Switching between Views with a UISegmentedControl

posted by crafterm, 26 May 2010

Please note an alternative approach to this article is available in further writing: Switching Views with a UISegmentedControl – Revisited

It’s boutique, shiny and several apps that ship with the iPhone do it, in this article I’ll step through using a UISegmentedControl to toggle between different subviews, each with their own layout, within a UINavigationController.

To see an example of this use case, take a look at the Apple Calendar app, along the bottom of the screen is a toolbar containing a UISegmentedControl, with the segments List, Day and Month. Tapping on any of these segments changes the view to a completely new layout.

The AppStore app also implements this paradigm to an extent – take a look at the Top 25 tab, in the navigation title view there’s a UISegmentedControl with the segment labels Top Free, Top Paid and Top Grossing.

The AppStore variant is a bit simpler and can actually be implemented using a single UITableView and multiple UITableViewDataSource/UITableViewDelegate objects, with the UISegmentedControl switching between each of them and reloading the table upon index changes.

In my case though, I needed to build the full Ferrari, and allow for switching between views with completely different layouts. In addition, it all had to work well within a navigation controller, with elements within these views pushing onto the navigation stack.


The solution was to create specialized view controllers for each style of view, and programatically add/remove these views as subviews to a managing view controller, in response to selected segment index changes on the UISegmentedControl.

To do all this, one has to create an additional UIViewController subclass that manages the UISegmentedControl changes, maintains a collection of sub view controllers and adds/removes their views on demand.

The advantage of this approach, is that it keeps the business logic between each subview separate, and makes it easy to add additional segments later as your application grows.


@interface SegmentManagingViewController : UIViewController <UINavigationControllerDelegate> {
    UISegmentedControl    * segmentedControl;
    UIViewController      * activeViewController;
    NSArray               * segmentedViewControllers;

@property (nonatomic, retain, readonly) IBOutlet UISegmentedControl * segmentedControl;
@property (nonatomic, retain, readonly) UIViewController            * activeViewController;
@property (nonatomic, retain, readonly) NSArray                     * segmentedViewControllers;


Here we define a view controller subclass for managing the presentation of multiple subviews. segmentedControl is the UISegmentedControl, either created and assigned in code, or via a Interface Builder. activeViewController represents the view controller currently being presented, and segmentedViewControllers is an array of all view controllers presentable via the segmented control.

I’ll get to the UINavigationControllerDelegate protocol in just a minute..


@interface SegmentManagingViewController ()

@property (nonatomic, retain, readwrite) IBOutlet UISegmentedControl * segmentedControl;
@property (nonatomic, retain, readwrite) UIViewController            * activeViewController;
@property (nonatomic, retain, readwrite) NSArray                     * segmentedViewControllers;

- (void)didChangeSegmentControl:(UISegmentedControl *)control;
- (NSArray *)segmentedViewControllerContent;


In an anonymous category we redefine the interface properties as readwrite for local accessor/mutator methods, and define method signatures for a callback from the segmented control, and a helper method to create the view controllers representing each segment.

@implementation SegmentManagingViewController

@synthesize segmentedControl, activeViewController, segmentedViewControllers;

- (void)viewDidLoad {
    [super viewDidLoad];

    self.segmentedViewControllers = [self segmentedViewControllerContent];

    NSArray * segmentTitles = [self.segmentedViewControllers arrayByPerformingSelector:@selector(title)];

    self.segmentedControl = [[UISegmentedControl alloc] initWithItems:segmentTitles];
    self.segmentedControl.selectedSegmentIndex = 0;
    self.segmentedControl.segmentedControlStyle = UISegmentedControlStyleBar;

    [self.segmentedControl addTarget:self

    self.navigationItem.titleView = self.segmentedControl;
    [self.segmentedControl release];

    [self didChangeSegmentControl:self.segmentedControl]; // kick everything off

- (NSArray *)segmentedViewControllerContent {
    UIViewController * controller1 = [[ItalyViewController alloc] initWithParentViewController:self];
    UIViewController * controller2 = [[AustraliaViewController alloc] initWithParentViewController:self];

    NSArray * controllers = [NSArray arrayWithObjects:controller1, controller2, nil];

    [controller1 release];
    [controller2 release];

    return controllers;

viewDidLoad creates our UISegmentedControl object within the navigation controller title, and installs a target/action pair to call back on didChangeSegmentControl: when the selected segment index changes. It also calls upon segmentedViewControllerContent to return an array containing the view controllers we’ll be toggling between. In this case, view controllers representing Italy (fantastic holiday a few years back) and Australia, where I come from.

