Object communication in iOS with Notification Center

Notification Center is an Observer pattern, just like KVO we looked at last time. The NSNotificationCenter singleton allows us to broadcast information using an object called NSNotification. Observers will register with NSNotificationCenter and they will respond to certain notification events with a specific action. Whenever an NSNotification is posted, Notification Center goes through it’s dispatch table and notifies any registered observer of that particular notification. There could be multiple observers for a single notification, all responding in their own unique ways.

Notification Center should be used when you want to broadcast throughout your entire program that there are app-wide changes. This enables to you respond across multiple classes who are observing for the same notification. The biggest difference between KVO and Notification Center is that KVO tracks specific changes to an object, while Notification Center is used to track generic events, like when a button is pressed to post an action. And while KVO will provide you with information that’s changed, Notification Center only tells you that the event occurred. It’s up to you on how you want to respond to that event. Now you can pass extra data along with NSNotification, but you have to manually set that, versus it coming automatically with KVO.

You can access a singleton using NSNotificationCenter.defaultCenter(). To register with Notification Center, you need to call the addObserver(observer:selector:name:object:) method. Just like with KVO, if it is not required for you to continue observing with Notification Center, you’ll want to unregister your observers using the removeObserver(observer:name:object:) method. It is more likely to receive unintended actions due to leaving observers registered with Notification Center in comparison to KVO. This is because Notification Center allows for duplicate observer registration, meaning that you can register to observe the same NSNotification more than once. It’s common to register for notification observers in viewDidLoad and unregister them in viewDidDisappear and re-register them as your view is displayed again.

We’re going to use Notification Center to have observers in both the source class of the notification, the ViewController class, and a second class we’re going to name Destination. They will respond to the same event. We will post a NSNotification that will go through NSNotificationCenter’s dispatch table, and it’ll inform the observers so that they can perform their individual actions. Let’s create a new Single View Application project. In the storyboard add a button with a connected IBAction named submitAction, and a label with a connected IBOutlet named successLabel. In ViewController let’s create a helper method for our new label:

func showSuccessLabel() {
    successLabel.text = "I got notification in source class."
    successLabel.alpha = 1.0
    UIView.animateWithDuration(2.0, animations: { () -> Void in
        self.successLabel.alpha = 0.0

This method will simply show a message with a 2-second animation that consists in gradually changing the alpha for the label text, thus creating the effect of going from fully visible to completely invisible. Next we need a method that will be called when a notification is received:

func didReceiveSubmitNotification(notification: NSNotification) {

Next, we need to create a class constant for the notification name:

let submitNotification = "submitNotification"

Now we can register an observer in viewDidLoad():

NSNotificationCenter.defaultCenter().addObserver(self, selector: "didReceiveSubmitNotification:”, name: submitNotification, object: nil)

Finally, we need to fire the notification when the button is pressed, inside the submitAction() method:

NSNotificationCenter.defaultCenter().postNotificationName(submitNotification, object: nil)

If you run the app now you will notice that the notification fires every time we make a transaction and the message is displayed with animation. What we can do now is to add an action in the Destination class as well and make it fire when the same notification is received. For this, in the Destination class create the same constant for the notification name:

let submitNotification = "submitNotification"

Also add a method that will be called when a notification is received:

func update() {
    print("I got notification in destination class.")

func didReceiveSubmitNotification(notification: NSNotification) {

Then we need to register an observer inside the init() method:

override init() {
    NSNotificationCenter.defaultCenter().addObserver(self, selector: "didReceiveSubmitNotification:", name: submitNotification, object: nil)

Now all we need to do is create a Destination object in ViewController, and this will register an observer for the Destination class as well since was added in its init() method:

let destination = Destination()

Don’t forget to remove the observers once they fired, so we don’t see unexpected behaviors. Run the project and notice that firing the notification when the button is pressed will send the message to both classes. The source code is available on Github. Stay tuned for the last part of these series, next week.

Until next time!