NSValue and Boxed Expressions

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Few hours ago I finally finished with my patch to Clang. It took a lot of time, but for me it is the most interesting and challenging OSS contribution so far.

I’m not going to dive deep into the details, but will give an overview of the new feature it brings to Objective-C.

For those of you who want to see the code and documentation: code docs

Boxed Expressions and Structures

Boxed expressions got limited support of NSValue:

NSValue *center = @(view.center);    // Point p = view.center;
                                     // [NSValue valueWithBytes:&p objCType:@encode(Point)];
NSValue *frame = @(view.frame);      // Rect r = view.frame;
                                     // [NSValue valueWithBytes:&r objCType:@encode(Rect)];

To use boxed expressions on a C struct or union you’ve defined, mark it as objc_boxable first:

struct __attribute__((objc_boxable)) Point {
    int x, y;

typedef struct __attribute__((objc_boxable)) _Size {
    int width, height;
} Size;

For C structs or unions defined in a different part of your code (legacy, third-party), simply ‘enable’ this feature before using it:

typedef struct _Rect {
	Point origin;
  Size size;
} Rect;

Rect r;
NSValue *bad_rect = @(r);       // error

typedef struct __attribute__((objc_boxable)) _Rect Rect;

NSValue *good_rect = @(r);      // ok


To write backward compatible code you need to check for attribute and feature availability:

#if __has_attribute(objc_boxable)
    typedef struct __attribute__((objc_boxable)) _Rect Rect;

CABasicAnimation animation = [CABasicAnimation animationWithKeyPath:@"position"];
#if __has_feature(objc_boxed_nsvalue_expressions)
    animation.fromValue = @(layer.position);
    animation.toValue = @(newPosition);
    animation.fromValue = [NSValue valueWithCGPoint:layer.position];
    animation.toValue = [NSValue valueWithCGPoint:newPosition];
[layer addAnimation:animation forKey:@"move"];

Boring Numbers

  • 222 days since first version of patch
  • 85 commits in an own fork of clang
  • 50 emails in the mail thread
  • 8 versions of the patch
  • 3 different implementations
  • 1 retired reviewer

That’s it

It took about 7 months to deliver this feature. While I didn’t work on it every week, it was quite the effort. Nonetheless, the result was worth it. So next time you feel like there is no end in sight with a patch you’re trying to get merged, don’t despair - that sweet LGTM will come!

Drop me a line or ping me on twitter or Mastodon if you have questions!