Objective-C: Property / instance variable in category

Objective CCategories

Objective C Problem Overview

As I cannot create a synthesized property in a Category in Objective-C, I do not know how to optimize the following code:

@interface MyClass (Variant)
@property (nonatomic, strong) NSString *test;

@implementation MyClass (Variant)

@dynamic test;

- (NSString *)test {
    NSString *res;
    //do a lot of stuff
    return res;


The test-method is called multiple times on runtime and I'm doing a lot of stuff to calculate the result. Normally using a synthesized property I store the value in a IVar _test the first time the method is called, and just returning this IVar next time. How can I optimized the above code?

Objective C Solutions

Solution 1 - Objective C


@interface NSObject (LaserUnicorn)

@property (nonatomic, strong) LaserUnicorn *laserUnicorn;



#import <objc/runtime.h>

static void * LaserUnicornPropertyKey = &LaserUnicornPropertyKey;

@implementation NSObject (LaserUnicorn)

- (LaserUnicorn *)laserUnicorn {
    return objc_getAssociatedObject(self, LaserUnicornPropertyKey);

- (void)setLaserUnicorn:(LaserUnicorn *)unicorn {
    objc_setAssociatedObject(self, LaserUnicornPropertyKey, unicorn, OBJC_ASSOCIATION_RETAIN_NONATOMIC); 


Just like a normal property - accessible with dot-notation

NSObject *myObject = [NSObject new];
myObject.laserUnicorn = [LaserUnicorn new];
NSLog(@"Laser unicorn: %@", myObject.laserUnicorn);

Easier syntax

Alternatively you could use @selector(nameOfGetter) instead of creating a static pointer key like so:

- (LaserUnicorn *)laserUnicorn {
    return objc_getAssociatedObject(self, @selector(laserUnicorn));

- (void)setLaserUnicorn:(LaserUnicorn *)unicorn {
    objc_setAssociatedObject(self, @selector(laserUnicorn), unicorn, OBJC_ASSOCIATION_RETAIN_NONATOMIC); 

For more details see https://stackoverflow.com/a/16020927/202451

Solution 2 - Objective C

@lorean's method will work (note: answer is now deleted), but you'd only have a single storage slot. So if you wanted to use this on multiple instances and have each instance compute a distinct value, it wouldn't work.

Fortunately, the Objective-C runtime has this thing called Associated Objects that can do exactly what you're wanting:

#import <objc/runtime.h>

static void *MyClassResultKey;
@implementation MyClass

- (NSString *)test {
  NSString *result = objc_getAssociatedObject(self, &MyClassResultKey);
  if (result == nil) {
    // do a lot of stuff
    result = ...;
    objc_setAssociatedObject(self, &MyClassResultKey, result, OBJC_ASSOCIATION_RETAIN_NONATOMIC);
  return result;


Solution 3 - Objective C

The given answer works great and my proposal is just an extension to it that avoids writing too much boilerplate code.

In order to avoid writing repeatedly getter and setter methods for category properties this answer introduces macros. Additionally these macros ease the use of primitive type properties such as int or BOOL.

Traditional approach without macros

Traditionally you define a category property like

@interface MyClass (Category)
@property (strong, nonatomic) NSString *text;

Then you need to implement a getter and setter method using an associated object and the get selector as the key ([see original answer][1]):

#import <objc/runtime.h>
@implementation MyClass (Category)
- (NSString *)text{
    return objc_getAssociatedObject(self, @selector(text));

- (void)setText:(NSString *)text{
    objc_setAssociatedObject(self, @selector(text), text, OBJC_ASSOCIATION_RETAIN_NONATOMIC);

My suggested approach

Now, using a macro you will write instead:

@implementation MyClass (Category)

CATEGORY_PROPERTY_GET_SET(NSString*, text, setText:)


The macros are defined as following:

#import <objc/runtime.h>

#define CATEGORY_PROPERTY_GET(type, property) - (type) property { return objc_getAssociatedObject(self, @selector(property)); }
#define CATEGORY_PROPERTY_SET(type, property, setter) - (void) setter (type) property { objc_setAssociatedObject(self, @selector(property), property, OBJC_ASSOCIATION_RETAIN_NONATOMIC); }
#define CATEGORY_PROPERTY_GET_SET(type, property, setter) CATEGORY_PROPERTY_GET(type, property) CATEGORY_PROPERTY_SET(type, property, setter)

