Sample Code

Browsing and Modifying Photo Albums

Help users organize their photos into albums and browse photo collections in a grid-based layout using PhotoKit.



The Photos app on iOS displays assets in a thumbnail grid. This sample demonstrates how to achieve a similar layout with a custom UICollectionViewController. It fetches asset thumbnails using PhotoKit, then displays them as a single photo, video, or Live Photo asset.

The sample app, PhotoBrowse, also demonstrates how to organize the user’s photos into albums and built-in collections, such as Recently Added and Favorites. It supports album creation, deletion, modification, as well as the editing and favoriting of individual assets.

List Albums and Built-in Collections

When the app first launches, it fetches all of the user’s photo assets. All requests for asset data—single photos, albums, and user collections—go through PhotoKit’s shared PHPhotoLibrary object, so the app registers the main view controller once its view loads:


To list all the user’s albums and collections, the app creates a PHFetchOptions object and dispatches several fetch requests:

let allPhotosOptions = PHFetchOptions()
allPhotosOptions.sortDescriptors = [NSSortDescriptor(key: "creationDate", ascending: true)]
allPhotos = PHAsset.fetchAssets(with: allPhotosOptions)
smartAlbums = PHAssetCollection.fetchAssetCollections(with: .smartAlbum, subtype: .albumRegular, options: nil)
userCollections = PHCollectionList.fetchTopLevelUserCollections(with: nil)

The resulting PHFetchResult informs the app about the structure of the user’s photo library, allowing the user interface to show the number of photos in each album.

Display Assets in a Thumbnail Grid

The sample app implements thumbnail grid browsing by subclassing UICollectionViewController in AssetGridViewController.

After the grid view controller loads, it updates the image cache, which allows thumbnails to load quickly as the user scrolls:

let (addedRects, removedRects) = differencesBetweenRects(previousPreheatRect, preheatRect)
let addedAssets = addedRects
    .flatMap { rect in collectionView!.indexPathsForElements(in: rect) }
    .map { indexPath in fetchResult.object(at: indexPath.item) }
let removedAssets = removedRects
    .flatMap { rect in collectionView!.indexPathsForElements(in: rect) }
    .map { indexPath in fetchResult.object(at: indexPath.item) }

// Update the assets the PHCachingImageManager is caching.
imageManager.startCachingImages(for: addedAssets,
                                targetSize: thumbnailSize, contentMode: .aspectFill, options: nil)
imageManager.stopCachingImages(for: removedAssets,
                               targetSize: thumbnailSize, contentMode: .aspectFill, options: nil)

Implement the UICollectionView delegate method cellForItem(at:) to use thumbnails instead of full assets. PhotoKit allows you to request assets directly, and even badge Live Photos to set them apart:

// Dequeue a GridViewCell.
guard let cell = collectionView.dequeueReusableCell(withReuseIdentifier: "GridViewCell", for: indexPath) as? GridViewCell
    else { fatalError("Unexpected cell in collection view") }

// Add a badge to the cell if the PHAsset represents a Live Photo.
if asset.mediaSubtypes.contains(.photoLive) {
    cell.livePhotoBadgeImage = PHLivePhotoView.livePhotoBadgeImage(options: .overContent)

// Request an image for the asset from the PHCachingImageManager.
cell.representedAssetIdentifier = asset.localIdentifier
imageManager.requestImage(for: asset, targetSize: thumbnailSize, contentMode: .aspectFill, options: nil, resultHandler: { image, _ in
    // UIKit may have recycled this cell by the handler's activation time.
    // Set the cell's thumbnail image only if it's still showing the same asset.
    if cell.representedAssetIdentifier == asset.localIdentifier {
        cell.thumbnailImage = image

Show a Single Photo, Video, or Live Photo

AssetViewController implements the view of a single asset. If the asset is a video or Live Photo, the view controller also supports playback through a UIBarButtonItem:

