TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Writing a Menulet Extension

Volume Number: 22 (2006)
Issue Number: 2
Column Tag: Programming

Writing a Menulet Extension

Extending an Application or Providing a Service via a Menulet

by Andrew Turner

Introduction

Most modern operating systems have some constantly viewable area that displays useful icons, data, and notifications relating to your computer and other services. Windows uses the 'task tray', the Linux freedesktop.org specifies a 'system tray', and Mac OS X uses the menubar. On the Mac, this menubar is where users see the date/time, audio volume, spotlight icon, and any other number of tools they can install to display information.

The menubar icons and tools are frequently called 'menulets', or status items. Menulets can be an application unto themselves, such as MenuMeters (http://www.ragingmenace.com/ software/menumeters/), which displays the current CPU, memory, or network usage as graphs and blinking lights. A menulet can also extend a larger application such as DesktopManager's (http://desktopmanager.berlios.de/) menulet that allows a user another means to switch between multiple virtual desktops and can display the current viewable desktop.


Figure 1: Example Menubar with Menulets.

Figure 1 shows an example menubar with the menulets (from left to right): DesktopManager, Salling Clicker, Applescript Menu, MissingSync, MenuMeters, Date/Time, Audio, and Spotlight.

There are two major 'flavors' of menulets: the standard and publicly documented NSStatusItem and the private and undocumented NSMenuExtra. NSStatusItems are fully capable of doing most anything a menulet can do. The one major benefit of an NSMenuExtra is the ability to mouse-drag reorder the menulet with regards to the other system menulets, whereas NSStatusItems are placed further along the left-side of the menulets area of the menubar. Because the NSMenuExtra API is undocumented, and subject to change by Apple whenever deemed necessary, it is best to avoid using the API in your applications.

The rest of this article will lead you through developing your own NSStatusItem menulet including displaying text or an icon in the view, making a drop-menu and setting up automatic updating.

Creating the Menulet

The first thing to do is create a new XCode project for building this tutorial. Alternatively, you could add these files and resources to an already existing application. Menulets must belong to an application since the status bar will not retain and update your menulet for you. Therefore, for purposes of illustration and testing we will be creating a new, stand-alone application for controlling our menulet.

The example menulet will display the user's external IP address in the menu bar. The external IP address is obtained by querying a remote server and then setting the text in the menubar to the external IP address.

In XCode select New Project... and choose to create a Cocoa Application. After the new project is created, right click on the Classes folder and choose Add > New File... You will be adding an 'Objective-C class', and name it "IPMenulet.m". Make sure to leave 'Also create IPMenulet.h' checked.

The application will need to hold a reference to the NSStatusItem, as well as initialize the menulet, add it to the system status bar, and update data in the menulet. Add the following code to the IPMenulet.h and IPMenulet.m files you created in your project.

IPMenulet.h

@interface IPMenulet : NSObject {
    NSStatusItem *statusItem;
}

-(IBAction)updateIPAddress:(id)sender;

IPMenulet.m

-(void)dealloc
{
    [statusItem release];
      [super dealloc];
}
- (void)awakeFromNib
{
   statusItem = [[[NSStatusBar systemStatusBar] 
      statusItemWithLength:NSVariableStatusItemLength]
      retain];
   [statusItem setHighlightMode:YES];
   [statusItem setTitle:[NSString 
         stringWithString:@"0.0.0.0"]]; 
   [statusItem setEnabled:YES];
   [statusItem setToolTip:@"IPMenulet"];

   [statusItem setAction:@selector(updateIPAddress:)];
   [statusItem setTarget:self];
}

The code above creates and attaches a new NSStatusItem of variable length to the system status bar. Since the status item is variable length, the area will grow and shrink depending on the content of the status item's title or icon. Alternatively, you could set the length via the statusItemWithLength: method to NSSquareStatusItemLength, which would fix the width of the status item to the height of the status bar (currently always 22 pixels high).

The parameter highlightMode specifies if a box is drawn around the menulet when clicked, and enabled determines if the menulet is grayed out or darkened. Since we don't yet know our IP address, we will set the initial display to 0.0.0.0, and the tooltip is what is displayed when a user hovers their mouse over the menulet.

At the end of the initialization code there are the setAction: and setTarget: functions. Similar to other applications, these functions set the functions that should be called when a user clicks on the menulet. In this example, we will be updating the IP address whenever the user clicks on the menubar. It is also possible to set the double-click action if desired.

