Self Flagellation with Objective-C and XCode

This post is called Self Flagellation with Objective-C and XCode because I think that is an apt description of what I’m doing. In case you don’t know what flagellation is, this wikipedia article will provide the full story, but suffice it to say that it comes from Latin and means whipping, and that’s exactly what I’m doing to myself every time I try to use XCode.

I should probably number my grievances because there are probably going to be many, and they’re not in any particular order. I should also point out that it’s early days for me with XCode, but after buying several ebooks on Objective-C and Mac/iOS development, and reading two so far and doing all the exercises therein, I’ve had more than just a cursory glance at XCode, and I feel as though I’ve given it quite some time for it to prove its worth before giving up and curling up into a ball, crying like a baby (which is an appealing prospect at the moment!).

  1. XCode is full of annoying control-dragging of things to other things, for example, simply in order to wire up an event for a button or an outlet for same if you want to be able to talk to said button programmatically.

     

  2. Clicking on a file to work on it overlaps the previous file you had in the main editor area in the middle. If you double-click on the file, it opens in an entirely separate window, not in a tab as one might expect of any normal IDE. You can open files in a new tab, providing you open the new tab first, then click on the other file you want to open in that new tab. There is no right-clicking on said file to open in a new tab, that would be too useful!

     

  3. This is more to do with Objective-C than XCode but all classes are really split across two files, the header file (.h) and the implementation file (.m). As someone who is used to storing everything for one class in a whatever.cs file in my day job, having to toggle between .h and .m at home is a major pain. The logic (as far as I can tell) is that the .h describes the public interface that other objects get to see, and you could theoretically let the world see these .h files without giving away your trade secrets, which are kept safely hidden in the .m files. Maybe this makes sense to people who are in the business of writing third-party libraries or open source developers, but I don’t care about all that; I simply want to have one god-damned file for the lot, but it seems it’s a very bad idea to try to do this anyway. Having to switch between these two all the time is just a major pain in the you-know-what!

     

  4. As someone how was brought up with Windows 95 to Windows XP then various Linux distributions for the roughly five years to December 2012, I’ve come to consider certain keys on my keyboard as being “normal”. For example, pressing the Home button jumps the cursor to be beginning of the line. Not so on a Mac, it goes to the beginning of the entire document! How many times do you think somebody might want to start typing at the beginning of the document? No much, hey! Anyway, XCode does let you map the Home key to move to the beginning of the line (unlike the rest of Mac OS X, unfortunately), however it does exactly what it says, moves to the beginning of the entire line, and not to the first actual character of code after the white space used to indent your code properly. This is just another one of those things that makes me wonder whether anybody at Apple actually uses XCode, and that perhaps they’ve got some secret in-house IDE they keep to themselves because when I press the Home key, I expect it to go to the beginning of the “if” statement or whatever it is. I’m sure any other normal developer who might read this would expect the same behaviour, also. Thankfully, I found the XCode4_beginning_of_line plugin on github that corrects this shocking oversight on Apple’s part.

     

  5. Just tonight I tried to debug some code (for the first time), and after remapping the “step over” key from F6 to F10 (I’m so used to the Visual Studio key that I cannot change this old habit!), I discovered that stepping over code doesn’t always mean step over in XCode. It quite often means “step into a massive page of assembly code”, which, I’m sure you might agree, isn’t particularly useful, especially if you’re like me and don’t know squat about assembly! Here’s a picture showing what I’m talking about, and no, I’m not using a release configuration. There’s also a Show Disassembly When Debugging option which I do not have ticked, either. Encountering this major annoyance is what prompted me to write this blog posting, so perhaps I’ll find the answer tomorrow, but for now, I’ve tried the obvious things and got nowhere. If this is Apple’s idea of “stepping over” whilst debugging, then perhaps I should just go back to Linux. I wonder if Ubuntu is usable again? Have they junked Unity and is GNOME 3 not stupid anymore?

     

  6. What made me give up and walk away from the computer yesterday was discovering that concatenating strings in Objective-C isn’t as simple as doing this:
  7. NSString *string = @”hello ” + @”world”;

    The correct way is this:

    NSString *string = [@”hello” stringByAppendingString:@”world”];

    Which brings me to another thing, Objective-C’s “message expressions”. I sure do miss being able to type object.method()! Having to type an at-symbol before every Objective-C string is very annoying, but without it, I’m using C strings, which Objective-C doesn’t like. I’m sure Apple could do something here to deprecate this unfortunate requirement.

     

  8. Given that XCode has really rubbed me the wrong way these past couple of days, I fell like being petty now :-) In .NET if you want to add a .ToMyString() method to the String class for use on any string, you add what’s called an extension method. Sounds logical, you’re adding a method to a system class, effectively “extending” the functionality of .NET itself. Now in Objective-C, an extension method is called a “category“. Beats me why they chose this name because it’s utterly illogical. Category of what? Anyway, “class extension” might be a logical name, but apparently such beasts were added in Objective-C 2.0 and are simply a way to allow a class to have private methods as far as I can tell right now (strange that a language would have no “private” method support until only recently). Objective-C is basically plain old C with Smalltalk-style object messaging syntax. Since then it has had various things done to it, such as Automatic Reference Counting and other afterthoughts. It’s now at a point where I seriously think Apple could do well to invest in a complete overhaul of the language and give it the ability to use another syntax scheme, much like .NET has c# and VB. I know I’m just dreaming, and that Apple would probably only make any such syntax bizarre in their own special way, so I suppose I’m just going to have to learn to live with Objective-C as it is, and embrace the joys that self-whipping can offer.

     

I suppose there’s always Xamarin.Mac, but I so wanted to really give Objective-C and XCode a try, but Apple are not making it easy for anybody with exposure to what I regard as “normal” development experiences, such as Java, C#, Perl, PHP, JavaScript, etc, and “normal” IDEs. I knew very well that Apple had their own special way of doing just about everything, and so far, since switching to Mac in December 2012, I’ve managed to cope well enough. It’s a very reliable platform, but it seems that if you want to do more than be just a passive consumer and internet surfer, you’re in for a bumpy ride. If I had only ever known the Apple way of doing everything, I’m sure I’d be right as rain, but having come from a different background, the transition for a developer is extremely unpleasant indeed.

They say that moving house and changing jobs are two of life’s most stressful events. I suppose switching from PC to Mac is another one, especially if you’re a developer! So far I’m determined not to be beaten, but I seriously needed to get all this off my chest. Only by venting will I be able to get past it and force myself into another whipping session tomorrow. Wish me luck!