Formatting String Objects

This article describes how to create a string using a format string, how to use non-ASCII characters in a format string, and a common error that developers make when using NSLog or NSLogv.

Formatting Basics

NSString uses a format string whose syntax is similar to that used by other formatter objects. It supports the format characters defined for the ANSI C function printf(), plus %@ for any object (see String Format Specifiers and the IEEE printf specification). If the object responds to descriptionWithLocale: messages, NSString sends such a message to retrieve the text representation. Otherwise, it sends a description message. Localizing String Resources describes how to work with and reorder variable arguments in localized strings.

In format strings, a ‘%’ character announces a placeholder for a value, with the characters that follow determining the kind of value expected and how to format it. For example, a format string of "%d houses" expects an integer value to be substituted for the format expression '%d'. NSString supports the format characters defined for the ANSI C functionprintf(), plus ‘@’ for any object. If the object responds to the descriptionWithLocale: message, NSString sends that message to retrieve the text representation, otherwise, it sends a description message.

Value formatting is affected by the user’s current locale, which is an NSDictionary object that specifies number, date, and other kinds of formats. NSString uses only the locale’s definition for the decimal separator (given by the key named NSDecimalSeparator). If you use a method that doesn’t specify a locale, the string assumes the default locale.

You can use NSString’s stringWithFormat: method and other related methods to create strings with printf-style format specifiers and argument lists, as described in Creating and Converting String Objects. The examples below illustrate how you can create a string using a variety of format specifiers and arguments.

NSString *string1 = [NSString stringWithFormat:@"A string: %@, a float: %1.2f",
                                               @"string", 31415.9265];
// string1 is "A string: string, a float: 31415.93"
NSNumber *number = @1234;
NSDictionary *dictionary = @{@"date": [NSDate date]};
NSString *baseString = @"Base string.";
NSString *string2 = [baseString stringByAppendingFormat:
        @" A number: %@, a dictionary: %@", number, dictionary];
// string2 is "Base string. A number: 1234, a dictionary: {date = 2005-10-17 09:02:01 -0700; }"

Strings and Non-ASCII Characters

You can include non-ASCII characters (including Unicode) in strings using methods such as stringWithFormat: and stringWithUTF8String:.

NSString *s = [NSString stringWithFormat:@"Long %C dash", 0x2014];

Since \xe2\x80\x94 is the 3-byte UTF-8 string for 0x2014, you could also write:

NSString *s = [NSString stringWithUTF8String:"Long \xe2\x80\x94   dash"];

NSLog and NSLogv

The utility functions NSLog() and NSLogv() use the NSString string formatting services to log error messages. Note that as a consequence of this, you should take care when specifying the argument for these functions. A common mistake is to specify a string that includes formatting characters, as shown in the following example.

NSString *string = @"A contrived string %@";
// The application will probably crash here due to signal 10 (SIGBUS)

It is better (safer) to use a format string to output another string, as shown in the following example.

NSString *string = @"A contrived string %@";
NSLog(@"%@", string);
// Output: A contrived string %@