Creating delegates on the spot with blocks

I love blocks and it makes me sad when I can’t use them. In particular, this happens mostly every time I use delegates (e.g.: with UIKit classes, mostly pre-block functionality).

So I wonder… Is it possible -using the crazy power of ObjC-, to do something like this?

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  •    // id _delegate; // Most likely declared as class variable or it will be released
       _delegate = [DelegateFactory delegateOfProtocol:@protocol(SomeProtocol)];
       _delegate performBlock:^{
           // Do something
       } onSelector:@selector(someProtocolMethod)]; // would execute the given block when the given selector is called on the dynamic delegate object.
       theObject.delegate = (id<SomeProtocol>)_delegate;
       // Profit!


    If YES, how? And is there a reason why we shouldn’t be doing this as much as possible?


    Looks like it IS possible. Current answers focus on the first part of the question, which is how. But it’d be nice to have some discussion on the “should we do it” part.

    3 Solutions Collect From Internet About “Creating delegates on the spot with blocks”

    Okay, I finally got around to putting WoolDelegate up on GitHub. Now it should only take me another month to write a proper README (although I guess this is a good start).

    The delegate class itself is pretty straightforward. It simply maintains a dictionary mapping SELs to Block. When an instance recieves a message to which it doesn’t respond, it ends up in forwardInvocation: and looks in the dictionary for the selector:

    - (void)forwardInvocation:(NSInvocation *)anInvocation {
        SEL sel = [anInvocation selector];
        GenericBlock handler = [self handlerForSelector:sel];

    If it’s found, the Block’s invocation function pointer is pulled out and passed along to the juicy bits:

        IMP handlerIMP = BlockIMP(handler);
        [anInvocation Wool_invokeUsingIMP:handlerIMP];

    (The BlockIMP() function, along with other Block-probing code, is thanks to Mike Ash. Actually, a lot of this project is built on stuff I learned from his Friday Q&A’s. If you haven’t read those essays, you’re missing out.)

    I should note that this goes through the full method resolution machinery every time a particular message is sent; there’s a speed hit there. The alternative is the path that Erik H. and EMKPantry each took, which is creating a new clas for each delegate object that you need, and using class_addMethod(). Since every instance of WoolDelegate has its own dictionary of handlers, we don’t need to do that, but on the other hand there’s no way to “cache” the lookup or the invocation. A method can only be added to a class, not to an instance.

    I did it this way for two reasons: this was an excercise to see if I could work out the part that’s coming next — the hand-off from NSInvocation to Block invocation — and the creation of a new class for every needed instance simply seemed inelegant to me. Whether it’s less elegant than my solution, I will leave to each reader’s judgement.

    Moving on, the meat of this procedure is actually in the NSInvocation category that’s found in the project. This utilizes libffi to call a function that’s unknown until runtime — the Block’s invocation — with arguments that are also unknown until runtime (which are accessible via the NSInvocation). Normally, this is not possible, for the same reason that a va_list cannot be passed on: the compiler has to know how many arguments there are and how big they are. libffi contains assembler for each platform that knows/is based on those platforms’ calling conventions.

    There’s three steps here: libffi needs a list of the types of the arguments to the function that’s being called; it needs the argument values themselves put into a particular format; then the function (the Block’s invocation pointer) needs to be invoked via libffi and the return value put back into the NSInvocation.

    The real work for the first part is handled largely by a function which is again written by Mike Ash, called from Wool_buildFFIArgTypeList. libffi has internal structs that it uses to describe the types of function arguments. When preparing a call to a function, the library needs a list of pointers to these structures. The NSMethodSignature for the NSInvocation allows access of each argument’s encoding string; translating from there to the correct ffi_type is handled by a set of if/else lookups:

    arg_types[i] = libffi_type_for_objc_encoding([sig getArgumentTypeAtIndex:actual_arg_idx]);
    if(str[0] == @encode(type)[0]) \
    { \
        if(sizeof(type) == 1) \
            return &ffi_type_sint8; \
        else if(sizeof(type) == 2) \
            return &ffi_type_sint16; \

    Next, libffi wants pointers to the argument values themselves. This is done in Wool_buildArgValList: get the size of each argument, again from the NSMethodSignature, and allocate a chunk of memory that size, then return the list:

    NSUInteger arg_size;
    NSGetSizeAndAlignment([sig getArgumentTypeAtIndex:actual_arg_idx], 
    /* Get a piece of memory that size and put its address in the list. */
    arg_list[i] = [self Wool_allocate:arg_size];
    /* Put the value into the allocated spot. */
    [self getArgument:arg_list[i] atIndex:actual_arg_idx];

    (An aside: there’s several notes in the code about skipping over the SEL, which is the (hidden) second passed argument to any method invocation. The Block’s invocation pointer doesn’t have a slot to hold the SEL; it just has itself as the first argument, and the rest are the “normal” arguments. Since the Block, as written in client code, could never access that argument anyways (it doesn’t exist at the time), I decided to ignore it.)

    libffi now needs to do some “prep”; as long as that succeeds (and space for the return value can be allocated), the invocation function pointer can now be “called”, and the return value can be set:

    ffi_call(&inv_cif, (genericfunc)theIMP, ret_val, arg_vals);
    if( ret_val ){
        [self setReturnValue:ret_val];

    There’s some demonstrations of the functionality in main.m in the project.

