Using Custom File Types to import data into your iOS Apps

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


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:


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:


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):


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.


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


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'

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 :).

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 🙂