Simple Cocoa Configuration Using Swift Structures

You might save yourself a lot of hassle

Apple’s introduction of Swift to the Cocoa development toolbox has created a buzz amongst Cocoaheads. The language is flexible and lends itself to new patterns which traditionally Objective-C programmers are excited about. I got excited about a pattern that emerged while working on a new version of the Dead Man’s Snitch iOS app: using Swift structs to store application configuration data.

Every technology ecosystem has a de-facto way of storing application configuration. Rubyists use readable YAML. Full-stack JavaScript engineers use the clear JSON format. And Java developers have tons of XML. But for Cocoa developers, there are several choices. YAML, JSON and plists just to name a few. But I for one am not a fan of these. I would argue that Swift’s structures are a clear winner over these other options.

Here is an example of a configuration file:

// Simple Configuration Example

struct Config {
    static let apiKey = "1234ABCD"
    static let googleAnalyticsToken = "12321-312-1238388"
    static let maxConnections = 10

Config.apiKey               //=> "1234ABCD"
Config.googleAnalyticsToken //=> "12321-312-1238388"
Config.maxConnections       //=> 10


This is much more preferable to say, using a YAML or PLIST file for configuration. To do that we’d have to create code to read in that file. And if we mis-type a key name, the application crashes with a runtime error since a value doesn’t exist for that key. With this Swift example, there’s no code which reads in a file, it just gets loaded when the application loads. As a bonus, if we don’t remember key names, XCode’s completion will remind us: simply type “Config-TAB” and we get a list of all possible options.

If you like to be organized, this format can be structured hierarchically in much the same way YAML or JSON can:

// Nested Configuration Example

struct Config {
    static let maxConnections = 10

    struct faceBook {
        static let secret = "12341234"
        static let key = "ABCD"

    struct twitter {
        static let secret = "9887"
        static let key = "9723"

Config.maxConnections  // 10
Config.faceBook.secret // "12341234"
Config.faceBook.key    // "ABCD"
Config.twitter.secret  // "9887"
Config.twitter.key     // "9723"


The greatest benefit of this code-as-configuration is that the values can be any object, not just numbers and strings. Additionally there is no intermediate step between the configuration file and our code to de-serialize the configuration value into an object. Here’s an example from the Dead Man’s Snitch iOS app:

// Example: A theme file used to share common styles across obejcts

import UIKit

struct Theme {
    static let debugBackground = UIColor.purpleColor()

    // Buttons
    static let buttonDisabled = UIColor(red:0.2431, green:0.5216, blue:0.6196, alpha:0.25)
    static let buttonNormal   = UIColor(red:0.2431, green:0.5216, blue:0.6196, alpha:1.0)
    static let buttonSelected = UIColor(red:0.2431, green:0.5216, blue:0.6196, alpha:0.75)

    static let backgroundPattern = UIColor(patternImage: UIImage(named: "pattern"))

    // Typeface
    static let defaultFont = UIFont(name: "ProximaNova-Regular", size:18.0)
    static let navBarFont  = UIFont(name: "ProximaNova-Regular", size:16.0)


By using a theme file rather than building up UIColors and UIFonts when they are needed, a developer doesn’t have to find every instance of say, UIColor(red:0.2431, green:0.5216, blue:0.6196, alpha:0.25) in order to update that color throughout the application. Changes can happen in one central place, and propagate through the app.

So in your next Cocoa app, give Swift structs a try. You might save yourself a ton of hassle.

Photo of Chris Rittersdorf

Chis has been interested in computers and programming since owning his first NES as a child. At Collective Idea, his expertise is in web and mobile development.


    Alan Snow
    June 02, 2015 at 17:49 PM

    Great Article, I absolutely despise plists because I feel like I’m using a modified version of an excel worksheet. This is a great use of a struct and is far easier to maintain and find what your looking for compared to the alternatives.

    May 06, 2016 at 10:09 AM

    Nice… Quick question;
    Can you create a reference be added to change the Bundle display name in the plist file? or any other field in the plist?