Tab Bar Controller Guide

Overview

Tab bar controllers are implemented by the UITabBarController class. They allow a user of to switch between multiple arbitrary view controllers by maintaining an array of UIViewControllers.

They can be used to allow the user to navigate between entirely different parts of your application, or they can be used to display two different views of the same backing data. Tab bar controllers also have the built-in ability to display a "More..." interface when more than 5 tabs are added. They can also let the user customize which tabs are shown by on the main tab bar when there are more than 5 tabs. An example of this behavior is found in the standard iOS "Music" app (previously "iTunes").

This guide covers common use cases for tab bar controllers. A more in depth guide by Apple can be found here

In order to demonstrate basic functionality of the UITabBarController we will build a very basic clone of the standard iOS "Clock" app. Our app will have only two tabs one to display the current time, and the other will implement the stopwatch functionality.

Using tab bar controllers in storyboards

We create a new "Single View Application" and add two subclasses of UIViewController via File -> New -> iOS -> Source -> Cocoa Touch Class. We create a ClockViewController and a StopwatchViewController.

We open up our Main.storyboard and go ahead and delete the pregenerated view controller. Dragging a "Tab Bar Controller" from the Object Library into the storyboard automatically creates two view controllers that are already in the tab bar controller's array of view controllers. We also set the the the tab bar controller to be our application's root view controller selecting it and by ticking the Is Initial View Controller checkbox.

Adding tabs to the tab bar controller

We can add more tabs by dragging a new view controller frm the Object Library onto the storyboard and then control-dragging from the tab bar controller to our the new view controller and then selecting Relationship Segues -> view controllers. This will add the new view controller to the tab bar controller's array of view controllers. It also automatically adds a tab bar item to our new view controller which will alow us to configure the appearance of the button that represents this view controller in the tab bar.

In our case we only needed two view controllers total, but we removed and readded one above to illustrate the technique.

We set the Custom Class property of one of the view controllers in our tab bar to ClockViewController and the other to StopwatchViewController. Now we can design our view controllers and connect @IBOutlets as we would any other view controller.

We add a single label to the ClockViewController. It will display the current time. We add a label to the StopwatchViewController top display the elapsed time and add two buttons for "start" and "stop/reset". We add @IBOutlets for our two labels and add @IBActions to respond to each button being tapped.

Finally we can add the code to make our clock tick

class ClockViewController: UIViewController {

    @IBOutlet weak var timeLabel: UILabel!

    var timer: NSTimer?
    let dateFormatter = NSDateFormatter()

    func updateTime() {
        timeLabel.text = dateFormatter.stringFromDate(NSDate())
    }

    override func viewDidLoad() {
        dateFormatter.dateFormat = "hh:mm:ss"
        updateTime()
    }

    override func viewDidAppear(animated: Bool) {
        super.viewDidAppear(animated)
        timer = NSTimer.scheduledTimerWithTimeInterval(1.0, target: self, selector: "updateTime", userInfo: nil, repeats: true)
    }

    override func viewWillDisappear(animated: Bool) {
        super.viewWillDisappear(animated)
        timer?.invalidate()
    }
}
import UIKit

class StopwatchViewController: UIViewController {

    @IBOutlet weak var elapsedTimeLabel: UILabel!

    let dateFormatter = NSDateFormatter()

    var elapsedTimeAtStop: NSTimeInterval = 0
    var dateAtStart: NSDate?
    var timer: NSTimer?

    override func viewDidLoad() {
        dateFormatter.dateFormat = "mm:ss.S"
        dateFormatter.timeZone = NSTimeZone(abbreviation: "UTC")
        updateElapsedTime()
    }

    func updateElapsedTime() {
        elapsedTimeLabel.text = dateFormatter.stringFromDate(dateForFormatter())
    }

    private func dateForFormatter() -> NSDate {
        if let startDate = self.dateAtStart? {
            let intervalSinceStart = NSDate().timeIntervalSinceDate(startDate)
            let totalElapsedTime = elapsedTimeAtStop + intervalSinceStart
            return NSDate(timeIntervalSince1970: totalElapsedTime)
        }
        return NSDate(timeIntervalSince1970: elapsedTimeAtStop)
    }

    @IBAction func startButtonTapped(sender: AnyObject) {
        if dateAtStart == nil {
            dateAtStart = NSDate()
            timer = NSTimer.scheduledTimerWithTimeInterval(1.0/10.0, target: self, selector: "updateElapsedTime", userInfo: nil, repeats: true)
        }
    }

    @IBAction func stopButtonTapped(sender: AnyObject) {
        if let startDate = dateAtStart? { // stop
            elapsedTimeAtStop += NSDate().timeIntervalSinceDate(startDate)
        } else { // reset
            elapsedTimeAtStop = 0
        }

        timer?.invalidate()
        timer = nil
        dateAtStart = nil
        updateElapsedTime()
    }
}

Programatically setting up a tab bar controller

If you have 2 view controllers vc1 and vc2 created programmatically, then you can instantiate a UITabBarController and initialize it like this:

let tabBarController = UITabBarController()
tabBarController.viewControllers = [vc1, vc2]

Before we set up tab view controller programmatically, we need to remove the tab view controller that we added in the Interface Builder (IB).

