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iOS8 Day-by-Day :: Day 32 :: Layout Margins

Posted on 2 Oct 2014 Written by Sam Davies

Updated 9 Apr 2015: This post has been updated to Swift 1.2

This post is part of a daily series of posts introducing the most exciting new parts of iOS8 for developers – #iOS8DayByDay. To see the posts you’ve missed check out the index page, but have a read through the rest of this post first!

To enjoy each of the 39 posts all in one place, you can now also download the iOS8 Day-by-Day eBook free from our website! 


Introduction

If you’ve been using the Pin menu in Xcode 6 then you might have noticed the addition of a slightly mystical option – Constrain to margins:

Constrain to Margins

If you’ve left this option ticked then you’ll have an idea what it does, although at first the behavior can seem a little confusing.

Today’s post digs down into what layout margins are, what the represent to the Auto Layout system, how to use them in IB and how to use them in code. There is an accompanying project which demos these concepts – but be warned – the majority of it uses the storyboard. You can grab it on the ShinobiControls github at github.com/ShinobiControls/iOS8-day-by-day.

Layout Margins in Interface Builder

Layout margins represent padding around the interior of a UIView that the layout system can use when laying out subviews – to ensure that a gap is left between the edge of a view and a subview. In this respect it is very much like the padding property associated with blocks in CSS.

You’ve already seen one of the places that margins appear in interface builder – in the pin menu. When creating new auto layout constraints, you can choose them to be relative to the margins of a view instead of the bounds:

Adding Margin Constraints

By default, a UIView has layout margins of 8 points on each side – but you can change this using the layoutMargins property. This takes a UIEdgeInsets object – which just comprises 4 CGFloat values – one for each of top, bottom, left and right.

These margins are only used if you’re using Auto Layout – and represent an additional attribute you can specify when creating an NSLayoutConstraint. In IB, when you look at the size inspector for a constraint then you can see that it’s possible to choose whether a constraint should be margin relative or not:

Size Inspector

Changing this is likely to update the appearance of a layout in IB – but it is really helpful to be able to see the layout margins whilst building your layout. You can get IB to display the margins with Editor > Canvas > Show Layout Rectangles:

Show Layout Rectangles

Layout Margins in Code

When you select that an auto layout constraint should be margin relative in IB, then you are actually updating the layout attributes associated with that constraint. An auto layout constraint describes a relationship between two view objects, and each of these has an associated attribute that specifies what aspect of the view the layout engine should be using during the layout process. For example, there are attributes for left edge, right edge etc. In order to support layout margins, the NSLayoutAttribute enum has been updated in iOS8 to include the following margin-related cases:

enum NSLayoutAttribute : Int {
    ...
    case LeftMargin
    case RightMargin
    case TopMargin
    case BottomMargin
    case LeadingMargin
    case TrailingMargin
    case CenterXWithinMargins
    case CenterYWithinMargins
    ...
}

You can alter the layout margins themselves using the layoutMargins property – which just takes a UIEdgeInsets object.

Since IB doesn’t currently have the UI to alter the layout margins, you could build your own UIView subclass which allows the user to alter them in IB:

@IBDesignable
class MarginConfigView: UIView {
  @IBInspectable
  var margin: CGFloat = 16 {
    didSet {
      self.layoutMargins = UIEdgeInsets(top: margin, left: margin,
                                        bottom: margin, right: margin)
    }
  }
}

The above class has a common margin size for all four sides, and allows you to alter it in IB:

Setting Margin

Setting this value will update the canvas to demonstrate that there are now unsatisfied constraints:

Unsatisfied Constraints

Note that you can see the updated margin positions. You can of course get IB to update its layout to satisfy the constraints:

Satisfied Constraints

If you are performing manual layout, then you might also wish to override layoutMarginsDidChange(), which will be called whenever the margins are changed – allowing you to update your layout appropriately.

Preserving Superview Layout Margins

There is one remaining property on UIView that’s related to layout margins – preservesSuperviewLayoutMargins. This is a Bool with a default value of false. It describes the very specific situation where the layout of a subview is relative to the a layout margin, but this layout margin is outside the margin of the superview. This is quite complicated to explain, since it involves a hierarchy of three UIViews. The following diagram represents this scenario:

Don't Preserve Superview Margin

Here, the yellow view is positioned relative to the margin of its (white) superview. However, the white view is positioned outside the margin of its (light green) superview. This has the result that the yellow view is positioned relative to a margin, but is ignoring the margin of the green view.

By setting preservesSuperviewLayoutMargins to true this behavior changes. The following code is part of the white view:

override init(frame: CGRect) {
  super.init(frame: frame)
  preservesSuperviewLayoutMargins = true
}

required init(coder aDecoder: NSCoder) {
  super.init(coder: aDecoder)
  preservesSuperviewLayoutMargins = true
}

Now, the positioning of the yellow view will respect the layout margins of the light green view:

Preserves Superview Layout Margins

Conclusion

Today’s article took a look at something that is pretty common in most other layout systems, but has been noticeably lacking in iOS. It’s actually far more powerful and understandable than layout guides – probably due to there being far less mystery shrouding how it operates. It does appear to lack much documentation from Apple though, and so can be quite confusing at first.

The Marginal app which demos these concepts is available on the ShinobiControls github at github.com/ShinobiControls/iOS8-day-by-day. It’d be mega if you award it a star – as I’m writing this the repo is very close to 1000 stars.

Any comments then gimme a shout on twitter – I’m @iwantmyrealname.

sam

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