macOS Tutorial: Developing a Document based App

Updated on October 6th, 2020

⏱ Reading Time: 2 mins

Welcome to another macOS tutorial! In this post we are about to learn how to create a macOS application that belongs to a unique category of apps; a category that is quite common but also quite important, and contains a large number of existing and new macOS apps. We are going to learn how to create a document based application.

It would be pointless to try to give a definition about what a document based app is, as you can immediately get it; just think of the browser that you’re reading this post now, or Xcode, or even TextEdit app. What is common to all of them is that they allow to create new windows in order to start a new task, and they support a bunch of common features and functionalities, such as create new, save, open, maybe printing, and more. All of them are document based applications!

Behind each window on a document based app there is a document, an instance of the NSDocument class. Such an object is responsible for representing the data users deal with in a window, as well as for providing some default functionalities that we’ll talk about and put in motion later in this post (like writing files to disk, or reading back from it).

A document contains at least one window controller, which in turn contains a window, and that window contains a content view controller that implements all the UI users interact with. Also, the represented data by a document (the data that is displayed in a window and users work with) is known as the document content. All documents in an app are handled by another controller, called NSDocumentController. Default operations, such as creating new windows, showing the UI for saving files, or tracking whether a document has been edited, are provided and controlled by the document controller in a document based app. In general, a great deal of functionalities is coming for “free” in a document based app through the document controller and the document objects. That fact has two advantages: First, it makes it ideal for focusing on the development of more meaningful and vital parts of the app. Second, users don’t have to learn how to use a new UI; they’re familiar with the default built-in functionalities that all document based apps provide.

In the following chapters of this post we’re going to create a document based app from scratch, and through that process to meet the most important aspects about it. You will see that the required amount of work is not that much, and we’ll end up having a fully working app quite fast.

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