About learning Cocoa

I first learnt about ObjectiveC and Open/GNUStep when I was basically a Linux user. That was quite a lot of time ago. I was a WindowMaker fan, and that was the way I learnt about GNUStep. However, I did not learn ObjectiveC nor GNUStep programming. In fact there was plenty of “wonderful” languages out there and I felt no need for another one. The few GUI applications I did were made with GTK1 and C (yes, GTK 2 did not exist yet and wx was not really widespread; the first time I installed Audacity on Slackware 8.1 I had to google for them) or Qt with C++.
I was quite skeptical with interpreted languages too: I knew a bit of Lisp (more for academic reasons than for “real programming” — that is to say I would not be able to write a piece of useful software; well, this isn’t changed, anyway) and quite a lot of Perl (still I did not use to do what I considered “serious work”: a few cgi and some system scripting). But I’m going off topic.

One day one of my friends showed me the Powerbook G4 and MacOS X (it was Jaguar, for those who care). After some time I bought my first Mac with MacOS X. Before being a Linux user I was a big fan of MacOS Classic (and the first machine I installed GNU/Linux on was an iMac), so I was really happy with the “new deal” of Apple. Still I planned to “install GNU/Linux as soon as possible”. In fact this never happened (but one of this days when I have time and airport support is stable enough…).
The first thing I did was to learn Objective C. I took a look at Carbon, but I wasn’t amazed. I read Apple’s guides about the language. They were clear and well done. Still to code GUI applications I needed a more detailed book (I’m kind of a perfectionist) since the Tutorial, although well done, is designed for absolute beginners. Anyway the Apple guide for the language ObjectiveC is here.

I still have no idea why I chose to learn it. In fact I was a “cross-platform gui”. I still thought I would use both systems, so having my own applications on both of them was probably quite desirable. Moreover the QT MacOS port was young (it was released a couple of months after I bought the Mac, IIRC).
In the same period I was learning Python too, and almost everything else (system tools, web sites, cross platform gui applications with awful Tk) was made with it. I found some similarities between the two languages (in fact I think they were more similarities between Python and Smalltalk, and only indirectly between Python and ObjectiveC). Still one thing was different. Python is a very high level language, but does not force you in anyway into some kind of framework.

In fact you can perfectly “translate” command line from C using the same POSIX APIs or, for example, “convert” a Qt + C++ program. The language Objective C in fact has the same properties. In fact I wrote a few command line utilities and found that the Foundation kit was a well designed environment that abstracted some POSIX interfaces. I quite liked it. And quite liked ObjectiveC.

The only thing I truly missed were namespaces (or analogue things). I spend a couple of days understanding the memory model and that was everything. I bought two books, “Cocoa in a Nutshell” (today I would not buy this) and “Cocoa Programming” by Anguish Buck and Yacktman. They were both good books. I do not use the Nutshell because Apple documentation is more recent today, not because it’s not well done.
Cocoa Programming” is a “big” book. There are lots of infos. Some of them are advanced topics (for example there are Chapters about optimizations — you know, optimization hinders evolutions, but we want to run our software on something more portable than a mainframe).

The book focuses on how Cocoa was thought with Design Patterns (expecially those from the famous book), even if they change their name (and Anguish/Buck/Yacktman show which Cocoa pattern corresponds to a GOF pattern). I was already acquainted with DP, I read the “Design Patterns: EORSD” some time ago (and recently I bought the book and I’m reading it again). In fact Cocoa developing needs understanding of design patterns, but you can have a less theoretical approach to Cocoa.

I recently read Hillegass’s “Cocoa Programming for MacOS X” and that is what I mean. It’s more like a tutorial, but not as elementar as Apple one. It shows you some “real life” small applications that use key tecnologies. It shows Cocoa structure, main “patterns” (for example how to deal with a NSTableView — and introduces the concept of delegation).
While “Cocoa Programming” shows how much Cocoa can be powerful, Hillegass shows how much Cocoa is easy. There are many things that are not explained in the latter (even if it covers some topics I didn’t find in the other book).

You may need (you probably need) a book like Anguish/Buck/Yacktman’s “Cocoa Programming“, but I strongly advise to start with “Cocoa Programming for MacOS X“. It’s not recent, but it’s well done and complete. You can build a whole lot of applications reading it, and for example explains the Document Based Applications in a very simple yet complete way (for example in “Cocoa Programming” the authors implement classes that act quite like the NSDocument and friends to show you in details how it works, still I was not really able to understand how easy it is programming Doc-based apps with Cocoa; in fact I thought it was hard, since many explanation about how the “true” class works are embedded in the explanation of how to rewrite a subset of it.
Another reason for reading “Cocoa Programming for MacOS X” is its length. Much shorter than the other one, you can read it in less than a week, and dive into programming with more skills. Some useful subjects in “Cocoa Programming” are not at the beginning and you must already know you have to skip chapters and go and read them.
In fact I find the two books complement each other well. I’ve got a third book (well a fourth), but I’m not gonna speak about it this time.

  1. Cocoa Programming” – Anguish/Buck/Yacktman
  2. Cocoa Programming” for MacOS X” – Hillegass

2 Responses to About learning Cocoa

  1. Thanks for the advice! I’m a beginning programmer, trying to learn Objective-C and Cocoa. I started with a book by Stephen Kochan called Programming in Objective-C, which was awful and didn’t spend any time on Cocoa whatsoever. I think I’ll check out the Hillegass book next based on your recommendation, and then pick up whatever I need about Objective-C from the Apple documentation.

  2. rik0 says:

    I’m happy you found useful my advice. I want to make clear that I consider excellent books both “Cocoa Programming” and “Cocoa Programming for MacOS X”. They are just differently targetted. And yes, if you are a beginner I suggest to start with Hillegass’s book.

    I haven’t read Kochan book. In fact it seems a good book (for example Amazon customers gave 4,5/5 stars). Probably it wasn’t what you were looking for. You looked for a book about Cocoa, but Kochan book is about ObjectiveC. It is true that Cocoa is written in ObjectiveC.
    But you can program in ObjectiveC without using Cocoa. As far as I can see this book focuses on software developement in ObjectiveC, Object Oriented programming and such.
    You probably will find that book useful when you are a bit more skilled and will start engeneering non trivial applications.

    The book I’m reading right now is GOF’s Design Patterns. It is not about a particular environment, it just illustrates abstract solutions (and then shows an implementation of course) to software design problems. In fact I do read that book every couple of years and each time I discover something new. The “languages” in which examples are presented are C++ and Smalltalk. But this is not really important: you can apply quite the same ideas if you are coding in Java or in Python [ in fact if I’ve got enought time I’m gonna publish a couple of articles about design patterns ].
    And Cocoa itself was designed with Design Patterns in mind.

    This long post just to say… you will probably find Kochan’s book later. Don’t understimate it, it is just about something else you were not interested into right at the moment.

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