iOS

Using Node.js and Charles Proxy to Mock a Server API

While working on an iPhone project for a client, I came across a situation where I needed to test some error conditions returned from a server API which I have no control over.  I ended up using Charles Proxy to remote map the server API calls to a locally running Node.js server.  Of course the proper way to do this is to write functional tests and mock the networking classes to return the appropriate responses, but that is a blog post for another day.

In this post, I’ll walk through the steps to create a simple iPhone app that interacts with a public API, using Node and Charles to simulate an error response.  This post assumes some experience writing iOS code, but all the source code will be available at https://github.com/stevenpsmith/charles-node-blog.

Create an iOS App

For the iOS app, I’ll write a simple weather app that uses the OpenWeatherMap API.  We all know the world needs yet another weather app :).

Let’s start by creating a new single view project in Xcode.  In my iOS projects I almost always use CocoaPods for dependency management.  CocoaPods makes it easy to add/remove 3rd party libraries to your iOS project.  In this app, we’ll use AFNetworking to access the API, and I’ll add MBProgressHUD in case the response time is slow and the user needs to wait for UI updates. The following assumes that you already have CocoaPods installed.

After creating the Xcode project, quit Xcode (or close the project) and create a text file named “Podfile” at the root of the project.  The contents should include the following:

platform :ios, '7.0'

pod 'AFNetworking', '~> 2.0.3'
pod 'MBProgressHUD', '~> 0.8'

With that file in place, drop to a command line and execute pod install

That will create a workspace and configure the libraries. From this point forward, we use the workspace instead of the project. The final version of the application will look like this:

Screenshot_1_14_14__12_03_PM

The code base can be found at https://github.com/stevenpsmith/charles-node-blog, but the key portion is the API call, which is below (without all the details)

[[CSMServerAPI sharedInstance] weatherForLongitude:-75.1914 
                                       andLatitude:40.1386 
    successBlock:^(NSDictionary *weatherDict) {
        // code to map API response to UI elements here
        //...
    } failureBlock:^(NSError *error) {
        //access error message parts from response here
        //....
        NSString *msg = ...
        UIAlertView *alert = [[UIAlertView alloc] initWithTitle:@"Houston - We have a Problem" 
                                                        message:msg 
                                                       delegate:nil 
                                              cancelButtonTitle:@"OK" 
                                              otherButtonTitles:nil];
        [alert show];
    }];

If everything is successful, the UI gets populated with the weather data. But, if there is a failure, we throw an alert up to the user containing the error messages (I know, alerts are not user friendly, but this is an example).

Mocking an error with Node

Now that we have the API calls in place, we need to set up our node server to fake an error response. Sticking with the theme of keeping things simple, I used the express framework for node. With node installed, I created a directory for my server app and added a ‘package.json’ file inside. The ‘package.json’ looks like the following:

{
  "name": "mock-api",
  "description": "for use with charles proxy to mock error conditions for OpenWeatherMap API",
  "version": "0.0.1",
  "dependencies": {
    "express": "~3.4.7"
  }
}

Dropping to a command line and executing npm install will set up the node server with the express module. Now we create an ‘app.js’ file and add our mock API, as follows

var express = require('express');
var app = express();

var errorJson = {error:"API Error",error_msg:"You have encountered an error thanks to Charles and Node....have a nice day!"};

app.get('/weather', function(req, res) {
  	res.json(400, errorJson);
});

app.listen(process.env.PORT || 4730);

Since our call to the OpenWeatherMap API is a get request to the /weather URI, we simply handle that request route in our code and return the response we want, which is an error containing a JSON error message. To start the server, execute node app.js at the command line and the server will be listening on port 4730.

Configure Charles Proxy for Remote Mapping

If you code against server APIs and don’t use Charles Proxy, or something like it, you really should start. It is immensely valuable for troubleshooting API calls, and the more I use it, the more nice features I find. I’ve used it for bandwidth throttling, request/response inspection, breakpoints (to change requests or responses), and now URL mapping. In order to map the OpenWeatherMap API to our local node server, access the Map Remote settings via the Tools -> Map Remote... menu. Once there, add a new remote mapping, filling out the fields as shown below. The configuration was also exported and is available at https://github.com/stevenpsmith/charles-node-blog.

