About iOS Collection Views

A collection view is a way to present an ordered set of data items using a flexible and changeable layout. The most common use for collection views is to present items in a grid-like arrangement, but collection views in iOS are capable of more than just rows and columns. With collection views, the precise layout of visual elements is definable through subclassing and can be changed dynamically, so you can implement grids, stacks, circular layouts, dynamically changing layouts, or any type of arrangement you can imagine.

Collection views keep a strict separation between the data being presented and the visual elements used to present that data. In most cases, your app is solely responsible for managing the data. Your app also provides the view objects used to present that data. After that, the collection view takes your views and does all the work of positioning them onscreen. It does this work in conjunction with a layout object, which specifies the placement and visual attributes for your views and that can be subclassed to fit your app’s exact needs. Thus, you provide the data, the layout object provides the placement information, and the collection view merges the two pieces together to achieve the final appearance.

At a Glance

The standard iOS collection view classes provide all of the behavior you need to implement simple grids. You can also extend the standard classes to support custom layouts and specific interactions with those layouts.

A Collection View Manages the Visual Presentation of Data-Driven Views

A collection view facilitates the presentation of data-driven views provided by your app. The collection view’s only concern is taking your views and laying them out in a specific way. The collection view is all about the presentation and arrangement of your views and not about their content. Understanding the interactions between the collection view, its data source, the layout object, and your custom objects is crucial for using collection views in your app, particularly in smart and efficient ways.

The Flow Layout Supports Grids and Other Line-Oriented Presentations

A flow layout object is a concrete layout object provided by UIKit. You typically use the flow layout object to implement grids—that is, rows and columns of items—but the flow layout supports any type of linear flow. Because it is not just for grids, you can use the flow layout to create interesting and flexible arrangements of your content both with and without subclassing. The flow layout supports items of different sizes, variable spacing of items, custom headers and footers, and custom margins without subclassing. And subclassing allows you to tweak the behavior of the flow layout class even further.

Gesture Recognizers Can Be Used for Cell and Layout Manipulations

Like all views, you can attach gesture recognizers to a collection view to manipulate the content of that view. Because a collection view involves the collaboration of multiple views, it helps to understand some basic techniques for incorporating gesture recognizers into your collection views. You can use gesture recognizers to tweak layout attributes or to manipulate items in a collection view.

Custom Layouts Let You Go Beyond Grids

You can subclass the basic layout object to implement custom layouts for your app. Even though designing a custom layout does not typically require a large amount of code, the more you understand how layouts work, the better you can design your layout objects to be efficient. The guide’s final chapter focuses on an example project with a full implementation of a custom layout.


Before reading this document, you should have a solid understanding of the role views play in iOS apps. If you are new to iOS programming and not familiar with the iOS view architecture, read View Programming Guide for iOS before reading this book.

See Also

Collection views are somewhat related to table views, in that both present ordered data to the user. The implementation of a table view is similar to that of a standard collection view (one which uses the provided flow layout) in its use of index paths, cells, and view recycling. However, the visual presentation of table views is geared around a single-column layout, whereas collection views can support many different layouts. For more information about table views, see Table View Programming Guide for iOS.