iOS7 Day-by-Day :: Day 21 :: Multi-column TextKit text rendering

Written by Sam Davies

This post is part of a daily series of posts introducing the most exciting new parts of iOS7 for developers –#iOS7DayByDay. To see the posts you’ve missed check out the introduction page, but have a read through the rest of this post first!


In the past, creating a multi-column layout of text in iOS has been hard work: potentially you could create multiple UITextViews and manually cut the text to fit into each view, which will break with dynamic content, or you could drop to the underlying layout engine CoreText, which is far from simple to use.

The introduction of TextKit in iOS7 changes this, and it’s now incredibly easy to create lots of different text layouts, including multi-page, multi-column and exclusion zones. In today’s DbD we’ll take a look at how to build a multi-column paging text display, which renders a simple text file.

The code for this blog post is available in the github repo which accompanies this series – at


TextKit is a massive framework, and this post isn’t going to attempt to explain it in great detail at all. In order to understand the multi-column project there are 4 classes to be familiar with:

  • NSTextStorage: A subclass of NSAttributedString and contains both the content and formatting mark-up for the text we wish to render. It enabled editing and keeps references to relevant layout managers to inform them of changes in the underlying text store.
  • NSLayoutManager: Responsible for managing the rendering the text from a store in one or multiple text container objects. Converts the underlying unicode characters into glyphs which can be rendered on screen. Can have multiple text containers to allow flowing of the text between different regions.
  • NSTextContainer: Defines the region in which the text will be rendered. This is provided with glyphs from the layout manager and fills the area it specifies. Can use UIBezierPath objects as exclusion zones.
  • UITextView: Actually render the text on screen. It has been updated for iOS7 with the addition of a constructor which takes an NSTextContainer.

We are going to use all of these classes to create a multi-column text view. For far more information about the TextKit architecture and how to use it then take a look at the TextKit Tutorial from our very own Colin Eberhardt.

Multiple Columns

We’re going to put all the code into a view controller, so need some ivars to keep hold of the text store and the layout manager:

@interface SCViewController () {
    NSLayoutManager *_layoutManager;
    NSTextStorage *_textStorage;

We’ll create these in viewDidLoad, firstly let’s look at the text storage. We’ve got a .txt file as part of the bundle, which contains some plain-text ‘Lorem Ipsum’. Since NSTextStorage is a subclass of NSAttributedString we can use theinitWithFileURL:options:documentAttributes:error constructor:

// Import the content into a text storage object
NSURL *contentURL = [[NSBundle mainBundle] URLForResource:@"content" withExtension:@"txt"];
_textStorage = [[NSTextStorage alloc] initWithFileURL:contentURL

Creating a layout manager is simple too:

// Create a layout manager
_layoutManager = [[NSLayoutManager alloc] init];
[_textStorage addLayoutManager:_layoutManager];

// Layout the text containers
[self layoutTextContainers];

Once we’ve created the _layoutManager we add it to the _textStorage. This not only provides the text content to the layout manager, but will also ensure that if the underlying content changes the layout manager will be informed appropriately.

At the end of viewDidLoad we’re calling layoutTextContainers which is a utility method we’ll take a look at now.

We are going to loop through each of the columns, creating a new NSTextContainer, to specify the dimensions of the text, and aUITextView to render it on the screen. The loop looks like this:

NSUInteger lastRenderedGlyph = 0;
CGFloat currentXOffset = 0;
while (lastRenderedGlyph < _layoutManager.numberOfGlyphs) {

// Need to update the scrollView size
CGSize contentSize = CGSizeMake(currentXOffset, CGRectGetHeight(self.scrollView.bounds));
self.scrollView.contentSize = contentSize;

We set up a couple of variables – one which will allow the loop to end (lastRenderedGlyph), and one to store the x-offset of the current column. NSLayoutManager has a property which contains the total number of glyphs which it is responsible for, so we’re going to loop through until we’ve drawn all the glyphs we have.

After the loop has completed we’re going to work out the correct size of the content we’ve created, and set it on the scrollview, so that we can move between the pages as expected.

Inside the loop, the first thing we need to do is work out the dimensions of the current column:

CGRect textViewFrame = CGRectMake(currentXOffset, 10,
                                  CGRectGetWidth(self.view.bounds) / 2,
                                  CGRectGetHeight(self.view.bounds) - 20);
CGSize columnSize = CGSizeMake(CGRectGetWidth(textViewFrame) - 20,
                               CGRectGetHeight(textViewFrame) - 10);

We’re setting the column to be the full height of the view, and half the width.

Now we can create an NSTextContainer to layout the glyphs within the column area we have specified:

NSTextContainer *textContainer = [[NSTextContainer alloc] initWithSize:columnSize];
[_layoutManager addTextContainer:textContainer];

We also add the text container to the layout manager. This ensures that the container is provided with a sequence of glyphs to render.

In order to get the container to render on the screen, we have to create a UITextView:

// And a text view to render it
UITextView *textView = [[UITextView alloc] initWithFrame:textViewFrame
textView.scrollEnabled = NO;
[self.scrollView addSubview:textView];

Here we’re specifying the textContainer the text view is going to represent – using the newly introducedinitWithFrame:textContainer: method.

Finally we need to update our local variables for tracking the last rendered glyph and current column position:

// Increase the current offset
currentXOffset += CGRectGetWidth(textViewFrame);

// And find the index of the glyph we've just rendered
lastRenderedGlyph = NSMaxRange([_layoutManager glyphRangeForTextContainer:textContainer]);

For those of you who have tried to create text columns in iOS before, you’ll be amazed to hear that we’re done! If you run the app up now you’ll see the ‘Lorem Ipsum’ content nicely laid out in columns half the screen width, and with swiping enabled to move between pages:

Page 1Page 2Page 3


TextKit is a major addition to iOS and represents some extremely powerful functionality. We’ve taken a look today at how easy it is to put text into columns, and this barely scratches the surface of what is available. I encourage you to investigate TextKit further if you are displaying any more than small amounts of text – it’s actually one of the new areas of iOS7 with pretty good documentation.

Don’t forget that you can get the code for this project on github at If you have any feedback/comments then feel free to use the comments box below, or hit me up on twitter – @iwantmyrealname.