UIAppearance and Default Styles

UIAppearance is one of the easiest way to stylize all the UI controls in the app. This protocol has been shipping since iOS 5.0. UIAppearance can be used to enforce a common style guide across the app. The closest analogy for the UIAppearance is CSS. In the case a website HTML (Model) code does not specify how the Presentation (View) is being laid out. However, it is controlled by CSS. Similarly UIAppearance enables customizing the presentation without modify the model class.

How to Customize

The basic way to setup UIAppearance for a UI element is to get the proxy class of the UI element and modifying the appearance properties. The code below shows how to change the default track tint color on the UIProgressView.

[[UIProgressView appearance] setTrackTintColor:[UIColor greenColor]];

The UI Controls' properties can be customized based on where it is contained. UIAppearance provides the method appearanceWhenContainedIn: that enables to get the proxy of the Control when it is present in the specified container. So to change the UIButton's tint color for a state when inside a UIToolbar would be as follows:

[[UIButton appearanceWhenContainedIn:[UIToolbar class], nil] setTintColor:[UIColor redColor] 

Custom Views

UIAppearance can also be added to a custom UI element that is not part of UIKit. A particular property of the View can be made customizable. This is done by tagging it with UI_APPEARANCE_SELECTOR. The only caveat for using UI_APPEARANCE_SELECTOR is that BOOL properties don't work well with UI_APPEARANCE_SELECTOR so they need to be converted to NSNumbers. In a recent project, this is how I setup my custom UIView:

#import <UIKit/UIKit.h>

@interface HTACircularProgressView : UIView

 *  The color of the progress indicator circle.
@property (strong) UIColor *progressTintColor       UI_APPEARANCE_SELECTOR;

@property (assign) CGFloat progressStrokeWidthRatio UI_APPEARANCE_SELECTOR;

To customize this UI Controls progressTintColor, the UIAppearance proxy for HTACircularProgressView can be obtained and modified similar to UIProgressView mentioned above.

HTACircularProgressView *apperanceProxy = [HTACircularProgressView appearance];
[apperanceProxy setProgressTintColor:[UIColor greenColor]];

Default Styles

Setting up the default styles for Custom Views could be a challenge. One option is to setup the customizations for the View in the app's application:didFinishLaunchingWithOptions: method. However, this breaks the MVC pattern. One of the other options is to keep the setup for default value is to use the NSObjects's initialize method.

This is the discussion on the method from the Apple Doc:


Initializes the class before it receives its first message.

+ (void)initialize


The runtime sends initialize to each class in a program just before the class, or any class that inherits from it, is sent its first message from within the program. The runtime sends the initialize message to classes in a thread-safe manner. Superclasses receive this message before their subclasses.

The implementation for the custom class will be as follows:

+ (void)initialize {
    if (self == [HTACircularProgressView class]) {
        HTACircularProgressView *proxy = [HTACircularProgressView appearance];  
        [proxy setProgressTintColor:[UIColor greenColor]];

So now all the presentation code is available in one place (UIView) instead of being strewn around in multiple locations. For more in depth information of how UIAppearance works, please check this post by Peter Steinberger.

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