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9
Multiple Managed Object Contexts Written by Matthew Morey

A managed object context is an in-memory scratchpad for working with your managed objects. In Chapter 3, “The Core Data Stack”, you learned how the managed object context fits in with the other classes in the Core Data stack.

Most apps need just a single managed object context. The default configuration in most Core Data apps is a single managed object context associated with the main queue. Multiple managed object contexts make your apps harder to debug; it’s not something you’d use in every app, in every situation.

That being said, certain situations do warrant the use of more than one managed object context. For example, long-running tasks, such as exporting data, will block the main thread of apps that use only a single main-queue managed object context and cause the UI to stutter.

In other situations, such as when edits are being made to user data, it’s helpful to treat a managed object context as a set of changes that the app can discard if it no longer needs them. Using child contexts makes this possible.

In this chapter, you’ll learn about multiple managed object contexts by taking a journaling app for surfers and improving it in several ways by adding multiple contexts.

Note: If common Core Data phrases such as managed object subclass and persistent store coordinator don’t ring any bells, or if you’re unsure what a Core Data stack is supposed to do, you may want to read or reread the first three chapters of this book before proceeding. This chapter covers advanced topics and assumes you already know the basics.

Getting started

This chapter’s starter project is a simple journal app for surfers. After each surf session, a surfer can use the app to create a new journal entry that records marine parameters, such as swell height or period, and rate the session from 1 to 5. Dude, if you’re not fond of hanging ten and getting barreled, no worries, brah. Just replace the surfing terminology with your favorite hobby of choice!

Introducing SurfJournal

Go to this chapter’s files and find the SurfJournal starter project. Open the project, then build and run the app.

The Core Data stack

Open CoreDataStack.swift and find the following code in seedCoreDataContainerIfFirstLaunch():

// 1
let previouslyLaunched =
  UserDefaults.standard.bool(forKey: "previouslyLaunched")
if !previouslyLaunched {
  UserDefaults.standard.set(true, forKey: "previouslyLaunched")

  // Default directory where the CoreDataStack will store its files
  let directory = NSPersistentContainer.defaultDirectoryURL()
  let url = directory.appendingPathComponent(
    modelName + ".sqlite")

  // 2: Copying the SQLite file
  let seededDatabaseURL = Bundle.main.url(
    forResource: modelName,
    withExtension: "sqlite")!

  _ = try? FileManager.default.removeItem(at: url)

  do {
    try FileManager.default.copyItem(at: seededDatabaseURL,
                                     to: url)
  } catch let nserror as NSError {
    fatalError("Error: \(nserror.localizedDescription)")
  }  
  // 3: Copying the SHM file
  let seededSHMURL = Bundle.main.url(forResource: modelName,
    withExtension: "sqlite-shm")!
  let shmURL = directory.appendingPathComponent(
    modelName + ".sqlite-shm")

  _ = try? FileManager.default.removeItem(at: shmURL)

  do {
    try FileManager.default.copyItem(at: seededSHMURL,
                                     to: shmURL)
  } catch let nserror as NSError {
    fatalError("Error: \(nserror.localizedDescription)")
  }

  // 4: Copying the WAL file
  let seededWALURL = Bundle.main.url(forResource: modelName,
    withExtension: "sqlite-wal")!
  let walURL = directory.appendingPathComponent(
    modelName + ".sqlite-wal")

  _ = try? FileManager.default.removeItem(at: walURL)

  do {
    try FileManager.default.copyItem(at: seededWALURL,
                                     to: walURL)
  } catch let nserror as NSError {
    fatalError("Error: \(nserror.localizedDescription)")
  }

  print("Seeded Core Data")
}

Doing work in the background

If you haven’t done so already, tap the Export button at the top-left and then immediately try to scroll the list of surf session journal entries. Notice anything? The export operation takes several seconds, and it prevents the UI from responding to touch events such as scrolling.

Exporting data

Start by viewing how the app creates the CSV strings for the JournalEntry entity. Open JournalEntry+Helper.swift and find csv():

func csv() -> String {
  let coalescedHeight = height ?? ""
  let coalescedPeriod = period ?? ""
  let coalescedWind = wind ?? ""
  let coalescedLocation = location ?? ""
  let coalescedRating: String
  if let rating = rating?.int16Value {
    coalescedRating = String(rating)
  } else {
    coalescedRating = ""
  }

  return "\(stringForDate()),\(coalescedHeight),\(coalescedPeriod),\(coalescedWind),\(coalescedLocation),\(coalescedRating)\n"
}
// 1
let context = coreDataStack.mainContext
var results: [JournalEntry] = []
do {
  results = try context.fetch(self.surfJournalFetchRequest())
} catch let error as NSError {
  print("ERROR: \(error.localizedDescription)")
}

// 2
let exportFilePath = NSTemporaryDirectory() + "export.csv"
let exportFileURL = URL(fileURLWithPath: exportFilePath)
FileManager.default.createFile(atPath: exportFilePath,
  contents: Data(), attributes: nil)

