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iOS 9 Storyboards Tutorial: What’s New in Storyboards?

Storyboards have loads of cool new features in iOS 9 — learn all about them in this iOS 9 storyboards tutorial.

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Note from Ray: This is an abridged version of a chapter from iOS 9 by Tutorials, to give you a sneak peek of what’s inside the book, released as part of the iOS 9 Feast. We hope you enjoy!
Note: Updated for Xcode 7.3, iOS 9.3, and Swift 2.2 on 04-01-2016

Storyboards have been around since iOS 5 and have received lots of upgrades and new features since then, including unwind segues for reverse navigation, universal storyboards for both iPhone and iPad, and live rendering of views designed in code.

Xcode 7 brings new features for storyboards that let you do the following:

  • Refactor a single storyboard into multiple storyboards and link them visually via storyboard references.
  • Add supplementary views to a view controller using the scene dock.
  • Add multiple buttons to a navigation bar, right from the storyboard itself!

In this iOS 9 storyboards tutorial, you’ll learn how to use storyboard references and supplementary views. You’ll be updating an app designed to help you with all those listable moments in life, whether it’s grocery shopping, packing your luggage for vacation, or a survival checklist for the impending zombie apocalypse! :]


To get the most out of this tutorial you should have some basic storyboard and table view knowledge. Need a quick brush-up? Check out our Storyboards Tutorial in iOS 9.

Getting started

Download the starter project for this tutorial and run it in the simulator; tap one of the displayed checklists to view the items contained within, then tap any entry to check it off. Done and done!


Take a quick look at the code to get your bearings.

ChecklistsViewController.swift displays the initial list of checklists, and ChecklistDetailViewController.swift displays the items within each list. Main.storyboard contains the user interface items.

Your task in this tutorial is to improve Prepped so that the storyboard is more organized; you’ll also be able to view notes for list items and add diary entries to record your zombie survival efforts.

There are two unused scenes in the storyboard. When you’ve completed this tutorial, you may like to incorporate these scenes into Prepped so that you can add items and notes to a checklist.

Storyboard references

If you’ve used storyboards on a large project or as part of a team with other developers, you’ll know they can quickly become unwieldy. Merge conflicts, spaghetti-like segue arrows and navigating your way around a wall of scenes is enough to make anybody question whether storyboards are worth the effort.

Although you’ve always been able to use multiple storyboards in your apps, you’ve never been able to segue between them using Interface Builder. To present a view controller from a different storyboard, you’d have to instantiate it first and present it in code. But no longer!

With Xcode 7, you can add references between storyboards right in Interface Builder using storyboard references, which can either point to specific view controllers or to the initial view controller within another storyboard. This makes it much easier to divide up storyboards into smaller storyboards, and alleviates many of the issues mentioned above without needing to add any extra code.

Multiple smaller storyboards also make it possible for other team members to work independently on their own storyboards without stepping on each other’s toes.

Enough theory — time to put it into practice!

Note: Storyboard references are actually backwards-compatible to iOS 8. However, in iOS 8 you can’t use a storyboard reference with a relationship segue, or use it to point to storyboards in external bundles.

Creating your first storyboard reference

In its current state, Prepped is a small app in the early stages of development, but there’s enough structure there to discern where to divide up the main storyboard. Container view controllers are a good place to consider splitting out functionality into new storyboards.

Prepped uses a tab bar controller, and in this case it makes sense to separate each tab’s children into their own storyboards.

Open Main.storyboard and zoom out so you can see all six scenes. Hold Command and press + to zoom in and to zoom out, or right-click on a blank area in the storyboard and choose your zoom level.

Click and drag to highlight all scenes in the storyboard except for the tab bar controller on the left-hand side:


Select Editor\Refactor to Storyboard and enter Checklists.storyboard as the name of the new storyboard. Set the Group to Checklists, then click Save.

As if by magic, Xcode does the following:

  1. Splits out the selected scenes into a new storyboard.
  2. Changes the target of the tab bar controller’s “view controllers” segue to a storyboard reference that points to the relevant scene in the new storyboard.
  3. Takes you to the new storyboard.