    Finally, as for your question of “should this be done?”, I think the answer is “yes, as long as it makes you more productive”. WoolDelegate is completely generic, and an instance can act like any fully written-out class. My intention for it, though, was to make simple, one-off delegates — that only need one or two methods, and don’t need to live past their delegators — less work than writing a whole new class, and more legible/maintainable than sticking some delegate methods into a view controller because it’s the easiest place to put them. Taking advantage of the runtime and the language’s dynamism like this hopefully can increase your code’s readability, in the same way, e.g., Block-based NSNotification handlers do.

    I just put together a little project that lets you do just this…

    @interface EJHDelegateObject : NSObject
    + (id)delegateObjectForProtocol:(Protocol*) protocol;
    @property (nonatomic, strong) Protocol *protocol;
    - (void)addImplementation:(id)blockImplementation forSelector:(SEL)selector;
    @implementation EJHDelegateObject
    static NSInteger counter;
    + (id)delegateObjectForProtocol:(Protocol *)protocol 
        NSString *className = [NSString stringWithFormat:@"%s%@%i",protocol_getName(protocol),@"_EJH_implementation_", counter++];
        Class protocolClass = objc_allocateClassPair([EJHDelegateObject class], [className cStringUsingEncoding:NSUTF8StringEncoding], 0);
        class_addProtocol(protocolClass, protocol);
        EJHDelegateObject *object = [[protocolClass alloc] init];
        object.protocol = protocol;
        return object;
    - (void)addImplementation:(id)blockImplementation forSelector:(SEL)selector
        unsigned int outCount;
        struct objc_method_description *methodDescriptions = protocol_copyMethodDescriptionList(self.protocol, NO, YES, &outCount);
        struct objc_method_description description;
        BOOL descriptionFound = NO;
        for (int i = 0; i < outCount; i++){
            description = methodDescriptions[i];
            if ( == selector){
                descriptionFound = YES;
        if (descriptionFound){
            class_addMethod([self class], selector, imp_implementationWithBlock(blockImplementation), description.types);

    And using an EJHDelegateObject:

    self.alertViewDelegate = [EJHDelegateObject delegateObjectForProtocol:@protocol(UIAlertViewDelegate)];
    [self.alertViewDelegate addImplementation:^(id _self, UIAlertView* alertView, NSInteger buttonIndex){
        NSLog(@"%@ dismissed with index %i", alertView, buttonIndex);
    } forSelector:@selector(alertView:didDismissWithButtonIndex:)];
    UIAlertView *alertView = [[UIAlertView alloc] initWithTitle:@"Example" message:@"My delegate is an EJHDelegateObject" delegate:self.alertViewDelegate cancelButtonTitle:@"Cancel" otherButtonTitles:@"OK", nil];
    [alertView show];

    Edit: This is what I’ve come up after having understood your requirement. This is just a quick hack, an idea to get you started, it’s not properly implemented, nor is it tested. It is supposed to work for delegate methods that take the sender as their only argument. It works It is supposed to work with normal and struct-returning delegate methods.

    typedef void *(^UBDCallback)(id);
    typedef void(^UBDCallbackStret)(void *, id);
    void *UBDDelegateMethod(UniversalBlockDelegate *self, SEL _cmd, id sender)
        UBDCallback cb = [self blockForSelector:_cmd];
        return cb(sender);
    void UBDelegateMethodStret(void *retadrr, UniversalBlockDelegate *self, SEL _cmd, id sender)
        UBDCallbackStret cb = [self blockForSelector:_cmd];
        cb(retaddr, sender);
    @interface UniversalBlockDelegate: NSObject
    - (BOOL)addDelegateSelector:(SEL)sel isStret:(BOOL)stret methodSignature:(const char *)mSig block:(id)block;
    @implementation UniversalBlockDelegate {
        SEL selectors[128];
        id blocks[128];
        int count;
    - (id)blockForSelector:(SEL)sel
        int idx = -1;
        for (int i = 0; i < count; i++) {
            if (selectors[i] == sel) {
                return blocks[i];
        return nil; 
    - (void)dealloc
        for (int i = 0; i < count; i++) {
            [blocks[i] release];
        [super dealloc];
    - (BOOL)addDelegateSelector:(SEL)sel isStret:(BOOL)stret methodSignature:(const char *)mSig block:(id)block
        if (count >= 128) return NO;
        selectors[count] = sel;
        blocks[count++] = [block copy];
        class_addMethod(self.class, sel, (IMP)(stret ? UBDDelegateMethodStret : UBDDelegateMethod), mSig);
        return YES;


    UIWebView *webView = [[UIWebView alloc] initWithFrame:CGRectZero];
    UniversalBlockDelegate *d = [[UniversalBlockDelegate alloc] init];
    webView.delegate = d;
    [d addDelegateSelector:@selector(webViewDidFinishLoading:) isStret:NO methodSignature:"v@:@" block:^(id webView) {
        NSLog(@"Web View '%@' finished loading!", webView);
    [webView loadRequest:[NSURLRequest requestWithURL:[NSURL URLWithString:@""]]];