Protocols

Every reasonably sophisticated object-oriented language must face the fact that the hierarchy of subclasses and superclasses is insufficient to express the desired relationships between classes. For example, a Bee object and a Bird object might need to have certain features in common by virtue of the fact that both a bee and a bird can fly. But Bee might inherit from Insect, and not every insect can fly, so how can Bee acquire the aspects of a Flier in a way that isn’t completely independent of how Bird acquires them?

Some object-oriented languages solve this problem through mixin classes. For example, in Ruby you could define a Flier module, complete with method definitions, and incorporate it into both Bee and Bird. Objective-C uses a simpler, lighter-weight approach — the protocol. Cocoa makes heavy use of protocols.

A protocol is just a named list of method declarations, with no implementation. A class may formally declare that it conforms to (or adopts) a protocol; such conformance is inherited by subclasses. This declaration satisfies the compiler when you try to send a corresponding message. If a protocol declares an instance method myCoolMethod, and if MyClass declares conformance to that protocol, then you can send the myCoolMethod message to a MyClass instance and the compiler won’t complain.

Actually implementing the methods declared in a protocol is up to the class that conforms to it. A protocol method may be required or optional. If a protocol method is required, ...

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