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Up and running iOS development

Written by: Ryan Renna

Creating an iOS application can be a daunting task. From design and architecture to testing and deploying, there’s a lot to think about. Luckily, you don’t have to start from scratch, as most of the problems you’ll run into have already been solved by someone else. The internet is filled with a great selection of reusable components and libraries which can be used to jump-start your next iOS project.

User Interface and Architecture

Cocoa Controls ( is a directory of open source controls for Cocoa (OS X) and CocoaTouch (iOS) applications. A recent phenomenon you’ll discover on Cocoa Controls is that when a big app is released on the app store with a unique user interface control of some sort, there will be dozens of open source implementations within weeks. A great example of such a phenomenon is the parallax zooming effect ‘clones’, which imitate a visual effect implemented in some new apps like CNN and Tweetbot (✓&q=parallax).

One drop-in component that I want to make special mention of is InAppSettingsKit ( Many developers find the process of storing app settings in the official iOS settings app confusing, and simply implement their settings in their own application. InAppSettingsKit makes writing a settings screen *and* having those settings exposed to the iOS settings application a snap – huge time saver.


A great user interface is not all that important without some data. If you’re integrating with a web service, downloading images, or just making simple GET requests, you definitely need to take a look at AFNetworking. AFNetworking (the AF stands for AlamoFire, the team behind Gowalla, now a part of the Facebook) is a very mature library for making network request. Its biggest draw is its powerful block-based syntax. If you’ve used anonymous functions, and observed their closure abilities, then you understand blocks.

What if you want to build a network connected app, but don’t have your back-end figured out yet? Well there are libraries (libraries as a service?) which not only handle the networking layer of your app, but generate a backend server based on the model objects you design for your application.

Check out Parse ( Parse, which coincidentally is now also owned by Facebook, is one such service. If you don’t mind locking yourself into the Parse-o-verse, then you may find yourself very impressed with how much time Parse can save you. Parse allows you to model your data online, import values from common formats (CSV, etc.), and provides an SDK for every platform under the sun to access the data. It can also take care of push notifications, login (including with Facebook or Twitter credentials) and supports what it calls “Cloud Code”: the ability to have your own custom JavaScript server code, run on the Parse servers.


So you have your beautiful Internet-connected app, and you’re almost ready to ship. Time to test. TestFlight (, is designed to make testing and, more importantly, organizing beta tests a breeze. TestFlight allows you to organize your testers, invite them to betas, inform them of new betas and even deliver beta applications over the air, completely bypassing the App Store.

While your testers are finding all the bugs in your app, Crashlytics ( can be used collecting detailed crash logs. When an app normally crashes, it stores a crash log (a blackbox recording of what went wrong) in the device. On the next iTunes sync, these logs are sent to Apple. Apple will eventually let you see these logs, which have to be downloaded and interpreted by analysing the code that generated it (so it can properly report line numbers, method names, etc.). It’s quite a process. This is where Crashlytics comes in.

Crashlytics simplifies all that by having your app communicate directly with its servers on a crash. Better yet, it caches unsent crash logs to be sent on the next launch, to ensure it’s been sent. You can also inject custom Crashlytics flags, to help debug the state of an application on crash.


Finally, your app is approved and in the store. You may want to make tweaks but the app update process is lengthy. GroundControl ( is a library that allows you to store application configurations in the Cloud. Use GroundControl to tweak default values, or maybe have dynamic themes. You can now tweak your app to fit user trends without re-submitting a new version.


This is just a small subset of what’s available. With new developers joining the community every day, there’s an ever-changing landscape of bits and pieces to be toyed with… but don’t be afraid to create something unique, and maybe your next piece of code may the next big thing.