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4 minute read

Archiving Objective-C Objects with NSCoding

For the seasoned Cocoa developer, this is a piece of cake. For newer developers, this can be a real pain, especially if you don’t know what you’re looking for. I get this question a decent amount, so I figured I’d put a quick guide together.

The Problem

You can’t put just any object in a plist. This mainly gets people when they want to put something into NSUserDefaults and get an error (because NSUserDefaults archives to a plist under the hood).

Plists only support the core types: NSString, NSNumber, NSDate, NSData, NSArray, NSDictionary (and their CF buddies thanks to the toll-free bridge). The key here is NSData. You can convert any object to NSData with the NSCoding protocol.

The Solution

There are two things you have to do: implement NSCoding and then use the archiver and unarchiver.

Implementing NSCoding

Say you have an object that looks like this:

@interface Note : NSObject {
  NSString *title;
  NSString *author;
  BOOL published;
}

@property (nonatomic, copy) NSString *title;
@property (nonatomic, copy) NSString *author;
@property (nonatomic) BOOL published;

@end
#import "Note.h"

@implementation Note

@synthesize title;
@synthesize author;
@synthesize published;

- (void)dealloc {
  [title release];
  [author release];
  [super dealloc];
}

@end

Pretty simple, right?

Now, all you have to do to implement NSCoding is the following:

@interface Note : NSObject <NSCoding> {
  NSString *title;
  NSString *author;
  BOOL published;
}

@property (nonatomic, copy) NSString *title;
@property (nonatomic, copy) NSString *author;
@property (nonatomic) BOOL published;

@end
#import "Note.h"

@implementation Note

@synthesize title;
@synthesize author;
@synthesize published;

- (void)dealloc {
  [title release];
  [author release];
  [super dealloc];
}

- (id)initWithCoder:(NSCoder *)decoder {
  if (self = [super init]) {
    self.title = [decoder decodeObjectForKey:@"title"];
    self.author = [decoder decodeObjectForKey:@"author"];
    self.published = [decoder decodeBoolForKey:@"published"];
  }
  return self;
}

- (void)encodeWithCoder:(NSCoder *)encoder {
  [encoder encodeObject:title forKey:@"title"];
  [encoder encodeObject:author forKey:@"author"];
  [encoder encodeBool:published forKey:@"published"];
}

@end

Pretty simple. All I did was add the <NSCoding> protocol delectation in the header file and initWithCoder: and encodeWithCoder: in the implementation. You use these methods to tell NSCoder how to encode your object into data. Notice how two of the variables are objects and one was a BOOL. You have to use different methods for non-objects. The NSCoder documentation has the full list.

Remember, that you can use NSCoder to archive your object however whatever you want. It doesn’t have to just be all of the instance variables in your object, although that’s what you’ll do 90% of the time.

Using the Archiver and Unarchiver

This part is also really easy. Let’s say you have an array of notes that you want to put into NSUserDefaults, here’s the code:

// Given `notes` contains an array of Note objects
NSData *data = [NSKeyedArchiver archivedDataWithRootObject:notes];
[[NSUserDefaults standardUserDefaults] setObject:data forKey:@"notes"];

Unarchiving is just as easy:

NSData *notesData = [[NSUserDefaults standardUserDefaults] objectForKey:@"notes"];
NSArray *notes = [NSKeyedUnarchiver unarchiveObjectWithData:notesData];
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