Edit_Mapping_and_Map_Remote_Settings_and_Charles_3_8_3_-_Session_1

With that in place, enable remote mapping, run the iPhone app and get the following error:

Screenshot_1_14_14__11_51_AM

If you used Charles to record your network requests, you can even see the mapping occurred in the request overview notes. That’s all there is too it. You can certainly do a lot more than just simulate errors with this set up. I’ve used it to simulate server application errors as well, where server returns an http 200, but the response includes some application specific errors. Timeouts can be tested as well using the connect-timeout module. There is an example in the source code for that too.

So this is one way to intercept your API calls and modify them for testing. This is certainly no replacement for good functional tests, but simply another thing to add to your developer toolbox.

Using Custom File Types to import data into your iOS Apps

Disclaimer: This is a repost of my entry on the Chariot Solutions blog.

Introduction

I recently came across a situation where I needed the ability to share data between users of the same iOS application. Unfortunately, these users can not share an iCloud account and there is no server side components to this application. It is a standalone app.  Services like DropBox were not really an option either, as the devices are owned by an enterprise and will not have any service like that deployed onto them.

One solution is importing data via custom file types. Files can be sent to a device numerous ways (e.g. email, drop box, etc.), but for this post we will assume email. iOS makes it very simple to define a custom file type that your app can handle. This way, when the device receives an email with that type as an attachment, the user can select our app, giving it access to the underlying file. This post will walk through creating a simple app to access the contents of a text file received via email.

Create the Project

Lets start by creating a new project in XCode. I created a single view iPad application and called it “CustomUTIHandler”. I always use ARC. You can choose to use storyboards or not, as the UI in this app will do nothing more than display the contents of our file. The resulting project for this post can be found at:https://github.com/stevenpsmith/CustomFileHandler.

Define the File Type

The next thing is to define a file type extension that our application will support. This is also known as a Uniform Type Identifier (UTI). For our purpose, we will use a filetype of ‘csm’ (for Chariot Solutions Mobile). The contents of this file will be some string. It could really be almost anything, but for simplicity we will use a string. For a list of Apple defined UTIs, look here: http://developer.apple.com/library/ios/#documentation/Miscellaneous/Reference/UTIRef/Articles/System-DeclaredUniformTypeIdentifiers.html#//apple_ref/doc/uid/TP40009259-SW1.

Once we know what our custom file type extension is, we can add support for it to the project by modifying the Info.plist file for the project. We are going to be the owner/exporter of the new file type, so we add the “Exported Type UTIs” key to the Info.plist file. The default definition that gets created looks like this:



Based on the bundle key definitions found here: https://developer.apple.com/library/mac/#documentation/General/Reference/InfoPlistKeyReference/Articles/CocoaKeys.html, we can fill in the required values. Since our example only has one file type that it is defining and the underlying data is text, we can add the system defined identifier for text to the “Conforms to UITs” item:

public.text

Next we need to add the identifier for our custom UTI. Apple recommends using the reverse DNS format in order to ensure our new UTI is unique. I will be using the following:

com.chariotsolutions.customUTIHandler.csm

Finally, we want to identify the file extension that our app will be handling. This is defined under the “Equivalent Types” node. Add a node under the equivalent types with a name of “public.filename-extension” and a value of “csm”. You can optionally add a “Description” element under the Item for the exported type. My Info.plist now looks like this:

Support our new File Type

In order for our app to be recognized by the OS as supporting the newly defined file type, we need to add a “Document types” declaration to our Info.plist file. Doing so gives us the following in our Info.plist file:

The possible keys for the CFBundleDocumentTypes property can be found here: http://developer.apple.com/library/ios/#documentation/General/Reference/InfoPlistKeyReference/Articles/CoreFoundationKeys.html#//apple_ref/doc/uid/TP40009249-101685-TPXREF107. We can add anything for the “Document Type Name” value. The handler rank will affect the order that Launch Services uses to present apps that handle this file type. Since our app is really the owner of this file type, we will use that as the handler rank. Now we need to add the “Document Content Type UITs” that our app will handle. In this case, we are only handling one type (as defined in the export key above):

com.chariotsolutions.customUTIHandler.csm

Just for fun, we will also give our file type an image icon (included in the project). The specs for the image are defined in the keys document referenced above (64×64 in this case). So our final Info.plist looks like the following:

Now all we have to do is create a text file with a “.csm” extension and email it to our device. Once there, long press the resulting icon and we should see our app listed as one of the “Open in” apps.