We now need to implement the updateIPAddress: method.

IPMenulet.m

-(IBAction)updateIPAddress:(id)sender
{
   NSString *ipAddr = [NSString stringWithContentsOfURL:
         [NSURL URLWithString:
         @"http://highearthorbit.com/service/myip.php"]];
   if(ipAddr != NULL)
       [statusItem setTitle:
            [NSString stringWithString:ipAddr]]; 
}

The updateIPAddress: function gets the IP address as a string from an external server query and then sets the title of the NSStatusItem.

Building the NIB Interface

We now have all of the code that we need . However, when the application starts, it needs to know to create the menulet. Therefore, we will create an instantiation of the menulet in the NIB file that is loaded. This will allow us to later add more code and hooks to our menulet for controlling menu items.

To create the menulet double-click the MainMenu.nib in the Resources folder of the project. After it loads, click the "Classes" tab, then choose "Classes" in the menubar, "Read Files...", navigate to IPMenulet.h and "Parse".


Figure 2: Parsing IPMenulet.h into Interface Builder allows it to be instantiated as part of the application.

This parsing loads the IPMenulet interface into Interface Builder. We still need an instance of the class to use in our application. Right-click "IPMenulet" in the pane view and click "Instantiate IPMenulet". This will place a blue-cube and IPMenulet instance in our Interface Builder window.

At this point we don't want a main application window to pop-up at startup, so click the Window icon and delete it. Then save the nib file, return to XCode and choose the "Build and Go".

Depending on how many menulets you already had in your status bar you may have to click outside of XCode since XCode has a large number of menubar items. You should see 0.0.0.0. Click on the menulet and after a short pause you should see an updated IP address.

Removing the Dock Icon

If you are making a menulet-only application, having a dock icon seems like an unnecessary item. It is possible to have an application 'hide' its dock icon by specifying a new value in the "Info.plist" file in your XCode project. At the end of the list, just before, the </dict>, add the following key and value:

   <key>LSUIElement</key>
   <string>1</string>

Now when your menulet application starts up, it doesn't have a dock icon. Be careful however, as you currently have no easy means to quit your menulet application either. While developing, it is possible to quit the application by pressing the "Stop" icon in XCode.

Using a Menulet Icon

You now have a fully functional menulet application that takes up a lot of valuable menubar space. For some menulets, it may be best to use an icon that the user will click for more information, or an icon that changes depending on the state of some application variable or other data source.

Unicode Glyphs

The simplest way to add an iconic view to the menulet is by using a Unicode character for the title. This has several benefits, such as not requiring the design, creating, and loading of an image. Also, when a user clicks on a menulet and it becomes highlighted, the icon should have an 'inverse' view that inverts the colors of the icon in some way to alert the user that the menulet has been clicked. The title of a status item, and therefore a symbolic glyph, is automatically inverted.

Finding a good glyph (symbol) is a bit tricky. In the end, we need the hex value for a Unicode character. Mac OS X provides a very nice tool for looking at Unicode characters, though it is a bit buried.

Go to System Preferences, International and check Character Palette. After you do this you will see your current input language flag in the menubar (look, another menulet!). Click on the flag and choose Show Character Palette. The character palette window pane will pop-up and sit above all of your other windows. At the top of the pane, there is View: and a drop menu. Click on the drop menu and choose Code Tables. You can now navigate through all of the Unicode characters. When you find a glyph that you want to use, click on it and then get the Unicode: value next to the zoomed in view of the character.


Figure 3: The Character Palette is a very useful tool for finding glyphs and their associated Unicode hex values.

Now armed with a Unicode value, return to the IPMenulet.m file and replace the

[statusItem setTitle:[NSString 
   stringWithString:@"0.0.0.0"]]; 

with a formatted string using one (or many) hex values the formatter is %C. Therefore, the following code will produce the ??symbol:

[statusItem setTitle:[NSString 
   stringWithFormat:@"%C",0x2295]]; 

Image Icons

While using a built in glyph is very simple, it does not offer the flexibility an icon provides. The NSStatusItem API provides the setImage:(NSImage*) function to set the icon. The following code obtains a 22x22 pixel image that has been added to the project resources, which is then stored and set to the status items image. You can use any small icon in your project that you want. For purposes of this example, the icon is "IPMenuIcon.tif".

