Creating persistent data store on iOS

Storing data persistently on iOS is something what is needed quite often. In this post, we are going to look into how to build a persistent data store and how to store image data.

Initialising the persistent data store

Persistent data store is an object managing a folder on disk. It allows writing and reading data asynchronously.
Firstly, we need to create a folder where to store all the files. As every instance of the data store should manage its own folder, we will add an argument name to the initialiser. Then we can create a folder in user’s documents folder with that name. As writing and reading data is an expensive operation, we are going to offload the work to a concurrent DispatchQueue. Concurrent dispatch queue allows us to read multiple files at the same time (more about it a bit later).

Storing data asynchronously

Method for storing data on disk consists of closure, identifier and completion handler. This allows us to create a closure what transforms object to data. For example, it could transform UIImage to Data. Secondly, this transformation, possibly slow operation, can be offloaded to the same thread writing the data into a file. Using closure gives us a flexible API what we can extend with convenience methods.

Identifier is internally used as a filename and default implementation creates unique identifier. Therefore, when data store consumer would like to replace the current file, it can supply an identifier, otherwise new file is created.
Completion handler contains a Result enum type. Result enum consists of three cases: success, transformation failure and data writing failure. Success’ associated value is identifier, failure contains error object and transformation failure is equal to noData.
Important to note here is that the work item has barrier specified. Barrier means that when DispatchQueue starts to handle the work item, it will wait until all the previous work items have finished running. Meaning, we will never try to update a file on disk when some other request is busy reading it.

Loading data asynchronously

Load data is generic method allowing the data transformation closure to return a specific type (e.g. transforming Data to UIImage). Shortly, load data reads file from disk and transforms it into a different type. As transformation can be a lengthy task, it is yet again running on the background thread and will not cause any hiccups in the UI.

Removing data asynchronously

Removing a single file or all of the files is pretty straight-forward. As we are modifying files on disk, we will use barrier again and then FileManager’s removeItem(at:) together with contentsOfDirectory(at:includingPropertiesForKeys:options:).

Extension for storing images

It is easy to extend the PersistentDataStore with convenience methods for storing a specific type of data. This allows us to hide the technical details of transforming image to data and vice-versa. Moreover, calling the method gets easier to read as data transformation closure is not visible anymore.

Summary

We created a persistent data store what is performant and has a flexible API. API can be extended easily to support any other data transformation. In addition, it uses thread-safe techniques for making sure data never gets corrupted.

Playground

PersistentDataStore (GitHub) Xcode 10, Swift 4.2

References

DispatchQueues (Apple)
dispatch_barrier_async (Apple)

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