Class

URLSession

The NSURLSession class and related classes provide an API for downloading content. This API provides a rich set of delegate methods for supporting authentication and gives your app the ability to perform background downloads when your app is not running or, in iOS, while your app is suspended.

Overview

The NSURLSession class natively supports the data, file, ftp, http, and https URL schemes, with transparent support for proxy servers and SOCKS gateways, as configured in the user’s system preferences. You can also add support for your own custom networking protocols and URL schemes (for your app’s private use).

With the NSURLSession API, your app creates one or more sessions, each of which coordinates a group of related data transfer tasks. For example, if you are writing a web browser, your app might create one session per tab or window, or one session for interactive use and another session for background downloads. Within each session, your app adds a series of tasks, each of which represents a request for a specific URL (following HTTP redirects if necessary).

The tasks within a given URL session share a common session configuration object, which defines connection behavior, such as the maximum number of simultaneous connections to make to a single host, whether to allow connections over a cellular network, and so on. The behavior of a session is determined in part by which method you call when creating its configuration object:

  • The singleton shared session (which has no configuration object) is for basic requests. It is not as customizable as sessions that you create, but it serves as a good starting point if you have very limited requirements. You access this session by calling the shared() class method. See that method’s discussion for more information about its limitations.

  • Default sessions behave much like the shared session (unless you customize them further), but let you obtain data incrementally using a delegate. You can create a default session configuration by calling the default() method on the URLSessionConfiguration class.

  • Ephemeral sessions are similar to default sessions, but do not write caches, cookies, or credentials to disk. You can create an ephemeral session configuration by calling the ephemeral() method on the URLSessionConfiguration class.

  • Background sessions let you perform uploads and downloads of content in the background while your app is not running. You can create a background session configuration by calling the backgroundSessionConfiguration(_:) method on the URLSessionConfiguration class.

The session configuration object also contains a reference to URL cache and cookie storage objects that may be used when making requests and handling the responses, depending on the configuration and request type.

The tasks in a session also share a common delegate that lets you provide and obtain information when various events occur—when authentication fails, when data arrives from the server, when data is ready to be cached, and so on. For all background downloads and uploads, you must provide a delegate that conforms to the URLSessionDownloadDelegate Objective-C protocol. Otherwise, if you don’t need any of the features provided by a delegate, you can use this API without providing a delegate by passing nil when you create a session.

Within a session, you create tasks that optionally upload data to a server, then retrieve data from the server either as a file on disk or as one or more NSData objects in memory. The NSURLSession API provides three types of tasks:

  • Data tasks send and receive data using NSData objects. Data tasks are intended for short, often interactive requests to a server.

  • Upload tasks are similar to data tasks, but they also send data (often in the form of a file), and support background uploads while the app is not running.

  • Download tasks retrieve data in the form of a file, and support background downloads and uploads while the app is not running.

Like most networking APIs, the NSURLSession API is highly asynchronous. It returns data to your app in one of two ways, depending on the methods you call:

  • To a completion handler block that is called when a transfer finishes successfully or with an error.

  • By calling methods on the session’s delegate as data is received and when the transfer is complete.

In addition to delivering this information to delegates, the NSURLSession API provides status and progress properties that you can query if you need to make programmatic decisions based on the current state of the task (with the caveat that its state can change at any time).

URL sessions also support canceling, restarting or resuming, and suspending tasks, and provide the ability to resume suspended, canceled, or failed downloads where they left off.

URL Session Class Hierarchy

The NSURLSession API consists of the following classes (nested to show subclass relationships):

In addition, the NSURLSession API provides four protocols that define delegate methods your app can implement to provide more fine-grained control over session and task behavior.

Finally, the NSURLSession API uses a number of classes that are also commonly used with other APIs such as NSURLConnection and NSURLDownload. Some of these shared classes include:

  • NSURL—An object that contains a URL.

  • NSURLRequest—Encapsulates metadata related to a URL request, including the URL, request method, and so on.

  • URLResponse—Encapsulates metadata related to a server’s response to a request, such as the content MIME type and length.

    • HTTPURLResponse—Adds additional metadata specific to HTTP requests, such as response headers.

  • CachedURLResponse—Encapsulates an URLResponse object, along with the actual body data of the server’s response, for caching purposes.

Authentication and TLS Customization

When a server requests authentication or provides credentials during TLS negotiation, the URL session calls methods on its delegate, allowing you to handle the authentication or certificate validation in a custom manner. The method it calls depends on whether you are handling a task-specific challenge or a session-wide challenge. Table 1 shows the difference between the two.

Table 1

Session-level and connection-level challenges

For task-specific challenges, the session calls its delegate’s urlSession(_:task:didReceive:completionHandler:) method.

