Naming Properties and Data Types

This section describes the naming conventions for declared properties, instance variables, constants, notifications, and exceptions.

Declared Properties and Instance Variables

A declared property effectively declares accessor methods for a property, and so conventions for naming a declared property are broadly the same as those for naming accessor methods (see Accessor Methods). If the property is expressed as a noun or a verb, the format is:

@property (…) type nounOrVerb;

For example:

@property (strong) NSString *title;
@property (assign) BOOL showsAlpha;

If the name of a declared property is expressed as an adjective, however, the property name omits the “is” prefix but specifies the conventional name for the get accessor, for example:

@property (assign, getter=isEditable) BOOL editable;

In many cases, when you use a declared property you also synthesize a corresponding instance variable.

Make sure the name of the instance variable concisely describes the attribute stored. Usually, you should not access instance variables directly; instead you should use accessor methods (you do access instance variables directly in init and dealloc methods). To help to signal this, prefix instance variable names with an underscore (_), for example:

@implementation MyClass {
    BOOL _showsTitle;

If you synthesize the instance variable using a declared property, specify the name of the instance variable in the @synthesize statement.

@implementation MyClass
@synthesize showsTitle=_showsTitle;

There are a few considerations to keep in mind when adding instance variables to a class:


The rules for constants vary according to how the constant is created.

Enumerated constants

  • Use enumerations for groups of related constants that have integer values.

  • Enumerated constants and the typedef under which they are grouped follow the naming conventions for functions (see Naming Functions). The following example comes from NSMatrix.h :

    typedef enum _NSMatrixMode {
        NSRadioModeMatrix           = 0,
        NSHighlightModeMatrix       = 1,
        NSListModeMatrix            = 2,
        NSTrackModeMatrix           = 3
    } NSMatrixMode;

    Note that the typedef tag (_NSMatrixMode in the above example) is unnecessary.

  • You can create unnamed enumerations for things like bit masks, for example:

    enum {
        NSBorderlessWindowMask      = 0,
        NSTitledWindowMask          = 1 << 0,
        NSClosableWindowMask        = 1 << 1,
        NSMiniaturizableWindowMask  = 1 << 2,
        NSResizableWindowMask       = 1 << 3

Constants created with const

  • Use const to create constants for floating point values. You can use const to create an integer constant if the constant is unrelated to other constants; otherwise, use enumeration.

  • The format for const constants is exemplified by the following declaration:

    const float NSLightGray;

    As with enumerated constants, the naming conventions are the same as for functions (see Naming Functions).

Other types of constants

  • In general, don’t use the #define preprocessor command to create constants. For integer constants, use enumerations, and for floating point constants use the const qualifier, as described above.

  • Use uppercase letters for symbols that the preprocessor evaluates in determining whether a block of code will be processed. For example:

    #ifdef DEBUG
  • Note that macros defined by the compiler have leading and trailing double underscore characters. For example:

  • Define constants for strings used for such purposes as notification names and dictionary keys. By using string constants, you are ensuring that the compiler verifies the proper value is specified (that is, it performs spell checking). The Cocoa  frameworks provide many examples of string constants, such as:

    APPKIT_EXTERN NSString *NSPrintCopies;

    The actual NSString value is assigned to the constant in an implementation file. (Note that the APPKIT_EXTERN macro evaluates to extern for Objective-C.)

Notifications and Exceptions

The names for notifications and exceptions follow similar rules. But both have their own recommended usage patterns.


If a class has a delegate, most of its notifications will probably be received by the delegate through a defined delegate method. The names of these notifications should reflect the corresponding delegate method. For example, a delegate of the global NSApplication object is automatically registered to receive an applicationDidBecomeActive: message whenever the application posts an NSApplicationDidBecomeActiveNotification.

Notifications are identified by global NSString objects whose names are composed in this way:

[Name of associated class] + [Did | Will] + [UniquePartOfName] + Notification

For example:



Although you are free to use exceptions (that is, the mechanisms offered by the NSException class and related functions) for any purpose you choose, Cocoa reserves exceptions for programming errors such an array index being out of bounds. Cocoa does not use exceptions to handle regular, expected error conditions. For these cases, use returned values such as nil, NULL, NO, or error codes. For more details, see Error Handling Programming Guide.

Exceptions are identified by global NSString objects whose names are composed in this way:

[Prefix] + [UniquePartOfName] + Exception

The unique part of the name should run constituent words together and capitalize the first letter of each word. Here are some examples: