Intro to iOS threading.

Intro to iOS threading using GCD.

Threading is an important concept in iOS. The concept is pretty simple. This is what happens inside the processor. Consider launching an app in your iPhone. When the app launches, it will be on the main thread or the UI thread. At this point, when we try to do some time consuming task in the main thread, the UI will stop responding for a while. This is a situation the user will never want to face. From the users perspective, the app should always be responding and should be fast. As we know , most of the modern processors supports multitasking and are pretty fast. So, instead of doing the time consuming task in the main thread, better give it to different thread so that the main thread can do the other work it has to perform.

Consider an example of loading a tableview . You will be calling a method which takes some time say 5 seconds to return with the data for tableview and you will be doing this in the viewDidLoad().

override func viewDidLoad() {
doSomeTimeConsumingTask() // takes 5 seconds to respond

The execution happens line by line and when doSomeTimeConsumingTask() method is called, the UI will not be responding for 5 seconds . So for the user, the app will not even show the table for 5 seconds. Then suddenly it gets the data and the tableview is loaded.

This actually is a bad practice as time consuming processes should be done in a separate thread say a “Background thread” to free up the main UI thread so that the app remains responsive.

Then how do we call the doSomeTimeConsumingTask() in a different thread?

Well, that is pretty simple, we normally create a global thread with some priority level and assign the task to it.

DispatchQoS is the quality of service with determines the priority required for the task in the thread. As you can see, there are different priority levels available .

background has the lowest priority and userInteractive has the highest
Optimally, run your app at a QoS level of utility or lower at least 90% of the time when user activity is not occurring.
QoS is available in iOS 8 and later.

In the past, GCD has provided high, default, low, and background global concurrent queues for prioritizing work. Corresponding QoS classes should now be used in place of these queues.

So, for the above use case, create a global queue with User-Interactive QoS class so that it gets executed instantaneously.

The .async closure executes the code asynchronously without bothering about other tasks which are pending. The above code will work and it will reload the table but not instantaneously. This is because the reloadData() is called from the background thread. So, one more correction is required in the above code so that the tableview reloads properly. This is by calling the main thread and asynchronously reloading the table.

override func viewDidLoad() {
super.viewDidLoad() {
self.doSomeTimeConsumingTask() // takes 5 seconds to respond
DispatchQueue.main.async {

Done. So, that was a small intro to threading in iOS. I will try to cover more in the next article.

Also, do read this article by RayWenderlich on GCD.


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