iOS: One Macro to Help Dependency Injection

Learn how to improve the readability and predictability of your dependency injection in Objective-C.

Dependency Injection

Dependency Injection isn't new, but for some reason it's taken a while for the iOS community to really get behind it. In August 2014 a great introduction appeared on Jon Reid discussed the pros and cons of three different approaches, Constructor Injection, Property Injection, and Method Injection. As always, each work better in different scenarios.

A quick overview of the three for those that missed it:

  • Constructor Injection - pass in dependencies via an overloaded -init method
  • Property Injection - lazy load dependencies but explicitly set them under test
  • Method Injection - pass in the dependency to each method when needed

Constructor Injection

If you have been exploring Constructor Injection you might be worried an object could be created without its dependencies. For example:

@interface Object : NSObject
- (instancetype)initWithDependency:(id<Protocol>)dependency;

There's nothing stopping a consumer of this object to using the default -init method. This could lead to unexpected behavior due to Objective-C's "nice nil" policy. (That's where calling a method on nil doesn't throw an exception, unlike some other languages.)

What can we do about this? We could try raising an exception in the method that uses the dependency.

- (void)performOperationWithDependency {
    if (!self.dependency) {
        [[NSException exceptionWithName:NSInternalInconsistencyException
                                reason:@"No dependency found!"
                               userInfo:nil] raise];
    // do actual work...

Now this works quite well as the problem is explicit. It's obvious what the issue is and fixing it should be straightforward. But I think we can do one better; let's refactor.

What if we were able to inform the consumer earlier? What if the consumer knew there was something missing before the app even finished compiling?


Buried in the NSObjCRuntime header we find a seemingly useless macro, NS_UNAVAILABLE. We can attach this to the end of a method declaration to inform consumers that an object doesn't respond to that selector.

@interface Object : NSObject
- (instancetype)init NS_UNAVAILABLE;
- (instancetype)initWithDependency:(id<Protocol>)dependency;

Now you can't initialize this object without its dependency. The best part is that it occurs at build time and won't even show up in the autocomplete results.

init is unavailable

We can take this one step farther by adding a __nonnull annotation. Now we can guarantee that our object is set up with all its dependencies in order.

- (instancetype)initWithDependency:(id<Protocol> __nonnull)dependency;

If you are using Xcode 7 you can take advantage of the new Nullability syntax for Objective-C. The nonnull annotation must appear immediately after an open parenthesis. Thanks to Apro in the comments for the suggestion!

- (instancetype)initWithDependency:(nonnull id<Protocol>)dependency;

Dependency Injection can be tricky. There's no need to add additional complexity with extra frameworks when we can use simple constructor injection. By taking advantage of a simple macro and annotation we can guarantee that every dependency is set up at compile time.

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