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The navigation controller is a special controller that manages how other view controllers are displayed. Like table views, navigation controllers are very common in iOS apps.

Let's use Apple's Calendar app to demonstrate the functionality provided by a navigation controller. The first view of the Calendar app consists of a calendar that shows the entire year:

calendar app year view

The top grey section you see in the Calendar app is called the navigation bar and is provided by the navigation controller. When we tap on a specific month, a view presenting the month appears. We can think of the month view as having been pushed on top of the year view. Because there are views below the currently displayed view, we now have a back button in the navigation bar that can be used to go back to the previous view. This functionality is provided for free by the navigation controller.

calendar app month view

If we select a specific day, we will once again go another view deeper into the app. To go back to any of the previous views, all we have to do is use the back button.

calendar app day view

Notice that the Calendar app has a hierarchical (layered) structure, meaning that the only way to get to the day screen is to go through the year and month screens first. Navigation controllers are best suited for apps that have a similar hierarchical structure.

In Make School Notes we will have two different views: a top view that display all the notes, and a view layer that displays a specific note after a user taps a specific table view cell. Because this is a hierarchical structure, Make School Notes is a great place to use a navigation controller.

When working with navigation controllers, we're working with what's called a navigation stack, which is simply a list of the views we've gone through. When we transition to a new view, that's called pushing a view on to the stack, and when we go back, that's called popping the current view from the stack.

Setting up the Navigation Controller

Navigation controllers provide us with some pretty complex functionality; luckily they are incredibly easy to set up.

Set up a navigation controller by selecting the List Notes Table View Controller from the Document Outline and selecting Editor > Embed In > Navigation Controller.

adding a navigation controller image

You should now see a navigation controller in your storyboard:

navigation controller in storyboard image

Naming the View

Another cool feature of a navigation controller is the ability to display the title of the current view in the navigation bar. Let's give our List Notes Table View Controller the name "Notes".

Select the Navigation Item in the Document Outline, click on the Attributes inspector, and set the Title field to "Notes".

setting the title to

Running the App!

Your app should now look something like this:

app with navigation controller image

Great job -- our note app is really starting to come along!

On this page, you should have:

  1. Learned the basics of what a navigation controller does.
  2. Added a navigation controller to your app by embedding the ListNotesTableViewController in one.
  3. Learned how to set the title of a view so that it displays in the navigation bar. We set the ListNotesTableViewController's title to Notes.


If you have feedback on this tutorial or find any mistakes, please open issues on the GitHub Repository or comment below.

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