Once we select our app, it will launch and pass the file URL to this app delegate method:

- (BOOL)application:(UIApplication *)application openURL:(NSURL *)url sourceApplication:(NSString *)sourceApplication annotation:(id)annotation
So, adding a simple NSLog statement to the method and we can display the contents of our text file:
- (BOOL)application:(UIApplication *)application openURL:(NSURL *)url sourceApplication:(NSString *)sourceApplication annotation:(id)annotation {
   if (url){
      NSString *str = [NSString stringWithContentsOfURL:url encoding:NSUTF8StringEncoding error:nil];
      NSLog(@"The file contained: %@",str);
   }
   return YES;
}

Important Safety Tip

The files that are being opened by the application are actually copied into a directory called “Inbox” within the apps Documents directory.  My file was called “This is a test.csm” (great name right, what am I a windows user?).  As shown in the image below, there are copies for each time I imported it on my device.

These files should be cleaned up as required by your app.

Summary

So by adding some configuration to our apps Info.plist file and implementing a delegate method, we can handle any uniform types within our app.  The source code for this project can be found at https://github.com/stevenpsmith/CustomFileHandler.  I added some code so that it will display the contents of the file on the screen….very exciting.

Added Bonus

Since we are declaring to launch services that our app handles “csm” files, drop your custom file type into drop box.  Assuming you have the drop box app on you device, find the document in the app and try to open it.  You should get “Unable to view file”.  But if you tap the icon in the upper right of the screen, you should get a list of apps that can open that file….including our app.

It’s like magic 🙂  You see those other apps listed because we defined our UTI as text type, and those apps will handle text documents.

Using Cocoapods to Manage Private Dependencies

This is a re-post of my original blog entry, which can be found at: http://blog.chariotsolutions.com/2012/07/using-cocoapods-to-manage-private.html

Introduction

Cocoapods (http://cocoapods.org/) is a dependency management framework for XCode. It allows you to declaratively define project dependencies and have them included in the build of your project. It’s like Apache Maven or Ruby Gems for XCode. There are many tutorials on getting started with Cocoapods, so in this blog post I will present a simple case where we have a project that depends upon two internally developed projects or private libraries.
We will start by creating two projects, each with a simple UI screen and some 3rd party dependency. Each of these projects will contain a file known as a Podspec that defines what gets included when another project depends upon it. Next, we will create a third project that depends upon these internally developed libraries and see how everything gets tied together.
In my contrived example, I’ll create two projects, each with a dependency on AFNetworking (a nice network abstraction layer). AFNetworking is already available via the public cocoapods spec library. Cocoapods will be used to add this dependency. Each project will also use YQL to query a weather service (Yahoo versus Wunderground) and present the forecast for a given zip code. The master project, which I like to call the Weather Comparator, will pull in the Yahoo and Wunderground projects and use their code to present a comparison of the services.

The Private Libraries

We start by creating the first project, Yahoo Weather. Once we have Cocoapods installed on our system, we create an XCode project for our first framework. I started using the Empty iOS application template. Once the XCode project is created, exit XCode. Create a text file called “Podfile” at the root directory of the project. The contents of the Podfile looks like the following:

platform :ios, '5.1'

xcodeproj 'YahooWeather.xcodeproj'

pod 'AFNetworking'

The first line defines the platform and SDK version, the next line defines the name of the XCode project file, and subsequent lines define the dependencies for this project. Podfiles can be much more complex, but this post will keep things simple. Check out the Cocoapods site for more information. Once the Podfile is complete, drop to a terminal and execute pod install at the root of the project directory. You’ll see some messages about the dependencies being downloaded and configured and when the process is complete, there will be a message indicating NOT to use the YahooWeather.xcodeproj anymore, but use the YahooWeather.xcworkspace file now. This is a workspace that includes your project and the Pods project.