We’ll also implement our memory management methods:

- (void)didReceiveMemoryWarning {
    [super didReceiveMemoryWarning];

    for (UIViewController * viewController in self.segmentedViewControllers) {
        [viewController didReceiveMemoryWarning];

- (void)viewDidUnload {
    self.segmentedControl         = nil;
    self.segmentedViewControllers = nil;
    self.activeViewController     = nil;

    [super viewDidUnload];

Now onto the beef, when a segment index change occurs, the UISegmentedControl will call back to our didChangeSegmentControl: method, where we can interrogate the segmented control for the new index.

When this changes we need to remove the current active subview from the view hierarchy, and replace it with a new one according to the users segmented control selection.

Since we’re also manipulating the view hierarchy directly, we also need to fire viewWillDisappear:/viewDidDisappear: and their counterparts viewWillAppear:/viewDidAppear: appropriately as well to ensure the outbound and inbound view controllers are notified of their view’s visual status change:

- (void)didChangeSegmentControl:(UISegmentedControl *)control {
    if (self.activeViewController) {
        [self.activeViewController viewWillDisappear:NO];
        [self.activeViewController.view removeFromSuperview];
        [self.activeViewController viewDidDisappear:NO];

    self.activeViewController = [self.segmentedViewControllers objectAtIndex:control.selectedSegmentIndex];

    [self.activeViewController viewWillAppear:NO];
    [self.view addSubview:self.activeViewController.view];
    [self.activeViewController viewDidAppear:NO];

    NSString * segmentTitle = [control titleForSegmentAtIndex:control.selectedSegmentIndex];
    self.navigationItem.backBarButtonItem  = [[UIBarButtonItem alloc] initWithTitle:segmentTitle style:UIBarButtonItemStylePlain target:nil action:nil];


The final part extracts the title of the selected segment, and creates a ‘back’ UIBarButtonItem with it’s name matching that title. This ensures that when we push onto the navigation stack from within one of these subviews, the navigation item back button matches the name of the selected segment.

We also pass on any view controller life cycle methods to the active subview:

- (void)viewWillAppear:(BOOL)animated {
    [super viewWillAppear:animated];
    [self.activeViewController viewWillAppear:animated];

- (void)viewDidAppear:(BOOL)animated {
    [super viewDidAppear:animated];
    [self.activeViewController viewDidAppear:animated];

- (void)viewWillDisappear:(BOOL)animated {
    [super viewWillDisappear:animated];
    [self.activeViewController viewWillDisappear:animated];

- (void)viewDidDisappear:(BOOL)animated {
    [super viewDidDisappear:animated];
    [self.activeViewController viewDidDisappear:animated];

Navigation Controllers

Interestingly, if we place this managing view controller within a UINavigationController, the managing view controller won’t actually receive the viewWillAppear:/viewDidAppear: events from the system. To be notified of when this occurs inside a navigation view hierarchy, we need to implement the UINavigationControllerDelegate methods to be informed when a view has been pushed on or off the navigation stack.

Without these methods bizarre side effects can occur, such as UITableView’s within a segments subview not knowing when to appropriately de-highlight the selected row.

- (void)navigationController:(UINavigationController *)navigationController didShowViewController:(UIViewController *)viewController animated:(BOOL)animated {
    [viewController viewDidAppear:animated];

- (void)navigationController:(UINavigationController *)navigationController willShowViewController:(UIViewController *)viewController animated:(BOOL)animated {
    [viewController viewWillAppear:animated];

Pushing onto the navigation stack

The final piece is to allow pushing onto the navigation stack from within one of the managed subviews.

Each subview’s UIViewController has an implicit navigationController property that you can use to send the pushViewController:animated: message to add an additional view controller to the navigation hierarchy.

In our case though, since each subview’s view controller has been instantiated outside of the navigation hierarchy, their navigationController reference will be nil.

The other observation is that we don’t actually want to push onto the navigation stack from within the subview – we want to push onto the navigation stack from the managing view controller.

The solution to this, is to pass the managing view controller to the subviews, to correctly allow pushing onto the navigation stack from within the subview. There’s several ways to do this, in the code above, I’ve defined a custom view controller initializer that accepts a managing view controller reference.


What I particularly like about this approach is that it separates the code and behaviour of each subview into separate view controllers, and assembles them together in a neat and compact manner.

Separate view controllers follow Apple’s single screen full of content per view controller paradigm, and pushing onto the navigation controller via the managing view controller yields a comfortable user experience.

An example XCode project of all this in action is also available if you’d like to step through the details, enjoy.


  • Example uploaded to github
  • Added pass of didReceiveMemoryWarning thanks to Jonah Williams