Address Book Tutorial in iOS

In this Address Book Tutorial in iOS, learn how to add and edit contacts in a fun app about pets. By Evan Dekhayser.

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Meet our Furry Little Friends!

Meet our Furry Little Friends!

Although Objective C is an object-oriented language, not all of the frameworks you’ll use while developing for iOS are object-oriented.

Some are written in C, such as the Address Book API, which you’ll learn about in this tutorial.

The Address Book is the way you can read or modify the user’s contacts from your apps (the same contacts that show up in the Contacts app).

Because the Address Book is a C-based API, it does not use objects; instead it utilizes other types. In this Address Book tutorial, you’ll become familiar with a few of these:

  • ABRecordRef: This is a contact record. It has all the properties that can be entered into the Contacts app.
  • ABAddressBookRef: This is the collection of all the user’s contacts. You can modify its records, add new records, or delete a record.
  • ABMutableMultiValueRef: This is the mutable version of ABMultiValueRef, though it is much more convenient. It lets you set properties of the ABRecordRef that may have multiple entries, such as phone number or email.

This Address Book tutorial assumes you are familiar with the basics of iOS development, and are comfortable with the basics of C syntax. If you are new to either of these, check out some of the other tutorials on our site.

Alright, let’s dive in and get some addresses!

Getting Started

To begin this tutorial, download the starter project that has the user interface pre-made, so you can stay focused on the Address Book part of the tutorial.

Build and run, and get ready to meet our furry little friends: Cheesy, Freckles, Maxi, and Shippo!


Open up ViewController.m. The starter app has four UIButtons that all call petTapped: when pressed. If you look closely in the Utilities/Attributes Inspector in Main.storyboard, notice that each UIButton has a different number in its tag. This will help you distinguish which button is the one that called petTapped:.

To use the Address Book API, you need to import the framework and headers. As of iOS 7, this is easy with the @import keyword. Add this line to the top of ViewController.m:

@import AddressBook;

In this app, the user will press the image of one of the pets, and the pet’s contact information will be added to their address book (I’m surprised that even pets have iPhones!). Using the power of the Address Book API, you can finally contact your favorite furry friends.

Asking for Permission

In 2012, there was a controversy regarding certain apps sending a copy of the user’s Address Book to its servers. Because of the public’s response to this security breach, Apple immediately implemented security features to prevent this from happening without the user’s knowledge.

So now, whenever you want to use the Address Book, you first ask the user for permission.

Let’s try this out. In ViewController.m, add the following code inside petTapped:

- (IBAction)petTapped:(UIButton *)sender {
  if (ABAddressBookGetAuthorizationStatus() == kABAuthorizationStatusDenied ||
      ABAddressBookGetAuthorizationStatus() == kABAuthorizationStatusRestricted){
  } else if (ABAddressBookGetAuthorizationStatus() == kABAuthorizationStatusAuthorized){
  } else{ //ABAddressBookGetAuthorizationStatus() == kABAuthorizationStatusNotDetermined
    NSLog(@"Not determined");

Let’s go over this section by section:

  1. This checks to see if the user has either denied your app access to the Address Book in the past, or it is restricted because of parental controls. In this case, all you can do is inform the user that you can’t add the contact because the app does not have permission.
  2. This checks to see if the user has already given your app permission to use their Address Book. In this case, you are free to modify the Address Book however you want.
  3. This checks to see if the user hasn’t decided yet whether not to give permission to your app.

Build and run, and tap the cutest pet. You should see something like the following in the console:

PetBook[832:70b] Not determined

In real life when you want something, you ask. Same thing here!

So you need to request the user for access to the address book. Insert the following in section 3:

ABAddressBookRequestAccessWithCompletion(ABAddressBookCreateWithOptions(NULL, nil), ^(bool granted, CFErrorRef error) {
  if (!granted){
    NSLog(@"Just denied");
  NSLog(@"Just authorized");

The first parameter of this function is an ABAddressBookRef, which you create with ABAddressBookCreateWithOptions(NULL, nil). The second argument is a block that executes once the user responds to your request.

Section 4 executes only if the user denies permission when your app asks. This should be treated the same way as when the ABAuthorizationStatus() == kABAuthorizationStatusDenied.

Section 5 executes if the user gives permission for you to use the Address Book. This is the same as kABAuthorizationStatusAuthorized.

Run the app in the simulator and tap on the weirdest looking pet. A popup will appear to request access to the Address Book:

iOS Simulator Screen shot Jan 21, 2014, 4.07.34 PM

Depending on your choice, you’ll see either “Just authorized” or “Just denied” in the console. Now, press an image again, and you’ll see the result is related to your action before: if you gave permission, it will say “Authorized”, or else it will say “Denied”.

Remove the NSLogs, they were only there so you could see the code’s behavior.

Note: To debug after each test, it might be useful to use iOS Simulator/Reset Content and Settings. This will let you see the alert that asks for permission every time you reset the settings, which will help later on.

Next, add this code into sections 1 and 4 to tell the user that you can’t add the contact because it does not have needed permissions:

UIAlertView *cantAddContactAlert = [[UIAlertView alloc] initWithTitle: @"Cannot Add Contact" message: @"You must give the app permission to add the contact first." delegate:nil cancelButtonTitle: @"OK" otherButtonTitles: nil];
[cantAddContactAlert show];

Use iOS Simulator/Reset Content and Settings to reset your simulator, build and run, tap the ugliest pet, deny permission, and verify the dialog appears. Good job, iOS citizen!

