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Objective-C Language Structs


  • typedef struct { typeA propertyA; typeB propertyB; ... } StructName


In Objective C, you should almost always use an object instead of a struct. However, there are still cases where using a struct is better, such as:

  • When you're going to be creating and destroying a lot of values of the (struct) type, so you need good performance and small memory usage
  • Structs are faster to create and use because when calling a method on an object, the method has to be determined at runtime
  • Structs take up less size because objects have an extra property isa, which holds their class
  • When the value has only a couple of properties and a small total size (take CGSize; it has 2 floats which are 4 bytes each, so it can take up 8 bytes), and is going to be used a lot (ties in with the first point)
  • When you could use unions or bitfields, and importantly, need the size saved by them because you need small memory usage (ties in with the first point)
  • When you really want to store an array inside of the struct, since Objective-C objects can't directly store C-arrays. However, note that you can still "indirectly" get an array in an Objective-C object by making it a reference (i.e. type * in place of the C-array type[])
  • When you need to communicate with some other code, such as a library, that's coded in C; structs are fully implemented in C but objects are not


One really good example of a struct is CGPoint; it's a simple value that represents a 2-dimensional point. It has 2 properties, x and y, and can be written as

typedef struct {
    CGFloat x;
    CGFloat y;
} CGPoint;

If you used Objective-C for Mac or iOS app development before, you've almost certainly come across CGPoint; CGPoints hold the position of pretty much everything on screen, from views and controls to objects in a game to changes in a gradient. This means that CGPoints are used a lot. This is even more true with really performance-heavy games; these games tend to have a lot of objects, and all of these objects need positions. These positions are often either CGPoints, or some other type of struct that conveys a point (such as a 3-dimensional point for 3d games).

Points like CGPoint could easily be represented as objects, like

@interface CGPoint {
    CGFloat x;
    CGFloat y;

... //Point-related methods (e.g. add, isEqualToPoint, etc.)

@property(nonatomic, assign)CGFloat x;
@property(nonatomic, assign)CGFloat y;


@implementation CGPoint

@synthesize x, y;



However, if CGPoint was used in this way it would take a lot longer to create and manipulate points. In smaller, faster programs this wouldn't really cause a difference, and in those cases it would be OK or maybe even better to use object points. But in large programs where points are be used a lot, using objects as points can really hurt performance, making the program slower, and also waste memory, which could force the program to crash.

Defining a Structure and Accessing Structure Members

The format of the struct statement is this:

struct [structure tag]
   member definition;
   member definition;
   member definition;
} [one or more structure variables]; 

Example: declare the ThreeFloats structure:

   typedef struct {
    float x, y, z;
} ThreeFloats;

@interface MyClass
- (void)setThreeFloats:(ThreeFloats)threeFloats;
- (ThreeFloats)threeFloats;

Sending an instance of MyClass the message valueForKey: with the parameter @"threeFloats" will invoke the MyClass method threeFloats and return the result wrapped in an NSValue.

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