View Debugging in Xcode 6

In this tutorial, you will learn view debugging by using some of the awesome new tools provided with Xcode 6! By Scott Berrevoets.

Leave a rating/review
Save for later

When you’re developing an app, sometimes there may be a bug with your views or auto layout constraints that isn’t easy to find just by looking through your code.

It pays to know the technique of view debugging – and this has never been easier with the advent of Xcode 6.

Instead of printing frames to the console and trying to visualize layouts in your head, you’re now able to inspect an entire view hierarchy visually – right from within Xcode. What an incredible time to be alive!

This tutorial will take you through all the different options that are at your disposal. So, are you ready to write some code? That’s too bad, because you won’t. :]

Instead, you’ll inspect the view hierarchy of an open source library to better understand how it was written — without even looking at any code.

Getting Started

The library you’ll use in this tutorial is JSQMessagesViewController, written by Jesse Squires. The UI for this library should look very familiar, as Jesse built it to look similar to the Messages app.

To get started, head over to the GitHub project page, download the source code, and unzip into a directory.

Note: The library uses CocoaPods to manage its dependencies on other libraries. If you’re unfamiliar with how CocoaPods works, please take a look at this CocoaPods tutorial here on the site before proceeding.

Next, navigate to the unzipped project directory in Terminal and run pod install to install the required dependencies. Then, open JSQMessages.xcworkspace and build and run the app on the iPhone 5s simulator. (You can use any simulator, but dimensions in this tutorial are based on a 4-inch display, so choosing the same will make it easier to follow.)

Note: Live View Debugging is only available if you run your app on iOS 8. You cannot use this tool on iOS 7, even if you’re working in Xcode 6.

Tap on Push via storyboard and you’ll notice you’re now in a text messaging thread with Steve Jobs and Tim Cook. (This may cause a flutter in your heart and make you question your perception of reality, but it’s not really them.) This is the view you’ll inspect.

Even Steve Wozniak joins the fun!

Even Steve Wozniak joins the fun!

Go back to Xcode and click on the Debug View Hierarchy button in the Debug bar. Alternatively, go to Debug\View Debugging\Capture View Hierarchy.

Screenshot 1

Xcode is now interrupting your app and handing the reigns to the debugger, just as if you had paused your app with the pause button on the Debug bar.

In addition, Xcode replaces the code editor with a canvas in which it draws the entire view hierarchy of the key window of your app, including thin lines (called wireframes) that indicate the boundaries of every view.

Screenshot 2

You may know that when you add a subview to a view hierarchy, you’re adding a layer on top of the current stack of views. Because most views don’t overlap, it looks like all views are just part of one big layer when you run your app. The screen you’re currently looking at is pretty close to that, but with a bunch of extra lines.

So how is that useful? Well, right now you’re seeing a visual of the view stack from overhead, but what if you could visualize where the layers fall within the stack? Click and drag in the canvas, and you’ll see that instead of a flat 2D view, you’re actually interacting with a 3D model of your view hierarchy.

Screenshot 3

You can view the hierarchy from the side, top, bottom, a corner and even from the back!


Note: It’s possible your canvas isn’t showing the same views as this tutorial assumes. To make sure you’re on the same page, press cmd + 6 to get to the Debug navigator.

At the bottom of the pane, you’ll see two buttons on the left. Deselect both of these buttons, as seen in this image. If not, some views will be hidden on the canvas.

filter image

Exploring the View Hierarchy

The most natural and common perspective of this 3D model is to look at it from the left side — you’ll see why a little later in this tutorial — so manipulate it to get a point of view like the one below.

Screenshot 4

This gives your view hierarchy some perspective that’s very useful if you want to visualize how it’s built. However, there seems to be many empty views at the “bottom” (on the left) of the stack. What’s that all about?

Click on the left-most view (i.e. the one in the very back) and you’ll see that Xcode highlights it to indicate your selection. You’ll also see the Jump Bar (just above the Canvas) update to show a UIWindow as the last item — that last item will always reflect the currently selected view and its class type.

