Class Factory Methods

Class factory methods are implemented by a class as a convenience for clients. They combine allocation and initialization in one step and return the created object. However, the client receiving this object does not own the object and thus (per the object-ownership policy) is not responsible for releasing it. These methods are of the form + (type)className... (where className excludes any prefix).

Cocoa provides plenty of examples, especially among the “value” classes. NSDate includes the following class factory methods:

+ (id)dateWithTimeIntervalSinceNow:(NSTimeInterval)secs;
+ (id)dateWithTimeIntervalSinceReferenceDate:(NSTimeInterval)secs;
+ (id)dateWithTimeIntervalSince1970:(NSTimeInterval)secs;

And NSData offers the following factory methods:

+ (id)dataWithBytes:(const void *)bytes length:(unsigned)length;
+ (id)dataWithBytesNoCopy:(void *)bytes length:(unsigned)length;
+ (id)dataWithBytesNoCopy:(void *)bytes length:(unsigned)length
+ (id)dataWithContentsOfFile:(NSString *)path;
+ (id)dataWithContentsOfURL:(NSURL *)url;
+ (id)dataWithContentsOfMappedFile:(NSString *)path;

Factory methods can be more than a simple convenience. They can not only combine allocation and initialization, but the allocation can inform the initialization. As an example, let’s say you must initialize a collection object from a property-list file that encodes any number of elements for the collection (NSString objects, NSData objects, NSNumber objects, and so on). Before the factory method can know how much memory to allocate for the collection, it must read the file and parse the property list to determine how many elements there are and what object type these elements are.

Another purpose for a class factory method is to ensure that a certain class (NSWorkspace, for example) vends a singleton instance. Although an init... method could verify that only one instance exists at any one time in a program, it would require the prior allocation of a “raw” instance and then, in memory-managed code, would have to release that instance. A factory method, on the other hand, gives you a way to avoid blindly allocating memory for an object that you might not use, as in the following example:

static AccountManager *DefaultManager = nil;
+ (AccountManager *)defaultManager {
    if (!DefaultManager) DefaultManager = [[self allocWithZone:NULL] init];
    return DefaultManager;