// 3
let fileHandle: FileHandle?
do {
  fileHandle = try FileHandle(forWritingTo: exportFileURL)
} catch let error as NSError {
  print("ERROR: \(error.localizedDescription)")
  fileHandle = nil
}

if let fileHandle = fileHandle {
  // 4
  for journalEntry in results {
    fileHandle.seekToEndOfFile()
    guard let csvData = journalEntry
      .csv()
      .data(using: .utf8, allowLossyConversion: false) else {
        continue
    }

    fileHandle.write(csvData)
  }

  // 5
  fileHandle.closeFile()

  print("Export Path: \(exportFilePath)")
  self.navigationItem.leftBarButtonItem =
    self.exportBarButtonItem()
  self.showExportFinishedAlertView(exportFilePath)

} else {
  self.navigationItem.leftBarButtonItem =
    self.exportBarButtonItem()
}

Exporting in the background

You want the UI to continue working while the export is happening. To fix the UI problem, you’ll perform the export operation on a private background context instead of on the main context.

// 1
let context = coreDataStack.mainContext
var results: [JournalEntry] = []
do {
  results = try context.fetch(self.surfJournalFetchRequest())
} catch let error as NSError {
  print("ERROR: \(error.localizedDescription)")
}
// 1
coreDataStack.storeContainer.performBackgroundTask { context in
  var results: [JournalEntry] = []
  do {
    results = try context.fetch(self.surfJournalFetchRequest())
  } catch let error as NSError {
    print("ERROR: \(error.localizedDescription)")
  }
  print("Export Path: \(exportFilePath)")
  self.navigationItem.leftBarButtonItem =
    self.exportBarButtonItem()
  self.showExportFinishedAlertView(exportFilePath)
} else {
  self.navigationItem.leftBarButtonItem =
    self.exportBarButtonItem()
}
    print("Export Path: \(exportFilePath)")
    // 6
    DispatchQueue.main.async {
      self.navigationItem.leftBarButtonItem =
        self.exportBarButtonItem()
      self.showExportFinishedAlertView(exportFilePath)
    }
  } else {
    DispatchQueue.main.async {
      self.navigationItem.leftBarButtonItem =
        self.exportBarButtonItem()
    }
  }
} // 7 Closing brace for performBackgroundTask

Editing on a scratchpad

Right now, SurfJournal uses the main context (coreDataStack.mainContext) when creating a new journal entry or viewing an existing one. There’s nothing wrong with this approach; the starter project works as-is.

Viewing and editing

The first part of the operation requires segueing from the main list view to the journal detail view.

// 1
if segue.identifier == "SegueListToDetail" {
  // 2
  guard let navigationController =
    segue.destination as? UINavigationController,
    let detailViewController =
      navigationController.topViewController
        as? JournalEntryViewController,
    let indexPath = tableView.indexPathForSelectedRow else {
      fatalError("Application storyboard mis-configuration")
  }
  // 3
  let surfJournalEntry =
    fetchedResultsController.object(at: indexPath)
  // 4
  detailViewController.journalEntry = surfJournalEntry
  detailViewController.context =
    surfJournalEntry.managedObjectContext
  detailViewController.delegate = self
protocol JournalEntryDelegate {
  func didFinish(viewController: JournalEntryViewController,
                 didSave: Bool)
}
func didFinish(viewController: JournalEntryViewController,
               didSave: Bool) {
  // 1
  guard didSave,
    let context = viewController.context,
    context.hasChanges else {
      dismiss(animated: true)
      return
  }
  // 2
  context.perform {
    do {
      try context.save()
    } catch let error as NSError {
      fatalError("Error: \(error.localizedDescription)")
    }
    // 3
    self.coreDataStack.saveContext()
  }
  // 4
  dismiss(animated: true)
}
If the save fails, call `fatalError` to abort the app with the relevant error information.

Using child contexts for sets of edits

Now that you know how the app currently edits and creates JournalEntry entities, you’ll modify the implementation to use a child managed object context as a temporary scratch pad.

detailViewController.journalEntry = surfJournalEntry
detailViewController.context =
  surfJournalEntry.managedObjectContext
detailViewController.delegate = self
// 1
let childContext = NSManagedObjectContext(
  concurrencyType: .mainQueueConcurrencyType)
childContext.parent = coreDataStack.mainContext

// 2
let childEntry = childContext.object(
  with: surfJournalEntry.objectID) as? JournalEntry

// 3
detailViewController.journalEntry = childEntry
detailViewController.context = childContext
detailViewController.delegate = self

Key points

  • A managed object context is an in-memory scratchpad for working with your managed objects.
  • Private background contexts can be used to prevent blocking the main UI.
  • Contexts are associated with specific queues and should only be accessed on those queues.
  • Child contexts can simplify an app’s architecture by making saving or throwing away edits easy.
  • Managed objects are tightly bound to their context, and can’t be used with other contexts.
  • Surfers talk funny.

Challenge

With your newfound knowledge, try to update SegueListToDetailAdd to use a child context when adding a new journal entry.

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