Real-time text formatting in UITextField

Real-time text formatting within UITextField has became a common feature in iOS apps. Even though there are lots of ready-to-use solutions available over the Internet, sometimes you don’t need a complex and super powerful library. Imagine this situation: We’re using a SSN to sign into the app. It should work like this:
Example video

Let’s build it from scratch. It won’t take more than 10 minutes!

Note: I’m using Xcode 6.3 and Swift 1.2.

class SSNTextField: UITextField {
    required init(coder aDecoder: NSCoder) {
        super.init(coder: aDecoder)
    override init(frame: CGRect) {
        super.init(frame: frame)
    private func registerForNotifications() {        
        NSNotificationCenter.defaultCenter().addObserver(self, selector: "textDidChange", name: "UITextFieldTextDidChangeNotification", object: self)

    deinit {

We start with subclassing UITextField. Our new class will be called SSNTextField. We have to implement both required initializers, init(coder aDecoder: NSCoder) and init(frame: CGRect). Because we want real-time formatting, we need a way to find out if the text changed. To receive a notification about it, we add an observer for UITextFieldTextDidChangeNotification. We want to be notified just about text changes related to the object itself, not about other UITextFields in the app. That’s why we use object: self instead of the usual object: nil. Don’t forget to remove self as an observer in deinit function.

var formattingPattern = "***-**-****"

var replacementChar: Character = "*"

We prepare the formatting pattern for the SSN. It should look like this: “***-**-****”. Then we choose “*” to be a replacement character. So every occurrence of “*” will then be replaced with a number. All other characters will remain unchanged.

Before we start with a formatting function, we need one more helping function. This function takes the input string and removes all characters except numbers.

func makeOnlyDigitsString(string: String) -> String {
    return join("", string.componentsSeparatedByCharactersInSet(NSCharacterSet.decimalDigitCharacterSet().invertedSet))

And finally the formatting function. This is where all the magic happens:

func textDidChange() {
    if count(text) > 0 && count(formattingPattern) > 0 {
        let tempString = makeOnlyDigitsString(text)
        var finalText = ""
        var stop = false
        var formatterIndex = formattingPattern.startIndex
        var tempIndex = tempString.startIndex
        while !stop {
            let formattingPatternRange = Range(start: formatterIndex, end: advance(formatterIndex, 1) )
            if formattingPattern.substringWithRange(formattingPatternRange) != String(replacementChar) {
                finalText = finalText.stringByAppendingString(formattingPattern.substringWithRange(formattingPatternRange))
            } else if count(tempString) > 0 {
                let pureStringRange = Range(start: tempIndex, end: advance(tempIndex, 1))
                finalText = finalText.stringByAppendingString(tempString.substringWithRange(pureStringRange))
            if formatterIndex >= formattingPattern.endIndex || tempIndex >= tempString.endIndex {
                stop = true
        text = finalText

Looks complicated but it’s actually very simple:

UITextFieldTextDidChangeNotification starts the function after the text changes.

First, we filter all digits from the current text in text (we could also use more Objective-C-like syntax: self.text) and save them to tempString. Now we’re going to apply new formatting to them. We create two indexes. One is named formatterIndex and is used for enumerating through the formattingPattern string. The other is tempIndex, and we use it for enumerating through tempString.

The logic is super simple. We take characters from formattingPattern one by one. If the character is not equal to replacementCharacter, we append it to the finalText string. If it is equal, we append a digit from tempString instead and shift tempIndex to the next digit in tempString. In both cases, we increase formatterIndex to move to the next character in formattingPattern.

Finally, we check whether formatterIndex or tempIndex reached the end of their strings. If so, we’re done here. Let’s save finalText to text and get yourself a coffee.

We’re done!

I think this was more fun than learning how to use some powerful formatting library for such a simple task. You can find a slightly advanced version of this class on my GitHub.