Screenshot 5

Since this app uses only one window, it’s safe to assume the UIWindow at the start of the Jump Bar is the app’s key window, or in other words, the window property on AppDelegate.

OK, it’s good to know how to find the window, but it’s unlikely that you’ll need to inspect that. What about the next view? In the canvas, click on the view to the right (i.e. on top) of the window and look at the Jump Bar again. UILayoutContainerView. That’s not even a public class!


From there, the view hierarchy looks like this:

  1. UINavigationTransitionView: The container view in which navigation controller transitions happen
  2. UIViewControllerWrapperView: A wrapper view that contains the view controller’s view property
  3. UIView: The top-level view of a view controller (the same as a view controller’s view property)
  4. JSQMessagesCollectionView: The collection view used by this project to display all messages

Focusing on Views of Interest

In debugging this particular view hierarchy, the first four views (starting with the window) are really just visual noise. They don’t bring anything meaningful; they distract in trying to understand what else is going on in this view hierarchy. It would sure be nice if you could filter out that visual noise…

And you can. :] Look at the double-thumbed slider in the bottom right of the canvas. By default, the thumbs are all the way on the left and right side of the slider.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 12.24.14 PM

Drag the left thumb slowly to the right a little bit; you’ll see the wireframe that represents the app’s window disappear from the canvas. If you drag a little further, the UINavigationTransitionView disappears as well.

Drag the left thumb as far as needed to hide all the parent views of JSQMessagesCollectionView. Your canvas should now look similar to this:

Screenshot 6

On the right side, you might notice the navigation bar is not just distracting, but it’s actually laid out on top of the collection view, making it hard to see what’s going on underneath. Fortunately, you can hide it.

Because you’re focusing on a smaller area of the screen with many smaller views that comprise the navigation bar, it’s a good idea to zoom in on the nav bar so you can see what exactly you’re doing.

Use the zoom control buttons, which are in a group of three buttons centered at the bottom of the canvas:

Screen Shot 2015-03-15 at 5.03.26 PM

As you would expect, the + button zooms in, the – zooms out, and the = button resets the zoom to the normal zoom level. Zoom in to get a good visual of the navigation bar.

Screenshot 7

Note: If you use a trackpad, pinch gestures will also zoom. A trackpad is also useful to move around in the canvas if all parts of the screen can’t be shown at once because you zoom in really far.

You can also zoom with option-mousewheel.

The extra detail you get by zooming in on the toolbar is nice, but the views still slightly overlap, so it’s not easy to tell which view is which.

To solve that problem, use the spacing slider in the bottom left corner of the canvas. The further you drag the thumb of the spacing slider to the right, the more spacing Xcode shows between different views.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 12.29.20 PM

In this particular case, move the slider to the right as much as needed to avoid overlapping views in the toolbar. You might have to play around with the perspective by click-dragging on the canvas to get the desired result.

Screenshot 8

The 3D model is now perfectly manipulated so you can easily hide the navigation bar.

In the slider on the right (the one that hides views), drag the right thumb slowly to the left, up to the UINavigationBar. Remember that you can use the Jump Bar to identify each view’s class by selecting the topmost layer as you go. You’ll see the navigation items disappear first, then the buttons that contain them, followed by a few private views, and lastly, the navigation bar.

Look ma, no nav bar!

Look ma, no nav bar!

Note: If you rotate the canvas to look at the 3D view hierarchy model with the top layer on the left, the slider’s left thumb still removes views from the bottom of the stack, which is now on the right. Similarly, the right thumb removes views from the left.

Moving a slider from the left to the right and having views disappear from the right to the left (and vice versa) is counterintuitive, so that’s why looking at the model with the top layer on the right is the most natural perspective.

Unfortunately, hiding the nav bar (with the root view of _UIBackdropView) view also causes the toolbar items’ content at the bottom of the screen to disappear. To see this, you may need to adjust the zoom level or move down the canvas.

You want to see the toolbar items as they are an important part of the screen, so only hide the views up until (but not including) the _UIBackdropView. The navbar stack should look something like the following once you’re done.

Screenshot 9