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Creating an Xcode4 Plugin

This tutorial describes the steps to create a very simple Xcode4 plugin project.

Note that there is no formal support for Xcode plugins, so this information may change and/or become obsolete as Apple makes changes to Xcode. Also, as it is unsupported, you will not be able to submit this plugin to the Mac App Store.


Although Xcode doesn’t officially support plugins, it does have some neat behaviour that allows us to inject our custom plugins. On startup, Xcode looks for bundles with an extension of .xcplugin that are located in the ~/Library/Application Support/Developer/Shared/Xcode/Plug-ins directory (if present).

In order to create our plugin, we will be creating an Bundle project and then installing it into that location.

Creating the Project

This post was created using Xcode 4.5.1, however, I believe it should be appropriate for any Xcode 4.x installation.

Create Bundle Project

Click on the File/New/Project… menu item, and choose a Bundle in the OS X Framework and Library section:

Create new project

and set your project name and other information. Choose Cocoa as the framework that you want to link to, and then save your project.

Set project name

Modify Default Settings

Now that you have your basic project created, we need to clean up some things that we won’t use, and change a few settings so that it will generate a valid Xcode plugin.

Remove the following frameworks as they are not needed:

  • Cocoa.framework
  • CoreData.framework

You now need to add three new Boolean entries to your .plist file:

XCGCReady     = YES
XCPluginHasUI = NO
XC4Compatible = YES

Next up, we want to change the installation directory. The rationale for this is that every time you re-build the plugin, it will automatically get updated in-place in its eventual home, so you can re-test by simply restarting Xcode. Technically, I don’t think you need to do this, but it makes testing a lot easier.

Open up the Build settings for the BDXcodePluginDemo target and change the following settings:

Setting Declaration Value Notes
Installation Build Products Location DSTROOT $(HOME)  
Installation Directory INSTALL_PATH /Library/Application Support/Developer/Shared/Xcode/Plug-ins Note that it looks like the Installation Directory value is an *absolute* path but, in fact, Xcode appends that to the DSTROOT directory
Deployment Location DEPLOYMENT_LOCATION YES Tells Xcode not to use the Built Products location, and instead to use the installation directory
Wrapper Extension WRAPPER_EXTENSION xcplugin This is the plugin extension that Xcode is looking for
Custom setting GCC_ENABLE_OBJC_GC supported Xcode is a GC-enabled application, so our plugin also needs to be

Adding Behaviour

So, now the project’s settings should be correct, but we don’t yet have any code. Add a new class called BDXcodePluginDemo that inherits from NSObject. Open the BDXcodePluginDemo.m file, and add the following method:

+(void)pluginDidLoad:(NSBundle *)plugin {
	NSLog(@"This is our first Xcode plugin!");

Confirming Build

You should now be able to build the project, and check by running the following command:

ls -las $HOME/Library/Application\ Support/Developer/Shared/Xcode/Plug-ins

If all goes well, you should see something like:

0 drwxr-xr-x  3 edwardsc  staff  102 20 Oct 10:16 .
0 drwxr-xr-x  7 edwardsc  staff  238 19 Oct 16:52 ..
0 drwxr-xr-x  3 edwardsc  staff  102 20 Oct 10:16 BDXcodePluginDemo.xcplugin

Restarting Xcode

Run the following command and restart Xcode:

tail -f /var/log/system.log

You should see This is our first Xcode plugin! appear in the log if all is successful.

Source Code

The source code and project for this article is available in the BDXcodePluginDemo project on GitHub.

That project contains the latest code in my series of plugin articles, but you can get the version that relates to this article using the creating-an-xcode4-plugin tag.

What Next?

My next article will discuss a few common things that you might want to do. Specifically:

  • Listening for notifications. This will give you an idea of the types of things that you can hook into.
  • Adding menus. Depending on your plugin, you will probably want to be able to add a menu item.

All articles in this series


  1. Fellipe says:

    Good afternoon!

