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PMPKVObservation – Yet Another KVO-improvement project

If you’re reading this then you’re probably as frustrated by seemingly random KVO crashes and/or the pain of huge if/else blocks in your observers. I’ve never been happy with the other KVO-improvement classes I’ve seen, and never having had any bright insights myself I kept doing things the normal way. This becomes especially painful with things like view based NSTableViews when you are re-using objects and so need to observe a new object, being very careful to un-observe the prior object (unless it’s been released, which you need to either track yourself if you can, or retain it, which has its own problems).

It was clear that the dealloc swizzling approach of Mike Ash’s MAKVONotificationCenter was unavoidable, but I didn’t like the complexity. Recently Gwynne Raskind posted a somewhat updated MAKVONotificationCenter which sparked some discussion, including a comment discussing SPKVONotificationCenter by Joachim Bengtsson. Joachim’s brainwave was that observations should be modelled as standalone objects and simply managing the lifecycle of that object appropriately should remove the observation. Clean and simple.

Except it’s not quite that simple because you still need to swizzle the dealloc of the observed object since it can go away at any time. And as much as I love a good macro as much as the next hacker, Joachim’s $depends() macro looks about as much fun as a turing complete makefile.

Enter PMPKVObservation!

Include PMPKVObservation.m and .h in your project, then do something like:


@interface PMPKVOTests ()
@property (retain) PMPKVObservation * kvo;

@implementation PMPKVOTests
@synthesizekvo = _kvo;

- (void)observationFired:(PMPKVObservation *)observationchanges:(NSDictionary *)changes;
NSLog(@"observation fired for object: %@ keyPath: %@ changes: %@",

- (void)selectorObservation
self.kvo = [PMPKVObservation observe:anObjectToObserve

- (void)blockObservation
self.kvo = [PMPKVObservation observe:anObjectToObserve
callback:^(PMPKVObservation *observation, NSDictionary *changeDictionary) {
NSLog(@"observation fired for object: %@ keyPath: %@ changes: %@",

- (void)dealloc
[ _kvo release];

[super dealloc];


The options and change dictionary are as per normal KVO. You need to be wary of the block causing retain cycles of self as usual.

Unlike MAKVONotificationCenter and others, you are responsible for managing the lifecycle of the kvo object – when it is dealloc-ed the observation will be removed. Like MAKVONotificationCenter, a minimum of magic is used to swizzle the dealloc method of the observed object and remove the observation if it still exists (tracked via an associated NSHashTable). If for some reason you want to find out if the kvo object you hold has been released early you can check the isValid accessor (which you can observe with KVO).


  1. While I am using this in a client project, that project has not yet shipped so I can’t promise wide-spread testing. Take a look at the tests in the test app and if you are using scenarios that you don’t thing are tested pull requests are welcome!
  2. I haven’t tried this under ARC, but I think I’ve made PMPKVObservation.m so it will compile and work as-is (the same can’t be said for the test app). Please let me know how you go.
  3. No attempt is made to stop you changing the observed object etc. after creation, but doing so isn’t going to be very effective…


06:49 PM, 13 Mar 2012 by Mark Aufflick Permalink

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