Development iOS

Application Architecture with SwiftUI

June 15, 2022
Application Architecture with SwiftUI

What is Soft­ware Archi­tec­ture? #

Soft­ware archi­tec­ture is one of those things that can feel over­bear­ing and boil­er-plate rid­den” when done wrong, espe­cial­ly at the begin­ning of a project. It is not until your project grows sig­nif­i­cant­ly that a well-thought out struc­ture bears fruit, and once your project grows to such a size it can be dif­fi­cult to adapt a bur­geon­ing code­base to a con­sis­tent pat­tern. It pays to think through a few things up front.

At the core of soft­ware archi­tec­ture are the questions 

Where do I put this? Where should this busi­ness log­ic go? Where should I store this data? How do I get that data from its loca­tion to a view?

We then must fol­low up with anoth­er question.

What does that mean for maintainability?

Soft­ware projects are nev­er real­ly done. Plat­forms change, users give feed­back, stake­hold­ers make new pri­or­i­ties and we are con­stant­ly mea­sur­ing user engage­ment and try­ing to improve the user expe­ri­ence. If we can set some con­sis­tent guide­lines about where to put the func­tion­al lev­els” of our app we can more eas­i­ly grow and adapt our projects over time.

Goals #

We think a good archi­tec­ture should improve our allowance to for­get things. We want to max­i­mize the inde­pen­dence of each part of our app, even down to mak­ing sure the View does not know where its data comes from. We think this helps with the main­tain­abil­i­ty of a project, if you have clear­ly defined lines between your Views, your data, and how that data is manip­u­lat­ed for dis­play future devel­op­ers should be able to pick up just the pieces they need for a giv­en task and not have to hold the entire app in their mind before mak­ing a change or adding a feature.

We also want our archi­tec­ture to help facil­i­tate the dis­cus­sion around the ques­tion where should I put this func­tion­al­i­ty?” Giv­ing archi­tec­tur­al guide­posts for where things go can speed up devel­op­ment in the longterm, pay­ing off the invest­ment in set­up we make at the start of a project. 

A few words on acronyms #

His­tor­i­cal­ly UIK­it based iOS apps have their roots in an MVC set­up (Mod­el — View — Con­troller). There much nuance and opin­ion about how much log­ic should go in a UIV­iew­Con­troller, whether to sub­class UIV­iew, how to com­pose views togeth­er, and how to get from screen to screen. Over time we have set­tled into a pat­tern for our UIK­it apps that uses some fla­vor of MVC or MVVM but uses a sep­a­rate Coor­di­na­tor con­cept to man­age get­ting from screen to screen.

Swif­tUI, the hot new declar­a­tive UI frame­work for iOS, push­es iOS archi­tec­ture toward an MVVM (Mod­el ‑View — View Mod­el) set­up and away from UIKit’s MVC roots. SwiftUI’s struct-based Views are restrict­ed in how much state they can rea­son­ably man­age on their own and can­not main­tain and manip­u­late their par­ent or child views in the same way we can with UIK­it. As we con­tin­ue to devel­op more and more using Swif­tUI, it is a good time to re-eval­u­ate how we struc­ture our iOS projects.

Struc­ture #

Let’s zoom in on MVVM for a moment. The View is our structs that imple­ment SwiftUI’s View pro­to­col. Large­ly our Mod­el lay­er is the same as it has always been, some tables in a data­base, pref­er­ences in UserDe­faults, etc. The View Mod­el sits between the View and Mod­el, act­ing as the con­nec­tive tis­sue that pre­pares your app’s data for dis­play. The Mod­el is the where and how your app stores and retrieves its data. The Model’s imple­men­ta­tion is not impor­tant for the pur­pose of the dis­cus­sion in this post. We will use some lan­guage around Core Data as an exam­ple, but none of the tech­niques dis­cussed hinge upon its use. Instead we will focus on the rela­tion­ship between View and View Mod­el spe­cif­ic to how we use them with SwiftUI.

V is for View #

The View, a screen, the application’s UI — at this lay­er we are only con­cerned with orga­niz­ing our infor­ma­tion for dis­play and respond­ing to the user’s inputs. Our views are not con­cerned with where the data came from or how changes the user makes are prop­a­gat­ed and saved, that respon­si­bil­i­ty falls to the View Model.

In gen­er­al a View should have exact­ly one View Mod­el that dri­ves it, and that View Mod­el should be the View’s only depen­den­cy. We also define a View’s require­ments via a pro­to­col, which we call a View­Con­tract. A View can be dri­ven by any type that imple­ments its con­tract, and we can have more than one fla­vor of View Mod­el dri­ve the same UI. As a result, a View will nev­er know the actu­al type of its View Mod­el, it is only con­cerned with the ele­ments of its contract.

struct ItemListView<ViewModel: ItemListViewContract>: View {
  @ObservedObject var viewModel: ViewModel

  var body: some View {
    ScrollView {
      VStack {
        TextField("Search", binding: self.viewModel.searchTerm)
        ForEach(self.viewModel.listOfItems, id: \.self) { item in
          ItemDetailView(viewModel: item)
        Button(action: viewModel.buttonClick) {

Abstract­ing the View­Mod­el behind a View Con­tract Pro­to­col #

SwiftUI’s Pre­view sys­tem is a pow­er­ful tool for build­ing and main­tain­ing UI. Pre­views allow you to see what your View will look like under dif­fer­ent envi­ron­ment con­di­tions and with dif­fer­ent sets of data. This works just fine for sim­ple Views, but when your View is dri­ven by a View Mod­el that loads its data from an end­point we need to start think­ing about ways to make Pre­views use­ful with­out the need for set­ting up or mock­ing out all of our app’s services.

To get the most out of SwiftUI’s pre­view sys­tem we insert a pro­to­col (inter­face for any non-Swift folks out there) that describes the data require­ments for a View. For our pur­pos­es, we will call this a View­Con­tract. Check out Using View Mod­el Pro­to­cols to man­age com­plex Swif­tUI Views for an intro­duc­tion to this idea.

This View Con­tract pro­to­col defines exact­ly what is need­ed to dri­ve a piece of UI — its func­tions, vari­ables, states, etc. This sep­a­rates the require­ments of the UI from their under­ly­ing Mod­el-lay­er com­po­nents. We can then imple­ment that pro­to­col in mul­ti­ple con­crete view mod­el class­es and use each to dri­ve a par­tic­u­lar view in dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios. The list­ing below is an exam­ple of what a pro­to­col might look like for a screen that dis­plays a list of items. 

protocol ItemListViewContract: ObservableObject {
  associatedtype ItemDetailViewModelType: ItemDetailViewContract

  var searchTerm: String { get set }
  var listOfItems: [ItemDetailViewModelType] { get }

  func buttonClick()

We extend ObservableObject so that Swif­tUI can use the @ObservedObject or @StateObject prop­er­ty wrap­pers. The prop­er­ties we define in the Con­tract should have fair­ly sim­ple types (String, Int, etc.) or have their types hid­den behind asso­ci­at­ed type with pro­to­col require­ments (e.g. ItemViewModelType). The pur­pose is to hide the actu­al source of this infor­ma­tion from the UI so we can’t go about return­ing Core­Da­ta objects direct­ly here.

This is also where you would define a hier­ar­chy of View Mod­els, for exam­ple if a list view needs to pro­vide an array of View Mod­els for a detail screen. In the list­ing above, our con­tract requires an array of ItemViewModelType which can be any type that imple­ments the con­tract for the item detail view (ItemContentViewContract).

The View Con­tract pro­to­col approach allows us to define mul­ti­ple vari­a­tions on our View Mod­els with­out sub­class­ing and with­out tying our Views to any spe­cif­ic data source. We reap div­i­dends from this set­up when it comes to mak­ing the most of Swif­tUI Pre­views. As we will see in the next sec­tion, we can define a con­crete View Mod­el that uses all hard cod­ed data for Swif­tUI Pre­views, or reads from a JSON file, whilst also let­ting our actu­al View Mod­els talk to resources that are not avail­able or dif­fi­cult to use in Pre­views (like Core­Da­ta, an API, UserDe­faults, etc.).

struct ItemListView_Previews: PreviewProvider {
  static var previews: some View {
    NavigationView {
      ItemListView(viewModel: PreviewItemListViewModel())
    NavigationView {
      ItemListView(viewModel: PreviewItemListViewModel())

Cre­at­ing Con­crete View Mod­els #

Now that we have our require­ments defined for our View we can work on imple­ment­ing a pair of View Mod­els that we can use to dri­ve it — one for pre­views and anoth­er for our app’s actu­al data.

