Our DNA is written in Objective-C

Defaulting Can Be Good

Coming from the Windows world I was used to storing program settings into this beast that is known as “The Registry”. So when I came to iPhone I had no clue where to put those settings that you want to keep between program launches. My first instinct was to put them into an NSDictionary and save this to disk.

That’s how I did it for half a dozen programs only to realize today that there would have been an easier method. The magic class to do it all with is called NSUserDefaults. All you need to do is instantiate it and then read and write values for names of your choosing, just like you would interacting with a dictionary.

//Instantiate NSUsersDefaults:
NSUserDefaults *defaults = [NSUserDefaults standardUserDefaults];
// to set a default value
[defaults setObject:@"oliver" forKey:@"Username"];
// to read a default value
NSString * myName=[[NSUserDefaults standardUserDefaults] stringForKey:@"Username"];

In reality you are interacting with an in-memory copy of your defaults. The documentation mentions that the system will synchronize it frequently with the persistent storage on disk. If you really want to make sure it gets written, like when your program is exiting, then you can call [defaults synchronize]. But that should not be necessary. In my tests that defaults where also successfully persisted if I changed them as late as in ApplicationWillTerminate.

Also great to know is that you are not limited to just keeping string values in your defaults. Any object that is legal for property lists can also be used in the defaults. These are: NSData, NSString, NSNumber, NSDate, NSArray or NSDictionary.

// some demo objects to save
NSNumber *number = [NSNumber numberWithInt:3];
NSDate *now = [NSDate date]; // now
NSArray *array = [NSArray arrayWithObjects:@"First", @"Second", @"Third", nil];
NSDictionary *dictionary = [NSDictionary dictionaryWithObject:@"Text" forKey:@"Key"];
// save them all the same way
[defaults setObject:number forKey:@"Number"];
[defaults setObject:now forKey:@"Now"];
[defaults setObject:array forKey:@"Array"];
[defaults setObject:dictionary forKey:@"Dictionary"];
// retrieve them again
int n = [[NSUserDefaults standardUserDefaults] integerForKey:@"Number"];
now = (NSDate *)[[NSUserDefaults standardUserDefaults] objectForKey:@"Now"];
array = [[NSUserDefaults standardUserDefaults] arrayForKey:@"Array"];
dictionary = [[NSUserDefaults standardUserDefaults] dictionaryForKey:@"Dictionary"];

Note how you can directly retrieve the integer value with the convenience method integerForKey. To get an NSDate you need to use objectForKey, there is no dateForKey as one might assume.

Finally there is one more convenient thing. If the defaults get changed, a notification gets sent to which you can subscribe in multiple classes. This notification gets sent out for every single change, so if you change 4 values in a row, the notification will be sent 4 times.

Subscribe to the notification:

[[NSNotificationCenter defaultCenter] addObserver:selfselector:@selector(settingsChangedNotification:) name:@"NSUserDefaultsDidChangeNotification" object:nil];

And have a function ready to start working once the notification comes:

- (void)settingsChangedNotification:(NSNotification *) notification
	NSLog(@"Settings have changed!");

There you have it. For any kind of settings you want to keep you can use the methods explained above and save yourself much work. For data that you need to keep secure (e.g. passwords) you will be better advised to use the keychain which I will explain in a future article.

Categories: Recipes


  1. When you set NSNotificationCenter and method settingsChangedNotification is called…

    how you know which one of the user default item has changed?

  2. Only method possible is to write your own comparing and finding out. There is no built-in method to know which value was changed. If you ever use this notifications I would recommend you simply read all defaults values.


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