NSRange and NSString Objects

When poking around NSString methods you’ll find many references to NSRange, which is nothing more than a C structure that is helpful for describing a series of items, including a starting location and a count. For example, a range is helpful to extract a substring from another string, where you specify the starting location and number of elements needed (examples to follow).

NSRange Definition

NSRange is a structure defined as follows:

typedef struct _NSRange 
  NSUInteger location;
  NSUInteger length;
} NSRange;

location is the starting index in the range (zero based) and length is the number of entries in the range. NSUInteger is simply an unsigned value that supports both 32 and 64 bit systems. Here is how NSUInteger is defined:

typedef unsigned long NSUInteger;
typedef unsigned int NSUInteger;

NSRange and Strings

The example below shows one approach for creating a range and using the same to extract a substring – the output from below is IPA

NSString *homebrew = @"Imperial India Pale Ale (IPA)";
// Starting at position 25, get 3 characters
NSRange range = NSMakeRange (25, 3);
// This would also work:
// NSRange range = {25, 3};
NSLog (@"Beer shortname: %@", [homebrew substringWithRange:range]);

If you want to search for a substring, you could write something like the following:

NSString *homebrew = @"Imperial India Pale Ale (IPA)";
NSRange range = [homebrew rangeOfString:@"IPA"];
// Did we find the string "IPA" ?
if (range.length > 0)
  NSLog(@"Range is: %@", NSStringFromRange(range));

The output from above will display: Range is: {25, 3}. Notice the call to NSStringFromRange() which will display the return value (a range) as an NSString. There is also a function to create a range from a string: NSRangeFromString().

Let’s look at one more example, the code below will search for the string “ia” starting at the end of the string moving towards the beginning:

NSString *homebrew = @"Imperial India Pale Ale (IPA)";
// Search for the "ia" starting at the end of string
NSRange range = [homebrew rangeOfString:@"ia" options:NSBackwardsSearch];
// What did we find
if (range.length > 0)
  NSLog(@"Range is: %@", NSStringFromRange(range));

The result from above is: Range is: {12, 2} (the “ia” inside the word “India”).

NSRange Functions

Here is a list of functions that work with ranges:


  1. Interesting, clear end helpful.
    Thanks a lot for this little tutorial. ;o)

  2. @Bergamot: I realize I’m responding to a very old comment, but I figured other newer developers might happen upon this post, too. As of iOS4, Apple provides a class (NSRegularExpression) that essentially does what RegexKit did. You can still use Regex, but as far as I can tell it has not been updated for ARC, so you will have to do some work to either adapt it to ARC or build your project without ARC–a significant amount of work either way. A lot of iPhone devs who have come to the platform in the last few years (myself included) never even learned manual memory management.

    I’m building an app that includes complex search logic and thought I would have to adapt to Regex, but fortunately I happened upon NSRegularExpression before I got too far into it. Cheers.

  3. Forgot to add…if for some reason you needed some functionality that RegexKit provided but is not present in Apple’s NSRegularExpression, you could always write a category on it.

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