Pre­view View Mod­el Class #

Per­haps it is eas­i­est to start by defin­ing a View Mod­el we can use for pre­views. We find it help­ful to do this upfront, in tan­dem with build­ing our actu­al UI. We can use hard-cod­ed data or pass in val­ues to cre­ate dif­fer­ent scenarios.

final class PreviewItemListViewModel: ItemListViewContract {
  var searchTerm: String = "Preview"
  var listOfItems: [PreviewItemDetailViewModel] = []

  func buttonClick() {}

  init() {}

The list­ing above hard codes the data that we will show in pre­views and pro­vides a sim­ple imple­men­ta­tion of the actions required by our View Con­tract. Addi­tion­al­ly, we need to cre­ate anoth­er class, PreviewItemContentViewModel, that will imple­ment the con­tract for our detail view (ItemContentViewContract).

Now that we have our UI ele­ments fig­ured out we can write anoth­er View Mod­el imple­men­ta­tion that pulls from our app’s actu­al data.

Core­Da­ta Backed View­Mod­el Class #

Core­Da­ta is by no means the only place you can store your app’s data. It is worth reit­er­at­ing that this approach is inten­tion­al­ly agnos­tic of where your data comes from; the UI can only see what is defined in its contract.

This is where the data actu­al­ly is accessed. It defines every­thing estab­lished in the pro­to­col it imple­ments. Here we also pro­vide an imple­men­ta­tion of our buttonClick func­tion that reloads the data.

final class ItemListViewModel: ItemListViewContract {
  @Published var searchTerm: String = "CoreData 😎"
  @Published var listOfItems: [ItemDetailViewModel] = []

  private let context: NSManagedObjectContext

  init(context: NSManagedObjectContext) {
    self.context = context
  private func fetch() {
    // Load the list of items from CoreData and convert
    // them into our detail view models
    self.listOfItems = self.context
      .fetch(MyCoreDataModel.searchRequest(term: self.searchTerm))

  func buttonClick() {

If Core­Da­ta is not your back­ing store of choice, hope­ful­ly you can see how you might cre­ate a View Mod­el class that imple­ments our View Con­tract but gets its data from SQLite, Realm, an API, or sim­i­lar. The end result is a hier­ar­chy that looks some­thing like the image below.

Archi­tec­ture ben­e­fits #

We want the imple­men­ta­tion of our View Mod­els to be entire­ly invis­i­ble to our Views. This strong iso­la­tion between View and Mod­el allows us to devel­op in par­al­lel bet­ter. When start­ing work on a screen we can define the screen’s require­ments based on designs and the inter­ac­tions the user needs to take and cod­i­fy it into a View Con­tract. Mul­ti­ple devel­op­ers can then work on imple­ment­ing the each side of the con­tract independently.

This approach can also ease main­te­nance of both the UI and an app’s busi­ness log­ic. As long as the view receives the data in the cor­rect for­mat, accord­ing to its con­tract, the source of it can change and the page will func­tion the same. Addi­tion­al­ly, we can redesign or rewrite a screen and know that it will not affect the under­ly­ing busi­ness log­ic con­tained in our Mod­els and View Mod­els. We also can rely on the com­pil­er when we need to change the View Con­tract to make sure noth­ing slips through the cracks.

This is all in addi­tion to the real­i­ties of devel­op­ment where often the UI design is estab­lished before all of the exter­nal resources and infra­struc­ture are ready to use. By estab­lish­ing this abstrac­tion between our Views and the rest of our app, we can eas­i­ly write a View Mod­el imple­men­ta­tion that works for demo­ing the UI and lat­er fol­low up with a View Mod­el that pro­vides real data. We have con­fi­dence to do this with min­i­mal rework because of our require­ments defined in the View Contract.

It is worth not­ing that not all Views war­rant the cre­at­ing of a View Mod­el and View Con­tract. Views can be sim­ple, for exam­ple just tak­ing a few strings and dis­play­ing them in a stack. These types of Views are use­ful to keep your UI ele­ments con­sis­tent. Once your View needs to respond to changes, manip­u­late state, or per­form oth­er inte­gra­tions with sys­tem APIs it might be time to reach for a View Model.

