Category Archives: Development

Apple WatchConnectivity

While learning Swift, one of the new features I wanted to add to the Nutrition GPA app was an Apple Watch app/extension.  Getting into WatchKit was surprisingly easy, in part because development follows a similar paradigm to UIKit interfaces but the watch user interface features are somewhat limited.

To share data between devices, Apple makes it relatively easy to pass data back and forth from the host app (on the iPhone) to the watch app.  I started with reading some framework documentation and looking at some sample code.

For my purposes, I wanted users to be able to take the Nutrition GPA daily quiz on their watch.  At first, I thought I could define “Shared Groups” to write to a common file location, but that didn’t work.  Not needing bi-directional communication, I decided to send the quiz “answers” to the phone – which would then store them to the local database.


The first step is defining a class to handle the watch connectivity session messages.  This class will handle various state changes and posting notifications it received data from either the watch or the phone to the rest of your app.  You’ll instantiate an instance of this class in both your AppDelegate and ExtensionDelegate classes.

class WatchSessionDelegate: NSObject, WCSessionDelegate
   // Unpack the data and post a notification
   func session(_ session: WCSession, didReceiveMessageData messageData: Data)
      var cmd = MessagePackage(.sendMessageData, .received)
      cmd.dataPackage = EncodedData(messageData)

      DispatchQueue.main.async {, cmd) }

   // Unpack the data, use callback for response
   func session(_ session: WCSession, didReceiveMessageData messageData: Data, replyHandler: @escaping(Data) -> Void)

There are a handful of session state methods that you may want to implement specifically for your application.   They provide hooks for connectivity, reachability,  and session state.  Refer to the Apple Docs.


Configuring the app delegate simply requires creating a private WatchSessionDelegate instance and setting the WCSession properties appropriately.

private var sessionDelegate = WatchSessionDelegate()

func application(_ app: UIApplication, _ launchOptions: [UIApplicationLaunchOptionsKey: Any]?) -> Bool
   // Make sure WatchConnectivity is supported
   if WCSession.isSupported()
      WCSession.default.delegate = sessionDelegate

      // Add a notification
         selector: #selector(type(of: self).didReceiveData(_:)),
         name: .didReceiveData,
         object: nil)

@objc func didReceiveData(_ notif: Notification)
   // unpack the notification
   guard let message = notification.object as? MessagePackage else { return }
   guard let quizData = message.dataPackage?.quizData else { return }

   // save the data

On the watch side, the ExtensionDelegate is similar.  There’s a bit more code to process and handle pending background tasks in the event connectivity disappears.

private lazy var sessionDelegate: WatchSessionDelegate = { return WatchSessionDelegate() }()

private var activeObservation: NSKeyValueObservation?

private var contentPending: NSKeyValueObservation?

private var wcBackgroundTasks = [WKWatchConnectivityRefreshBackgroundTask]()

override init()
   if WCSession.isSupported()
      activeObservation = WCSession.default.observe(\.activationState) { _, _ in DispatchQueue.main.async {

      contentPending = WCSession.default.observe(\.hasContentPending) { _, _ in DispatchQueue.main.async {

      WCSession.default.delegate = sessionDelegate

func completeBackgroundTasks()
   guard WCSession.ddefault.activationState == .activated, WCSession.default.hasContentPending == false else { return }

   wcBackgroundTasks.forEach { $0.setTaskCompletedWithSnapshot(false) }

   let date = Date(timeIntervalSinceNow: 1)
   WKExtension.shared().scheduleSnapshotRefresh(withPreferredDate: date, userInfo: nil) { error in if let error = error { 
      print("scheduledSnapshotRefresh: Error \(error)")

With the appropriate handlers added to the two application delegates, we need to consider the packaging of the shared data.   In the app delegate code (above), I’ve used a MessagePackage object without defining it.

MessagePackage & EncodedData

These two structures provide a handy transport wrapper around the actual data we want to send.  Having these classes allows us to also include some state information (sending, receiving, replied, failed) and provide some helper serialization methods through the use of dynamic properties.

In my case, I opted to use NSKeyValueEncoding/Decoding to perform the object serialization.  Key value coding is a common pattern on iOS and provides a binary Data package.

