curve, but once you've swerved through that curve, there are definitely a bunch of things that are much easier to accomplish than they were in the old pre-OS X world we knew and occasionally loved.

One of the classic mantra-like goals for computer science over the past 20 years or so has been to "Make simple things simple, and complex things possible". Programming with Cocoa has a sometimes-complex learning curve, but once you've swerved through that curve, there are definitely a bunch of things that are much easier to accomplish than they were in the old pre-OS X world we knew and occasionally loved. Writing a screen saver is a perfect example: it should be simple. Most typical OS 9 application programmers never dipped their toes into the slightly wacky world of screen savers, but with Cocoa in OS X, implementing a screen saver is well within everybody's grasp. In this month's column, we'll take a look at how to get your very own screen saver up and, er, saving.

Here's What We're Gonna Do

Let's start by taking a look at the process for creating a screen saver in OS X. Here are the broad steps:

  • Create a new screen saver project in Xcode.
  • Edit our .h file.
  • Override methods and write other code in our .m file.
  • Build the project to create a .saver package.
  • Install the .saver package by putting it into the Library/Screen Savers/ folder.
  • Open System Preferences and see a preview of our screen saver.
  • Enjoy the savings!

We'll go through each of these steps in greater depth now.

Little Help

The basic magic that makes screen savers so easy is the Screen Saver framework in Cocoa. This framework defines the ScreenSaverView class, which is a subclass of NSView. By creating your own subclass of ScreenSaverView and adding some code, you define your screen saver. The Screen Saver framework also defines the class ScreenSaverDefaults, which you can use for handling preferences for your saver. Along with these classes, the framework provides some handy utility functions you can use in your code.

We'll go over some of the most interesting methods and functions in the ScreenSaverView class. You will rarely call methods defined by ScreenSaverView - most of the work is creating your own subclass and override some methods.

initWithFrame:isPreview:

- (id)initWithFrame:(NSRect)frame isPreview:(BOOL)isPreview

You override initWithFrame in your ScreenSaverView subclass. The system calls initWithFrame when the screen saver is about take over the screen or is selected in System Preferences. The frame parameter is the frame rectangle for the view. The isPreview parameter tells whether the screen saver is actually being invoked or is merely being asked to preview itself in System Preferences (as shown in Figure 1).


Figure 1. You can preview the screen saver in a little box in System Preferences. In your code, you can tell whether the screen saver is drawing full-screen or in the preview box.

startAnimation

- (void) startAnimation

The system calls startAnimation right before the screen saver is about to start drawing. You should override startAnimation to set up your screen saver's initial state, such as setting line widths or loading images. You should call the inherited implementation, or bad things might happen, such as incorrect drawing, or all water on earth instantaneously evaporating.

animateOneFrame

- (void) animateOneFrame

This is where your screen saver gets to show off its amazing graphical skills. Mac OS X asks your screen saver to do its drawing by calling animateOneFrame repeatedly. You can actually do your drawing in animateOneFrame or in drawRect, or even a little in both places. If you make any changes here that require further redrawing, your implementation should call setNeedsDisplay:YES, which will cause drawRect to be called.

drawRect

- (void) drawRect:(NSRect)rect 

Override drawRect to draw the screen saver view. You can do your drawing in animateOneFrame, or you can do some or all of it here. rect is the rectangle you're drawing into, which is handy to have when you want to erase the view and start drawing afresh.

stopAnimation

- (void) stopAnimation 

When Mac OS X wants your screen saver to stop doing its thing, it calls stopAnimation. You can override stopAnimation to release resources or do any other cleanup you want before your screen saver goes away.

Saving Time

Now that you're familiar with the cast of characters in ScreenSaverView, let's go ahead and code up our screen saver. To start, we'll open Xcode and create a new project of type Screen Saver (see Figure 2).


Figure 2. Creating a new Screen Saver project gets you started with the Screen Saver framework, including your own subclass of ScreenSaverView.

This proves that Xcode already knows about the screen saver framework, which saves us plenty of work. Our new project already contains a subclass of ScreenSaverView, and we already have the usual .h and .m files. We'll edit the .h file that Xcode gives us until it looks like this:

#import <ScreenSaver/ScreenSaver.h>


@interface SaveyerView : ScreenSaverView 
{
   NSBezierPath *path;
}


@end

The header file is pretty darn basic. All we do here is create a subclass of ScreenSaverView and add an NSBezierPath object to keep track of what we're drawing.