#define CATEGORY_PROPERTY_GET_NSNUMBER_PRIMITIVE(type, property, valueSelector) - (type) property { return [objc_getAssociatedObject(self, @selector(property)) valueSelector]; }
#define CATEGORY_PROPERTY_SET_NSNUMBER_PRIMITIVE(type, property, setter, numberSelector) - (void) setter (type) property { objc_setAssociatedObject(self, @selector(property), [NSNumber numberSelector: property], OBJC_ASSOCIATION_RETAIN_NONATOMIC); }

#define CATEGORY_PROPERTY_GET_UINT(property) CATEGORY_PROPERTY_GET_NSNUMBER_PRIMITIVE(unsigned int, property, unsignedIntValue)
#define CATEGORY_PROPERTY_SET_UINT(property, setter) CATEGORY_PROPERTY_SET_NSNUMBER_PRIMITIVE(unsigned int, property, setter, numberWithUnsignedInt)

The macro CATEGORY_PROPERTY_GET_SET adds a getter and setter for the given property. Read-only or write-only properties will use the CATEGORY_PROPERTY_GET and CATEGORY_PROPERTY_SET macro respectively.

Primitive types need a little more attention

As primitive types are no objects the above macros contain an example for using unsigned int as the property's type. It does so by wrapping the integer value into a NSNumber object. So its usage is analog to the previous example:

@interface ...
@property unsigned int value;

@implementation ...

Following this pattern, you can simply add more macros to also support signed int, BOOL, etc...


  1. All macros are using OBJC_ASSOCIATION_RETAIN_NONATOMIC by default.

  2. IDEs like App Code do currently not recognize the setter's name when refactoring the property's name. You would need to rename it by yourself.

[1]: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/8733104/objective-c-property-instance-variable-in-category/#8733320 "accepted answer"

Solution 4 - Objective C

Just use libextobjc library:


@interface MyClass (Variant)
@property (nonatomic, strong) NSString *test;


#import <extobjc.h>
@implementation MyClass (Variant)

@synthesizeAssociation (MyClass, test);


More about @synthesizeAssociation

Solution 5 - Objective C

Tested only with iOS 9 Example: Adding an UIView property to UINavigationBar (Category)


#import <UIKit/UIKit.h>

@interface UINavigationBar (Helper)
@property (nonatomic, strong) UIView *tkLogoView;


#import "UINavigationBar+Helper.h"
#import <objc/runtime.h>

#define kTKLogoViewKey @"tkLogoView"

@implementation UINavigationBar (Helper)

- (void)setTkLogoView:(UIView *)tkLogoView {
    objc_setAssociatedObject(self, kTKLogoViewKey, tkLogoView, OBJC_ASSOCIATION_RETAIN_NONATOMIC);

- (UIView *)tkLogoView {
    return objc_getAssociatedObject(self, kTKLogoViewKey);


Solution 6 - Objective C

Another possible solution, perhaps easier, which doesn't use Associated Objects is to declare a variable in the category implementation file as follows:

@interface UIAlertView (UIAlertViewAdditions)

- (void)setObject:(id)anObject;
- (id)object;


@implementation UIAlertView (UIAlertViewAdditions)

id _object = nil;

- (id)object
    return _object;

- (void)setObject:(id)anObject
    _object = anObject;

The downside of this sort of implementation is that the object doesn't function as an instance variable, but rather as a class variable. Also, property attributes can't be assigned(such as used in Associated Objects like OBJC_ASSOCIATION_RETAIN_NONATOMIC)


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QuestiondhrmView Question on Stackoverflow
Solution 1 - Objective ChfossliView Answer on Stackoverflow
Solution 2 - Objective CDave DeLongView Answer on Stackoverflow
Solution 3 - Objective CLars BlumbergView Answer on Stackoverflow
Solution 4 - Objective CRuslan MansurovView Answer on Stackoverflow
Solution 5 - Objective CRikcoView Answer on Stackoverflow
Solution 6 - Objective CkernixView Answer on Stackoverflow