In IB, remove the segues you have from tab bar view controller to both clock view controller and stop watch view controller. After that delete the tab view controller altogether from IB.

Your story board should look something like this now:

When the app starts up, our AppDelegate's function didFinishLaunchingWithOptions gets called. This is where we can do any custom view controller set up.

This is sample code from AppDelegate.swift:

func application(application: UIApplication, didFinishLaunchingWithOptions launchOptions: [NSObject: AnyObject]?) -> Bool {
        // create UIWindow with the same size as main screen
        window = UIWindow(frame: UIScreen.mainScreen().bounds)
        
        // create story board. Default story board will be named as Main.storyboard in your project.
        let storyboard = UIStoryboard(name: "Main", bundle: nil)
        
        // create view controllers from storyboard
        // Make sure you set Storyboard ID for both the viewcontrollers in 
        // Interface Builder -> Identitiy Inspector -> Storyboard ID
        let clockViewController = storyboard.instantiateViewControllerWithIdentifier("ClockViewController")
        let stopWatchViewController = storyboard.instantiateViewControllerWithIdentifier("StopWatchViewController")
        
        // Set up the Tab Bar Controller to have two tabs
        let tabBarController = UITabBarController()
        tabBarController.viewControllers = [clockViewController, stopWatchViewController]
        
        // Make the Tab Bar Controller the root view controller
        window?.rootViewController = tabBarController
        window?.makeKeyAndVisible()

        return true
    }

Make sure you provide story board id for both clock and stop watch view controllers in IB so that they can be initialized in code:

Responding to a tab being selected

to be completed

The "More.." button

The tab bar has limited space for displaying your custom items. If you add six or more custom view controllers to a tab bar controller, the tab bar controller displays only the first four items plus the standard More item on the tab bar. Tapping the More item brings up a standard interface for selecting the remaining items.

import UIKit

@UIApplicationMain
class AppDelegate: UIResponder, UIApplicationDelegate {

    var window: UIWindow?

    func application(application: UIApplication, didFinishLaunchingWithOptions launchOptions: [NSObject: AnyObject]?) -> Bool {
        window = UIWindow(frame: UIScreen.mainScreen().bounds)
        
        let vc1 = setUpViewController("First", backgroundColor: UIColor.orangeColor())
        let vc2 = setUpViewController("Second", backgroundColor: UIColor.purpleColor())
        let vc3 = setUpViewController("Third", backgroundColor: UIColor.redColor())
        let vc4 = setUpViewController("Fourth", backgroundColor: UIColor.greenColor())
        let vc5 = setUpViewController("Fifth", backgroundColor: UIColor.blueColor())
        let vc6 = setUpViewController("Sixth", backgroundColor: UIColor.yellowColor())
        
        // Set up the Tab Bar Controller
        let tabBarController = UITabBarController()
        tabBarController.viewControllers = [vc1, vc2, vc3, vc4, vc5, vc6]
        
        // Make the Tab Bar Controller the root view controller
        window?.rootViewController = tabBarController
        window?.makeKeyAndVisible()

        return true
    }
    
    func setUpViewController(title: String, backgroundColor: UIColor) -> UIViewController {
        let vc = UIViewController()
        vc.view.backgroundColor = backgroundColor
        vc.tabBarItem.title = title
        vc.tabBarItem.image = UIImage(named: "star")
        return vc
    }
}

In More tab, user can tap on Edit button. That will allow user to reorder tabs so that they can pick the which 4 view controllers will appear on the tab view and which view controllers will be in More tab.

Configuring what is allowed to be reordered

By default, the user is allowed to rearrange all items on the tab bar. You can specify what view controllers user can rearrange by setting the customizableViewControllers property. By default, all the items added to tab bar are also added to customizableViewControllers.

If we don't want to allow user to change the view controllers for the first 2 tabs, then we can set customizableViewControllers to the other 4 view controllers:

let tabBarController = UITabBarController()
tabBarController.viewControllers = [vc1, vc2, vc3, vc4, vc5, vc6]
tabBarController.customizableViewControllers = [vc3, vc4, vc5, vc6]

In More tab -> Edit, user can now only see and reorder 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th tabs.

  • add screenshot -

Customizing the appearance of the tab bar

to be completed

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