For session-wide authentication challenges, the session calls its delegate’s urlSession(_:didReceive:completionHandler:) method if that method exists. Otherwise, it calls the delegate’s urlSession(_:task:didReceive:completionHandler:) method.

If you do not implement these methods, when a request requires client authentication, the URL session attempts to authenticate as follows:

  • Using the authentication information provided as part of the requested URL, if available

  • By looking up Internet passwords and certificates in the user’s keychain (in macOS) or the app’s keychain (in iOS)

Then, if credentials are not available, or if the server rejects the credentials, the connection continues without authenticating. For HTTP and HTTPS requests, the connection attempt fails with an appropriate HTTP status code, and may provide alternative content (such as the public version of a private site). For other URL types (such as FTP),the connection fails with a connection failure.

App Transport Security (ATS)

Starting in iOS 9.0 and OS X v10.11, a new security feature called App Transport Security (ATS) is enabled by default for all HTTP connections made with NSURLSession. ATS requires that HTTP connections use HTTPS (RFC 2818).

For more information, see NSAppTransportSecurity in the Information Property List Key Reference.

Using an URL Session

To make a request using the NSURLSession class:

  1. Create a session configuration. For background sessions, this configuration must contain a unique identifier. Store that identifier, and use it to reassociate with the session if your app crashes or is terminated or suspended.

  2. Create a session, specifying a configuration object and, optionally, a delegate.

  3. Create task objects within a session that each represent a resource request. These task objects are subclasses of URLSessionTaskURLSessionDataTask, URLSessionUploadTask, or URLSessionDownloadTask, depending on the behavior you are trying to achieve.

    Each task starts out in a suspended state. After your app calls resume() on the task, it begins downloading the specified resource.

After you start a task, the session calls methods on its delegate, as follows:

  1. If the initial handshake with the server requires a connection-level challenge (such as an SSL client certificate), NSURLSession calls either the urlSession(_:task:didReceive:completionHandler:) or urlSession(_:didReceive:completionHandler:) delegate method, as previously described in Authentication and TLS Customization.

    For more information about writing an authentication delegate method for NSURLSession, read URL Session Programming Guide.

  2. If the task’s data is provided from a stream, the NSURLSession object calls the delegate’s urlSession(_:task:needNewBodyStream:) delegate method to obtain an NSInputStream object that provides the body data for the new request.

  3. During the initial upload of body content to the server (if applicable), the delegate periodically receives urlSession(_:task:didSendBodyData:totalBytesSent:totalBytesExpectedToSend:) callbacks that report the progress of the upload.

  4. The server sends a response.

  5. If the response indicates that authentication is required, the session calls its delegate’s urlSession(_:task:didReceive:completionHandler:) method. Go back to step 2.

  6. If the response is an HTTP redirect response, the NSURLSession object calls the delegate’s urlSession(_:task:willPerformHTTPRedirection:newRequest:completionHandler:) method. That delegate method calls the provided completion handler with either the provided NSURLRequest object (to follow the redirect), a new NSURLRequest object (to redirect to a different URL), or nil (to treat the redirect’s response body as a valid response and return it as the result).

    • If you decide to follow the redirect, go back to step 2.

    • If the delegate doesn’t implement this method, the redirect is followed up to the maximum number of redirects.

  7. For a (re-)download task created by calling downloadTask(withResumeData:) or downloadTask(withResumeData:completionHandler:), NSURLSession calls the delegate’s urlSession(_:downloadTask:didResumeAtOffset:expectedTotalBytes:) method with the new task object.

  8. For a data task, the NSURLSession object calls the delegate’s urlSession(_:dataTask:didReceive:completionHandler:) method. Decide whether to convert the data task into a download task, and then call the completion callback to continue receiving data or downloading data.

    If your app chooses to convert the data task to a download task, NSURLSession calls the delegate’s urlSession(_:dataTask:didBecome:) method with the new download task as a parameter. After this call, the delegate receives no further callbacks from the data task, and begins receiving callbacks from the download task.

  9. During the transfer from the server, the delegate periodically receives a task-level callback to report the progress of the transfer.

    For a data task, the session calls the delegate’s urlSession(_:dataTask:didReceive:) method with the actual pieces of data as they are received.

    For a download task, the session calls the delegate’s urlSession(_:downloadTask:didWriteData:totalBytesWritten:totalBytesExpectedToWrite:) method with the number of bytes successfully written to disk. If the user tells your app to pause the download, cancel the task by calling the cancel(byProducingResumeData:) method.

    Later, if the user asks your app to resume the download, pass the returned resume data to either the downloadTask(withResumeData:) or downloadTask(withResumeData:completionHandler:) method to create a new download task that continues the download. (Go to step 1.)

  10. For a data task, the NSURLSession object may call the delegate’s urlSession(_:dataTask:willCacheResponse:completionHandler:) method. Your app should then decide whether to allow caching. If you do not implement this method, the default behavior is to use the caching policy specified in the session’s configuration object.

