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iOS8 Day-by-Day :: Day 37 :: Autosizing Collection View Cells

Posted on 28 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! 


Way back on day 5 of this series, we took a look at the new functionality within table views that allows cells to define their own height – using the power of auto layout. Well, imagine a world where you could extend that same principle to collection views. How cool would that be?

Well, in iOS8, you can! This functionality is built in to the flow layout, and is easy to access when building your own layouts. In today’s brief post you’ll discover how to use auto-sizing cells within a flow layout, and a little bit about the underlying implementation. The sample app is available in the iO8 Day-by-Day repo on github at

Enabling Sizing in a Flow Layout

When using a UICollectionViewFlowLayout, you hardly need to to anything in order to enable cell auto-sizing. The key thing, as in autosizing UITableViewCells, is to ensure that the size is completely defined using auto layout constraints.

For example, in this custom cell, the label has constraints that link it to every side of the cell:

Cell Constraints Cell Constraints

The other thing that you need to do to enable autosizing is specify an estimated item size on the flow layout. This is new to iOS8 and plays a similar role to its counterpart in UITableView.

To size cells in the past you had two options; one was to set the itemSize property on UICollectionViewFlowLayout – applying the same size to every cell within the collection view. For more fine-grained control on the cell sizes you could implement the collectionView(_, layout:, sizeForItemAtIndexPath:) method on UICollectionViewDelegateFlowLayout, however the responsibility for calculating the size for each item is down to you – rather than the layout engine built into UIKit.

The estimatedItemSize property has a default of CGSizeZero, but setting it to a non-zero size will enable the auto-sizing of cells.

The following code inside a UICollectionViewController subclass will enable auto-sizing for it’s flow layout.

override func viewDidLoad() {
  // Do any additional setup after loading the view, typically from a nib.
  if let cvl = collectionViewLayout as? UICollectionViewFlowLayout {
    cvl.estimatedItemSize = CGSize(width: 150, height: 75)

Note that since the name of this property includes estimated, you don’t have to be hugely accurate in the value you specify. In fact, the cells will only be laid out and sized as they are about to arrive on screen. The estimated value is used to size the scroll bars appropriately.

Enabling this line will take a layout that looked like this:


and change its appearance to match this:


Autosizing via Interface Builder

It seems a shame to have to drop to code to set the estimated size – all other sizing properties associated with a flow layout can be configured within Interface Builder:

Sizing in IB

However, you’ll notice that there is nowhere obvious to configure the estimatedItemSize property. Hopefully in future updates to Xcode this issue will be addressed, but until that point, it is is still possible to set the value via the User Defined Runtime Attributes panel inside the Identity Inspector for the UICollectionViewFlowLayout.

Setting Estimated Size

This panel allows you to set properties on objects via key-value coding – which is essentially what the specialized panels in IB do anyway.

Mechanics of Autosizing

In order to allow a cell (or indeed any reusable item in a collection view) to determine its own size, a new method has been added to UICollectionReusableView – in the form of preferredLayoutAttributesFittingAttributes(_:). This method gives a cell the opportunity to return the layout attributes it would like to be displayed with, given the ones the layout has provided.

The default implementation of this in UICollectionViewCell just changes the size property to match the size determined via autolayout. In the flow layout, the result from this method is only used if the estimatedItemSize property is non-zero, but you could use it in whatever way you would like in your own custom layouts.

Importantly, the default implementation does all the auto-layout magic for you. If you wish to alter other attributes you can do that, but you don’t have to get involved with any of the autolayout unless you want to.


This new feature has a fairly small API – just two new items across the whole of the collection view classes. In the past achieving the same effect was possible, but it was a lot of work, and also pulled the sizing of elements out into a different place – effectively duplicating the same functionality.

Since the cells are likely to be fairly simple, and they have to be self- contained, the autolayout engine will not add much complexity to the collection view layout process – so you can be confident that you won’t be crippling your app.

The sample app that accompanies today’s article is available as part of the iOS8 day-by-day repo on github at It’s pretty simple – I wanted to demo some more advanced uses with a custom layout, but didn’t get around to it. You should fork the repo and add a cool thing that demos this. I might even send you some stickers/pens/t-shirt type stuff… Let me know on @iwantmyrealname.


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