// Set the appropriate toolbar items based on the media type of the asset.
#if os(iOS)
navigationController?.isToolbarHidden = false
navigationController?.hidesBarsOnTap = true
if asset.mediaType == .video {
    toolbarItems = [favoriteButton, space, playButton, space, trashButton]
} else {
    // In iOS, present both stills and Live Photos the same way, because
    // PHLivePhotoView provides the same gesture-based UI as in the Photos app.
    toolbarItems = [favoriteButton, space, trashButton]
#elseif os(tvOS)
if asset.mediaType == .video {
    navigationItem.leftBarButtonItems = [playButton, favoriteButton, trashButton]
} else {
    // In tvOS, PHLivePhotoView doesn't support playback gestures,
    // so add a play button for Live Photos.
    if asset.mediaSubtypes.contains(.photoLive) {
        navigationItem.leftBarButtonItems = [favoriteButton, trashButton]
    } else {
        navigationItem.leftBarButtonItems = [livePhotoPlayButton, favoriteButton, trashButton]

On tvOS, PhotoKit supports Live Photo playback:

#if os(tvOS)
@IBAction func playLivePhoto(_ sender: Any) {
    livePhotoView.startPlayback(with: .full)

The view controller supports playback by creating an AVPlayer and layering it on top of the item once the PHImageManager fetches a video:

// Request an AVPlayerItem for the displayed PHAsset.
// Then configure a layer for playing it.
PHImageManager.default().requestPlayerItem(forVideo: asset, options: options, resultHandler: { playerItem, info in
    DispatchQueue.main.sync {
        guard self.playerLayer == nil else { return }
        // Create an AVPlayer and AVPlayerLayer with the AVPlayerItem.
        let player = AVPlayer(playerItem: playerItem)
        let playerLayer = AVPlayerLayer(player: player)
        // Configure the AVPlayerLayer and add it to the view.
        playerLayer.videoGravity = AVLayerVideoGravity.resizeAspect
        playerLayer.frame = self.view.layer.bounds
        // Cache the player layer by reference, so you can remove it later.
        self.playerLayer = playerLayer

Apply Canned Filters in an Editing Interface

The AssetViewController view allows the user to edit the photo and save changes back to the photo library. It uses an alert controller to display a list of preset editing options, including sepia tone, chrome, and revert.

// Allow editing only if the PHAsset supports edit operations.
if asset.canPerform(.content) {
    // Add actions for some canned filters.
    alertController.addAction(UIAlertAction(title: NSLocalizedString("Sepia Tone", comment: ""),
                                            style: .default, handler: getFilter("CISepiaTone")))
    alertController.addAction(UIAlertAction(title: NSLocalizedString("Chrome", comment: ""),
                                            style: .default, handler: getFilter("CIPhotoEffectChrome")))
    // Add actions to revert any edits that have been made to the PHAsset.
    alertController.addAction(UIAlertAction(title: NSLocalizedString("Revert", comment: ""),
                                            style: .default, handler: revertAsset))
// Present the UIAlertController.
present(alertController, animated: true)

Each option creates an edit request and prepares a PHContentEditingOutput to encapsulate edit results as data. A PHAssetChangeRequest object communicates the edit back to the user’s photo library. .userInitiated).async {
    // Create adjustment data describing the edit.
    let adjustmentData = PHAdjustmentData(formatIdentifier: self.formatIdentifier,
                                          formatVersion: self.formatVersion,
                                          data: .utf8)!)
    // Create content editing output, write the adjustment data.
    let output = PHContentEditingOutput(contentEditingInput: input)
    output.adjustmentData = adjustmentData
    // Select a filtering function for the asset's media type.
    let applyFunc: (String, PHContentEditingInput, PHContentEditingOutput, @escaping () -> Void) -> Void
    if self.asset.mediaSubtypes.contains(.photoLive) {
        applyFunc = self.applyLivePhotoFilter
    } else if self.asset.mediaType == .image {
        applyFunc = self.applyPhotoFilter
    } else {
        applyFunc = self.applyVideoFilter
    // Apply the filter.
    applyFunc(filterName, input, output, {
        // When the app finishes rendering the filtered result, commit the edit to the photo library.
            let request = PHAssetChangeRequest(for: self.asset)
            request.contentEditingOutput = output
        }, completionHandler: { success, error in
            if !success { print("Can't edit the asset: \(String(describing: error))") }

After the user picks a filter, the app applies it and outputs the saved asset immediately. There’s no UI state for having chosen—but not yet committed—an edit. As such, there’s no role for reading adjustment data to resume in-progress edits, since PhotoBrowse has no notion of in-progress. However, it’s still good practice to write adjustment data so that potential future versions of the app—or other apps that understand your adjustment data format—could make use of it.

