An Agile Approach to Building a Mac Application

I have written quite a bit of articles on iOS and Mac applications using agile techniques (unit testing, continuous integration, etc) and in this post, I am going to put it all together. We will go through how to setup the project, build the application test first, how to integrate code coverage and source control flow to build features.

Download the code.

The Application

The application itself is not all that important. I picked something that would be easy to build and demonstrate the concepts. The application is a contact application. I based it around the post of Building a Modern Cocoa App by Martin Pilkington.  I think the post does a great job of explaining an approach to building modern Cocoa Applications that I have taken when building apps for the Mac. The contact manager application is a Cocoa Application that uses Core Data as it’s backing store with Unit Tests which gives us two projects, ContactManager and ContactManagerTests.


After creating the project in Xcode 4, I needed to make a few changes to the project. The first thing I wanted to do is change to use the LVVM 2 compiler and the lldb debugger. I also set the build to always run the static analyzer. The other thing I wanted to do is get code coverage, the problem is that LLVM 2 doesn’t have a way to do code coverage (that I know of) and you have to use GCC. With the introduction of schemes in Xcode 4, this problem becomes easy. I created a new scheme based on the current one called ‘Code Coverage’ and also added a new configuration called Coverage. I also added some tools to the project. Since I am going to be doing test first, I added the OCMock framework and because I wanted some output for the code coverage, I added the lcov toolset from Linux (geninfo, genhtml).

For OCMock, I added the framework to the ContactManagerTests project and added the path to the framework on the Framework Search Paths.

For the Coverage configuration in the ContactManager project, I did the following:

  • changed the compiler to GCC 4.2
  • added -lgov to the Other Linker Flags
  • set Generate Test Coverage Files to Yes
  • set Instrument Program Flow to Yes

For the Coverage configuration of the ContactManagerUnitTests project, I made a couple of changes: first I added a run script phase to the end of the project. I also changed the Test After Build to Yes because I wanted to make sure that the tests ran completely before the coverage.

All of this setup can be done once and create a custom project if you create a lot of these types of projects.

Test First

Now that we have everything setup and ready to go, we need to figure out how to break this code into it’s parts. The application stores contacts in Core Data and uses binding KVO / KVC to build out the UI. The first story I decided to take on saving a contact (since that is one of the major features of the app). I am going to describe this story (and not all of them) and you can look at the rest of the code to see how things

Save a Contact

I decided that I wanted to store first name, last name, email and phone number. Nothing amazing here. I do this with the Core Data modeler and create a Contact object class from the model I created. After this I decide to create a ContactDataController that would manage contact data. I decided to also add a CoreDataController that would manage the Core Data infrastructure (much like that from the Modern App by Martin). One thing I didn’t want is a Singleton. Singletons are really hard to test and I avoid them as much as possible. For this I decided to inject the CoreDataController into the ContactDataController and make that the default initializer.

Once I had this infrastructure and tests in place I created the UI and the list and detail view controllers for the UI, I needed to figure out how to add the tests to ensure that things are working properly. Chris Hanson has had a great set of posts on doing just this. The main idea is that you will trust that Cocoa will do the right thing (KVO / KVC) but you want to verify that all the things are setup to make it work. I did just this by creating some simple methods that verify that Cocoa hooked up my Views and Controllers and that I didn’t forget anything. If you look at the tests, it is pretty easy to see how this works.

That is the pattern that I followed for all the code in this application. You can review the rest of the code to see how it all fits together.

Code Coverage

After the setup, when you run your tests, you get the code that is covered. The key here is how you want to view it. Once you have your code instrumented, you can use a tool like CoverStory to view it, yet I wanted something more automated. The Run Script for the ContactManagerUnitTests run the gcov tools on the project and generate an html report that you can view anytime. It includes the OS X libraries (I have not figure out how to ignore those) and your code.

Source Control Flow

This one was pretty easy as well. I followed the process from here. They call this git flow and it is pretty well laid out. I used this for all my projects now. The key is that you have two branches: master and develop. You do everything off develop and master is pretty much your release. I find that doing this helps me focus on working on one thing at a time. If I am writing a large commit message that includes to much work… I feel I am breaking some sort of magical law :).

Wrap Up

The code is the best place to learn. I hope you find a few nuggets in here that you can use on your projects. It has taken me a while to find my groove yet I am really happy with this now.

If you want to know more about Unit Testing I would go check out Unit Testing with XCode.

Mac and iOS Custom UI Component Database