Now let's get into the implementation files and see what we can find. When we told Xcode to create a new ScreenSaver project, it start us off with some code, including the implementation for initWithFrame:isPreview:, the designated initializer. In this case, we're able to use the supplied code for initWithFrame without any changes:

- (id)initWithFrame:(NSRect)frame isPreview:(BOOL)isPreview
{
    self = [super initWithFrame:frame isPreview:isPreview];
    if (self) {
        [self setAnimationTimeInterval:1/30.0];
            // Draw 30 frames per second
    }
    return self;

The code here starts by calling the inherited implementation. After that, we use setAnimationTimeInterval to tell Mac OS X that we want our screen saver to draw 30 frames per second. As I mentioned, this is the default code that Xcode writes for this method. You can modify it if you want to perform some other task when the screen saver starts up. For example, if your screen saver has user-settable options, you can handle them here.

Next, we'll take a look at our startAnimation method, which the system calls right before asking our screen saver to start drawing. Our implementation of startAnimation begins by calling the inherited implementation. Then, we create our Bezier path and choose a nifty line join style:

- (void)startAnimation
{
   NSPoint x;

   [super startAnimation];
	
   path = [[NSBezierPath alloc] init];
      // We'll use a Bezier path for drawing

   [path setLineJoinStyle: NSRoundLineJoinStyle];	
      // Just for fun, connect the lines with
      // a round joint

When the system asks our screen saver to get ready to draw, we can call the view's isPreview method to see if we're being asked to draw on the full screen or in the little preview box in System Preferences (as shown back in Figure 1).

We can use the result of isPreview to make decisions about just what to draw. In our screen saver, we'll make the lines skinny for the preview, and fatter for the real, full-screen version:

   if ([self isPreview])
      // When drawing a preview, make the lines
      // much thinner than when saving screens.
   {
      [path setLineWidth: 0.0];
      // This is the thinnest possible line width
   }
   else
   {
      [path setLineWidth: 10.18];
      // This line width was chosen at random.
      // OK, actually, it's my son's birthdate.
   }

Our last task here is to get the Bezier path started. We'll do that by picking a random starting point and moving the path there:

   x = SSRandomPointForSizeWithinRect 
         (NSMakeSize (0,0), [self bounds]);
      // Call utility function to get a random point

   [path moveToPoint:x];
      // Start the path at the random point
}

We get a random point by calling SSRandomPointForSizeWithinRect, a handy function provided by the screen saver framework for just this purpose. Hooray for handy functions! Then, we simply move the path pen to that random point to start it out.

Everything that starts must end, and the next method we define is stopAnimation, which is called when the system doesn't need the screen saver to draw any more. Here's our implementation of stopAnimation:

- (void)stopAnimation
{
   [super stopAnimation];
	
   [path release];
         // Release the path

   path = nil;
         // Tell our screen saver view that there's no path
}

The standard stopAnimation provided by Xcode simply calls the inherited implementation. In our version, we keep that super call, and add code to release the Bezier path object and set the path instance variable to nil.

Every time the system wants our screen saver to draw another piece, it calls our animateOneFrame method. Let's take a look at that. First, we'll call that convenient SSRandomPointForSizeWithinRect utility function to get another random point:

- (void)animateOneFrame
{
    NSPoint x;
	
   x = SSRandomPointForSizeWithinRect 
         (NSMakeSize (0,0), [self bounds]);
            // Get a random point to extend the Bezier path

We want our screen saver to draw a bunch of lines on the screen, and every so often, we want it to erase the lines and start over. Let's say we want 50 lines at a time, in honor of our 50 states. If we haven't reached 50 yet, we add the new random point to the path:

if ([path elementCount] < 50)
      // Draw 50 lines before erasing
      {
         [path lineToPoint: x];
            // If we don't have 50 yet, add the 
            // new point to the line
      }

Once we have 50 points in the path, we want to reset the path by callously discarding all points and then start building it up again:

      else
      {
         [path removeAllPoints];
         [path moveToPoint:x];
            // If we do have 50, clean out the path
            // and get ready to start over
      }

We finish by telling the system that we've messed with the path and it needs to be redrawn by calling the screen saver view's drawRect method. Alternatively, we could do the actual drawing right here in animateOneFrame:

   [self setNeedsDisplay:YES];
      // Tell the system that something has changed
      // and drawRect should be called
}

The actual drawing happens in drawRect, which we'll look at NeXT. We start by calling the inherited drawRect, which by default erases the background to black.

- (void)drawRect:(NSRect)rect
{
   NSColor *color;

   [super drawRect:rect];

We then choose a pretty color, and call set to make sure that the drawing happens in that color. Then we call stroke on the Bezier path object to actually draw the thing:

   color = [NSColor colorWithCalibratedRed:(0.0) 
                  green:(1.0) blue:(1.0) alpha:(1.0)];

   [color set];
      // Set the color to teal. Go Sharks!
	
