iOS – Updating application state from a UITableViewCell

One of my current clients is a new restaurant where they want an iOS app from which their customers can order their food.  One of the requirements is allowing the user to select 0-n number of dishes for multiple dishes.  For example:

Side dishes

So the question is as the user is incrementing the values, where do we store this state?  The first thought is to just keep it in the UITableViewCell but this has major drawbacks, including:

  • the data is lost once the UITableViewCell is scrolled off screen, as it is re-used to display other dishes.
  • maintaining state in the view is just not clean design.  This is controller territory.

Protocols and Delegation

The sensible place to keep the data is in the controller.  Then the question becomes, “How do we call back to the controller from the UITableViewCell?”  

Using Protocols and Delegation, we can easily have the controller maintain the state.  Here’s I did this.

SideDishTableViewCell -> UITableViewCell

I subclassed the view cell with SideDishTableViewCell (SDTVC).  In SDTVC, I defined a protocol:

// SideDishTableViewCell.h

@protocol SideDishTableViewCellDelegate;
@interface SideDishTableViewCell : UITableViewCell

// define a @property to hold a reference to the delegate
@property (assign, nonatomic) id <SideDishTableViewCellDelegate> delegate;

// define the @protocol here
@protocol SideDishTableViewCellDelegate <NSObject>
- (int)addItemWithCell:(SideDishTableViewCell *)cell;
- (int)removeItemWithCell:(SideDishTableViewCell *)cell;

Now the SDTVC has a reference to a delegate which we’ll call whenever the user adds or removes items.  One note: I chose to pass the entire SDTVC because it contains bits of data that the controller needs. Another option is to just pass the dish’s ID and have the controller do a bit more work to get its metadata.

Calling the delegate from IBAction

Each of the + and – buttons are tied to IBActions, and the IBAction methods are where we call out to the delegate.

// SideDishTableViewCell.m

// The value 'q' is returned from the controller and is used to update the quantity displayed.  The View does no math.
- (IBAction)increaseQuantity:(id)sender {
    int q = [[self delegate] addItemWithCell:self];
    self.quantityLabel.text = [NSString stringWithFormat:@"%d", q];
- (IBAction)decreaseQuantity:(id)sender {
    int q = [[self delegate] removeItemWithCell:self];
    self.quantityLabel.text = [NSString stringWithFormat:@"%d", q];

Implementing the protocol from the View Controller

// SideDishViewController.h

#import "SideDishTableViewCell.h"
@interface SideDishViewController : UIViewController <SideDishTableViewCellDelegate>

And the implementation.

// SideDishViewController.m
-(int)addItemWithCell:(SideDishTableViewCell *)cell {
     // Update a collection that holds the dishes and their quantities

     // Return this side dish's quantity


There you have it.  We’ve kept the view very simple to the point it doesn’t even have to do any math.  It simply lets the controller handle the increment/decrement and then just waits for the controller to tell it what the new quantity is.



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