Because Swift wraps the phone and watch in unique namespaces, the class name is specific to the platform when serializing or deserializing (e.g. NutritionGPA.QuizData… and NutritionGPAExtension.QuizData…).

Early on, this was causing the data to serialize on one device and silently fail to decode on the other platform when it was received.  There are a couple ways to resolve this issue but I opted to explicitly declare each object with @objc to avoid the name changes.

@objc(QuizData) class QuizData: NSObject, NSCoding

You’ll need to do this for any custom code that the instance also serializes.

Alternatively, NSKeyedArchiver can be configured to look for specific classes and store/retrieve custom code.  It just requires setting the appropriate class name before any store/retrieve operation – which felt a little clumsy to me.  You can read about both choices on StackOverflow and decide what best works for your application.

struct MessagePackage
   enum Command: String {
      case sendMessageData = "SendMessageData"
   enum Status: String {
      case sent = "Sent"
      case received = "Received"
      case replied = "Replied"
      case failed = "Failed"

   var command: Command
   var status: Status
   var dataPackage: EncodedData?
   var errorMessage: String?

   init(command: Command, status: Status)
      self.command = command
      self.status = status

struct EncodedData
   var encodedData: Data
   var quizData: QuizData?
      let optional = NSKeyedUnarchiver.unarchiveObject(with: encodedData)
      guard let quiz = optional as? QuizData else
         print("Error: unable to unarchive")
         return nil
      return quiz

   init(_ encodedData: Data)
      let data = try? NSKeyedUnarchiver.unarchiveTopLevelObjectWithData(encodedData)
      guard let dictionary = data as? [String: Any] else {
         fatalError("Failed to unarchive")


   init(_ encodedDict: [String: Any])
      guard let encodedData = encodedDict[Payload.dataKey] as? Data else 
         fatalError("Error: incorrect key")
      self.encodedData = encodedData

Now that we have the app delegates setup and some handy wrappers around serializing our data – how do we send it?

SessionCommands & DataProvider

Both of these protocols provide some helper methods that are adopted by the classes that transmit data.

SessionCommands provides a single method that creates a MessageData object and sends it via Watch Connectivity.

DataProvider handles archiving both the raw quiz data and creating the encoded MessageData transparently to adopting classes.

Both protocols are implemented by the results view controller on the Watch app.  When the user presses “Finish”, the quiz data is encoded and sent to the phone for storage.

protocol DataProvider
   func messageData(_ obj: AnyObject) -> Data

extension DataProvider
   func messageData(_ obj: AnyObject) -> Data
      let data = try? NSKeyedArchiver.archiveData(withRootObject: obj, requiringSecureCoding: false)
      guard let rawQuizData = data else {
         fatalError("Unable to archive")
      let payload = try? NSKeyedArchiver.archivedData(withRootObject: [Payload.dataKey: rawQuizData], requiringSecureCoding: false)
      guard let payloadQuiz = payload else {
         fatalError("Unable to archive")

      return payloadQuiz

protocol SessionCommands
   func sendMessageData(_ messageData: Data)

extension SessionCommands
   func sendMessageData(_ messageData: Data)
      var command = MessagePackage(command: .sendMessageData, status: .sent)
      command.dataPackage = EncodedData(messageData)

      guard WCSession.default.activationState == .activated else { return }

      WCSession.default.sendMessageData(messageData, replyHandler: { replayData in
      command.status = .replied
      command.dataPackage = EncodedData(replyData)
       }, errorHandler: { error in
         command.status = .failed
         command.errorMessage = error.localizedDescription

There are also a number of test scenarios to consider: multiple watches paired to a single iPhone, connectivity lost (phone and watch too far apart), or handling background tasks.

Finally, it’s worth adding a bunch of unit tests around the serialization / deserialization to make sure the data can properly flow from device to device.

While it certainly helps to write unit tests to help isolate potential problems, it’s also useful to debug both the watch and phone on the simulator simultaneously.  If you’re not seeing data from one device to the other, consider debugging both app and extension at the same time in Xcode.

To do this, start debugging either the app or extension, then launch the other app on the device and select “Debug | Attach to Process” in Xcode to attach to both at the same time.

Finishing Up

I omitted some details in the code above – notably sending and handling the various notifications in both applications.