    I’m having some difficulties running my plugin! Namely, when I restart Xcode, the logs say that the plugin could not be loaded due to a GC capability mismatch. Below ate the mentioned log entries:

    Dec 29 15:32:08 Fellipe-Santiago-Scarpa-Caetanos-MacBook.local Xcode[2201]: Error loading /Users/fellipe/Library/Application Support/Developer/Shared/Xcode/Plug-ins/FCImportCleaner.xcplugin/Contents/MacOS/FCImportCleaner: dlopen(/Users/fellipe/Library/Application Support/Developer/Shared/Xcode/Plug-ins/FCImportCleaner.xcplugin/Contents/MacOS/FCImportCleaner, 265): no suitable image found. Did find: /Users/fellipe/Library/Application Support/Developer/Shared/Xcode/Plug-ins/FCImportCleaner.xcplugin/Contents/MacOS/FCImportCleaner: GC capability mismatch

    Dec 29 15:32:08 Fellipe-Santiago-Scarpa-Caetanos-MacBook.local Xcode[2201]: WARNING: Failed to load plugin at: /Users/fellipe/Library/Application Support/Developer/Shared/Xcode/Plug-ins/FCImportCleaner.xcplugin, skipping. Could not load bundle.

  2. craig says:

    Two things to check:

    1) Have you added XCGCReady as a Boolean property to your .plist file?

    2) Have you added the custom setting for GCC_ENABLE_OBJC_GC=supported to the compile-time options for your target?

    If you can email me your project (, I would be happy to have a look to see if I can find the problem.

  3. nick says:

    I copied your settings, but when I run the tail I get this error Details: Error writing UI state:Error Domain=DVTCustomDataStoringErrors Code=0 “Cannot save data because the write destination is not writable.” UserInfo=0x405967fc0 {NSLocalizedDescription=Cannot save data because the write destination is not writable., NSUnderlyingError=0x406152bc0 “The operation couldn’t be completed. (IDEFoundationErrorDomain error 6.)”} Object: Method: -writeStateData Thread: {name = (null), num = 1} Please file a bug at with this warning message and any useful information you can provide. Jun 4 09:55:11 dev05A Xcode[50993]: [MT] DVTAssertions: Warning in /SourceCache/IDEKit/IDEKit-2109/Framework/Classes/Workspace/IDEWorkspaceDocument.m:1982 Details: Error writing UI state:Error Domain=DVTCustomDataStoringErrors Code=0 “Cannot save data because the write destination is not writable.” UserInfo=0x405777e80 {NSLocalizedDescription=Cannot save data because the write destination is not writable., NSUnderlyingError=0x4056b06a0 “The operation couldn’t be completed. (IDEFoundationErrorDomain error 6.)”} Object: Method: -writeStateData Thread: {name = (null), num = 1} Please file a bug at with this warning message and any useful information you can provide.

    any ideas where I change permissions?

  4. craig says:

    I don’t think that error is related to your plugin. It just looks like an (unrelated) XCode problem.

  5. Tarek says:

    Thank you very much for the tutorial!

    All seems to be working perfectly until Xcode5 developer preview 3. DP3 gives the error message: “[MT] PluginLoading: Required plug-in compatibility UUID 63FC1C47-140D-42B0-BB4D-A10B2D225574 for plug-in at path ‘~/Library/Application Support/Developer/Shared/Xcode/Plug-ins/XcodeExplorer.xcplugin’ not present in DVTPlugInCompatibilityUUIDs”.

    It seems that all Xcode plugins won’t be loaded in Xcode5 DP3. Back to square one?

  6. craig says:

    I can’t discuss the fix as we are both bound by the NDA. However, I will say that getting the plugins working again in Xcode5 is as simple as adding an appropriate entry in the plugin’s .plist file.

    Once Xcode5 has been generally released, I will update this article.

  7. Ronan says:

    I was having the same issue that Fellipe reported last December: “no suitable image found”, etc.

    The solution was that I didn’t have the following code:

    +(myPlugin *)sharedPlugin { return mySharedPlugin; }

  8. Ronan says:

    Hi Craig, any update on this for XC5? The solution for the DP release doesn’t work now.

  9. Ronan says:

    I solved it.

    Add this:

  10. Mark says:

    Thanks a lot! This really helped me out! And thank you too, Ronan!

  11. Sanjeev says:

    I am creating a plugin that when executed will require XCODE to restart to see the impact of the plugin. What code can be written to re-start XCODE 5?

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