   [path stroke];
      // Draw the Bezier path 
}

The last method we implement is our version of dealloc. The view's Bezier path is the only allocated object we have to worry about, so our method looks like this:

- (void) dealloc
{
   [path release];
      // Release the Bezier path

   [super dealloc];
}

Put Me In, Coach

When we have all the source code done, we build our project. If everything builds OK, a file with the suffix .saver ends up in the project's build folder. To install the screen saver, start by quitting System Preferences if it's running. Then move or copy the .saver file into the /Library/Screen Savers directory. You can put it in ~/Library/Screen Savers if you want to keep it all to yourself and prevent other users from seeing it.

Once our screen saver is in the folder, you can start System Preferences, click Desktop & Screen Saver, click the Screen Saver tab, and select our screen saver in the list. You should see the skinny lines in the preview mode. Then click Test, and observe the big teal lines with their round elbows. There you go! You can get this month's code at http://www.papercar.com/mt/Jun04.zip

If you're interested in making your own screen savers, there are lots of directions you can go from here. Add user-settable options by overriding the hasConfigureSheet and configureSheet methods. Use random colors. Do some much fancier drawing in your animateOneFrame method - for example, draw shapes, use curveToPoint instead of lineToPoint, or load images from disk. Whatever you do, have fun, and remember: the screen you save may be your own.


