How to build a UICollectionView in iOS 8

In this video I’ll show you how to build a UICollectionView from scratch in Xcode 6. The class is available for both iPhone and iPad since iOS 6. If you know how to build a UITableView then building a UICollectionView will be familiar to you.

I’ll start with a single view application, delete the ViewController class and start fresh with a UICollectionViewController. Next I’ll add a custom class for the UICollectionViewController and UICollectionViewCell and then we’ll hook it up in the storyboard.

By the end we’ll have a simple Collection View App which allows multiple selections. I’m going to use this project to build on with other features in the future.

Custom CollectionViewController Class

The template provides a few good starting points, but they need to be changed to work. First there’s the cell’s reuse identifier, conveniently added as a static at the top of the implementation file. It’s there so we only need to change this once in the file. Replace it with your own, and remember to make the same change in the storyboard:

static NSString * const reuseIdentifier = @"Cell";

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 11.11.03

Next up is the viewDidLoad method. To make dequeuing cells easier, Apple have provided a registerClass method. If you don’t add your custom cell here, nothing will appear when you run the app. I found that simply commenting out the line works just as well.

The reason they provide this is so that the dequeueCellWithIdendifier method knows which custom cell class to instantiate (prior to iOS 6 it returned nil, but that check is no longer necessary).

I’m also adding multiple selections here, something that cannot be done in the storyboard.

- (void)viewDidLoad {

    [super viewDidLoad];
    // EVIL: Register your own cell class (or comment this out)
    [self.collectionView registerClass:[YourCustomCell class] forCellWithReuseIdentifier:reuseIdentifier];
    // allow multiple selections
    self.collectionView.allowsMultipleSelection = YES;
    self.collectionView.allowsSelection = YES;


Much like with UITableViews, we need to provide the number of sections, as well as the number of items in each section:

- (NSInteger)numberOfSectionsInCollectionView:(UICollectionView *)collectionView {

    return 1;

- (NSInteger)collectionView:(UICollectionView *)collectionView numberOfItemsInSection:(NSInteger)section {

    return self.cellData.count;

If you don’t provide the sections method, it is assumed that you have one section. Usually we’d have some data and would return a count of how many items we have rather than fixed values here.

We also need to provide what’s in each cell. Here we can add data to labels, populate UIImageViews and many other things our collection view cells may need:

- (UICollectionViewCell *)collectionView:(UICollectionView *)collectionView cellForItemAtIndexPath:(NSIndexPath *)indexPath {
    MyCell *cell = [collectionView dequeueReusableCellWithReuseIdentifier:reuseIdentifier forIndexPath:indexPath];
    cell.textLabel.text = [self.cellData objectAtIndex:indexPath.row];

    return cell;


With UITableViews there were four styles of table cells we could choose from out of the box. A collection view cell on the other hand is completely blank, and we’re expected to provide everything inside it. This means we need a custom UICollectionViewCell class for our project.

Anything we drag into the prototype cell in the storyboard can be hooked up to that custom class and the configured in the above cellForItemAtIndexPath method. Make sure any outlets are defined in the cell’s header file.

Cell Selections

Collection view cells have several views layered on top of each other. At the bottom is the backgroundView and the selectedBackgroundView. These are not configured by default, but if we add our own views here, the cell knows how display selections.

Above the background/selectedBackgroundView is the contentView, and on top of the contentView is where we can add out own outlets (like labels and images). If we leave the contentView’s background colour transparent, the views underneath will be visible, and hence selections are visible too.

Here’s how to configure our custom cell with two colours for selection and deselection. I’m doing this in awakeFromNib, which is called as soon as our cell is instantiated:

- (void)awakeFromNib {
    // standard background (deselected)
    UIView *bgView = [[UIView alloc]initWithFrame:self.bounds];
    self.backgroundView = bgView;
    self.backgroundView.backgroundColor = [UIColor colorWithPatternImage:[UIImage imageNamed:@"blue"]];
    // selected background
    UIView *selectedView = [[UIView alloc]initWithFrame:self.bounds];
    self.selectedBackgroundView = selectedView;
    self.selectedBackgroundView.backgroundColor = [UIColor colorWithPatternImage:[UIImage imageNamed:@"pink"]];

Demo Project

The code I’m writing here is available as a demo project on GitHub:

5 thoughts on “How to build a UICollectionView in iOS 8

  1. Thank you so much for this tutorial. That one line of code was tripping me up for so long and now I can finally see my collection! Thanks again!

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