Generally, the app delegate will receive the quiz taken on the watch, then save it to the local database.  This is great – but some additional thought is required to determine how the application should respond if the user is interacting with it.  For example, if the user is on the start screen – which displays the total number of quizzes taken – the display should update to reflect new data.  Or, if the user is looking at their quiz history – the list should update to include this latest entry.

These aren’t difficult problems to solve – largely they involve having each view controller subscribe to a data notification (or redefine them in the phone’s app delegate specifically for these view controllers) and recalculating their display.

Last, there are a few areas where – now that things are working – I’d consider refactoring or a slightly more flexible approach.  Specifically, the places where “fatalError” is called create the potential for a poor end-user experience.  This code would probably be better to fail more gracefully!

Nutrition GPA and Swift


Originally written in 2014, the Nutrition GPA (GPA) app was authored in Objective-C and XIB files.  While the app was designed for phones, there were some screen size assumptions baked into the code that made it somewhat fragile to the Plus and X devices that have been introduced in the past few years.

Having experimented with Swift Playgrounds and done some reading, I wanted to try to faithfully port/convert the Objective-C code to Swift while modernizing other aspects of the app as I went.


  • Swift has been around since 2014 and is becoming increasingly necessary to iOS development.
  • When the GPA app was written, it didn’t use Storyboards, so layout has suffered with newer devices like the iPhone X.
  • While a relatively simple app – it has just a handful of views – it’d be fun to experiment with WatchKit and add some new capabilities.


The app uses a local SQLite store for quiz results and backing data.  Over the years, I’ve worked quite a bit with SQLite.  Generally, the pattern I’ve followed has been to create an object that represents an individual table row.  This object knows how to insert, update, and delete itself from the SQLite database.  The downside of this approach is that the object needs to know a lot about the underlying database representation.  And, there’s potentially a lot of duplicated code for boiler-plate operations to manage the interactions with the backing store.

Previously to bootstrap a record, each object would have a method similar to this:

+ (id)addObjectToTable(sqlite3*) db
   intsuccess = SQLITE_OK;
   if(insert_statement== nil)
      const char*sql = "INSERT INTO some_table 
                 (tID) VALUES ('0')";

      success = sqlite3_prepare_v2(db, sql, -1,
                    &insert_statement, NULL);

      NSAssert1(success == SQLITE_OK, @"add
           object: failed to prepare with message 
           '%s'", sqlite3_errmsg(db));

   success = sqlite3_step(insert_statement);

With the GPA app, I’ve moved to FMDB, which abstracts much of this repetitive code and provides an opaque interface to the underlying data store by representing rows in a table as dictionaries.

Now, I can generalize the insert, update, and delete operations to three different APIs.

private func insertRecord(_record:
   Dictionary<String, Int>, tableName: String) -> Int

private func updateRecord(_record: 
   Dictionary<String, Int>, tableName: String) -> Int

private func deleteExistingRecords(_table: 
   String, _field: String, value: Any)

Each object that can store data to the database implements the DatabaseObject protocol, which has a single function to provide a dictionary of key/value pairs that the object wants to save or retrieve.

   func asDictionary() -> Dictionary<String, Int>

And, the database insert becomes much more generic:

private func insertRecord(_record: 
    Dictionary<String, Int>, 
    tableName: String) -> Int
   var insertedRecordId =   
   var insertParams = record;

   insertParams.removeValue(forKey: FIELD_PK)

   var fieldNames = Array<String>()
   var namedParams = Array<String>()

   for key in insertParams.keys
         String.init(format:":%@", key))

   let sql = String.init(format:
     "INSERT INTO %@ (%@) VALUES (%@)", 
        fieldNames.joined(separator: ","), 
        namedParams.joined(separator: ","))

   databaseQueue.inDatabase{ (database) in
          withParameterDictionary: insertParams)

   return Int(insertedRecordId)

extension Database
   func save(_databaseObject: DatabaseObject) 
      -> Int?
      switch databaseObject
      case is ObjA: return 
         tableName: TABLE_A)

      case is ObjB: return 
         tableName: TABLE_B)

      default: fatalError("Database: attempt to 
         store an unsupported database object")

   return nil

Overall, I’m pleased with decoupling the database functionality from the objects that hold the data.  I experimented with cloud-based storage, like Parse, and having a logical separation of the backing storage from the object was very important.  Rather than use SQLite, I could repurpose the database class to use CloudKit, Parse, or another service without having to also refactor all of the storage objects to “know” about this change.