First, add a pointer to an NSImage to the data members of the IPMenulet class.

IPMenulet.h

NSImage *menuIcon;

Then we need to get the bundle, the path, and finally the image at this path. We will store this image for future reference if we want to show or hide the icon depending on the menulet's state. We also set the title to an empty string although it is allowed to have both an image and text in the status item. Make sure to release the icon when the application quits.

IPMenulet.m (awakeFromNib:)

NSBundle *bundle = [NSBundle bundleForClass:[self class]];
NSString *path = [bundle pathForResource:@"IPMenuIcon" ofType:@"tif"];
menuIcon= [[NSImage alloc] initWithContentsOfFile:path];

[statusItem setTitle:[NSString stringWithString:@""]]; 
  
[statusItem setImage:menuIcon];

(dealloc:)
[menuIcon release];

Test this new version. You should see the icon in the header. When the icon is clicked, the IP address is filled in to the right of the icon as shown in Figure 4.


Figure 4: The Menulet with both an icon and text title.

Adding a Menu

The menulet has shaped up rather nicely, but is limited to a single line of information and a single action when clicking. It is possible to extend the menulet by adding a menu to provide more information and interaction with user such as bringing up "About" boxes, "Preferences...", or displaying the IP address in the menu and keeping the menulet itself to a single icon.

First we will modify our code to include the pointer to the menu and a menu item we will be creating by adding the following to the IPMenulet interface definition.

IPMenulet.h

IBOutlet NSMenu *theMenu;
NSMenuItem *ipMenuItem;

Now we need to build the actual menu. Double-click the MainMenu.nib file to bring up Interface Builder. The first thing to do is to update Interface Builder's knowledge of the IPMenulet class. We need to double click the IPMenulet instantiation, right-click and choose "Read IPMenulet.h". After this is complete, return to the "Instances" tab.

Choose the "Cocoa-Menus" tab from the Interface Builder palette. Drag and drop the menu icon in the lower-right corner to the MainMenu.nib panel. This will add an NSMenu1 item to our nib file. Rename the first item "External IP" and delete the second menu item.

Next we connect the menu to our class. Control left-click and drag from the IPMenulet instantiation to the new NSMenu1 and connect theMenu data member of the class.

We assigned the menu to the class, but now the menu now needs to be assigned to IPMenulet. Return to XCode and modify the IPMenulet.m file to use theMenu instead of calling the updateIPAddress: selector. We're also going to dynamically create a menu item that is the external IP address and set it to update the IP address when the user clicks it.

IPMenulet.m (awakeFromNib:)

[statusItem setMenu:theMenu];
ipMenuItem = [[NSMenuItem alloc] initWithTitle:@"0.0.0.0" 
      action:@selector(updateIPAddress:) keyEquivalent:@""];
[ipMenuItem setTarget:self];
[theMenu insertItem:ipMenuItem atIndex:1];

The menulet will know to call and expand the menu on a user click. Therefore, comment out:

//  [statusItem setAction:@selector(updateIPAddress:)];
//  [statusItem setTarget:self];

We also want to update the IP address menu item with the new IP address. This is a simple change, instead of setting the title of the statusItem, we want to change the title of the ipMenuItem.

IPMenulet.m (updateIPAddres:)

[statusItem setTitle:[NSString stringWithString:ipAddr]];

becomes:

[ipMenuItem setTitle:[NSString stringWithString:ipAddr]];

Click "Build and Go" again to see the newest results. You will only see the icon in the menubar. Click on this to expand down your new menu. Click on the IP Address to have it update and change the menu item.


Figure 5: The menulet with a drop-down menu.

Automatic Updating

To this point we have made a menulet that has either an icon or text in the status bar, and updates the IP address when the user interacts with the menu item. By contrast, most menulets provide the user information without requiring interaction from the user. Therefore, it is often useful to use a timer to automatically update the menulet. This allows the menulet to provide up to date information without requiring constant interaction from a user.

This example hardcodes the timer interval to a predetermined value that seems adequate for the task, 1000 seconds. However, it would be useful for more advanced menulets to include a preference pane or selectable menu items for setting a variable update rate.

Add the following sections of code to your source files:

IPMenulet.h

NSTimer *updateTimer;
   
IPMenulet.m (awakeFromNib:)

updateTimer = [[NSTimer 
               scheduledTimerWithTimeInterval:(1000.0)
               target:self
               selector:@selector(updateIPAddress:)
               userInfo:nil
               repeats:YES] retain];
[updateTimer fire];

(dealloc:)
[updateTimer release];

The timer is built with 1000 second delay, and when it 'fires' (timer runs out), it will call our updateIPAddress: selector. The timer will continue firing for as long as the application remains active (repeats is set to YES).

Build and run the updated application. The IP address will be updated immediately upon startup. It will then be updated every 1000 seconds. If you want to double-check your timer, change the timer interval to 10.0, and add

[statusItem setTitle:[NSString 
      stringWithString:@"Updating"]]; 

to the beginning of the updateIPAddress: function. At the end of the function, add:

[statusItem setTitle:[NSString 
      stringWithString:@""]]; 

These additions will cause the menu to print "Updating" in the menu bar while retrieving the external IP address.

Conclusions

You've now successfully developed several iterations of a Mac OS X menulet. Each variation has different uses, depending on the desired information to be displayed, and user interaction required. Furthermore, menulets as described here can be made either stand-alone or as part of a larger application. In a larger application, the menulet's selectors and menu items would be connected to the application's code and data. This type of interface provides users with a potentially useful resource for quickly gleaning information from your application.

Menulets also provide an interface for drawing to an NSView. This capability allows a developer limitless freedom in drawing icons, graphs, blinken-lights, or anything else in their menulet.

For more information on the NSStatusItem API, check out the Apple developer documentation:

developer.apple.com/documentation/Cocoa/Reference/ ApplicationKit/ObjC_classic/Classes/NSStatusItem.html


Andrew Turner is a Systems Development Engineer with Realtime Technologies, Inc (www.simcreator.com) and has built robotic airships, automated his house, designed spacecraft, and in general looks for any excuse to hack together cool technology. You can read more about his projects at www.highearthorbit.com.

 
AAPL
$99.38
Apple Inc.
-1.37
MSFT
$46.00
Microsoft Corpora
-0.36
GOOG
$569.60
Google Inc.
-7.76

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Cocktail 8.0 Beta 2 - General maintenanc...
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
QuickBooks 2015 16.0.0.1352 R1 - Financi...
QuickBooks 2015 helps you manage your business easily and efficiently. Organize your finances all in one place, track money going in and out of your business, and spot areas where you can save.... Read more
Mac DVDRipper Pro 5.0.1 - Copy, backup,...
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
Apple OS X bash Update 1.0 - Fix for sec...
The OS X bash Update fixes a security flaw in the bash UNIX shell on OS X 10.9.5 (also on OS X 10.8 and 10.7 [see Related Links below]). OS X 10.9.5 or later Downloads for OS X 10.8 and OS X 10.7 in... Read more
SyncTwoFolders 2.0.5 - Syncs two user-sp...
SyncTwoFolders simply synchronizes two folders. It supports synchronization across mounted network drives and it is a possibility to run a simulation showing in a log what will be done. Please visit... Read more
FinderPop 2.5.7 - Classic Mac utility, n...
FinderPop is a Universal preference pane that extends OS X's contextual menus using a FinderPop Items folder much as the Apple Menu Items folder used to do for the Apple menu. It has other features... Read more
VueScan 9.4.45 - Scanner software with a...
VueScan is a scanning program that works with most high-quality flatbed and film scanners to produce scans that have excellent color fidelity and color balance. VueScan is easy to use, and has... Read more
LibreOffice 4.3.2.2 - Free Open Source o...
LibreOffice is an office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, drawing tool) compatible with other major office suites. The Document Foundation is coordinating development and... Read more
calibre 2.4 - Complete e-library managem...
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... Read more
Default Folder X 4.6.9b1 - Enhances Open...
Default Folder X attaches a toolbar to the right side of the Open and Save dialogs in any OS X-native application. The toolbar gives you fast access to various folders and commands. You just click... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Manage Your Cloud – Wunderlist Now Suppo...
Manage Your Cloud – Wunderlist Now Supports Dropbox Posted by Jessica Fisher on October 1st, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Nexticy Review
Nexticy Review By Jennifer Allen on October 1st, 2014 Our Rating: :: IDEAL FORM CREATIONiPad Only App - Designed for the iPad Nexticy allows you to make your own forms for research purposes or to organize your business better. It’s... | Read more »
Tiny Troopers: Alliance Marches onto the...
Tiny Troopers: Alliance Marches onto the App Store Tomorrow Posted by Jessica Fisher on October 1st, 2014 [ permalink ] Tiny Troopers: Alliance, by Kukouri, is a | Read more »
HeroCraft Introduces Unlimited Sequel to...
HeroCraft Introduces Unlimited Sequel to WW2: Sandbox. Strategy & Tactics Posted by Jessica Fisher on October 1st, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
RGB Express Review
RGB Express Review By Jennifer Allen on October 1st, 2014 Our Rating: :: DELIGHTFUL PUZZLINGUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Guide trucks along their delivery routes in RGB Express, a testing but charming puzzle game... | Read more »
The Sagas of Fire*Wolf (Games)
The Sagas of Fire*Wolf 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $9.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
BuggyFun Review
BuggyFun Review By Amy Solomon on October 1st, 2014 Our Rating: iPad Only App - Designed for the iPad BuggyFun allows children to create their own tracks for bugs to interact with for a unique open-ended experience.   | Read more »
Fold the Adventure Review
Fold the Adventure Review By Jennifer Allen on October 1st, 2014 Our Rating: :: AWKWARD FOLDSUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Fold pieces of paper to create platforms for a princely rabbit in this puzzle game; something... | Read more »
WW2: Sandbox. Strategy & Tactics (G...
WW2: Sandbox. Strategy & Tactics 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $9.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: ***NOTE: Compatible with iPhone 4s and up, iPad 2 and up - may not work properly on earlier devices... | Read more »
apeFilter (Music)
apeFilter 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Music Price: $6.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Amazon offers 13-inch MacBook Air for $899, $...
Amazon.com has the 13″ 1.4GHz 128GB MacBook Air on sale for $100 off MSRP including free shipping: - 13″ 1.4GHz 128GB MacBook Air: $899.99 Read more
Apple resting On Its iPhone Laurels? – The ‘B...
Apple calls its new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus “The Biggest Advancements in iPhone History,” but does reality live up to the hype? “Seldom have so many waited so breathlessly for so little,” tweeted veteran... Read more
Roundup of Apple Mac and iPad Education disco...
Purchase a new Mac or iPad at The Apple Store for Education and take up to $300 off MSRP. All teachers, students, and staff of any educational institution qualify for the discount. Shipping is free,... Read more
Apple Boycotts German Magazine Computer Bild...
Apple has revoked its PR accreditation of Germany’s Computer Bild, Europe’s best-selling PC magazine, in reaction to Bild’s posting of a “#Bentgate” YouTube video. Axel Telzerow, editor in chief of... Read more
iPhone 6 & iPhone 6 Plus Available in Chi...
Apple has announced that iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus will be available in China beginning Friday, October 17 from the Apple Online Store (http://www.apple.com), Apple’s retail stores, and an expansive... Read more
MacBook Airs on sale for $100 off MSRP, start...
Best Buy has the new 2014 MacBook Airs on sale for $100 off MSRP on their online store. Choose free home shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Prices valid for online orders only, in-... Read more
Apple Releases OS X Mavericks bash Update 1.0...
Apple has released a patch update for OS X Mavericks users to address the recently-detected “Shellshock” security bug in BSD UNIX’s bash shell. Apple says only a few Mac users who had manually... Read more
Pivotal Payments Ready for Apple Pay – FlexPo...
Pivotal Payments, a provider of merchant services and global payment processing solutions, has announced its proprietary FlexPoint platform will support credit and debit transactions through Apple’s... Read more
iStabilizer Announces Tabarm — First Friction...
iStabilizer, a specialist in universal lightweight compact tripods, steady cams, dollies, mounts, and remotes for smartphones, tablets, and cameras, announced today the iStabilizer tabArm, the first... Read more
IStabilizer Flex Smartphone Tripod Wins Usa T...
iStabilizer, a specialist in universal lightweight compact tripods, steady cams, and other products for smartphones, tablets, and cameras, has announced today that its iStabilizer Flex smartphone... Read more

Jobs Board

*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
*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
Senior Event Manager, *Apple* Retail Market...
…This senior level position is responsible for leading and imagining the Apple Retail Team's global event strategy. Delivering an overarching brand story; in-store, Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
Project Manager / Business Analyst, WW *Appl...
…a senior project manager / business analyst to work within our Worldwide Apple Fulfillment Operations and the Business Process Re-engineering team. This role will work Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.