Using Blocks

Invoking a Block

If you declare a block as a variable, you can use it as you would a function, as shown in these two examples:

int (^oneFrom)(int) = ^(int anInt) {
    return anInt - 1;
printf("1 from 10 is %d", oneFrom(10));
// Prints "1 from 10 is 9"
float (^distanceTraveled)(float, float, float) =
                         ^(float startingSpeed, float acceleration, float time) {
    float distance = (startingSpeed * time) + (0.5 * acceleration * time * time);
    return distance;
float howFar = distanceTraveled(0.0, 9.8, 1.0);
// howFar = 4.9

Frequently, however, you pass a block as the argument to a function or a method. In these cases, you usually create a block “inline”.

Using a Block as a Function Argument

You can pass a block as a function argument just as you would any other argument. In many cases, however, you don’t need to declare blocks; instead you simply implement them inline where they’re required as an argument. The following example uses the qsort_b function. qsort_b is similar to the standard qsort_r function, but takes a block as its final argument.

char *myCharacters[3] = { "TomJohn", "George", "Charles Condomine" };
qsort_b(myCharacters, 3, sizeof(char *), ^(const void *l, const void *r) {
    char *left = *(char **)l;
    char *right = *(char **)r;
    return strncmp(left, right, 1);
// Block implementation ends at "}"
// myCharacters is now { "Charles Condomine", "George", "TomJohn" }

Notice that the block is contained within the function’s argument list.

The next example shows how to use a block with the dispatch_apply function. dispatch_apply is declared as follows:

void dispatch_apply(size_t iterations, dispatch_queue_t queue, void (^block)(size_t));

The function submits a block to a dispatch queue for multiple invocations. It takes three arguments; the first specifies the number of iterations to perform; the second specifies a queue to which the block is submitted; and the third is the block itself, which in turn takes a single argument—the current index of the iteration.

You can use dispatch_apply trivially just to print out the iteration index, as shown:

#include <dispatch/dispatch.h>
size_t count = 10;
dispatch_queue_t queue = dispatch_get_global_queue(DISPATCH_QUEUE_PRIORITY_DEFAULT, 0);
dispatch_apply(count, queue, ^(size_t i) {
    printf("%u\n", i);

Using a Block as a Method Argument

Cocoa provides a number of methods that use blocks. You pass a block as a method argument just as you would any other argument.

The following example determines the indexes of any of the first five elements in an array that appear in a given filter set.

NSArray *array = @[@"A", @"B", @"C", @"A", @"B", @"Z", @"G", @"are", @"Q"];
NSSet *filterSet = [NSSet setWithObjects: @"A", @"Z", @"Q", nil];
BOOL (^test)(id obj, NSUInteger idx, BOOL *stop);
test = ^(id obj, NSUInteger idx, BOOL *stop) {
    if (idx < 5) {
        if ([filterSet containsObject: obj]) {
            return YES;
    return NO;
NSIndexSet *indexes = [array indexesOfObjectsPassingTest:test];
NSLog(@"indexes: %@", indexes);
indexes: <NSIndexSet: 0x10236f0>[number of indexes: 2 (in 2 ranges), indexes: (0 3)]

The following example determines whether an NSSet object contains a word specified by a local variable and sets the value of another local variable (found) to YES (and stops the search) if it does. Notice that found is also declared as a __block variable, and that the block is defined inline:

__block BOOL found = NO;
NSSet *aSet = [NSSet setWithObjects: @"Alpha", @"Beta", @"Gamma", @"X", nil];
NSString *string = @"gamma";
[aSet enumerateObjectsUsingBlock:^(id obj, BOOL *stop) {
    if ([obj localizedCaseInsensitiveCompare:string] == NSOrderedSame) {
        *stop = YES;
        found = YES;
// At this point, found == YES

Copying Blocks

Typically, you shouldn’t need to copy (or retain) a block. You only need to make a copy when you expect the block to be used after destruction of the scope within which it was declared. Copying moves a block to the heap.

You can copy and release blocks using C functions:


To avoid a memory leak, you must always balance a Block_copy() with Block_release().

Patterns to Avoid

A block literal (that is, ^{ ... }) is the address of a stack-local data structure that represents the block. The scope of the stack-local data structure is therefore the enclosing compound statement, so you should avoid the patterns shown in the following examples:

void dontDoThis() {
    void (^blockArray[3])(void);  // an array of 3 block references
    for (int i = 0; i < 3; ++i) {
        blockArray[i] = ^{ printf("hello, %d\n", i); };
        // WRONG: The block literal scope is the "for" loop.
void dontDoThisEither() {
    void (^block)(void);
    int i = random():
    if (i > 1000) {
        block = ^{ printf("got i at: %d\n", i); };
        // WRONG: The block literal scope is the "then" clause.
    // ...


You can set breakpoints and single step into blocks. You can invoke a block from within a GDB session using invoke-block, as illustrated in this example:

$ invoke-block myBlock 10 20

If you want to pass in a C string, you must quote it. For example, to pass this string into the doSomethingWithString block, you would write the following:

$ invoke-block doSomethingWithString "\"this string\""