For the most part, the app port went very smoothly.  I opted to try to use all Swift collection classes, rather than mix-and-match the Objective-C types, like NSMutableArray, etc.  This made things much easier.

Still, there were a few moments where I had to do some Google searches and slight refactoring.

Exclusive Access to Memory

The app provides a 7-day, 30-day, and lifetime average score.  When the view loads, it looks at the recorded history and does some simple math.  To represent these values, I created an array to store the results:

private var avgScore: Array = [0, 0, 0]

During initialization, the app passes references (via inout parameter) to retrieve the respective values:

AppDelegate.pastAverages(avgAll: &avgScore[0], avgWeek: &avgScore[1], avgMonth: &avgScore[2])

Swift didn’t like this and gave me a run-time error.  There’s a build setting to enforce exclusive access to memory at both run-time and compile-time.  Disabling the build option solved the problem but really refactoring the code to use tuples or returning an array would be a better option.

Forced Unwrapping

During the project, my thinking on forced unwrapping (!) evolved – to a stance of: use with caution.  If the forced unwrap fails, the app will crash which is obviously undesirable.

There were times – like with controls, resources, or casting known variables that I felt safe applying the exclamation point – but it wasn’t without some thought of perhaps writing the same piece of code in a different way.

Extensions to Objective-C functions

For whatever reason, some of my favorite Objective-C methods don’t have exact Swift equivalents.  So, extensions to the rescue.  I added a handful for String and FileManager.

And, found myself considering how to use extensions to separate implementation groups more cleanly.  Having a single implementation file (and no-preprocessor) also made me consider applying Swift access controls – just to give myself hints on how I expected various classes to be used.

rawValue for Enums

Swift offers a lot more language flexibility than Objective-C – particularly with enums, tuples, and generics.  In my older code, I relied on ordinal rank of enum members for access to arrays (see the average score example above) – and found myself declaring Swift arrays and using the “raw value” more frequently than I’d expected.


The GPA app port to Swift went very smoothly.  I’m certainly glad to have implemented the UI with a Storyboard – it means a lot less CGMakeRect() and “magic” numbers floating through the codebase. The hiccups were all in all pretty minor.

There are some nice things provided by the language that I still need to come to grips with.  I felt my coding style evolving to fit the language and don’t think it’s finished yet!

Squramble Developer Blog: A Progression of Prototypes

My most recent decades have been spent writing programs on Windows computers using the C++ programming language.  The transition to programming an iPhone app on an Apple computer using Objective C was daunting.  I believe the story of how I fared might be a little interesting to other programmer types considering the same type of leap.  (And along the way I hit on one really, really useful paradigm that I think “sealed the deal” and would like to recommend to others.)

This post is “A Progression of Prototypes (or, “The-Idea-That-Sealed-The-Deal”).”

Continue reading Squramble Developer Blog: A Progression of Prototypes

Squramble Developer Blog: Word Selection for Casual Word Games

Today’s Squramble developer post talks about how one hand-crafts a word game “dictionary” for a casual word game.

Consider a game that chooses a word, mixes it up, and asks you to unscramble it as a minor diversion. What constitutes a good list of words, and where does such a list come from?

Continue reading Squramble Developer Blog: Word Selection for Casual Word Games

Squramble Developer Blog: The Story of Squramble

While building Squramble for the iPhone, I wrote  some blog-style notes that might be useful to share. While we await more “news of the world” of Looking Glass Software, I’ll be using the news feed space to do so.

This entry talks about how the idea for Squramble-The-iPhone-Game came about.

Continue reading Squramble Developer Blog: The Story of Squramble

Adding a TextField to an AlertView

Today, I was looking at how to add password protection to an app.  The basic design was the user could set a password via the options, then when they relaunched the app, would be asked to re-enter the numeric sequence.  If they got it right, the app would proceed as normal otherwise, terminate.

Ultimately, I went with the solution proposed by Jeff LaMarche on his blog.  But, many of the other solutions I found via Google appeared to use private APIs (such as addTextFieldWithValue:) which is a sure fire way to get rejected these days.

