Sample Code

Developing a Document-Based App

Write an app that creates, manages, edits, and saves text documents.



This sample shows how to use the Cocoa document architecture to manage documents. A document is a body of information, such as pages of text, stored in a file locally or in iCloud.

In the Cocoa document architecture, your document is represented by a custom subclass of NSDocument. The NSDocument class provides most of the behavior for managing your document. In your subclass, you override or fine-tune this behavior by providing custom code for reading and writing document data. A document’s data is called the data model. Each NSDocument has its own NSWindowController, which in turn creates an NSWindow object for displaying the document content.

Because a document-based app handles multiple documents that are open at the same time, it uses NSDocumentController to manage them. Cocoa provides most of the infrastructure for managing your documents. With file coordination, version management, and conflict resolution among other documents, it provides the easiest path to using iCloud.

Cocoa document architecture diagram showing the relationships between NSDocumentController and its list of NSDocument objects, and between NSDocument and its NSWindowController.

Declare the Document Type

Apps must use Xcode’s Document Types editor to define the types of documents they can open. When Xcode builds your app, it places the document type information in your app’s information property list (Info.plist) file. When users install your app, the system uses that information to determine how to send your app the files to be opened.

Your app declares its document type as a uniform type identifier (UTI), which is a name that identifies a data format. There are two types of UTIs: system UTIs, which are predefined identifiers known to all systems, and user-defined UTIs, which are custom identifiers you can provide for your custom data formats.

The DocumentBasedApp sample has one document type for files containing plain text. Because text is a standard data format, the sample uses the public.plain-text system UTI.

The values in the Document Types editor for this sample as follows:

  • Name = Plain Text

  • Identifier = public.plain-text

  • Class = $(PRODUCT_MODULE_NAME).Document

  • Role = Editor

  • Bundle = Unchecked

Name is a human-readable description of the document type, shown in the Finder when users inspect your document type. Class is the name of the NSDocument subclass that handles this document type. Because this sample edits plain-text documents, its Role for this document type is an editor. Bundle is turned off because plain-text files aren’t distributed as bundles or packages.

A UTI also specifies which file extension is used by files of this type. The public.plain-text UTI specifies extension .txt, so the document files that this sample opens or creates have the .txt extension at the end of the filename.

Design the Document Content

This sample app is a text editor, implementing a subclass of NSDocument called Document with a data model called Content.

The Content object encapsulates the document’s data into a single package. Putting all of the document’s data into a single Content object simplifies data management. For example, it’s easier to add new data elements to the document later.

The Content object contains a single attribute called contentString, which is made up of a single String.

class Content: NSObject {
    @objc dynamic var contentString = ""
    public init(contentString: String) {
        self.contentString = contentString

Using a centralized Content object encapsulates the document’s data model into a single package. If you need to add new data elements to your data model later, you’ll also place them within the Content model. The model object is therefore responsible for encoding and decoding its content for reading and writing to disk.

Design the Document User Interface

This sample follows the Model–View–Controller design pattern by separating its data from the user interface. The model portion is the Content object, the view portion is document’s NSWindow plus the NSView hierarchy it contains, and the controller portion is divided among various controller objects, including your Document object. The document’s NSWindowController object and the view hierarchy of NSViewController objects descend from the window controller’s contentViewController.

When you create your Document subclass, you determine which window controller the document will use by implementing the makeWindowControllers() function. This function also sets a reference to the document object as the contentViewController‘s representedObject, allowing the user interface elements to bind the document’s data model. Hence the user interface elements get their values through the representedObject.

override func makeWindowControllers() {
    // Returns the storyboard that contains your document window.
    let storyboard = NSStoryboard(name: NSStoryboard.Name("Main"), bundle: nil)
    if let windowController =
            withIdentifier: NSStoryboard.SceneIdentifier("Document Window Controller")) as? NSWindowController {
        // Set the view controller's represented object as your document.
        if let contentVC = windowController.contentViewController as? ViewController {
            contentVC.representedObject = content
            contentViewController = contentVC

When you organize the user interface into groups of view controllers called child view controllers, NSViewController passes down its representedObject to all of its children.

override var representedObject: Any? {
    didSet {
        // Pass down the represented object to all of the child view controllers.
        for child in children {
            child.representedObject = representedObject

As a result, the NSTextView containing the plain text is bound to the document’s data model using Cocoa Bindings to keep the text view’s data in sync with the data model. The Value binding of the NSTextView is set to the following key path of its view controller:


Cocoa document architecture diagram showing how text view data is synced with the data model object through its view controller’s representedObject.

Read the Document Content

At runtime, the Document calls read(from:ofType:) function to read in the data of a specified type from a file. This overridden function ignores the typeName parameter because this sample handles documents of a single known type.

override func read(from data: Data, ofType typeName: String) throws { data)

Write the Document Content

At runtime, the Document calls data(ofType:) function to write the plain text to a file. This overridden function ignores the typeName parameter because this sample handles documents of a single known type.

override func data(ofType typeName: String) throws -> Data {

See Also



An abstract class that defines the interface for macOS documents.


An object that manages an app's documents.


A document object that can integrate with Core Data.