Creating the Pet’s Record

Now it’s time to move onto actually creating the records. Underneath petTapped:, create a new method called addPetToContacts:

- (void)addPetToContacts: (UIButton *) petButton{


In this method, you’ll create an ABRecordRef with the pet’s attributes, check the address book to make sure the pet does not already exist, and if the pet is not in the Address Book, add it to the user’s contacts.

Begin addPetToContacts: with the following.

NSString *petFirstName;
NSString *petLastName;
NSString *petPhoneNumber;
NSData *petImageData;
if (petButton.tag == 1){
  petFirstName = @"Cheesy";
  petLastName = @"Cat";
  petPhoneNumber = @"2015552398";
  petImageData = UIImageJPEGRepresentation([UIImage imageNamed:@"contact_Cheesy.jpg"], 0.7f);
} else if (petButton.tag == 2){
  petFirstName = @"Freckles";
  petLastName = @"Dog";
  petPhoneNumber = @"3331560987";
  petImageData = UIImageJPEGRepresentation([UIImage imageNamed:@"contact_Freckles.jpg"], 0.7f);
} else if (petButton.tag == 3){
  petFirstName = @"Maxi";
  petLastName = @"Dog";
  petPhoneNumber = @"5438880123";
  petImageData = UIImageJPEGRepresentation([UIImage imageNamed:@"contact_Maxi.jpg"], 0.7f);
} else if (petButton.tag == 4){
  petFirstName = @"Shippo";
  petLastName = @"Dog";
  petPhoneNumber = @"7124779070";
  petImageData = UIImageJPEGRepresentation([UIImage imageNamed:@"contact_Shippo.jpg"], 0.7f);

By looking at the button the user chose, you can determine which pet was selected. If the user pressed Shippo, then you want the user to have Shippo’s contact information. The only thing that may be unfamiliar here is UIImageJPEGRepresentation(), which takes a UIImage and returns an NSData representation of it.

Next, type this at the end of addPetToContacts:

ABAddressBookRef addressBookRef = ABAddressBookCreateWithOptions(NULL, nil);
ABRecordRef pet = ABPersonCreate();

The first line creates the ABAddressBookRef that will add the pet to the user’s contacts later. The second line creates an empty record for your app to fill with the pet’s information.
Next, set the pet’s first and last names. This code will look like this.

ABRecordSetValue(pet, kABPersonFirstNameProperty, (__bridge CFStringRef)petFirstName, nil);
ABRecordSetValue(pet, kABPersonLastNameProperty, (__bridge CFStringRef)petLastName, nil);

A quick explanation:

  • ABRecordSetValue() takes an ABRecordRef as its first parameter, and that record is pet.
  • The second parameter calls for an ABPropertyID, which is a value defined by the API. Because you want to set the first name, you pass kABPersonFirstNameProperty.
  • For the last name, similarly pass kABPersonLastNameProperty.

Does the third argument seem confusing? What it does is take a CFTypeRef, which is the broad type that includes CFStringRef and ABMultiValueRef. You want to pass a CFStringRef, but you only have an NSString!

To convert an NSString to a CFStringRef, you have to bridge it using (__bridge CFStringRef) myString;. If you are familiar with “casting the variable,” it is similar to that.

Note: For more information on the __bridge keyword, check out Chapters 2 and 3 in iOS 5 by Tutorials, Beginning and Intermediate ARC.

Phone numbers are a bit trickier. Since one contact can have multiple phone numbers (home, mobile, etc.), you have to use ABMutableMultiValueRef. This can be done by adding the following code to the end of addPetToContacts:.

ABMutableMultiValueRef phoneNumbers = ABMultiValueCreateMutable(kABMultiStringPropertyType);

ABMultiValueAddValueAndLabel(phoneNumbers, (__bridge CFStringRef)petPhoneNumber, kABPersonPhoneMainLabel, NULL);

When you declare the ABMutableMultiValueRef, you have to say what kind of property it will. In this case, you want it to be for the kABPersonPhoneProperty. The second line adds the pet’s phone number (which is bridged to CFTypeRef), and you have to give this phone number a label. The label kABPersonPhoneMainLabel says that this is the contact’s primary number.

Try setting the pet’s phone property yourself. If you get stuck, expand the field below!

[spoiler title=”Solution”]It is not that different from setting the name.

ABRecordSetValue(pet, kABPersonPhoneProperty, phoneNumbers, nil);


The last piece of information to add to the record is its picture — you definitely want to see that adorable face when they call to ask for treats!

To set the record’s image, you use this statement:

ABPersonSetImageData(pet, (__bridge CFDataRef)petImageData, nil);

To add this contact and save the address book, use the following two short lines:

ABAddressBookAddRecord(addressBookRef, pet, nil);
ABAddressBookSave(addressBookRef, nil);

As a final step, you need to call this new method in the appropriate spots. So add this line of code in sections 2 and 5 inside petTapped::

[self addPetToContacts:sender];

Use iOS Simulator/Reset Content and Settings to reset your simulator, build and run, and tap on each of the pets. If asked, give the app permission to use the Address Book.

Once you’re done, go to the home screen (use Cmd+Shift+H to do this in the simulator), and go to the Contacts app. You should see the pets!

Pets in contacts

Evan Dekhayser


Evan Dekhayser


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