If you haven’t read the blog, or even better – his book, they are both great.  The book offers a very easy introduction to the iPhone SDK using practical examples.  It’s a great starting place for developers new to the SDK.

Managing Assets & Viewing Bundle Contents

Managing all of the assets that go into an iPhone app via Xcode can sometimes be tedious.  It seems somewhat counter intuitive to me to have the IDE manage these resources too.  Maybe I’m in the minority, but I’d prefer to just work with source code and NIBs in Xcode and keep track of the “other stuff” on my own.

The other day I was looking around for a solution to remove the non-Interface Builder assets from Xcode, organize these files into folders within my bundle, and remove the tons of Groups or Folder References from the IDE.  Happily, the answer wasn’t too bad.

Xcode Options

When you drag a resource into Xcode, it presents you with a dialog asking how to treat it:


Starting from the top, the checkbox will copy the assets (and preserve the folder hierarchy, if present) while placing the resources at the root folder of the destination group.  The default radio box is to “Recursively create groups for any added folders” which is generally what you’ll want, especially if you’re using Interface Builder too.  In your bundle, these resources are placed at the “root” meaning to access them in your code, you’ll just need to specify a name.

The other radio option, “Create Folder References…”, creates a folder tree both inside Xcode and in your bundle.  However, the resources cannot be seen by Interface Builder and you’ll need to use a path if you load them at run-time.

Build Phase Copy

If you like the folder hierarchy in your bundle, or just want to move this management largely out of Xcode, it’s pretty easy to do it on your own by adding a new build phase, as shown below.  Right click on your Target and follow the cascading menus.


In the build phase, add the following script

${PBXCP} -exclude .svn ${BASE} "${DST}"

The script calls an iPhone tool to recreate your folder structure inside your build directory before the final bundle is created.  With the script, I can remove any links or asset associations within Xcode except those I want to use in IB.  I maintain a folder “assets” off my product directory where I place any files that I’d like bundled in my app.

Checking Bundle Contents

Perhaps a trick most folks know, but I thought it was worth mentioning, is you can inspect and check the contents of your app bundle by following either navigating there via the Terminal or right clicking the app and selecting “Show Package Contents”.

I had a question about the database format of iGive Blood that shipped in version 1.0 and managed to find an old build from Apple.  For products that you’ve shipped, it’s almost the same.

  1. In iTunes, right click the app and select “Show in Finder”
  2. Copy the IPA file to your desktop
  3. Rename the extension to ZIP
  4. Double click the ZIP to create an uncompressed folder.
  5. Open the Payload folder which has the app.

It’s actually a bit disappointing that it’s so easy to get to the package contents especially as the contents aren’t obscured.  Maybe that’s a subject for another post…

Sometimes It’s the Obvious

Between working on a couple updates for our existing apps, I’ve been working on learning some new stuff with the iPhone SDK.  Sometimes it’s great to just wipe the canvas and start fresh!  So, I’m playing around with which UI* framework elements support custom artwork and creating some custom controls.  It’s fun, especially now that I’ve got some solid footing on the default appearance and behaviors of the common controls.

I tossed together a UITabBar app template and started filling out the custom UIViewControllers.  The code to push the view controller is pretty standard:

   if (myView == nil)
      myView = [[UIViewController alloc] initWithNibName:@"testView" bundle:nil];

   [self.navigationController pushViewController:myView animated:YES];


I created a corresponding Objective-C UIViewController class, testView, and associated the class in Interface Builder, including the “view” connection. 


The test view controller had a couple IBOutlets which I also created in IB and associated too. 

Save all… recompile in Xcode, debug – and Boom!  “NSUnknownException”, reason: “[<UIView 0x47a3e1>  setValue:forUndefinedKey:]: this class is not key value coding-compliant for the key testControl.”

Nothing like a helpful error message, eh?

So – a quick return to Interface Builder where I double check the connections, Class Identity, and assorted properties that might trigger the exception.  Save all… recompile in Xcode, debug, and Boom!  Crashed again. 

Okay… time to get more serious.  Since these were empty classes anyway, I blew them away and started fresh.  Recreated the classes, the controls, the connections, and tried again.  No difference.  Ugh.  I swear I’ve done this before – a lot!

