Protocols and Delegates


Protocols can be helpful in a number of scenarios, a common usage is to define methods that are to be implemented by other classes. A familiar example is when using a tableview, your class implements the cellForRowAtIndexPath method which asks for cell content to insert into a table – the cellForRowAtIndexPath method is defined within the UITableViewDataSource protocol.

Let’s walk through a very simple example of defining and adopting a protocol.


Protocol Definition

Here is an example of a protocol which includes one method, notice the instance variable delegate is of type id, as it will be unknown at compile time the type of class that will adopt this protocol.


Protocol Implementation

Inside the implementation section for the interface defined above we need to do two things at a minimum – first synthesize the delegate instance variable and second, call the method defined in the protocol as needed (more on that in a moment).

Let’s look at a bare bones implementation of the ClassWithProtocol.m:

Understand this is a rather contrived example – the intention is to show how/where one might use a protocol. For the sake of discussion assume you have a class that is processing (or downloading) some type of data. Further, assume this class is called from another class to begin the processing. Chances are, at some point the caller will want to be notified that the class processing the data is done, this is where the protocol comes in.

In the calling class, the method defined in the protocol, processSuccessful, will be implemented and will be called from the object doing the processing, once it is complete.

For this example, inside the class where the protocol is defined, I have one method, startSomeProcess, which simply starts a timer and calls processComplete after 5 seconds. Inside processComplete the calling object will be notified through its delegate that the process is done.


Adopting the Protocol

To keep the example short, I am using the applicaton delegate as the class that adopts the protocol. Here is how the app delegate looks:

A few things to note – ProcessDataDelegate is defined as part of the interface, which signifies that this class will adhere to the protocol. Looking back to the code for defining the protocol, notice that I added @required to the definition, which means that any class that adopts the protocol must implement the processComplete method (you will receive a compile warning if you don’t).

Here is the implementation of the app delegate and the required method for the protocol:

How it all works

Things goes as follows: the app delegate will create a new instance of the ClassWithProtocol object. It sets itself as the delegate and then calls the startSomeProcess method. At some point in the future, when the protocolTest object has completed its work – after the 5 second timer has fired – it will call the processSuccessful method in the app delegate to let it know it is done processing.

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