I’ve recently started delving into using Xamarin and Xamarin.iOS to get an understanding of its capabilities and see what I could do with it. After my first little app, I have to say it is really impressive what the people at Xamarin have done!
I’m coming at this from years of experience in C# and WPF/Silverlight/XAML and I wanted to describe my initial findings. For this post I plan to cover the general setup.
My goal was to have an iPad application that does something similar to a Master-Detail set of views where I could display a collection of images. Because of this I wanted to get a grasp on both Xamarin Studio and the Visual Studio integration so I installed Xamarin for Windows (on my primary dev machine) and Xamarin for OS X (on a Mac Mini we have at our office) from here. NOTE: On Windows 8 run the Xamarin installer as Administrator otherwise it will error out near the end. The installation took a while because it downloaded everything that I needed to develop for iOS (and for Android since I wanted to look into that in the future too.), but once everything was installed I was able to start developing instantly.
The installation guides for Xamarin.iOS, located here, provided excellent instruction for hooking up Visual Studio 2012 to remote debug on the Mac Mini (Section: 6.2. Connecting to the Mac Build Host), and the Xamarin services that were installed made it so that I found and connected to the Mac immediately. On another note, Synergy is an amazing tool to use to share your keyboard and mouse between the 2 devices. You need to make sure both machines are on the same network though in order for it to work (quickly at least).
With Xamarin installed, I decided to get my feet wet by following Xamarin’s Hello, iPhone guide. (They’ve done a very nice job with their guides covering a nice range of topics.) For someone who has never developed in Xcode (and is pretty much a Mac beginner) this provided a nice tutorial of the tool.
With a general idea of how to get started, I created my solution in VS 2012 and on the Mac I used “Finder” to connect to my machine and open up the solution in Xamarin Studio. I’ve found that if I want to use Xcode’s Interface Builder to design my UI I need to add the iPad View Controller via Xamarin Studio, since adding it in Visual Studio didn’t create the .xib file.
My next step was to set up a core library, since I desire to try Xamarin’s Android functionality in the future, to enable code reuse. Xamarin is currently developing support for referencing Portable Class Libraries (PCLs), but until they’ve got that functioning we have to go more manual routes. I created the PCL to hold my core files (model objects primarily), but went the route of linking to all those files in the iOS project. Once I work on the Android counterpart I’ll be able to update with whether I think it’s the right way to go.
EDIT: With the release of Xamarin.iOS 7.0.1, they’ve apparently fixed the PCL build issue I was running into. So I was able to remove the links to all the files and reference the PCL library instead!
It is extremely nice to be able to dev and debug in VS 2012 while connected to the iOS simulator on the Mac. When running into exceptions being thrown, I found that, if it wasn’t immediately apparent as to what the exception was caused by, debugging from Xamarin Studio on the Mac provides better exception information.
I’ll go into more detail on discoveries I ran into in other posts, but overall the development process using Xamarin and Xamarin.iOS has been very interesting and enjoyable. I would definitely recommend it.