Under the Pods project, there is a Pods directory, which contains the libraries specified in the Podfile (AFNetworking in this case). Besides creating the workspace, Cocoapods configures your project to include a static library called libPods. This is the output of the Pods project build. Essentially it includes the compiled version of the pods for which you asked to be included in the project. We can now use the AFNetworking classes within our code. The source code for the YahooWeather project can be found on my github account: https://github.com/stevenpsmith/YahooWeatherService. The finished app can actually be run and looks like this (I know, gorgeous, right):

Following the same steps, we create a second project called WunderWeather. Much of the code is similar, except now we are using the Wunderground weather API. There are some other small changes, but for simplicity sake I reused much of the same code, just using different names for the classes (notice the class name prefix). Again, remember this is a contrived example, so reusing the code was merely for time efficiency. The source code for WunderWeather can be also be found on my github at https://github.com/stevenpsmith/WunderWeatherService. And for your viewing pleasure, here is what it looks like:

One important thing to note here, is that each of our frameworks uses a slightly different class prefix. This ensures that when both of these projects get used in a third project (the WeatherComparator), there are no name collisions. Wouldn’t namespaces be nice?
When we are done coding each of these projects, we can commit them to our “private” git repository. In this case I am using github public repositories, but these projects can reside anywhere that is accessible from the projects that will depend upon them. That could a private repo, file system, etc. Cocoapods also support SVN and Mercurial, but git is what all the cool kids are using, so that is what this example will use.

Creating the Podspec

The next step is to configure a podspec for each of our frameworks. The podspec defines the source files, resources, etc. that our libraries/frameworks expose for use by other projects. In our case, we need to expose all the classes in the API, Model, and ViewController directories within our projects. We also want to expose our XIB files. Those are resources which need to get compiled and added to our final “.app” file. In a similar way, resources might include images that will get added into the “.app” file during the final build process. To create a podspec, execute pod spec create projectname at the root of the project directory. In our case, it would be pod spec create YahooWeather or pod spec create WunderWeather
The file that gets created has comments and examples of all the properties that can be set. For our projects, the podpsec looks like this (with all the extraneous comments and unused attributes removed):

Pod::Spec.new do |s|
  s.name         = "YahooWeather"
  s.version      = "0.0.1"
  s.summary      = "Provides a Yahoo weather forecast, with basic UI, for a given zip code."
  s.homepage     = "https://github.com/stevenpsmith/YahooWeatherService"
  s.license      = 'MIT'
  s.author       = { "stevenpsmith" => "ssmith@chariotsolutions.com" }
  s.source       = { :git => "https://github.com/stevenpsmith/YahooWeatherService.git", :tag => 'v0.0.3' }
  s.platform     = :ios, '5.1'
  s.source_files = 'YahooWeather/API/*.{h,m}', 'YahooWeather/Model/*.{h,m}', 'YahooWeather/ViewController/*.{h,m}'
  s.resources = "YahooWeather/ViewController/*.{xib}"
  s.requires_arc = true
  s.dependency 'AFNetworking'
end

Notice the source property. This points to our “private” repo. You can also access local repositories (instead of server based repos) by using a URI like this: '/Users/steve/projects/foo', which points to the root directory of your version controlled code. Also note the use of the tag key (which could also be a :commit). If consumers of this library do not specify a tag or commit, this specifies the snapshot of the code that will be provided. Without specifying anything, the latest commit of the master branch will be used. The source_files and resources specify the assets within this project that will be provided to the consuming projects. The dependency property specifies any pods that this pods would depend upon (in our case, AFNetworking). This file needs to be committed to the repository, and if a tag or commit is specified, that must exist within the repo as well. It’s a good practice to validate the podspec by executing pod spec lint <podspec_name>
This will save a lot of grief with typos, incorrect source directories, etc. Once your podspec is clean, commit it to the repository and tag if needed. The podspec for WunderWeather looks eerily similar.