  11. If the response is multipart encoded, the session may call the delegate’s didReceiveResponse method again, followed by zero or more additional didReceiveData calls. If this happens, go to step 8 (handling the didReceiveResponse call).

  12. If a download task completes successfully, then the NSURLSession object calls the task’s urlSession(_:downloadTask:didFinishDownloadingTo:) method with the location of a temporary file. Your app must either read the response data from this file or move it to a permanent location before this delegate method returns.

  13. When any task completes, the NSURLSession object calls the delegate’s urlSession(_:task:didCompleteWithError:) method with either an error object or nil (if the task completed successfully).

    If the download task can be resumed, the NSError object’s userInfo dictionary contains a value for the NSURLSessionDownloadTaskResumeData key. Your app should pass this value to call downloadTask(withResumeData:) or downloadTask(withResumeData:completionHandler:) to create a new download task that continues the existing download.

    If the task cannot be resumed, your app should create a new download task and restart the transaction from the beginning.

    In either case, if the transfer failed for any reason other than a server error, go to step 3 (creating and resuming task objects).

  14. If you no longer need a session, you can invalidate it by calling either invalidateAndCancel() (to cancel outstanding tasks) or finishTasksAndInvalidate() (to allow outstanding tasks to finish before invalidating the object). If you don’t invalidate the session, it automatically goes away when your app is terminated (unless it’s a background session with active tasks).

    After invalidating the session, when all outstanding tasks have been canceled or have finished, the session calls the delegate's urlSession(_:didBecomeInvalidWithError:) method. When that delegate method returns, the session disposes of its strong reference to the delegate.

If your app cancels an in-progress download, the NSURLSession object calls the delegate’s urlSession(_:task:didCompleteWithError:) method as though an error occurred.

Background Transfer Considerations

Because restarting your app (or waiting for the user to relaunch it) is relatively expensive, some features are unavailable in background sessions. As a result:

  • The session must provide a delegate for event delivery. Because your app might quit and be relaunched while the transfer is in progress, completion handler blocks are not supported. (For uploads and downloads, these delegates behave the same as for in-process transfers.)

  • Only HTTP and HTTPS protocols are supported. Other built-in networking protocols are not supported, and neither are custom networking protocols.

  • Only upload and download tasks are supported (no data tasks).

  • Redirects are always followed.

  • The number of system-wide concurrent background transfers is limited.

  • A background task may be cancelled if it fails to meet a system-specified throughput limit. That is to say, if a long-running task is not sending or receiving enough data over a period of time, it may be cancelled to be resumed later. Therefore, it is important to make a transfer resumable, if possible.

  • If the background transfer is initiated while the app is in the background, the task is treated as discretionary. In other words, it behaves like a task in a session whose configuration object’s isDiscretionary property is true.

If these limitations are incompatible with your app’s needs, you can also download remote resources to a file in non-background sessions. If you do, then when the user puts your iOS app into the background or quits your macOS app, pause any active downloads by calling the cancel(byProducingResumeData:) method. Resume the downloads when the user brings your app to the foreground again. If your app is terminated before you have obtained resume data, you’ll be unable to resume the download.

NSCopying Behavior

Session and task objects conform to the NSCopying protocol as follows:

  • When your app copies a session or task object, you get the same object back.

  • When your app copies a configuration object, you get a new copy that you can independently modify.

Thread Safety

The URL session API itself is fully thread-safe. You can freely create sessions and tasks in any thread context, and when your delegate methods call the provided completion handlers, the work is automatically scheduled on the correct delegate queue.

Nested Types

NSURLSessionResponseDisposition

Constants indicating how a data or upload session should proceed after receiving the initial headers.

NSURLSessionAuthChallengeDisposition

Constants passed by session or task delegates to the provided continuation block in response to an authentication challenge.

Symbols

Creating a Session

init(configuration: URLSessionConfiguration)

Creates a session with the specified session configuration.

init(configuration: URLSessionConfiguration, delegate: URLSessionDelegate?, delegateQueue: OperationQueue?)

Creates a session with the specified session configuration, delegate, and operation queue.

Configuring a Session

var configuration: URLSessionConfiguration

A copy of the configuration object for this session.

var delegate: URLSessionDelegate?

The delegate assigned when this object was created.

var delegateQueue: OperationQueue

The operation queue provided when this object was created.

var sessionDescription: String?

An app-defined descriptive label for the session.