You may have to zoom out and reposition the new storyboard to see all of its scenes. The arrangement of the scenes and their segues is exactly like it was in the original storyboard. Here’s what the new storyboard should look like:


But what happened to the original storyboard? Open Main.storyboard and take a look:


The tab bar controller’s “view controllers” segue now points to the storyboard reference for the navigation controller in Checklists.storyboard. The storyboard reference uses the navigation controller’s storyboard ID to determine which scene to segue to in the new storyboard.

There are a few ‘dangling’ storyboard references to view controllers that had storyboard IDs set; you won’t need these any longer. Select ChecklistDetailViewController, AddChecklistItemNavigationController and AddChecklistItemViewController and delete them.

Note: If a scene has an empty storyboard ID, the Refactor to Storyboard command automatically generates an ugly one, such as UIViewController-gtY-c7-gYu. You can change this later, but it’s much easier to keep track of things when you explicitly set the storyboard IDs yourself.

Instead of referencing specific view controllers, storyboard references can simply refer to the initial scene in a storyboard.

Still in Main.storyboard, select the new storyboard reference named ChecklistsNavigationController and use the Attributes Inspector to remove the Referenced ID, like so:


The reference now points to the initial view controller in Checklists.storyboard, and updates as shown:


Open Checklists.storyboard and select the Checklists Navigation Controller scene. Use the Attributes Inspector to check Is Initial View Controller; this indicates this scene should be the entry point for the storyboard.


Note: The initial view controller of a storyboard has an arrow pointing to it from the left-hand side.

Build and run your project; the app performs just as it did when you started. The only difference is that things are a little more organized behind the scenes!

Storyboards within a team

Distributed development of storyboards has always been a challenge; in fact, many developers still avoid storyboards out of fear of the dreaded merge conflict. But storyboard references can help you avoid the complications of team storyboard development.

Consider the following scenario: you’re writing Prepped with a fellow apocalypse survivor, whose task it is to create the functionality to handle the diary entries. She’s built it using a separate storyboard, and now you need to add it to your own storyboard hierarchy…before the zombies descend upon your little enclave.

In the project navigator, select the top level Prepped group, located just below the project itself. Click File\Add Files to “Prepped”. Navigate to the Prepped folder, and select the Diary folder. Ensure that Copy items if needed is checked in the dialog box, and that Added folders is set to Create groups. Ensure that Add to targets is ticked for Prepped. Click Add to add the folder and its contents to the project.

In Main.storyboard, drag a storyboard reference from the Object Library into an empty space on the storyboard:


Ctrl-drag from the existing tab bar controller scene to the storyboard reference:


In the pop-up that appears, choose view controllers from the Relationship Segue section.

Select the storyboard reference you just added. In the Attributes Inspector set the Storyboard to Diary:


Build and run your app; you’ll see one tab to handle Checklists, and another tab for the Diary entries – the functionality your teammate worked on. You can now add Diary entries using the storyboard scenes and code created by your sister-in-arms:


Note: Currently both tabs in the tab bar controller in the storyboard display the title Item. The proper title will be loaded at runtime from the Checklists and Diary storyboards. You can change the titles in Main.storyboard for your own reference, but it won’t make any difference at runtime.

Focusing on a storyboard

Isn’t it annoying when you have to tap through a bunch of scenes in your app, when you’re just trying to test one single scene buried deep in the stack? With storyboard references you can isolate the scenes you’re interested in into their own storyboard and instruct the app to launch straight into that. You’ll do that now for the checklist item section.

In Checklists.storyboard highlight the Checklist Detail View Controller, Add Item Navigation Controller and Add Item View Controller scenes:


Select Editor\Refactor to Storyboard and name the new storyboard ChecklistDetail.storyboard. Ensure that the Group is still set to Checklists.

Just as you did for the Checklists storyboard, select the Checklist Detail View Controller scene in ChecklistDetail.storyboard, and use the Attributes Inspector to check Is Initial View Controller. The Checklist Detail View Controller should now have an arrow on its left to indicate it’s the first scene in the storyboard.

Click on the Prepped project at the top of the project navigator, then click on Prepped target and choose the General tab. Change Main Interface to ChecklistDetail.storyboard:


Build and run your app; you’ll see the checklist detail scene loads first:


Where are the navigation and tab bar? Since the view controller is no longer embedded in a navigation or tab bar controller, you won’t see those two elements while you’re working on the items storyboard.

Note: This approach will fail if the initial view controller in the chosen storyboard requires data provided via a segue. In this project, ChecklistDetailViewController has already been set up to load initial sample data.

Views in the scene dock

A lesser-known feature of storyboard scenes is the scene dock. Most people don’t even notice it’s there – did you? You’ll find it at the top of the currently selected scene in a storyboard:


Out of the box, the scene dock contains references to the current view controller, the first responder, and any available unwind segues. But did you know you can add your own views to the scene dock? You’ve always been able to do so, but Xcode 7 lets you design these attached views within Interface Builder.

Any views you add in the scene dock won’t be added to your view controller’s initial subviews array; instead, you can add IBOutlets to them and make use of them at runtime.

Selecting a checklist item in Prepped highlights its table row with a boring gray color. You will now perform the amazing feat of changing the color of the selected row with no code at all — thanks to the scene dock!

In ChecklistDetail.storyboard, select Checklist Detail View Controller and drag a view from the Object Library onto the scene dock:


The new view will appear just above the scene dock. You can add subviews and controls to these docked views, just as you would any other view.


Select the view you added and use the Attributes Inspector to change the background color of the view to #FFFAE8.

The size of the view in the storyboard doesn’t really matter, since it will be stretched automatically when it’s used in the cell. However, if you want it to take up less room you can resize it by dragging its top, left and right edges.

In the document outline, Ctrl-drag from ChecklistItemCell to the new view. Choose selectedBackgroundView from the connections pop-up:


Build and run your app; tap any row, and it’s highlighted with by your new view. Pretty neat — and without a stitch of code!


Note: This coloring method will only work for table views that don’t have multiple selection enabled. Only one instance of the colored view is created, and it’s shared between each cell in the table view. As such, it can only be applied to one cell at a time.

Conditional views using the scene dock

Often, you’ll have a view that you only want to show under certain conditions. Designing a view like this amongst all the other views in a view controller was always rather difficult in storyboards. The advantage of having a view in the scene dock is that you can create it visually without interfering with the rest of your view controller’s subviews. You can then add it to the view hierarchy in code when it’s needed.

The checklist items in Prepped’s sample data have notes accompanying them; you’re now going to create a view to display an item’s note. When you tap the table view row for an item, the row will expand to display the associated note. Tapping the row again or tapping a different row collapses the row and removes the note view from that row.

Still in ChecklistDetail.storyboard, drag a new view onto the scene dock, next to the selected background view you created in the last section. Select the view, and use the Size Inspector to set its width to 320 and its height to 128.

Drag a label from the Object Library onto the new view and use the Attributes Inspector to change the label text to Notes:”. You may have to resize the label so that the text fits. Change the label’s text color to #BB991E:


Next, drag a text view from the Object Library onto the new view. Remove its default Lorem ipsum text using the Attributes Inspector. Uncheck Behavior Editable and Selectable. Resize and rearrange the label and text views so they touch the edges of their container so that it looks like this:


You’ll now connect this notes view to an IBOutlet in the view controller. Even though there are multiple cell instances on the screen at one time, there will be only one notes view instance at any time, so it won’t be an issue to connect this view to an outlet.

With ChecklistDetail.storyboard open in the main editor, open ChecklistDetailViewController.swift in the assistant editor. You may have to close the document outline using the icon beneath the storyboard to get enough space:


Ctrl-drag from the new view to ChecklistDetailViewController to create an outlet for the view just below the existing checklist property. Ensure that you are dragging from the view’s background, not from the text view or label. You can also drag from the view’s icon in the scene dock.