Well, I decided to pull out all of the controls except a UITableView and toss breakpoints throughout the UIViewController class to try to trap and step through exactly where things might be going amiss.  Recompile, debug, and things worked great!  The view appeared, including the table, but none of my breakpoints caught.

This was very odd, as I had breaks in initWithNibName:bundle:, loadView, viewDidLoad, and – just to be thorough – viewWillAppear:.  A little head scratching and I came to the quick conclusion that my custom class, despite being set in Interface Builder, isn’t actually being used.  And, after a few more minutes of triple-checking my settings, I discovered the source of the problem – I’d created a UIViewController instead of a “testView” (see above).  Changing the code fixed the problem – big surprise.

While I overlooked my declaration initially (as perhaps you did too!) – it just goes to show that sometimes it’s the obvious and before nuking work that probably is okay – give a quick inspection all around.

Security Updates, Xcode & Subversion

In addition to my full time job as a developer, I get occasional opportunities to moonlight as a system administrator.  Recently, we updated our Macs to the latest security patch Apple pushed out – and lo, our subversion integration with Xcode broke.  Sigh.

Back when we were initially setting up boxes for development, I very dimly recall there was some “shell magic” via the Terminal that needed to happen to get all the parts working together.  I think this was largely because Xcode preferred to work with an earlier version of subversion, perhaps 1.4.x – and it was no longer readily available at the time.

None the less, it’s easy to forget all the configuration steps in setting up a developer box – especially stuff that takes only a couple hours to figure out a nearly a year ago.  We’re not yet to Snow Leopard, so our tools may be a little dated: Xcode is 3.1.4 and Subversion is 1.5.5.


After the security upgrade, we fired up Xcode and noticed that there were:

  • No modified files in the project.
  • Right clicking a source file showed only “Get Annotations” in the Groups & Files pane.
  • Viewing the SCM | Repositories dialog (from the main menu) gave an error: 180001 unable to connect to the repository.
  • Even more scary was the Terminal message: svn: Expected FS format ‘2’; found format ‘3’


Unfortunately, determining the solution wasn’t particularly clear.  Doing some Google searches on the error messages produced limited results.  The initial reaction was that something went wrong with the repository, but it was just working!  Running, “svnadmin verify” against the repository produced the File System format error message which was ominous.

The first thought was that perhaps the security patch affected the PATH variable.  Mac OS X ships with an older version of the subversion binaries and maybe we were picking up the wrong one.  On the Mac, various shell variables including your path are set in the .profile file found in your home directory.  A quick in the Terminal showed that /usr/bin was first in the path and /usr/local/bin (home to our newer svn) was last.  No problem – a quick edit and all was better.  Well… not quite.

Adjusting the path restored subversion from the Terminal and even the svnX app.  But, Xcode still stoutly refused to acknowledge the existence of the repository.  Grrr!  But, a step in the right direction and at least our repository was okay.

The breakthrough was trying to “Get Annotations” on a file.  There was a much more descriptive error – “155021 (Unsupported working copy format) please get a newer Subversion client.”  This jogged something loose in my mind and I dimly recall having to change some of the system libraries to get Xcode working with the newer Subversion.

After another quick search I found two other folks reported the same thing (Paul Solt and Blind Genius).  I’ll restate the solution here, but effectively Xcode is dynamically linking with the older Subversion libraries found in /usr/lib.  To work with newer builds of Subversion, you’ll need to create symbolic links to the newer dynamic libraries as follows:

cd /usr/lib

sudo mkdir svn.orig

sudo mv libap*-1.dylib svn.orig

sudo mv libsvn*-1.dylib svn.orig

sudo mv libap*-1.0.dylib svn.orig

sudo mv libsvn*-1.0.dylib svn.orig

sudo ln –s /opt/subversion/lib/*-1.0.dylib .

sudo ln –s /opt/subversion/lib*-1.dylib .

After adding the symbolic links, restart Xcode and things should be back to normal.


One thing worth reverting is the PATH change.  Modifying the search order for executables might be considered a security risk as often 3rd party binaries (particularly shell ones) traditionally reside in /usr/local/bin and you might end up running something unexpected.  Perhaps safer is to create symbolic links to the binaries in /usr/bin, or alternatively command aliases in your .profile to run the correct version.