The new MacBook Pro with its fancy touch bar has been released by Apple. Being a developer, we always look to toy with the newest technology. In this tutorial, I will be building an app that uses the NSTouchBar API.


We do not need the latest MacBook Pro to develop this app. All you will need is to be at least on the following:

  • macOS Sierra 10.12.1 (Build 16B2657)
  • Xcode Version 8.1

To check which version are you on, do this:  > About This Mac. To see the Build, click on the version number Version OS 10.12.1.

The following tutorial is developed on macOS Sierra 10.12.2 (16C67) and Xcode Version 8.2.


We will be building a simple application that ask: "How do you feel today?" User will be able to express their feeling by touching a emoji button on the touch bar. A short text will be shown in order to response to their feeling.

Creating the project

From Xcode, select File > New > Project. Click on macOS tab and select Cocoa Application. Then enter all the required detail.

Before we start, we should tell Xcode that we would like to show the Touch Bar. Go to Window > Show Touch Bar. Upon clicking Show Touch Bar, a Touch Bar should now appear on the screen.

Set Up

Next, we need to allow the customisation of Touch Bar for our application. In AppDelegate, do this:

func applicationDidFinishLaunching(_ aNotification: Notification) {
    if #available(OSX 10.12.2, *) {
        NSApplication.shared().isAutomaticCustomizeTouchBarMenuItemEnabled = true

By default, this value is set to false. In order to customise the Touch Bar we need to enable it. The line if #available(OSX 10.12.2, *) is a check as we are using the Touch Bar that does not exist in previous OSX version. Xcode will throw an error whenever we use something that is not available in previous version.

We will then create a HYFTWindowController a subclass of NSWindowController. Go to the Main storyboard and update the Window Controller class in inspector with our newly created HYFTWindowController.

Start Coding Touch Bar

With all the setup completed, we are now ready to start writing code for the Touch Bar. In HYFTWindowController, do this:

@available(OSX 10.12.2, *)
override func makeTouchBar() -> NSTouchBar? {
    guard let viewController = contentViewController as? ViewController else {
        return nil
    return viewController.makeTouchBar()

With HYFTWindowController being our firstResponder, the makeTouchBar() would get called first. Here, we would pass the job to our ViewController to create the Touch Bar.

In ViewController, override the makeTouchBar() like this:

@available(OSX 10.12.2, *)
override func makeTouchBar() -> NSTouchBar? {
    let touchBar = NSTouchBar()
    touchBar.delegate = self
    touchBar.customizationIdentifier = .hyftBar
    touchBar.defaultItemIdentifiers = [.infoLabelItem, .joyEmojiItem, .sadEmojiItem,
      .angryEmojiItem, .flexibleSpace, .otherItemsProxy]
    return touchBar

Here, we create a new NSTouchBar and set ourself as its delegate. The touchBar.customizationIdentifier required a unique string to identify each touchBar.

The touchBar.defaultItemsIdentifiers expect an array of unique string identifiers to help us setup the item later. Note that we also pass in the .flexibleSpacing and .otherItemsProxy. These are a set of NSTouchBarItemIdentifer provided by AppKit. These help us set flexible space between item and allow other touch bar with visible item to be nested inside.

A list of other default items can be found here.

In order to better manage our own identifier, I created a new file HYFTIdentifier and have the following:

import AppKit

extension NSTouchBarItemIdentifier {
    static let infoLabelItem = NSTouchBarItemIdentifier("com.zeta.InfoLabel")
    static let joyEmojiItem = NSTouchBarItemIdentifier("com.zeta.JoyEmoji")
    static let sadEmojiItem = NSTouchBarItemIdentifier("com.zeta.SadEmoji")
    static let angryEmojiItem = NSTouchBarItemIdentifier("com.zeta.AngryEmoji")


extension NSTouchBarCustomizationIdentifier {
    static let hyftBar = NSTouchBarCustomizationIdentifier("com.zeta.ViewController.HYFTTouchBar")

Creating NSTouchBarItem

Finally, we are all ready to create items on the touch bar. Is actually pretty straightforward to create items using the touchBar(_ touchBar: NSTouchBar, makeItemForIdentifier identifier: method.

To make our code more readable, do this in ViewController:

@available(OSX 10.12.2, *)
extension ViewController: NSTouchBarDelegate {

    func touchBar(_ touchBar: NSTouchBar, makeItemForIdentifier identifier: NSTouchBarItemIdentifier) ->
      NSTouchBarItem? {
        let custom = NSCustomTouchBarItem(identifier: identifier)

        switch identifier {
        case NSTouchBarItemIdentifier.infoLabelItem:
            let label = NSTextField.init(labelWithString: NSLocalizedString("How do you feel today?", comment:""))
            custom.view = label

        case NSTouchBarItemIdentifier.joyEmojiItem:
            custom.view = NSButton(title: NSLocalizedString("😂", comment:""), target: self,
              action: #selector(buttonPressed(_:)))

        case NSTouchBarItemIdentifier.sadEmojiItem:
            custom.view = NSButton(title: NSLocalizedString("😟", comment:""), target: self,
              action: #selector(buttonPressed(_:)))

        case NSTouchBarItemIdentifier.angryEmojiItem:
            custom.view = NSButton(title: NSLocalizedString("😡", comment:""), target: self,
              action: #selector(buttonPressed(_:)))

            return nil
        return custom

The identifier would help us identify which item are we going to be creating. We use a switch here to setup each item differently. The order this get trigger will be the same as the order of item in the array passed into touchBar.defaultItemIdentifiers.

The NSCustomTouchBarItem have a view that we should use for setting up custom item. For .infoLabelItem, we just create a NSTextField and update it. For the rest, we create a NSButtom with different title all of each will trigger a action buttonPressed(_:).

In order to prevent errors, we will create a empty buttonPressed(_:) in the ViewController and run the app for now. You should see this in your Touch Bar.

Completing the App

What is left now is to complete the app. In the Main storyboard, setup the ViewController like this:

One NSTextField on the top and another hidden NSTextField near the bottom. Then add three NSButton in the middle with the "😟", "😟", "😡" as the respective title.

Create a @IBOulet messageTextField and hook it up to the bottom NSTextField.Then hook up all three NSButton action to the buttonPressed(_:) method in ViewController.

Next, copy and paste the following into ViewController.

func getMessageBaseOnReaction(_ reaction: String) -> String {
        switch reaction {
        case "😂":
            return "Being happy never goes out of style. - Lilly Pulitzer"
        case "😟":
            return "Sadness flies away on the wings of time. - Jean de La Fontaine"
        case "😡":
            return "To be angry is to revenge the faults of others on ourselves. - Alexander Pope"
            return "Look like our quote does not cater to this reaction"

//Quotes are extracted from
func showMessageBaseOnReaction(_ reaction: String) {
    messageTextField.isHidden = false
    messageTextField.stringValue = getMessageBaseOnReaction(reaction)

//MARK: IBActions
@IBAction func buttonPressed(_ sender: NSButton) {

The above are just code to update the messageTextField with quote base on the action by the user.

Now, run the app again and play with the Touch Bar.

Clicking any emoji item on the Touch Bar or the button on the window will both trigger the text to change. Now we have our very own Touch Bar app 😂.

The completed project can be access via GitHub here.

Where to go from here?

We have only touch on the very basic of NSTouchBar. There is a lot more customisation and control we could use to enhance user experience with the app. The following resources should be able to help you understand better: