TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Enhancing Your Application with NSStatusItem

Volume Number: 24 (2008)
Issue Number: 07
Column Tag: Application Development

Enhancing Your Application with NSStatusItem

How to utilize the NSStatusItem API to add functionalitys

by Marcus S. Zarra


The user interface is arguably the hardest part of any application. This is especially true on OS X because we, as users, demand more of the developers of our applications. If the developer adds too many features and UI elements, then the application feels too busy or complicated. However if too few features are added then application is too primitive or simple.

Fortunately there are some choices. An application that would be considered too simple for the Dock might be perfect on the Dashboard or on the Menu Bar. Likewise, an application that is too busy to be a Dashboard widget might very well be perfectly at home in the Dock. But what if you are in the grey area between the Dock and the Menu Bar? While the design choices between these options ischoices between these options are beyond the scope of this article, I will present how to add a Menu Bar item – also known as a menu extra, menu item or menulet – to to your application and how to control it.

Menu Bar Items: Two Different Beasts

There are two different kinds of objects that can be placed on the menu bar in the upper right corner. First there is the kind that only Apple is allowedallows. The API is private and at the time of this article, third party developers are discouraged from using them.

The second kind that developers are encouraged to use is the NSStatusItem API. The NSStatusItem behaves decidedly different than the internal API that Apple uses. First, NSStatusItem objects cannot be dragged around the menu bar; second they cannot be removed from the menu bar with the mouse; and lastly, they are more "sluggish" than the Apple internal items when another item on the bar is moved or removed.

However, they are still an extremely useful UI element that can be utilized to great effect. The basic concept behind them is that they are a menu with an icon. In that respect, their behavior is very similar to NSMenuItem objects.

Building an NSStatusItem

While it is possible to build an NSStatusItem 100% in code, I prefer to use Interface Builder wherever whenever possible. This makes localizations easier and reduces the amount of code I need to maintain. Therefore, the first step to building an NSStatusItem is to build its menu in Interface Builder.

Building the Menu

To add a new menu to the project, I open the MainMenu.xib file and drag in a new NSMenu object (See Image 1). I normally rename the new menu to "Status Menu" or something similar to keep it clear which menu is which.

Image 1: Drag a new NSMenu into the nib

When an NSMenu is first added it contains three menu items. These items can be added to, removed from and changed as needed. For this example, I have changed the menu so that it has four items: Status, a separator, About and Quit. When I am done the menu looks like Image 2.

Image 2: The finished menu in IB

Now that the menu itself is complete it is time to write some code. For this example, the AppDelegate of my project will be responsible for the NSStatusItem. First, the header:

#import <Cocoa/Cocoa.h>
@interface AppDelegate : NSObject {
   NSStatusItem *myStatusItem;
   IBOutlet NSMenu *myStatusMenu;
   IBOutlet NSMenuItem *myMenuStatusItem;

Since both the about menu item and the quit menu item can be handled outside of the AppDelegate in this example, I have not added IBAction methods for them. Once the header has been written, it is time to go back to Interface Builder and link the references as shown in Image 3.

As for the About and Quit menus, they are linked to the Application object as follows:

About -> NSApplication -orderFrontStandardAboutPanel:
Quit -> NSApplication -terminate:

Once all of the linking is complete, I am done withwith the work with Interface Builder is complete;. tTime to move on to the AppDelegate. In this situation I prefer to initialize the NSStatusItem in the applicationDidFinishLaunching: method so that it appears as soon as the application is ready to start receiving events. Depending on an applications particular situation the initialization code can be placed in other locations.

#import "AppDelegate.h"
@implementation AppDelegate
- (void)applicationDidFinishLaunching:(NSNotification*)notification
   myStatusItem = [[[NSStatusBar systemStatusBar] statusItemWithLength:NSSquareStatusItemLength] retain];
   NSImage *statusImage = [NSImage imageNamed:@"TheZ.tiff"];
   [myStatusItem setImage:statusImage];
   [myStatusItem setHighlightMode:YES];
   [myStatusItem setMenu:myStatusMenu];
   [myMenuStatusItem setTitle:NSLocalizedString(@"Special Status", @"status menu item text")];

The first thing to notice in this code block is that NSStatusItem objects are not initialized directly. Rather, they are requested from an NSStatusBar object. The NSStatusBar object has a class level method that returns the system status bar from which I one can request a NSStatusItem.

Once I have my newthe NSStatusItem request is complete, it is possibleI am able to set its image, highlight mode and menu. The image is the image that is displayed on the Menu Bar and is has a 16x16 resolutionimage. The highlight mode determines whether or not the image is highlighted when clicked. The default is "NO", which is not appropriate when a menu is attached so I have set it to YES in the sample code. The last call to myStatusItem passes it the menu that isI constructed and referenced in Interface Builder. This will be the menu that the NSStatusItem displays when it is clicked.

The last line of the applicationDidFinishLaunching: method is a call to the status menu item that isI referenced from Interface Builder. This call changes the text of that menu item. Note that the sample code doesI have not disabled this menu. Since it does not have a target or action it will be displayed grayed out already so there is no need to disable it.

Controlling The Menu

In various situations it is appropriate to make changes to the NSStatusItem or one of its menu items. In this example, I have intentionally linked the *myStatusMenuItem ivar to one of the NSMenuItem objects on the menu so that it can be changed during the life of the program. To illustrate this change, I added a button to the main window that when clicked would change this menu item:

Image 3: Linking the AppDelegate to the Menu

  [myMenuStatusItem setTitle:NSLocalizedString(@"Changed Status", @"statuc menu item changed text")];

With this addition to the application, the status menu item will change to "Changed Status".

It is also possible to change the image that is displayed on the Menu Bar

   [myStatusItem setImage:[NSImage imageNamed:@"ThePurpleZ.tiff"]];
   [myStatusItem setImage:[NSImage imageNamed:@"TheZ.tiff"]];

In the example application, I added these actions are added to the Format menu rather than buttons on the main window.

Lastly, if it is desired to have the NSStatusItem as an option rather than a requirement in the application, it is possible to remove the menu item from the bar:

   [[NSStatusBar systemStatusBar] removeStatusItem:myStatusItem];
   myStatusItem = nil;
   if (myStatusItem) return;
   myStatusItem = [[[NSStatusBar systemStatusBar] statusItemWithLength:NSVariableStatusItemLength] retain];
   [myStatusItem setImage:[NSImage imageNamed:@"TheZ.tiff"]];
   [myStatusItem setHighlightMode:YES];
   [myStatusItem setMenu:myStatusMenu];
   [myMenuStatusItem setTitle:NSLocalizedString(@"Special Status", @"status menu item text")];
   if ([item action] == @selector(removeStatusItem:)) {
      return (myStatusItem != nil);
   if ([item action] == @selector(addStatusItem:)) {
      return (myStatusItem == nil);
   return YES;

The code to remove the status item is very simple. Just one call to NSStatusBar -removeStatusItem: and it is gone. Since there is no way to add the existing item back to the bar it is prudent to set the ivar to nil at this time.

To add the NSStatusItem back to the bar, the example I simply copiesd the code from the applicationDidFinishLaunching: method. Ideally this should be abstracted so that the code is not duplicated.

Lastly, I addedthere is a -validateMenuItem: method to make sure that only one status item is ever added and just as importantly, that the application is not trying to remove a non-existent item I do not try to remove a non-existent item.

Now, with the addition of a checkbox in the preferences linked to NSUserDefaults, it is trivial to add a user preference on whether or not to show the status item. OneI could then add logic to the applicationDidFinishLaunching: method to decide whether or not a NSStatusItem needs to be initialized based on the NSUserDefault.


That is all there is to the NSStatusItem API. Hopefully, one day, Apple will allow third party developers to utilize their internal status items so that we can legitimately produce menu bar items that are feature comparable to the system items. Until then, NSStatusItem is a solid API that we can utilize.

As a parting comment, if I wanted my entire application to run as a menu bar item (without a Dock icon ala Twitterific), that only requires one small addition to the Info.plist:


And the application will not bounce in the dock at all. I do not recommend that for this example application as it is not designed to run in that manner but there are plenty of applications that this is perfectly suited for.

NOTE: This change cannot be made to an application on the fly. So if you wanted to make the Dock icon optional also it would require an application restart and probably some trickery with the Finder as the Finder does tend to "cache" the Info.plist file for applications.

Marcus S. Zarra is the owner of Zarra Studios, based out of Colorado Springs, Colorado. He has been developing Cocoa software since 2003, Java software since 1996, and has been in the industry since 1985. Currently Marcus is producing software for OS X. In addition to writing software, he assists other developers by blogging about development and supplying code samples.


Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Network Radar 2.3.3 - $17.99
Network Radar is an advanced network scanning and managing tool. Featuring an easy-to-use and streamlined design, the all-new Network Radar 2 has been engineered from the ground up as a modern Mac... Read more
Printopia 3.0.8 - Share Mac printers wit...
Run Printopia on your Mac to share its printers to any capable iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. Printopia will also add virtual printers, allowing you to save print-outs to your Mac and send to apps.... Read more
ForkLift 3.2.1 - 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
BetterTouchTool 2.417 - Customize multi-...
BetterTouchTool adds many new, fully customizable gestures to the Magic Mouse, Multi-Touch MacBook trackpad, and Magic Trackpad. These gestures are customizable: Magic Mouse: Pinch in / out (zoom... Read more
Little Snitch 4.0.6 - 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
Google Chrome 65.0.3325.181 - Modern and...
Google Chrome is a Web browser by Google, created to be a modern platform for Web pages and applications. It utilizes very fast loading of Web pages and has a V8 engine, which is a custom built... Read more
TeamViewer 13.1.2991 - Establish remote...
TeamViewer gives you remote control of any computer or Mac over the Internet within seconds or can be used for online meetings. Find out why more than 200 million users trust TeamViewer! Free for non... Read more
Printopia 3.0.8 - Share Mac printers wit...
Run Printopia on your Mac to share its printers to any capable iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. Printopia will also add virtual printers, allowing you to save print-outs to your Mac and send to apps.... Read more
BetterTouchTool 2.417 - Customize multi-...
BetterTouchTool adds many new, fully customizable gestures to the Magic Mouse, Multi-Touch MacBook trackpad, and Magic Trackpad. These gestures are customizable: Magic Mouse: Pinch in / out (zoom... Read more
Mellel 4.1.0 - The word processor for sc...
Mellel is the leading word processor for OS X and has been widely considered the industry standard for long form documents since its inception. Mellel focuses on writers and scholars for technical... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Destiny meets its mobile match - Everyth...
Shadowgun Legends is the latest game in the Shadowgun series, and it's taking the franchise in some interesting new directions. Which is good news. The even better news is that it's coming out tomorrow, so if you didn't make it into the beta you... | Read more »
How PUBG, Fortnite, and the battle royal...
The history of the battle royale genre isn't a long one. While the nascent parts of the experience have existed ever since players first started killing one another online, it's really only in the past six years that the genre has coalesced into... | Read more »
Around the Empire: What have you missed...
Oh hi nice reader, and thanks for popping in to check out our weekly round-up of all the stuff that you might have missed across the Steel Media network. Yeah, that's right, it's a big ol' network. Obviously 148Apps is the best, but there are some... | Read more »
All the best games on sale for iPhone an...
It might not have been the greatest week for new releases on the App Store, but don't let that get you down, because there are some truly incredible games on sale for iPhone and iPad right now. Seriously, you could buy anything on this list and I... | Read more »
Everything You Need to Know About The Fo...
In just over a week, Epic Games has made a flurry of announcements. First, they revealed that Fortnite—their ultra-popular PUBG competitor—is coming to mobile. This was followed by brief sign-up period for interested beta testers before sending out... | Read more »
The best games that came out for iPhone...
It's not been the best week for games on the App Store. There are a few decent ones here and there, but nothing that's really going to make you throw down what you're doing and run to the nearest WiFi hotspot in order to download it. That's not to... | Read more »
Death Coming (Games)
Death Coming Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: (iTunes) Description: --- Background Story ---You Died. Pure and simple, but death was not the end. You have become an agent of Death: a... | Read more »
Hints, tips, and tricks for Empires and...
Empires and Puzzles is a slick match-stuff RPG that mixes in a bunch of city-building aspects to keep things fresh. And it's currently the Game of the Day over on the App Store. So, if you're picking it up for the first time today, we thought it'd... | Read more »
What You Need to Know About Sam Barlow’s...
Sam Barlow’s follow up to Her Story is #WarGames, an interactive video series that reimagines the 1983 film WarGames in a more present day context. It’s not exactly a game, but it’s definitely still interesting. Here are the top things you should... | Read more »
Pixel Plex Guide - How to Build Better T...
Pixel Plex is the latest city builder that has come to the App Store, and it takes a pretty different tact than the ones that came before it. Instead of being in charge of your own city by yourself, you have to work together with other players to... | Read more »

Price Scanner via

Back in stock! Apple’s full line of Certified...
Save $300-$300 on the purchase of a 2017 13″ MacBook Pro today with Certified Refurbished models at Apple. Apple’s refurbished prices are the lowest available for each model from any reseller. A... Read more
Back in stock: 13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro (Ce...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pros (MD101LL/A) available for $829, or $270 off original MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free: – 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook... Read more
Apple restocks Certified Refurbished 2017 13″...
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
8-Core iMac Pro on sale for $4699, save $300
Amazon has the 8-core iMac Pro on sale for $4699 including free shipping. Their price is $300 off MSRP, and it’s the currently lowest price available for an iMac Pro. For the latest up-to-date prices... Read more
10″ 512GB WiFi iPad Pros on sale for $849, sa...
B&H Photo has Space Gray and Rose Gold 10.5″ 512GB WiFi iPad Pros on sale for $849. Their price is $150 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for these models, new, from any Apple... Read more
MacBook Pro sale! B&H drops prices on new...
B&H Photo has dropped prices on new 2017 13″ MacBook Pros, with models now on sale for up to $200 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax for NY & NJ residents only. Their... Read more
13″ MacBook Airs on sale for $100-$150 off MS...
B&H Photo has 13″ MacBook Airs on sale for $100-$150 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax for NY & NJ residents only: – 13″ 1.8GHz/128GB MacBook Air (MQD32LL/A): $899, $... Read more
Huge iMac sale! Apple reseller now offering 2...
B&H Photo has new 2017 21″ & 27″ iMacs on sale today for up to $300 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax for NY & NJ residents only: – 27″ 3.8GHz iMac (MNED2LL/A): $... Read more
Sale! 1.4GHz Mac mini for $399, $100 off MSRP
B&H Photo has the 1.4GHz Mac mini on sale for $399 for a limited time. Their price is $100 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for a mini from any Apple reseller: – 1.4GHz Mac mini (... Read more
Sale of the year continues as Apple resellers...
Adorama has new 2017 15″ MacBook Pros on sale for $250-$300 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and Adorama charges sales tax in NJ and NY only: – 15″ 2.8GHz Touch Bar MacBook Pro Space Gray (MPTR2LL/A): $... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Genius - Technical Customer Service...
Job Description:Job SummaryAs a Genius at the Apple Store, you maintain customers' trust in Apple as the skilled technical customer service expert, Read more
Metadata Operations Specialist, *Apple* Med...
# Metadata Operations Specialist, Apple Media Products Job Number: 113387726 Santa Clara Valley, California, United States Posted: 08-Feb-2018 Weekly Hours: 40.00 Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
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
Data Scientist, *Apple* Ecosystem (AMP Anal...
# Data Scientist, Apple Ecosystem (AMP Analytics) Job Number: 113428728 Santa Clara Valley, California, United States Posted: 24-Jan-2018 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Read more
*Apple* Professional Learning Specialist - A...
# Apple Professional Learning Specialist Job Number: 113456892 Englewood, NJ, New Jersey, United States Posted: 02-Feb-2018 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Summary** The Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.