Using the private libraries

The next step is to use these libraries in a new project. This is the WeatherComparator project, and it’s source can be found at https://github.com/stevenpsmith/WeatherComparator. We get started like we did before, creating the project within XCode, then exiting and creating a Podfile that references the dependencies. Except this Podfile will look a little different, as shown below:

platform :ios, '5.1'

xcodeproj 'WeatherComparator.xcodeproj'

pod "YahooWeather", :git =&gt; 'https://github.com/stevenpsmith/YahooWeatherService.git', :tag =&gt; 'v0.0.3'
pod "WunderWeather", :git =&gt; 'https://github.com/stevenpsmith/WunderWeatherService.git', :tag =&gt; 'v0.0.2'

Here we are adding the :git key to the pod declaration. Again, this could be subversion, mercurial, and even a filesystem reference. Notice there are no dependencies on AFNetworking. Our new project doesn’t directly depend upon those, but since the pods do, it will get pulled into our new workspace as it did in the other projects. Execute pod install in a terminal at the root of the new project directory, open the workspace as we did before, and we are good to go. Here is a screen shot of our weather comparator:

If you take a look at the code in the WeatherComparator project, it is very simple. One interesting thing to look at is the Pods-resources.sh script located in the TargetsSupportFiles/Pods directory within the Pods project. Cocoapods generates this script file based on the contents of the podspec for the libraries. This script actually compiles the XIB files and adds them to the projects final build. As you can see, pods can use storyboards as well. This provides a nice way to create modules that include UIs and then combine them into applications.
Even though we used github public repositories, this post shows how to use Cocoapods to manage your project’s public and private dependencies. To try out the project, install Cocoapods, download the WeatherComparator project, execute pod install at the root, open the workspace, run the project, and see how different Yahoo and Wunderground weather forecasts can be. Pretty surprising actually :).

Securing Data in iOS Apps

There are numerous ways to secure data that you are storing on an iOS device.

The Simple/Built-in Way

The simplest way is to take advantage of iOS Data Protection (iOS 4+). This is accomplished by setting an attribute on a file like this:

    [[NSFileManager defaultManager] createFileAtPath:[self filePath]
                    contents:[@"super secret file contents" dataUsingEncoding:NSUTF8StringEncoding]
                    attributes:[NSDictionary dictionaryWithObject:NSFileProtectionComplete
                                                           forKey:NSFileProtectionKey]];

There are several different levels of file protection. The following is taken from the NSFileManager class reference from Apple:

  • NSFileProtectionNone – no file protection
  • NSFileProtectionComplete – file is encrypted when the device is locked or booting
  • NSFileProtectionCompleteUnlessOpen – file is encrypted and can only be opened when the device is unlocked. Once open, the file can continue to accessed even if the user locks the device.
  • NSFileProtectionCompleteUntilFirstUserAuthentication – The file is stored in an encrypted format on disk and cannot be accessed until after the device has booted. After the user unlocks the device for the first time, your application can access the file and continue to access it even if the user subsequently locks the device.

A Core Data sqlite store can also be encrypted by setting the NSFileProtectionKey file attribute to one of the above values (after you create your persistent store coordinator).

However, an important thing to realize is that this type of data protection requires the device to have a passcode set on it (http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4175).

CommonCrypto

What if you really need to insure that your data is protected regardless of whether the device has a passcode set? One way is to use the CommonCrypto libraries from Apple. This can be fairly complex. There is a great write up here from Rob Napier on what’s involved. Fortunately, he has also provided a wrapper that greatly simplifies this process here. Using this library (or writing your own), you can encrypt your data and store it wherever you need. If you are using Core Data, you could write an NSValueTransformer for the Core Data entity attributes that require encryption using CommonCrypto or the RNCrypto library to encrypt/decrypt the attribute values when accessing or updating them.

SQLCipher

One more way to protect your data, specifically data that you want to store in a SQLite database, would be to use SQLCipher. SQLCipher encrypts/decrypts data at the page level and is transparent to your application code. You still use the standard SQLite APIs, with one additional method call when accessing the database (passing your key to sqlite). There are excellent instructions on setting it up for use in an iOS project here.

You can build SQLCipher as a set of static libraries by following the same iOS instructions with some modifications and additions. Here are the high level steps:

  1. Instead of creating a view based iOS project, create a static library project
  2. Follow the balance of the steps for including SQLCipher in your project
  3. Add a new “Aggregate” build target
  4. Add a “Run Script” build phase and paste the following script into it. This will build both the simulator and iOS based targets for the libcrypto, libsqlcipher, and libssl libraries.
  5. xcodebuild -project ${PROJECT_NAME}.xcodeproj -sdk iphonesimulator -target ${PROJECT_NAME} -configuration ${CONFIGURATION} clean build CONFIGURATION_BUILD_DIR=${BUILD_DIR}/${CONFIGURATION}-iphonesimulator
    
    xcodebuild -project ${PROJECT_NAME}.xcodeproj -sdk iphoneos -target ${PROJECT_NAME} -configuration ${CONFIGURATION} clean build CONFIGURATION_BUILD_DIR=${BUILD_DIR}/${CONFIGURATION}-iphoneos
    
  6. Add another “Run Script” build phase and paste the following script into it. This will merge the simulator and iOS builds into one for each library. These three libraries are what would be added to a project using SQLCipher.
  7. CRYPTO_LIB="${BUILD_DIR}/${CONFIGURATION}-iphonesimulator/libcrypto.a" &&
    SQLCIPHER_LIB="${BUILD_DIR}/${CONFIGURATION}-iphonesimulator/libsqlcipher.a" &&
    SSL_LIB="${BUILD_DIR}/${CONFIGURATION}-iphonesimulator/libssl.a" &&
    
    DEVICE_CRYPTO_LIB="${BUILD_DIR}/${CONFIGURATION}-iphoneos/libcrypto.a" &&
    DEVICE_SQLCIPHER_LIB="${BUILD_DIR}/${CONFIGURATION}-iphoneos/libsqlcipher.a" &&
    DEVICE_SSL_LIB="${BUILD_DIR}/${CONFIGURATION}-iphoneos/libssl.a" &&
    
    UNIVERSAL_LIBRARY_DIR="${BUILD_DIR}/${CONFIGURATION}-iphoneuniversal" &&
    
    
    # Create framework directory structure.
    rm -rf "${UNIVERSAL_LIBRARY_DIR}" &&
    mkdir -p "${UNIVERSAL_LIBRARY_DIR}" &&
    
    # Generate universal binary for the device and simulator.
    lipo "${CRYPTO_LIB}" "${DEVICE_CRYPTO_LIB}" -create -output "${UNIVERSAL_LIBRARY_DIR}/libcrypto" &&
    lipo "${SQLCIPHER_LIB}" "${DEVICE_SQLCIPHER_LIB}" -create -output "${UNIVERSAL_LIBRARY_DIR}/libsqlcipher" &&
    lipo "${SSL_LIB}" "${DEVICE_SSL_LIB}" -create -output "${UNIVERSAL_LIBRARY_DIR}/libssl"
    

Once completed, you can build your new aggregate target and there should be 3 libraries located in a subdirectory within your project build directory. Just add these to your XCode project as you would any other library and you are good to go.

I have also posted this article on my companies blog, located here.

NSFetchedResultsController and Core Data Managed Object Updates

In the process of working on an iPhone project for a client, I came across an interesting problem. I was using Core Data to store domain related information. This data is being pulled from a server, parsed, and persisted on a background thread. The main thread of the application presents a list of information based on what is persisted. In this application, I chose to use an NSFetchedResultsController to manage querying the underlying Core Data store and implemented the standard UITableView delegate methods. I won’t go into detail on how to do that here, but there are many good write-ups out there, including this very good one: How to use NSFetchedResultsController.

I was updating the underlying data store in a background thread with its own managed object context, as is the standard practice. As a result, the NSFetchedResultsController’s managed object context was unaware of the changes to the data store. This was easily fixed by subscribing to the NSManagedObjectContextDidSaveNotification notification in my table view controller class.

