XCTKVOExpectation for native Swift key paths

The XCTest framework comes with XCTKVOExpectation, a nice convenience API for setting up an expectation based on Cocoa key-value observation (KVO).

Using XCTKVOExpectation in Swift is a little bit less convenient than it could be because it doesn’t support native Swift key paths (yet?). This isn’t a huge deal since the class hides most of the ugly KVO setup code from you, but the added protection against type mismatches or typos would still be nice to have.


So I wrote a new class, KVOExpectation, that does exactly that. It takes an object and a Swift key path to observe, and either an expected value to compare the observed property against or a handler block that allows you to customize when to fulfill the expectation.

You can use KVOExpectation in a test like this:

func testLongOperationFinishes() {
    let op = BlockOperation {
        // Perform work
        // ...
    let e = KVOExpectation(object: op, keyPath: \.isFinished, expectedValue: true)
    let queue = OperationQueue()
    wait(for: [e], timeout: 5)

In this example, we set up an expectation that observes an Operation’s isFinished value. The test asserts that the operation completes successfully.

Note that because Swift key paths are strongly typed, the compiler can enforce the correct type for the expectedValue parameter — this wouldn’t be possible with Cocoa key paths.

The implementation relies on the type-safe observation API for Swift key paths that Apple added last year when Swift 4.0 was introduced. If you don’t use this yet, you absolutely should — it’s so much nicer to use than the old Objective-C API. I would go so far as to say that it makes KVO a viable option for data binding again, whereas I’d never use the old API voluntarily.1

Convenience methods on XCTestCase

I also wanted to provide convenience methods on XCTestCase for the new expectation type. If you call a method like expectation(description:) inside a test, the expectation associates itself automatically with the current test — you don’t have to store the return value. A single call to waitForExpectations​(timeout:​handler:) will then wait for all registered expectations to fulfill.

Supporting this was more difficult than I expected because XCTestCase doesn’t provide an API to register custom expectations. I helped myself by registering a dummy expectation with the test case. My actual KVO expectation will fulfill the dummy expectation when its own fulfillment criteria are met.

This is the relevant code:

extension XCTestCase {
    func keyValueObservingExpectation<Object: NSObject, Value>(
        for objectToObserve: Object, keyPath: KeyPath<Object, Value>,
        options: NSKeyValueObservingOptions = [],
        file: StaticString = #file, line: Int = #line,
        handler: ((Object, NSKeyValueObservedChange<Value>) -> Bool)? = nil)
        -> XCTestExpectation
        let wrapper = expectation(description: KVOExpectation.description(
            forObject: objectToObserve, keyPath: keyPath, file: file, line: line))
        // Following XCTest precedent, which sets `assertForOverFulfill` to true by default
        // for expectations created with `XCTestCase` convenience methods.
        wrapper.assertForOverFulfill = true
        // The KVO handler inside KVOExpectation retains its parent object while the observation is active.
        // That's why we can get away with not retaining the KVOExpectation here.
        _ = KVOExpectation(object: objectToObserve, keyPath: keyPath,
            options: options) { (object, change) in
            let isFulfilled = handler == nil || handler?(object, change) == true
            if isFulfilled {
                return true
            } else {
                return false
        return wrapper

Since there is no way to have the subordinate expectation be retained by the dummy expectation object (short of using something like associated objects), I rely on the fact that the innermost KVO handler strongly references the expectation object while the observation is active.

Here’s an example of the convenience API in use:

keyValueObservingExpectation(for: op,
    keyPath: \.isFinished, expectedValue: true)
// ...
waitForExpectations(timeout: 5)

The full code, including fairly comprehensive unit tests, is available as a Gist on GitHub. Paste it into a playground to run the unit tests or feel free to include it in your own projects.

  1. As nice as the new KVO API is, I still can’t find this method anywhere in Apple’s documentation, almost nine months after WWDC 2017. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that it’s defined on the quasi-private _KeyValueCodingAndObserving protocol; Apple excludes underscored Swift identifiers from the documentation so as not to pollute it with implementation details.

    Anyway, this is the method signature:

    extension NSObject /* _KeyValueCodingAndObserving */ {
        /// When the returned NSKeyValueObservation is deinited
        /// or invalidated, it will stop observing.
        public func observe<Value>(
            _ keyPath: KeyPath<Self, Value>,
            options: NSKeyValueObservingOptions = [],
            changeHandler: @escaping (Self, NSKeyValueObservedChange<Value>) -> Void)
            -> NSKeyValueObservation


If you liked this article, I bet you’ll also like Advanced Swift, the book I wrote together with Chris Eidhof and Airspeed Velocity.

The third edition, fully updated for Swift 4, is out now.

Advanced Swift is available as a DRM-free e-book (including Xcode playgrounds) and in print.