Populating a Table View Programmatically

To populate a table view programmatically, you must implement the NSTableViewDataSource and the NSTableViewDelegate protocols. Both protocols contain methods that are essential to providing the content and creating the cells for the table view. Specifically, you must implement:

Implementing the Data Source

The data source method is required for the table to work. Fortunately, the method’s implementation is very straightforward.

Listing 3-1 shows a simple implementation of the data source method numberOfRowsInTableView:, which simply returns the number of items in the array of name strings.

Listing 3-1  A simple implementation of numberOfRowsInTableView

- (NSInteger)numberOfRowsInTableView:(NSTableView *)tableView {
   return nameArray.count;

Implementing the Delegate

The NSTableViewDelegate is responsible for providing the cell that’s displayed in the table view, along with implementing any target-action or notification code so that it can interact with the delegate. What follows are two simple implementations of tableView:viewForTableColumn:row: that can be used to display the content of the namesArray model object. The first implementation uses a text field object for the cell of the table view; the second uses a custom table cell view that’s been defined in Interface Builder.

In both of these simple cases no action is required by the cell. But if the cell view contained buttons, allowed editing, or was required to interact with the delegate, it would have to use target-action or notifications to work. For an example of implementing some of these actions, see the “Complex TableView” example in the TableViewPlayground sample project.

Creating and Configuring an NSTextField Cell

The NSTableViewDelegate method tableView:viewForTableColumn:row: creates and configures the cell that’s displayed in the table view. The pseudocode in Listing 3-2 creates an NSTextField object as the cell and populates it with the appropriate name for the row. (In this example, the table has only one column.)

Listing 3-2  A simple implementation of tableView:viewForTableColumn:row: that returns a text field

- (NSView *)tableView:(NSTableView *)tableView
   viewForTableColumn:(NSTableColumn *)tableColumn
                  row:(NSInteger)row {
    // Get an existing cell with the MyView identifier if it exists
    NSTextField *result = [tableView makeViewWithIdentifier:@"MyView" owner:self];
    // There is no existing cell to reuse so create a new one
    if (result == nil) {
         // Create the new NSTextField with a frame of the {0,0} with the width of the table.
         // Note that the height of the frame is not really relevant, because the row height will modify the height.
         result = [[NSTextField alloc] initWithFrame:...];
         // The identifier of the NSTextField instance is set to MyView.
         // This allows the cell to be reused.
         result.identifier = @"MyView";
      // result is now guaranteed to be valid, either as a reused cell
      // or as a new cell, so set the stringValue of the cell to the
      // nameArray value at row
      result.stringValue = [self.nameArray objectAtIndex:row];
      // Return the result
      return result;

The code in Listing 3-2 first calls makeViewWithIdentifier:owner:, passing the identifier @"MyView" to determine whether there is a cell view available in the pool of resuable cells. If a resuable cell is available, the code assigns the specified row’s nameArray value to the text field’s stringValue property and returns the result.

If no cell with the identifier @"MyView" is available, a new text field is created. The code sets the new text field’s identifier to @"MyView" so that it can be reused when the opportunity arises. Finally, as in the first case, the stringValue of the text field is set to the correct nameArray value and the result is returned.

Getting a Table Cell View from Interface Builder

The most likely situation is that you’ll have designed a cell in Interface Builder and will want to fetch it and then populate the values in that cell. The implementation for this situation is shown in Listing 3-3. This example assumes that there is already a table created in Interface Builder with a column identifier of @"MyView" and a cell view that also has the identifier @"MyView".

Listing 3-3  A simple implementation of tableView:viewForTableColumn:row: that returns a table cell view

- (NSView *)tableView:(NSTableView *)tableView
   viewForTableColumn:(NSTableColumn *)tableColumn
                  row:(NSInteger)row {
      // Retrieve to get the @"MyView" from the pool or,
      // if no version is available in the pool, load the Interface Builder version
      NSTableCellView *result = [tableView makeViewWithIdentifier:@"MyView" owner:self];
      // Set the stringValue of the cell's text field to the nameArray value at row
      result.textField.stringValue = [self.nameArray objectAtIndex:row];
      // Return the result
      return result;

This implementation attempts to retrieve a cell view with the @"MyView" identifier from the pool of reusable cells. If there is no reusable view, the code looks in Interface Builder for the table column and cell with the @"MyView" identifier. Once found, the makeViewWithIdentifier:owner: method returns the cell view and the rest of the code sets the cell’s the string value.