[[NSNotificationCenter defaultCenter] addObserver:self 
                                         selector:@selector(refreshData:) 
                                             name:NSManagedObjectContextDidSaveNotification 
                                           object:nil];

The notification that gets fired includes all the information about the changes to the underlying data store (Inserts, Updates, and Deletes). The nice thing here is that there is a convenience method on the managed object context for merging these changes in, as shown in the snippet below:

- (void) refreshData:(NSNotification *)notif {
    [[[self fetchedResultsController] managedObjectContext] mergeChangesFromContextDidSaveNotification:notif];
}

On the surface, this worked beautifully. Once the changes are merged in, the NSFetchedResultsController delegate methods start firing. This is where my struggle occurred. All the proper delegate methods fired correctly, but the underlying result set for the NSFetchedResultsController still had the old data. I combed through the documentation, code samples, etc. and it seemed that I was doing everything correct. I came up with some hack arounds, but they were too ugly…and just wrong. I knew there had to be something I was missing.

I could see that the object that I updated in my main thread’s managed object context was a faulted object (see Apple’s description of a Faulted object here if you aren’t familiar with this concept). What I didn’t realize is that when accessing attributes of a faulted object, the store will retrieve the underlying data from the previously fetched data first, then from the underlying data store. How long the previously fetched data is used is based off of the staleness interval attribute of the managed object context. BTW, this defaults to infinity 🙂

So, the addition of 1 line of code when creating my NSFetchedResultsController to set the staleness time interval to 0 fixed everything.

[context setStalenessInterval:0];

Now my NSFetchedResultsController delegate methods were able to update the table view with the updated data as expected.

For those of you following the tutorial referenced above, one change is necessary if you use a sectioned table view by setting the sectionNameKeyPath when initializing the NSFetchedResultsController.

In the didChangeObject delegate method, the NSFetchedResultsChangeMove case should look like this:

case NSFetchedResultsChangeMove:
            [tableView deleteRowsAtIndexPaths:[NSArray arrayWithObject:indexPath] 
                             withRowAnimation:UITableViewRowAnimationFade];
            [tableView insertRowsAtIndexPaths:[NSArray arrayWithObject:newIndexPath] 
                             withRowAnimation:UITableViewRowAnimationFade];
            break;

Otherwise you will get an error under certain use cases (e.g. changing/removing the last item in a section so the section gets deleted).

Trying out Adobe Flex for Mobile Development

Let me start by saying I have never developed using Flex or any Adobe tools.

I’ve heard a lot of mentions of Adobe’s tools for Android and iOS development and decided to give them a try. The first thing I thought I needed to do was download some tools and SDKs. Was it Flash, Flex, Flash Builder for making Flex apps, AIR…..Adobe doesn’t make it easy. In the end, I found a nice step-by-step tutorial here: http://www.adobe.com/devnet/flex/articles/twitter-trends.html.

Tools
Turns out I needed Flash Builder 4.5, which allows you to develop Flex apps, and somehow AIR fits in here….beyond breathing of course. Actually, it provides the runtime for Android and ends up being packaged as part of the iOS app, acting as “captive runtime” (according to Adobe docs). I guess if you are familiar with Adobe tools, this is all obvious….but as I mentioned, my background is mobile development, not flex/flash development.

It was time to install the IDE. Flash Builder 4.5 is based on Eclipse….OK, maybe I can install an Eclipse plug-in instead. Turns out they do have an Eclipse plug-in, but you have to install their full version of Eclipse first, then you can install the plug-in into your version of Eclipse….WHAT?. So I downloaded a trial version of Flash Builder and installed it.

Following the Tutorial
The tutorial was well written and easy to follow. The only correction needed was the trends URL for twitter, which is this: http://api.twitter.com/trends.json. There is a lot of clicking and code templates that come into play…and I am certainly no fan of coding in XML….I kind of feel dirty doing it. But the tools do provide some nice abstractions, like making it really easy to connect to an HTTP service and make REST calls and handle JSON or XML. They also have a pseudo emulator that you can use during development. It is incredibly basic, but you can do things like simulate rotation, let it act like different OS’s….but it really just looks like a headless browser window.

