Navigation with MVVM on iOS

This is the third post in my series on MVVM with ReactiveCocoa 3/4 in Swift.

One of the things that puzzled me the most when beginning to explore MVVM on iOS was how to do navigation between view controllers. The SwiftGoal app, for instance, may have a list of matches that the user has already created. But everyone makes mistakes, and so we want to allow changes by modally presenting an “Edit Match” screen when the user taps on a match while in table edit mode.

The tap is first registered in the view layer, triggering our MatchesViewController‘s tableView:didSelectRowAtIndexPath: method. So now that we have the index path, maybe we could use it to grab the correct Match object, and somehow assign it to a property on the view model of a newly created EditMatchViewController?

After considering this for a while, I realized that although technically possible, it would violate the MVVM architecture in several ways:

  • The core task of the view model is to expose only the required parts of a model to the view, in a format suitable for presentation. Having MatchesViewModel provide a full Match object to the MatchesViewController is pretty overkill and makes the view model’s data source methods altogether pointless.
  • To pass that Match object, the EditMatchViewController would have to expose its view model, and even worse, the internal state of that view model, to our MatchesViewController! Letting random objects swap out the match currently being edited wouldn’t exactly increase our confidence in the code.

Ideally, we want to keep the view controller’s view model in a private, immutable and non-optional property. That way, we can use it with confidence, knowing that it isn’t nil, hasn’t suddenly changed under our nose, and is in fact wholly invisible to the outside world:

// EditMatchViewController.swift

private let viewModel: EditMatchViewModel

Since we now must have the view model ready at initialization, we can make it part of the designated initializer,

// EditMatchViewController.swift

init(viewModel: EditMatchViewModel) {
    self.viewModel = viewModel
    // …

and move the responsibility for creating that EditMatchViewModel to our MatchesViewModel, while assigning in the view controller:

// MatchesViewController.swift
// (code adjusted for readability)

let editMatchVM = self.viewModel.editViewModelForIndexPath(indexPath)
let editMatchVC = EditMatchViewController(viewModel: editMatchViewModel)
let editMatchNC = UINavigationController(rootViewController: editMatchVC)
self.presentViewController(editMatchNC, animated: true, completion: nil)

Note how we keep the view controller stupid by never even letting it know what exactly goes into the EditMatchViewModel! All it cares about is receiving an instance of the right type to inject into the newly created EditMatchViewController, which it then presents to the user. (Of course, this method also works with push navigation and other presentation modes, as the actual transition happens completely in the view controller.)

You may already have guessed what’s happening behind the scenes. The view model knows exactly how to get a Match with the given index path, and what to do with it:

// MatchesViewModel.swift
// (code adjusted for readability)

func editViewModelForIndexPath(indexPath: NSIndexPath) -> EditMatchViewModel {
    let match = matchAtIndexPath(indexPath)
    return EditMatchViewModel(store: store, match: match)

It’s as simple as that, and as the codebase shows, really testable too.