Adding Data Tasks to a Session

func dataTask(with: URL)

Creates a task that retrieves the contents of the specified URL.

func dataTask(with: URL, completionHandler: (Data?, URLResponse?, Error?) -> Void)

Creates a task that retrieves the contents of the specified URL, then calls a handler upon completion. The task bypasses calls to delegate methods for response and data delivery, and instead provides any resulting NSData, URLResponse, and NSError objects inside the completion handler. Delegate methods for handling authentication challenges, however, are still called.

func dataTask(with: URLRequest)

Creates a task that retrieves the contents of a URL based on the specified URL request object.

func dataTask(with: URLRequest, completionHandler: (Data?, URLResponse?, Error?) -> Void)

Creates a task that retrieves the contents of a URL based on the specified URL request object, and calls a handler upon completion. The task bypasses calls to delegate methods for response and data delivery, and instead provides any resulting NSData, URLResponse, and NSError objects inside the completion handler. Delegate methods for handling authentication challenges, however, are still called.

Adding Download Tasks to a Session

func downloadTask(with: URL)

Creates a download task that retrieves the contents of the specified URL and saves the results to a file.

func downloadTask(with: URL, completionHandler: (URL?, URLResponse?, Error?) -> Void)

Creates a download task that retrieves the contents of the specified URL, saves the results to a file, and calls a handler upon completion. The task bypasses calls to delegate methods for response and data delivery, and instead provides any resulting NSData, URLResponse, and NSError objects inside the completion handler. Delegate methods for handling authentication challenges, however, are still called.

func downloadTask(with: URLRequest)

Creates a download task that retrieves the contents of a URL based on the specified URL request object and saves the results to a file.

func downloadTask(with: URLRequest, completionHandler: (URL?, URLResponse?, Error?) -> Void)

Creates a download task that retrieves the contents of a URL based on the specified URL request object, saves the results to a file, and calls a handler upon completion. The task bypasses calls to delegate methods for response and data delivery, and instead provides any resulting NSURL, URLResponse, and NSError objects inside the completion handler. Delegate methods for handling authentication challenges, however, are still called.

func downloadTask(withResumeData: Data)

Creates a download task to resume a previously canceled or failed download.

func downloadTask(withResumeData: Data, completionHandler: (URL?, URLResponse?, Error?) -> Void)

Creates a download task to resume a previously canceled or failed download and calls a handler upon completion. The task bypasses calls to delegate methods for response and data delivery, and instead provides any resulting NSURL, URLResponse, and NSError objects inside the completion handler. Delegate methods for handling authentication challenges, however, are still called.

Adding Upload Tasks to a Session

func uploadTask(with: URLRequest, from: Data)

Creates a task that performs an HTTP request for the specified URL request object and uploads the provided data.

func uploadTask(with: URLRequest, from: Data?, completionHandler: (Data?, URLResponse?, Error?) -> Void)

Creates a task that performs an HTTP request for the specified URL request object, uploads the provided data, and calls a handler upon completion. The task bypasses calls to delegate methods for response and data delivery, and instead provides any resulting NSData, URLResponse, and NSError objects inside the completion handler. Delegate methods for handling authentication challenges, however, are still called.

func uploadTask(with: URLRequest, fromFile: URL)

Creates a task that performs an HTTP request for uploading the specified file.

func uploadTask(with: URLRequest, fromFile: URL, completionHandler: (Data?, URLResponse?, Error?) -> Void)

Creates a task that performs an HTTP request for uploading the specified file, then calls a handler upon completion. The task bypasses calls to delegate methods for response and data delivery, and instead provides any resulting NSData, URLResponse, and NSError objects inside the completion handler. Delegate methods for handling authentication challenges, however, are still called.

func uploadTask(withStreamedRequest: URLRequest)

Creates a task that performs an HTTP request for uploading data based on the specified URL request.

Adding Stream Tasks to a Session

func streamTask(withHostName: String, port: Int)

Creates a task that establishes a bidirectional TCP/IP connection to a specified hostname and port.

func streamTask(with: NetService)

Creates a task that establishes a bidirectional TCP/IP connection using a specified network service.

Managing the Session

func finishTasksAndInvalidate()

Invalidates the session, allowing any outstanding tasks to finish.

func flush(completionHandler: () -> Void)

Flushes cookies and credentials to disk, clears transient caches, and ensures that future requests occur on a new TCP connection.

func getTasksWithCompletionHandler( ([URLSessionDataTask], [URLSessionUploadTask], [URLSessionDownloadTask]) -> Void)

Asynchronously calls a completion callback with all data, upload, and download tasks in a session.

func invalidateAndCancel()

Cancels all outstanding tasks and then invalidates the session.

func reset(completionHandler: () -> Void)

Empties all cookies, caches and credential stores, removes disk files, flushes in-progress downloads to disk, and ensures that future requests occur on a new socket.

Constants

NSURLSession-Specific NSError userInfo Dictionary Keys

Keys used in conjunction with NSError objects returned by the NSURLSession API.

Background Task Cancellation reasons

Constants that indicate why a background task was cancelled.

Transfer Size Constant

A constant denoting an unknown transfer size.

Relationships

Inherits From

Conforms To