Creating custom templates for iOS App Development

What are Xcode templates?

Xcode templates are basically pre-created files which we use when we create new projects or project files. So every time you go through the process of creating a new project File > New > Project > iOS > Single View App you are using the Single View App template.

While most of the templates are good enough we can easily create our own templates.

Why do we need custom templates?

The templates available out of the box are good for common situations. But we find that most of the times we end up creating a lot of file in our project. Sometime we implement common design patterns and architectures on a regular basis.

In such situations creating out own custom templates will help us save a lot of time during development.

The other advantage is that this promotes a more consistent development experience in any organisation.

Now that we know what templates are and why we may need custom templates let us look at how we can create them.

Template Types

Before we go ahead and create templates let us examine what a typical template includes.

Navigate to the following path:

/Applications/Xcode.app/Contents/Developer/Platforms/iPhoneOS.platform/Developer/Library/Xcode/Templates/

Notice that there are 2 folders already created out here. File Templates & Project Templates. Let us browse through these folders.

File Templates

These are the templates used when a developer wishes to add a new file to an existing project. Under file templates you should see different folders in there. Each folder represents a certain category of templates. For example, User Interface is one category. Select it.

You should see multiple folders under it. The screenshot above shows the View template. As we can see the template itself is a folder with multiple files inside. The template ends with an extensions xctemplate. Let us look at those files.

  • ___FILEBASENAME___.xib
  • TemplateIcon.png
  • TemplateIcon@2x.png
  • TemplateInfo.plist

The first one is the XIB file which will be generated by this template. The ___FILEBASENAME___ placeholder will be replaced with an actual name when it is created.

The next 2 are simply images that will be used as icons for the template when we bring up the template wizard in Xcode.

The last one is the more important one. The TemplateInfo.plist. This is where we describe how the file creation process works. This is also where we configure options which will be presented to the user. We will look at this file in greater depth later on when we try to create our own templates.

Project Templates

These are the templates that are used when a developer decides to create a new project. Under project templates you should see different folders in there. Each folder represents a certain category of templates. For example, Application is one category. Select it.

I have the single view app template inside it. This is the most commonly used template when starting out with iOS App Development. You should see other familiar project templates. Feel free to examine the files in the folder. Let us have a look inside the Single View App template folder. You should see these items:

  • ContentView.swift
  • Main.storyboard
  • TemplateIcon.png
  • TemplateIcon@2x.png
  • Preview Assets.xcassets folder
  • TemplateInfo.plist

The first 2 files are the UI related files. One of the 2 will be selected based on the users choice between Storyboard and SwiftUI.

The next 2 are simply images that will be used as icons for the template when we bring up the template wizard in Xcode.

The Preview Assets folder is used with SwiftUI for previewing purposes.

Here too we have the TemplateInfo.plist file which configures the template options at the time of creation. We will explore this file in greater depth when we try to create our own project template.

How can we create them?

In this article we will look at creating 2 types of templates.

  1. File Templates
  2. Project Templates

Warning: It may be a good idea to try this out on a test computer so that you do not break anything on the computer you use everyday.

Preparation

Before we get started let us prepare the folders where we will be storing our custom templates.

  1. Navigate to the following folder.
~/Library/Developer/Xcode/Templates/

Note, you may have to create this folder.

  1. There should be 2 folders inside: File Templates, Project Templates. If these folders are not there then go ahead and create them.

We will be placing our templates in these folders.


TopicPage
Creating File templates2
Creating Project templates3

Download

You can download the templates from these links.

Note

This code has been tested on Xcode 11.3.1 on macOS Catalina 10.15.3

When to use Swift & when to use Objective-C?

Over the past few years I have received a number of questions with regards to Swift & Objective-C. Specifically related to the future of the 2. I will try to address those questions in the form of an FAQ.

Should I learn Swift or Objective-C?

This is a question that I get from developers new to iOS/macOS App Development. Ideally speaking, you should learn Swift. As that is going to become the main language for App development on Apple’s ecosystem. However, the reality is a little different. There are a large number of applications that are written in Objective-C. You are likely to encounter them at your workplace. You may also have to maintain, upgrade & improve those apps. In such a case, it makes sense to learn Objective-C too.

Can I mix Swift & Objective-C in the same project?

Yes! But remember that you should check for feature compatibility between the 2 languages. Adding Swift code to an Objective-C project may not be very beneficial as only those features that are compatible with Objective-C can be written in Swift.

Going the other way round is not a problem. You can read more about that here:Mixing Swift & Objective-C

Will Objective-C be deprecated in the future?

That is an interesting question. There is no formal announcement from Apple stating the Objective-C is going to be deprecated. However, one can expect more attention to be paid to Swift. That is where most of the newest techniques, tools & technologies are going to be available. Objective-C will keep running as it is as of now.

Can I mix Swift with other Programming Languages?

Swift can easily be mixed with Objective-C. If you wish to incorporate C++ or C code in your Swift Project then wrapping them in Objective-C code allows you to achieve this.

Apart from that Swift does support working with C code code. You can read about that here:Interacting with C APIs.

Swift does not provide interoperability support for any other languages as of now.

Which version of Swift should I use?

It is recommended that you use the latest available version of Swift. However, the actual version that you work on depends on many other factors like: compatibility with OS Versions, support & business related choices.

Why shouldn’t we just convert all our Objective-C code to Swift and keep things simple?

A very tempting proposition. However, practical realities prevent us from doing this. The process of converting from Objective-C to Swift is time consuming. Apart from having to convert the syntax, the code also needs to be optimised taking into account the new features that are available. This will mean extensive testing and quality assurance. Most companies will not invest their resources into this endeavour.

A better approach is to migrate to Swift gradually. Here are some ways to do this:

  1. If its a brand new product/app that you are creating, start it in Swift.
  2. Any new reusable code components that are being created should be done in Swift (they should be Objective-C compatible if you intend to use this code in Objective-C projects).
  3. If any part of a product is going to undergo heavy change, either due to a bug fix or a new feature. This is a good time to convert it into Swift.

A good example is how Apple is approaching the process of migrating to Swift. They are doing it component by component.

I have been developing apps in Objective-C for some time. I am able to create any reasonably complicated app now. If Objective-C hasn’t been deprecated then should I start making apps in Swift?

This is a choice that you have to make. It is recommended that new apps (at the very least) be made in Swift as that is the language that will undergo the maximum amount of changes & improvements in the future.

What do you suggest as a trainer?

Another question that I get very often. It depends on the situation. I would say learn both Swift & Objective-C. You can skip learning Objective-C if you are confident that you will not have to work with any projects written in that language.

If I am starting on a brand new project I would use Swift. But if its an Objective-C project I would stick to Objective-C.

Can Swift development only be done on macOS?

No! Swift development can also be done on Linux. However, iOS/macOS/tvOS/watchOS App Development can only be done on macOS through Xcode.

How should I migrate to Swift?

There are different approaches that one can use. It all depends on the situation and needs of your organisation. Here are some things that you can do:

  • Start development of brand new apps (from scratch) in Swift.
  • If you are creating a brand new library which will be used for future projects then go ahead with Swift.
  • If a major component of an existing app is going to be changed significantly then you can go ahead with Swift.

You can do all or some of the above. There may be other strategies too. You should also factor in the cost of migration from one language to another.