Next up, the part of the tutorial where you get to deploy the app to an actual device. This is the part I was waiting for. How would it perform? Can I debug? How does it work on iOS? All these questions were ready to be answered.

Running/Debugging
Running and debugging on an Android device was simple and worked fine. It was a different story for iOS. First you had to get your developer certificate in p12 format….hopefully you remember your password, if not you will need to re-export it from keychain. You also need you provisioning profile. Once you get this configured, you have to build the app for iOS, copy it into iTunes, sync your device so the app gets loaded, then run the app. Debugging involves all these steps, plus your development machine needs to be on the same network as your device and debugging occurs over WiFi. Really. And every time you make a change….delete the app from the device, rinse, and repeat. Really, really. It took me several IDE restarts and iOS device disconnect/reconnect cycles to get the debugging to actually work….but once it did…(insert sarcasm) well, it worked (end sarcasm).

Conclusion
On the devices, the app didn’t really perform that well. Scrolling was bit jerky and transitions seemed slow. Oh, and the tutorial neglected to give you a back button for iOS devices to be able to pop the view off the navigation stack. I’ll post a little work around/additional code for that separately.

In the end, the tools are OK. The language (MXML/ActionScript) is not my cup of tea. The performance on the devices was really mediocre. Not being a Flex developer, I am not sure if that can be improved…it was only a tutorial. I think for simple apps, this might be an alternative. If you are a Flex developer, this is definitely and option to allow you to create mobile applications. Will I use it, doubtful. I’ll stick to either native app or mobile web development.

Executing JavaScript from Objective-C in an iOS App

The other day, I found the need to execute some JavaScript from a native iOS application.  After doing a little research, I discovered that the UIWebView has a stringByEvaluatingJavaScriptFromString method.  So I decided to create a quick little proof-of-concept to see how to invoke some JavaScript using this. I am not going to walk through all the details of creating a project, etc. and will cut right to the important aspects of making the JavaScript call from the objective-c code.

We are going to need a JavaScript function to call and a UIWebView to evaluate the JavaScript. It would be nice if the JavaScript function took a parameter as well, so we could also prove out the passing of values.  Here is the JavaScript function that I will use:

var area = function(diameter) {
     var radius = diameter/2,
     area = Math.PI * radius * radius;
     return Math.round(area*100)/100;
};

Next we need to load this JavaScript in a UIWebView to allow for the call to stringByEvaluatingJavaScriptFromString. This can be done several ways. One option is to embed JavaScript in a dummy html file and load that into the UIWebView. You could also load an externalized JS file into the dummy html file. I chose to load some inline html into the UIWebView that included a reference to the externalized JS file. This way I don’t need any extraneous files hanging around. Also, I wanted the JS to live in its own file and act as a library I could use in other (non-objective-c) applications, so I placed it in the calc.js file. Here is the code to load the JS file into the UIWebView:

[webView loadHTMLString:@"<script src=\"calc.js\"></script>" 
              baseURL:[NSURL fileURLWithPath:[[NSBundle mainBundle] resourcePath]]];

Here is the code to make the JS call:

NSString *function = [[NSString alloc] initWithFormat: @"area(%i)", diameter];
NSString *result = [webView stringByEvaluatingJavaScriptFromString:function];

Now, there is one important safety tip to make this actually work: The UIWebView must actually be loaded a view. It doesn’t have to be visible, but in order for the WebKit engine to execute the JS, it must be on a view.

Also, when you perform a build, you will get the following warning:

no rule to process file ‘$(PROJECT_DIR)/Classes/calc.js’ of type sourcecode.javascript for architecture i386

This can be eliminated by moving the calc.js file from the Compile Sources Task to the Copy Bundle Resources task within your project target. It should look something like the image below.

Project Pane - Target

That should do it. Once all these pieces are in place, you will have objective-c executing JavaScript.

The source code can be found on github here.

Please forgive the UI (and the lack of memory mgmt), as I just threw this together 🙂