Scott Knaster writes books, including the recently published Mac Toys and the brand-new Hacking iPod and iTunes, both from Wiley Publishing. Scott can't read and listen to vocal music at the same time. Scott writes these little bios in the third person. Write to Scott at scottk@mactech.com.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Typinator 7.4 - Speedy and reliable text...
Typinator turbo-charges your typing productivity. Type a little. Typinator does the rest. We've all faced projects that require repetitive typing tasks. With Typinator, you can store commonly used... Read more
Fantastical 2.4.5 - Create calendar even...
Fantastical 2 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... Read more
Monosnap 3.4.9 - Versatile screenshot ut...
Monosnap lets you capture screenshots, share files, and record video and .gifs! Features Capture Capture full screen, just part of the screen, or a selected window Make your crop area pixel... Read more
Skim 1.4.32 - PDF reader and note-taker...
Skim is a PDF reader and note-taker for OS X. It is designed to help you read and annotate scientific papers in PDF, but is also great for viewing any PDF file. Skim includes many features and has a... Read more
ForkLift 3.1.1 - Powerful file manager:...
ForkLift is a powerful file manager and ferociously fast FTP client clothed in a clean and versatile UI that offers the combination of absolute simplicity and raw power expected from a well-executed... Read more
Direct Mail 5.2.1 - Create and send grea...
Direct Mail is an easy-to-use, fully-featured email marketing app purpose-built for macOS. Create, send, and track great looking email campaigns that get results. Start your newsletter by selecting... Read more
Direct Mail 5.2.1 - Create and send grea...
Direct Mail is an easy-to-use, fully-featured email marketing app purpose-built for macOS. Create, send, and track great looking email campaigns that get results. Start your newsletter by selecting... Read more
Skim 1.4.32 - PDF reader and note-taker...
Skim is a PDF reader and note-taker for OS X. It is designed to help you read and annotate scientific papers in PDF, but is also great for viewing any PDF file. Skim includes many features and has a... Read more
ForkLift 3.1.1 - Powerful file manager:...
ForkLift is a powerful file manager and ferociously fast FTP client clothed in a clean and versatile UI that offers the combination of absolute simplicity and raw power expected from a well-executed... Read more
MarsEdit 4.0.5 - Quick and convenient bl...
MarsEdit is a blog editor for OS X that makes editing your blog like writing email, with spell-checking, drafts, multiple windows, and even AppleScript support. It works with with most blog services... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Programmer of Sonic The Hedgehog launche...
Japanese programmer Yuji Naka is best known for leading the team that created the original Sonic The Hedgehog. He’s moved on from the speedy blue hero since then, launching his own company based in Tokyo – Prope Games. Legend of Coin is the... | Read more »
Why doesn't mobile gaming have its...
The Overwatch League is a pretty big deal. It's an attempt to really push eSports into the mainstream, by turning them into, well, regular sports. But slightly less sweaty. It's a lavish affair with teams from all around the world, and more... | Read more »
Give Webzen’s new billiard game PoolTime...
Best known for producing hugely popular MMO titles, South Korean publisher Webzen is now taking aim at a different genre altogether. PoolTime is a realistic eight ball pool simulator, allowing you to compete in real-time matches against players... | Read more »
Let Them Come Guide - How to survive aga...
Let Them Come is all about making it as far as possible against overwhelming odds. Check out some of these tips to help you last a little longer in your unwinnable fight: [Read more] | Read more »
All the best games on sale for iPhone an...
Happy last day of the week. I hope you've been having a good one. I have. I saw ten doggos today. So because I'm in a good mood, I thought I'd round up all of the best games that are currently on sale on the App Store. [Read more] | Read more »
The very best games that came out for iP...
We're getting to the end of the first real, full, proper week of 2018. And in that time we've seen some pretty awesome games landing on the App Store. Of course, we've seen some absolute duffers as well. The sort of games that you look at and... | Read more »
Rusty Lake Paradise (Games)
Rusty Lake Paradise 1.4 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.4 (iTunes) Description: Jakob, the oldest son of the Eilander family, is returning to Paradise island after his mother passed away. Since her... | Read more »
Antihero Guide - Sneaky tricks to get ah...
Games of Antihero start out small and streamlined, but they quickly turn into long strategic conquests as you fight for control of the Victorian-era streets. If you find yourself struggling in the skullduggery department, here are a few things you... | Read more »
Here's why Niantic pulling Pokemon...
If there's one thing that Pokemon GO did well, it was bringing people together. I still remember seeing groups of people around the marina near where I live in the weeks after the game came out, all of them trying to grab some water Pokemon. There... | Read more »
Let Them Come (Games)
Let Them Come 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple refurbished Mac minis available startin...
Apple has restocked Certified Refurbished Mac minis starting at $419. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each mini, and shipping is free: – 1.4GHz Mac mini: $419 $80 off MSRP – 2.6GHz Mac... Read more
Amazon offers Silver 13″ Apple MacBook Pros f...
Amazon has new Silver 2017 13″ #Apple #MacBook Pros on sale today for up to $150 off MSRP, each including free shipping: – 13″ 2.3GHz/128GB Silver MacBook Pro (MPXR2LL/A): $1199.99 $100 off MSRP – 13... Read more
Sale: 12″ 1.3GHz MacBooks on sale for $1499,...
B&H Photo has Space Gray and Rose Gold 12″ 1.3GHz #Apple MacBooks on sale for $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax for NY & NJ residents only: – 12″ 1.3GHz Space... Read more
Apple offers Certified Refurbished 2017 iMacs...
Apple has a full line of Certified Refurbished iMacs available for up to $350 off original MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free. The following models are available: – 27... Read more
13″ MacBook Airs on sale for $120-$100 off MS...
B&H Photo has 2017 13″ 128GB MacBook Airs on sale for $120 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax for NY & NJ residents only: – 13″ 1.8GHz/128GB MacBook Air (MQD32LL/A): $... Read more
15″ Touch Bar MacBook Pros on sale for up to...
Adorama has Space Gray 15″ MacBook Pros on sale for $200 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and Adorama charges sales tax in NJ and NY only: – 15″ 2.8GHz MacBook Pro Space Gray (MPTR2LL/A): $2199, $200 off... Read more
21″ 3.4GHz 4K iMac on sale for $1399, $100 of...
Adorama has the 21″ 3.4GHz 4K #Apple #iMac on sale today for $1399. Their price is $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and Adorama charges sales tax in NJ and NY only: – 21″ 3.4GHz 4K iMac (MNE02LL/A... Read more
B&H offering 13″ Apple MacBook Pros for u...
B&H Photo has 13″ MacBook Pros on sale for up to $75-$120 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax for NY & NJ residents only: – 13-inch 2.3GHz/128GB Space Gray MacBook Pro (... Read more
B&H continues to offer clearance 2016 15″...
B&H Photo has clearance 2016 15″ #MacBook Pros available for up to $800 off original MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY & NJ sales tax only: – 15″ 2.7GHz Touch Bar MacBook Pro... Read more
The cheapest 15″ Apple MacBook Pro available...
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 Apple has... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description:SalesSpecialist - Retail Customer Service and SalesTransform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
Site Reliability Engineer, *Apple* Pay - Ap...
# Site Reliability Engineer, Apple Pay Job Number: 113356036 Santa Clara Valley, California, United States Posted: 12-Jan-2018 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Summary** Read more
UI Tools and Automation Engineer, *Apple* M...
# UI Tools and Automation Engineer, Apple Media Products Job Number: 86351939 Santa Clara Valley, California, United States Posted: 11-Jan-2018 Weekly Hours: 40.00 Read more
*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
UI Tools and Automation Engineer, *Apple* M...
# UI Tools and Automation Engineer, Apple Media Products Job Number: 113136387 Santa Clara Valley, California, United States Posted: 11-Jan-2018 Weekly Hours: 40.00 Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.