How can I add properties to an object at runtime?

It’s possible to add formal properties to a class via class_addProperty():

BOOL class_addProperty(Class cls,
    const char *name,
    const objc_property_attribute_t *attributes,
    unsigned int attributeCount)

The first two parameters are self-explanatory. The third parameter is an array of property attributes, and each property attribute is a name-value pair which follow Objective-C type encodings for declared properties. Note that the documentation still mentions the comma-separated string for the encoding of property attributes. Each segment in the comma-separated string is represented by one objc_property_attribute_t instance. Furthermore, objc_property_attribute_t accepts class names besides the generic @ type encoding of id.

Here’s a first draft of a program that dynamically adds a property called name to a class that already has an instance variable called _privateName:

#include <objc/runtime.h>
#import <Foundation/Foundation.h>

@interface SomeClass : NSObject {
    NSString *_privateName;

@implementation SomeClass
- (id)init {
    self = [super init];
    if (self) _privateName = @"Steve";
    return self;

NSString *nameGetter(id self, SEL _cmd) {
    Ivar ivar = class_getInstanceVariable([SomeClass class], "_privateName");
    return object_getIvar(self, ivar);

void nameSetter(id self, SEL _cmd, NSString *newName) {
    Ivar ivar = class_getInstanceVariable([SomeClass class], "_privateName");
    id oldName = object_getIvar(self, ivar);
    if (oldName != newName) object_setIvar(self, ivar, [newName copy]);

int main(void) {
    @autoreleasepool {
        objc_property_attribute_t type = { "T", "@\"NSString\"" };
        objc_property_attribute_t ownership = { "C", "" }; // C = copy
        objc_property_attribute_t backingivar  = { "V", "_privateName" };
        objc_property_attribute_t attrs[] = { type, ownership, backingivar };
        class_addProperty([SomeClass class], "name", attrs, 3);
        class_addMethod([SomeClass class], @selector(name), (IMP)nameGetter, "@@:");
        class_addMethod([SomeClass class], @selector(setName:), (IMP)nameSetter, "v@:@");

        id o = [SomeClass new];
        NSLog(@"%@", [o name]);
        [o setName:@"Jobs"];
        NSLog(@"%@", [o name]);

Its (trimmed) output:


The getter and setter methods should be written more carefully but this should be enough as an example of how to dynamically add a formal property at runtime.

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