Objective-C selectors in Xamarin.iOS

The Objective-C language is based upon selectors. A selector is a message that can be sent to an object or a class. Xamarin.iOS maps instance selectors to instance methods, and class selectors to static methods.

Unlike normal C functions (and like C++ member functions), you cannot directly invoke a selector using P/Invoke Instead, selectors are sent to an Objective-C class or instance using the objc_msgSend function.

For more information about messages in Objective-C, take a look at Apple's Working with Objects guide.

Example

Suppose you want to invoke the sizeWithFont:forWidth:lineBreakMode: selector on NSString. The declaration (from Apple's documentation) is:

- (CGSize)sizeWithFont:(UIFont *)font forWidth:(CGFloat)width lineBreakMode:(UILineBreakMode)lineBreakMode

This API has the following characteristics:

  • The return type is CGSize for the Unified API.
  • The font parameter is a UIFont (and a type (indirectly) derived from NSObject), and is mapped to System.IntPtr.
  • The width parameter, a CGFloat, is mapped to nfloat.
  • The lineBreakMode parameter, a UILineBreakMode, has already been bound in Xamarin.iOS as the UILineBreakMode enumeration.

Putting it all together, the objc_msgSend declaration should match:

CGSize objc_msgSend(
    IntPtr target, 
    IntPtr selector, 
    IntPtr font, 
    nfloat width, 
    UILineBreakMode mode
);

Declare it as follows:

[DllImport (Constants.ObjectiveCLibrary, EntryPoint="objc_msgSend")]
static extern CGSize cgsize_objc_msgSend_IntPtr_float_int (
    IntPtr target, 
    IntPtr selector,
    IntPtr font,
    nfloat width,
    UILineBreakMode mode
);

To call this method, use code such as the following:

NSString target = ...
Selector selector = new Selector ("sizeWithFont:forWidth:lineBreakMode:");
UIFont font = ...
nfloat width = ...
UILineBreakMode mode = ...

CGSize size = cgsize_objc_msgSend_IntPtr_float_int(
    target.Handle, 
    selector.Handle,
    font == null ? IntPtr.Zero : font.Handle,
    width,
    mode
);

Had the returned value been a structure that was less than 8 bytes in size (like the older SizeF used before switching to the Unified APIs), the above code would have run on the simulator but crashed on the device. To call a selector that returns a value less than 8 bits in size, declare the objc_msgSend_stret function:

[DllImport (MonoTouch.Constants.ObjectiveCLibrary, EntryPoint="objc_msgSend_stret")]
static extern void cgsize_objc_msgSend_stret_IntPtr_float_int (
    out CGSize retval,
    IntPtr target, 
    IntPtr selector,
    IntPtr font,
    nfloat width,
    UILineBreakMode mode
);

To call this method, use code such as the following:

NSString      target = ...
Selector    selector = new Selector ("sizeWithFont:forWidth:lineBreakMode:");
UIFont          font = ...
nfloat          width = ...
UILineBreakMode mode = ...

CGSize size;

if (Runtime.Arch == Arch.SIMULATOR)
    size = cgsize_objc_msgSend_IntPtr_float_int(
        target.Handle, 
        selector.Handle,
        font == null ? IntPtr.Zero : font.Handle,
        width,
        mode
    );
else
    cgsize_objc_msgSend_stret_IntPtr_float_int(
        out size,
        target.Handle, selector.Handle,
        font == null ? IntPtr.Zero: font.Handle,
        width,
        mode
    );

Invoking a selector

Invoking a selector has three steps:

  1. Get the selector target.
  2. Get the selector name.
  3. Call objc_msgSend with the appropriate arguments.

Selector targets

A selector target is either an object instance or an Objective-C class. If the target is an instance and came from a bound Xamarin.iOS type, use the ObjCRuntime.INativeObject.Handle property.

If the target is a class, use ObjCRuntime.Class to get a reference to the class instance, then use the Class.Handle property.

Selector names

Selector names are listed in Apple's documentation. For example, NSString includes sizeWithFont: and sizeWithFont:forWidth:lineBreakMode: selectors. The embedded and trailing colons are part of the selector name and cannot be omitted.

Once you have a selector name, you can create a ObjCRuntime.Selector instance for it.

Calling objc_msgSend

objc_msgSend sends a message (selector) to an object. This family of functions takes at least two required arguments: the selector target (an instance or class handle), the selector itself, and any arguments required for the selector. The instance and selector arguments must be System.IntPtr, and all remaining arguments must match the type the selector expects, for example an nint for an int, or a System.IntPtr for all NSObject-derived types. Use the NSObject.Handle property to obtain an IntPtr for an Objective-C type instance.

There is more than one objc_msgSend function:

  • Use objc_msgSend_stret for selectors that return a struct. On ARM, this includes all return types that are not an enumeration or any of the C built-in types (char, short, int, long, float, double). On x86 (the simulator), this method needs to be used for all structures larger than 8 bytes in size (CGSize is 8 bytes and doesn't use objc_msgSend_stret in the simulator).
  • Use objc_msgSend_fpret for selectors that return a floating point value on x86 only. This function does not need to be used on ARM; instead, use objc_msgSend.
  • The main objc_msgSend function is used for all other selectors.

Once you've decided which objc_msgSend function(s) you need to call (simulator and device may each require a different method), you can use a normal [DllImport] method to declare the function for later invocation.

A set of pre-made objc_msgSend declarations can be found in ObjCRuntime.Messaging.

Different invocations on simulator and device

As described above, Objective-C has three kinds of objc_msgSend methods: one for regular invocations, one for invocations that return floating point values (x86 only), and one for invocations that return struct values. The latter includes the suffix _stret in ObjCRuntime.Messaging.

If you are invoking a method that will return certain structs (rules described below), you must invoke the method with the return value as the first parameter as an out value:

// The following returns a PointF structure:
PointF ret;
Messaging.PointF_objc_msgSend_stret_PointF_IntPtr (out ret, this.Handle, selConvertPointFromWindow.Handle, point, window.Handle);

The rule for when to use the _stret_ method differs on x86 and ARM. If you want your bindings to work on both the simulator and the device, add code such as the following:

if (Runtime.Arch == Arch.DEVICE)
{
    PointF ret;
    Messaging.PointF_objc_msgSend_stret_PointF_IntPtr (out ret, myHandle, selector.Handle);
    return ret;
} 
else
{
    return Messaging.PointF_objc_msgSend_PointF_IntPtr (myHandle, selector.Handle);
}

Using the objc_msgSend_stret method

When building for ARM, use the objc_msgSend_stret for any value type that is not an enumeration or any of the base types for an enumeration (int, byte, short, long, double, float).

When building for x86, use objc_msgSend_stret for any value type that is not an enumeration or any of the base types for an enumeration (int, byte, short, long, double, float) and whose native size is larger than 8 bytes.

Creating your own signatures

The following gist can be used to create your own signatures, if required.