Sample Code

Building a Document Browser App for Custom File Formats

Implement a custom document file format to manage user interactions with files on different cloud storage providers.



Users can store their documents on different cloud storage providers, such as iCloud Drive. An app based on the document browser view controller allows users to browse and access their documents no matter where those documents are stored. In addition, the document browser view controller lets users create new documents, and acts as a springboard into your application’s main user interface.

This example illustrates how to use the document browser view controller. It registers a custom file format called Particles in the system, and allows the user to create new Particles documents on any of the user’s activated file providers. When the user chooses a document, the app presents an editor view, where the user can modify the document’s contents. Once the user is done with the modifications, the system saves the file, and the user returns to the document browser view controller.

The app also demonstrates proper file handling using the UIDocument class, and how to build a Quick Look preview and thumbnail extension for the Particles file format. Finally, this sample illustrates how to customize the appearance of the document browser view controller, the custom browser actions, and the presentation of document view controllers with a custom zoom transition.

The UIDocumentBrowserViewController and this Particles app require at least iOS 11.

Getting Started

Xcode provides a Document Based App template for creating document-based apps. This template comes with everything you need to implement a document-based application from scratch.

Once you have selected the template, the project provides a storyboard, which uses a UIDocumentBrowserViewController as its entry point. Additionally, the template creates a UIDocument subclass, Document, which acts as the representation of a document of your application at runtime. The logic in order to create new documents is already in place. When the user creates a new document, or opens an existing one by tapping a file in the document browser view controller, a DocumentViewController is presented, which has a reference to a Document instance. This DocumentViewController acts as the main user interface to view and modify the contents of a document.

Now, you can extend the project to fit your needs. Set up a custom file format in the exported UTIs of your application, or configure one or more existing UTIs in the imported UTIs section. The application’s document types need to be configured as well, so that the document browser view controller can display the proper files to the user.

Next, provide the document to start with when the user creates a new document; for instance, by copying a file from the application bundle, which represents a blank version of a new document. Hand over the blank file to the document browser view controller via the import handler. In order to provide proper document saving and loading, augment the UIDocument subclass with the logic needed in order to encode and decode the data of a document properly.

Finally, the document browser view controller can be configured to show custom browser actions, which are shown to the user when selecting one or more documents at once, or when long-pressing a document to reveal the menu.

Animate View Controller Transitions

When presenting a document view controller after creating a new document or choosing an existing one, a transition controller can be used in order to animate the view controller change with an elegant zoom transition.

Therefore, the UIDocumentBrowserViewController class provides a method to obtain a transition controller. The transition controller has a reference to a document, so that its thumbnail can be used as the starting point or end point of the animation.

Assign a transitioning delegate object to the document view controller (the view controller that displays the document’s contents). The transitioning delegate needs to conform to the UIViewControllerTransitioningDelegate protocol. The system asks the delegate for an animation controller when the system is about to present or dismiss the view controller. The delegate returns a transition controller obtained from the document browser view controller. The transition controller will drive the zoom animation when opening or closing documents.

Configure a Custom File Format

This sample introduces a custom file format called Particles. Particles files use the .particles extension. In order to register the file format, the sample has modifies both the Exported UTIs and the Document Types in the target’s Info pane.

  • In the Exported UTIs section, it defines a Particles document as conforming to, public.content. This registers the file format with the system.

  • Under “Additional exported UTI properties,” it defines the UTTypeTagSpecification dictionary with a public.filename-extension key and value of particles This sets particles as the document’s extension.

  • In the Document Types section, it also defines the Particles document. This enables support for Particle documents in the app’s document browser.

  • Because this app created the file format, under “Additional document type properties,” it sets the LSHandlerRank to Owner.

Preview Custom Documents

The sample provides two Quick Look extensions:

  • The ParticlesPreview extension, which generates preview views.

  • The ParticlesThumbnails extension, which generates thumbnails for files of the newly registered file format.

In order for Quick Look to choose the extensions when dealing with Particles documents, the Info.plist file of both extensions are configured with the Particles file format data.

Apply Best Practices

Whenever possible, create document-based apps using UIDocumentBrowserViewController and UIDocument subclasses. The UIDocument class helps you to provide the commonly expected features of a document-based application, such as saving and loading documents, asynchronous reading and writing of data, versioning with conflict detection, and much more. Additionally, UIDocument provides the automatic coordinated reading and writing needed to avoid problems when accessing a file on disk that could be read or written by other processes at the same time. If you need to access a file manually, make sure to use file coordination in order to avoid data loss.

You should also avoid listing high-level UTIs in the document types configured for your application. Only list the UTIs that your application can actually handle. Otherwise, the document browser view controller may display files of unsupported file formats, for example in the Recents section or in the search results, that are irrelevant to the user.

Make sure to configure the document types and the exported and imported UTIs in your application’s Info.plist file correctly. Dynamic sections such as Recent Documents, collections of tagged documents, and the popover of your application need this information to work properly.

Finally, it’s important to know when to use the picker view controller. The UIDocumentPickerViewController and UIDocumentBrowserViewController are two different view controllers, each with their own purpose. Use the UIDocumentPickerViewController to allow the user to quickly pick an existing file to, for example, insert into the currently opened document, or to export a document to a certain location. Use the UIDocumentBrowserViewController as the entry point in your application to let the users create new or choose an existing document.

See Also

Documents and Directories

Adding a Document Browser to Your App

Give users access to their local or remote documents from within your app.

Providing Access to Directories

Use a document picker to access the content of a directory outside your app’s container.

Building a Document Browser-Based App

Use a document browser to provide access to the user’s text files.


A view controller for browsing and performing actions on documents stored locally and in the cloud.


A view controller that provides access to documents or destinations outside your app’s sandbox.


A view controller that previews, opens, or prints files whose file format cannot be handled directly by your app.