Name the outlet notesView and click Connect. The outlet will appear as a property in ChecklistDetailViewController.

Now Ctrl-drag from the text view to ChecklistDetailViewController to create another outlet just below the one you just made. Name the outlet notesTextView and click Connect.

Finally, it’s time to write some code! :] You’ll use another new feature of iOS 9, UIStackView, to add and remove the notes view from a cell with an animation.

Note: To learn more about UIStackView, be sure to check out Introducing Stack Views which is an excerpt from our book iOS 9 by Tutorials.

In ChecklistDetailViewController.swift, add the following method to the bottom of the main class implementation:

func addNotesViewToCell(cell: ChecklistItemTableViewCell) {
    .active = true
  notesView.clipsToBounds = true


This method ensures Auto Layout defines the the notes view’s height, then adds it to the cell’s stack view’s arrangedSubviews collection. It also sets clipsToBounds to true to prevent the text view from spilling outside of the cell when you perform a swipe-to-delete.

The height needs to be set using Auto Layout since the stack view derives its own height from the heights of its arrangedSubviews. If you don’t set the height here, the cell won’t grow when you add the notes view.

Next, add the following method below addNotesViewToCell(_:):

func removeNotesView() {
  if let stackView = notesView.superview as? UIStackView {

This removes the notes view from the stack view’s arrangedSubviews as well from its set of visible subviews.

Next, you need to put these methods to use. Still in ChecklistDetailViewController.swift, find the table view delegate extension for ChecklistDetailViewController and add the following code:

override func tableView(tableView: UITableView,
  didSelectRowAtIndexPath indexPath: NSIndexPath) {
    // 1
    guard let cell = tableView.cellForRowAtIndexPath(indexPath) as?
      ChecklistItemTableViewCell else {

    // 2
    // 3
    if cell.stackView.arrangedSubviews.contains(notesView) {
    } else {

      // 4
      notesTextView.text = checklist.items[indexPath.row].notes

    // 5

This method does the following:

  1. Uses a Swift 2.0 guard statement to ensure that there is a valid cell of the right type at the selected index path before continuing.
  2. Calls tableView.beginUpdates() to animate the changes to the cell’s height.
  3. Removes the notes view if the cell’s stack view already contains it; otherwise, add the notes view.
  4. Updates the notes text view to contain the notes for the selected checklist item.
  5. Finally, calls tableView.endUpdates() to commit the changes.

Finally — don’t forget that you changed the project’s main interface earlier on. To change the project’s main interface back to the main storyboard: click on the Prepped project in the project navigator, click on the Prepped target and then click on the General tab. Change Main Interface to Main.storyboard:


Build and run your app; tap any cell and you should see the notes view appear. Using a stack view means you didn’t need to set any frames manually or add any constraints to the cell other than the one that defines the height of the notes view. In previous versions of iOS, this would’ve been rather more tricky to implement.


Note: Being able to create a view in the scene dock is useful, but only if it is used solely from one view controller. If the supplementary view is reused throughout the app, you’d be better off using a XIB file that you instantiate in code.

Where to go from here?

Here’s the completed example project from this tutorial.

Your app to help you survive the apocalypse is well on the way to being finished! This tutorial about the new storyboard references and an enhanced scene dock should show you there are very few reasons not to use storyboards in your own projects.

This iOS 9 storyboards tutorial was an abbreviated version of Chapter 8, “What’s new in Storyboards” from iOS 9 by Tutorials. Storyboards in Xcode 7 also have greater support for custom segues. We’ve got that covered in Chapter 9, “Custom Segues”. If you decide to convert Prepped into a universal app, you can also read more about supporting multitasking on the iPad in Chapter 5, “Multitasking”.

There are some useful sessions from WWDC 2015 that will help you as well:

If you have any questions or comments about this tutorial or storyboards in general, please join the forum discussion below!

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