Shar­ing func­tion­al­i­ty across screens #

Above we stat­ed that in gen­er­al a View should only have one depen­den­cy, its View Mod­el, but often times in larg­er appli­ca­tions we need to manip­u­late appli­ca­tion state in the same way across dif­fer­ent screens and in dif­fer­ent view mod­els. For this we intro­duce a new lay­er into the mix between our View Mod­els and our data­base, the Use Case .

Use Cas­es may be famil­iar to our Android friends, but for the unfa­mil­iar they are state­less objects that manip­u­late your appli­ca­tion state accord­ing to busi­ness require­ments — essen­tial­ly a cod­i­fied, reusable slice of busi­ness log­ic. This means that you can pass around a shared Use Case, or cre­ate mul­ti­ple instances and share them to each View Mod­el as need­ed, using what­ev­er depen­den­cy injec­tion mech­a­nism you prefer.

Below is an exam­ple of a Use Case you may write to pull togeth­er an API and some local­ly stored data to pro­vide a con­sis­tent way to access a user’s login state in your app. Addi­tion­al­ly we show two View­Mod­els that might make use of this shared functionality.

/// A Use Case that encapsulates the Login state of the application, allowing the
/// View Models a consistent mechanism to alter and respond to change in the state
final public class LoginStateUseCase: NSObject {
  var loginState: AnyPublisher<LoginState, Never>
  func login(credentials: Credentials) {
    // ... Do login
  func logout() {
    // ... Do logout

// Create a shared instance so all consumers can get the same state. This can
// also be done through more nuanced DI setups
extension LoginStateUseCase {
  public static let shared = ExampleUseCase()

/// View Model for the Login Screen that manipulates the login state by attempting
/// to login with the user's entered credentials
final class LoginScreenViewModel: LoginScreenViewContract {
  @Published var usernameField: String = ""
  @Published var passwordField: String = ""
  let useCase: LoginStateUseCase
  init(login: LoginStateUseCase = .shared) {
    self.useCase = login
  func login() {
      with: Credentials(
        username: self.usernameField,
        password: self.passwordField

/// View Model for the Root Screen that serves as the app's top level router, 
/// showing the main content or the login screen depending on the login state
final class RootScreenViewModel: RootScreenViewContract {
  @Published var isLoggedIn: Bool = false

  let useCase: LoginStateUseCase
  init(login: LoginStateUseCase = .shared) {
    self.useCase = login
      .map { state in
        return state == .loggedIn
      .assign(to: &$isLoggedIn)

Use Cas­es can also depend on oth­er Use Cas­es allow­ing you to com­pose your app’s busi­ness log­ic from mul­ti­ple, inde­pen­dent parts. This is a pow­er­ful way to com­pose func­tion­al­i­ty togeth­er rather than build­ing one giant ser­vice that gets passed about through your entire app. The dia­gram below shows where in the hier­ar­chy a Use Case fits.

Mov­ing for­ward #

There is a ben­e­fit to think­ing through the ques­tions of where things go and how to main­tain a soft­ware project regard­less of whether the spe­cif­ic approach described in this post works for you. Some apps will war­rant addi­tion­al lay­ers and abstrac­tions like Repos­i­to­ries and oth­er Ser­vice types. Some will not ben­e­fit from the addi­tion of Use Cas­es. It all depends on a project’s com­plex­i­ty and what the main­te­nance life­time will be. The approach above works for us as a sol­id mid­dle ground that pro­vides enough struc­ture to ease some deci­sion mak­ing and main­te­nance whilst not being so heavy hand­ed as to become bur­den­some and a bar­ri­er to devel­op­ment. Any archi­tec­ture can work for you, just putting in a lit­tle thought and plan­ning up front can go a long way.

Addi­tion­al resources #

The App Archi­tec­ture book from objc​.io is a great intro­duc­tion to mul­ti­ple dif­fer­ent archi­tec­ture pat­terns. Check it out if you are inter­est­ed in learn­ing more.

Jeff Kloosterman
Jeff Kloosterman
Head of Client Services
Sarah Hendriksen
Sarah Hendriksen
Software Developer

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