String Format Specifiers

This article summarizes the format specifiers supported by string formatting methods and functions.

Format Specifiers

The format specifiers supported by the NSString formatting methods and CFString formatting functions follow the IEEE printf specification; the specifiers are summarized in Table 1. Note that you can also use the “n$” positional specifiers such as %1$@ %2$s. For more details, see the IEEE printf specification. You can also use these format specifiers with the NSLog function.

Table 1  Format specifiers supported by the NSString formatting methods and CFString formatting functions

Specifier

Description

%@

Objective-C object, printed as the string returned by descriptionWithLocale: if available, or description otherwise. Also works with CFTypeRef objects, returning the result of the CFCopyDescription function.

%%

'%' character.

%d, %D

Signed 32-bit integer (int).

%u, %U

Unsigned 32-bit integer (unsigned int).

%x

Unsigned 32-bit integer (unsigned int), printed in hexadecimal using the digits 0–9 and lowercase a–f.

%X

Unsigned 32-bit integer (unsigned int), printed in hexadecimal using the digits 0–9 and uppercase A–F.

%o, %O

Unsigned 32-bit integer (unsigned int), printed in octal.

%f

64-bit floating-point number (double).

%e

64-bit floating-point number (double), printed in scientific notation using a lowercase e to introduce the exponent.

%E

64-bit floating-point number (double), printed in scientific notation using an uppercase E to introduce the exponent.

%g

64-bit floating-point number (double), printed in the style of %e if the exponent is less than –4 or greater than or equal to the precision, in the style of %f otherwise.

%G

64-bit floating-point number (double), printed in the style of %E if the exponent is less than –4 or greater than or equal to the precision, in the style of %f otherwise.

%c

8-bit unsigned character (unsigned char), printed by NSLog() as an ASCII character, or, if not an ASCII character, in the octal format \\ddd or the Unicode hexadecimal format \\udddd, where d is a digit.

%C

16-bit Unicode character (unichar), printed by NSLog() as an ASCII character, or, if not an ASCII character, in the octal format \\ddd or the Unicode hexadecimal format \\udddd, where d is a digit.

%s

Null-terminated array of 8-bit unsigned characters. Because the %s specifier causes the characters to be interpreted in the system default encoding, the results can be variable, especially with right-to-left languages. For example, with RTL, %s inserts direction markers when the characters are not strongly directional. For this reason, it’s best to avoid %s and specify encodings explicitly.

%S

Null-terminated array of 16-bit Unicode characters.

%p

Void pointer (void *), printed in hexadecimal with the digits 0–9 and lowercase a–f, with a leading 0x.

%a

64-bit floating-point number (double), printed in scientific notation with a leading 0x and one hexadecimal digit before the decimal point using a lowercase p to introduce the exponent.

%A

64-bit floating-point number (double), printed in scientific notation with a leading 0X and one hexadecimal digit before the decimal point using a uppercase P to introduce the exponent.

%F

64-bit floating-point number (double), printed in decimal notation.

Table 2  Length modifiers supported by the NSString formatting methods and CFString formatting functions

Length modifier

Description

h

Length modifier specifying that a following d, o, u, x, or X conversion specifier applies to a short or unsigned short argument.

hh

Length modifier specifying that a following d, o, u, x, or X conversion specifier applies to a signed char or unsigned char argument.

l

Length modifier specifying that a following d, o, u, x, or X conversion specifier applies to a long or unsigned long argument.

ll, q

Length modifiers specifying that a following d, o, u, x, or X conversion specifier applies to a long long or unsigned long long argument.

L

Length modifier specifying that a following a, A, e, E, f, F, g, or G conversion specifier applies to a long double argument.

z

Length modifier specifying that a following d, o, u, x, or X conversion specifier applies to a size_t or the corresponding signed integer type argument.

t

Length modifier specifying that a following d, o, u, x, or X conversion specifier applies to a ptrdiff_t or the corresponding unsigned integer type argument.

j

Length modifier specifying that a following d, o, u, x, or X conversion specifier applies to a intmax_t or uintmax_t argument.

Platform Dependencies

OS X uses several data types—NSInteger, NSUInteger,CGFloat, and CFIndex—to provide a consistent means of representing values in 32- and 64-bit environments. In a 32-bit environment, NSInteger and NSUInteger are defined as int and unsigned int, respectively. In 64-bit environments, NSInteger and NSUInteger are defined as long and unsigned long, respectively. To avoid the need to use different printf-style type specifiers depending on the platform, you can use the specifiers shown in Table 3. Note that in some cases you may have to cast the value.

Table 3  Format specifiers for data types

Type

Format specifier

Considerations

NSInteger

%ld or %lx

Cast the value to long.

NSUInteger

%lu or %lx

Cast the value to unsigned long.

CGFloat

%f or %g

%f works for floats and doubles when formatting; but note the technique described below for scanning.

CFIndex

%ld or %lx

The same as NSInteger.

pointer

%p or %zx

%p adds 0x to the beginning of the output. If you don't want that, use %zx and no typecast.

The following example illustrates the use of %ld to format an NSInteger and the use of a cast.

NSInteger i = 42;
printf("%ld\n", (long)i);

In addition to the considerations mentioned in Table 3, there is one extra case with scanning: you must distinguish the types for float and double. You should use %f for float, %lf for double. If you need to use scanf (or a variant thereof) with CGFloat, switch to double instead, and copy the double to CGFloat.

CGFloat imageWidth;
double tmp;
sscanf (str, "%lf", &tmp);
imageWidth = tmp;

It is important to remember that %lf does not represent CGFloat correctly on either 32- or 64-bit platforms. This is unlike %ld, which works for long in all cases.