Create a New Album

An alert controller allows the user to add a new album:

    PHAssetCollectionChangeRequest.creationRequestForAssetCollection(withTitle: title)
}, completionHandler: { success, error in
    if !success { print("Error creating album: \(String(describing: error)).") }

Add an Asset to a Collection

When the user chooses to add an asset by tapping the Add button (+) in the navigation bar, PhotoBrowse creates a mock photo from a random color at a random orientation. Like other changes to a user’s photo library, adding an asset requires the app to wrap the addition inside a PHAssetChangeRequest as follows:

// Add the asset to the photo library.
    let creationRequest = PHAssetChangeRequest.creationRequestForAsset(from: image)
    if let assetCollection = self.assetCollection {
        let addAssetRequest = PHAssetCollectionChangeRequest(for: assetCollection)
        addAssetRequest?.addAssets([creationRequest.placeholderForCreatedAsset!] as NSArray)
}, completionHandler: {success, error in
    if !success { print("Error creating the asset: \(String(describing: error))") }

Delete Assets and Albums

The user can delete an asset through the trash can button at the lower-right corner of AssetViewController. For removal from an album, PhotoBrowse wraps the deletion operation inside a PHAssetCollectionChangeRequest object. For removal from the entire photo library, PhotoBrowse wraps the deletion operation inside a PHAssetChangeRequest object:

if assetCollection != nil {
    // Remove the asset from the selected album.
        let request = PHAssetCollectionChangeRequest(for: self.assetCollection)!
        request.removeAssets([self.asset] as NSArray)
    }, completionHandler: completion)
} else {
    // Delete the asset from the photo library.
        PHAssetChangeRequest.deleteAssets([self.asset] as NSArray)
    }, completionHandler: completion)

Favorite an Asset

Users can favorite an asset by toggling the PHAsset parameter isFavorite:

    let request = PHAssetChangeRequest(for: self.asset)
    request.isFavorite = !self.asset.isFavorite
}, completionHandler: { success, error in
    if success {
        DispatchQueue.main.sync {
            sender.title = self.asset.isFavorite ? "♥︎" : "♡"
    } else {
        print("Can't mark the asset as a Favorite: \(String(describing: error))")

Observe and Respond to Changes

Register your main view controller—and any view that shows the user assets—to observe changes to the photo library, so your app can receive and respond to notifications as assets change. These changes may not necessarily occur inside your app’s functionality; they could originate from other apps, other devices, iCloud Photos, or Shared Albums:

if let changeDetails = changeInstance.changeDetails(for: allPhotos) {
    // Update the cached fetch result.
    allPhotos = changeDetails.fetchResultAfterChanges
    // Don't update the table row that always reads "All Photos."

// Update the cached fetch results, and reload the table sections to match.
if let changeDetails = changeInstance.changeDetails(for: smartAlbums) {
    smartAlbums = changeDetails.fetchResultAfterChanges
    tableView.reloadSections(IndexSet(integer: Section.smartAlbums.rawValue), with: .automatic)
if let changeDetails = changeInstance.changeDetails(for: userCollections) {
    userCollections = changeDetails.fetchResultAfterChanges
    tableView.reloadSections(IndexSet(integer: Section.userCollections.rawValue), with: .automatic)

Be sure to unregister your change observer after the app’s main view controller goes away.


See Also

Shared Photo Library

Requesting Authorization to Access Photos

Prepare your app to ask for permission when accessing the user's photo library.

class PHPhotoLibrary

A shared object that manages access and changes to the user’s shared photo library.