Object communication in iOS with Delegation

In the last two posts about object communication in iOS, we looked at KVO and the Notification Center. In the last part of this series we will look at Delegation. The delegate pattern is simple, yet powerful and present everywhere in iOS. Delegation is when a controller defines a protocol that describes what a delegate object must do in order to be allowed to respond to a controller’s events. In short, delegation allows one object to act on behalf of, or in conjunction with another object.

The delegating object holds a reference to a delegate and when it needs to, the delegating object sends a message to its delegate that informs it of an occurring event. The delegate then responds to the message accordingly by returning specific data, or by performing an update of itself or another object. This direct one-to-one connection between both objects can lead to custom object communication that doesn’t require a third party to manage.

In KVO and Notification Center (both observer patterns), an observer sees a particular event and then does something with it. With delegation, a delegate handles a particular event and takes ownership of the completion handler. When we want to have complete control over how and when communication between two objects should occur, delegation should be used. When architecting a project, the possibility of using delegation should be explored first before considering KVO and Notification Center.

Let’s create a new Single View Application project and then create a new class named Model that will implement a protocol and will have a delegate property:

protocol ModelDelegate {
    func respond()

class Model: NSObject {    
    var delegate: ModelDelegate?
    func delegateResponded() {
        print("Delegate said: ")

We also created a method that we will call from ViewController as a delegate and which calls the protocol method respond() which as you can see it is not implemented here yet. Then in ViewController, we need to conform to the ModelDelegate protocol, and tell it that this class will be its delegate. You will now have to implement the protocol required method:

class ViewController: UIViewController, ModelDelegate {
    override func viewDidLoad() {
        var model = Model()
        model.delegate = self
    func respond() {
        println("Hello, Protocol!")

Run the app and you should see this output:

Delegate said: Hello, Protocol!

To prove that it is not working without being a delegate of the Model class, comment out that line:

//model.delegate = self

If you run the app again, you will notice that the output changes to just:

Delegate said:

This happened because Model does not know who its delegate is anymore, so it cannot find a method named respond() implemented anywhere. The source code is available on Github.

Until next time!