Implementing Drag And Drop Operations Using NSPasteboard on macOS

Updated on October 6th, 2020

⏱ Reading Time: < 1 min

One of the most common operations macOS users perform and they are quite familiar with is drag and drop. On a daily basis we all drag things around when working on our Macs. We drag files, text, images, and many, many more. Dragging is a kind of action that users expect to find pretty much in every app on macOS, so supporting it in our apps is something we should seriously consider.

A drag operation starts somewhere, so it has a source, and it ends somewhere, so there is a destination. Dragging source and destination can be either within the same app, or in different apps. For example, when dragging to move a file in Finder from one directory to another the source and destination are the same; the Finder app. On the other hand, when dragging files to a web browser for uploading to a server, source and destination are different apps; Finder app and the browser app (Safari, Chrome, etc).

Drag and drop would be impossible without the existence of pasteboard, the mechanism that keeps copied or cut data in memory. When dragging, dragged data is copied to memory and it becomes available to be used by the destination application through the pasteboard. Pasteboard is represented programmatically by the NSPasteboard class.

So, in this tutorial we are going to learn how to implement drag and drop functionalities in our own macOS apps. We’ll learn how to accept drag operations on a single view and a table view, as well as how to trigger a new drag session from our own app. If all that sounds interesting to you, then just keep on reading! There are a lot of new interesting things coming next!

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