Integrating native Cocoa controls into Qt

Making applications looking and feeling as native as possible on every supported platform is one of my main responsibilities within the VirtualBox development. Most of the work therefor is done by the Qt framework which we are using for our GUI. Qt does a nice job for Windows and most of the currently popular X11 window toolkits used under Unix and Linux. They are behaving and looking similar in many ways which make it easy to develop for both architectures. Unfortunately this doesn’t count in any case for Mac OS X, which often uses very different approaches or uses very specialized controls to reach a specific aim. One of this controls is the Mac OS X help button who every Mac user is familiar with. If an Mac OS X application doesn’t use this help button, it breaks the design rules and the application, lets say, smells a little bit “under designed”. The following little example shows how to integrate a NSButton seamlessly into your Qt application.

Qt make it easy

Nokia added the QMacCocoaViewContainer class with Qt 4.5. This class make it easy to integrate any NSView or deviate of the NSView class into the QWidget hierarchy of an application. The best integration is archived if one deviate from QMacCocoaViewContainer. To use Cocoa code and C++ classes at once the Objective-C++ compiler is necessary. The gcc uses the Objective-C++ compiler automatically if the source file ends with mm. We start with the C++ interface which looks like the following:

class CocoaHelpButton: public QMacCocoaViewContainer
    CocoaHelpButton(QWidget *pParent = 0);
    QSize sizeHint() const;
    void onClicked();
    void clicked();
    NativeNSButtonRef m_pButton;

For any Qt programmer this class definition is easy to understand. The only unusual is the ADD_COCOA_NATIVE_REF macro call and the NativeNSButtonRef type itself. One could say NativeNSButtonRef should be NSButton* and you are done, but it’s not that easy. The reason for this is that the include file will be included first in the Objective-C++ source code file, where the NSButton* definition wouldn’t be a problem, but secondly in every C++ source file which will use the CocoaHelpButton, where on the other side any Cocoa code is forbidden. The ADD_COCOA_NATIVE_REF macro avoid this problem by expanding NativeNSButtonRef to NSButton* if Objective-C++ code is compiled and to void* if C++ code is compiled. The macro itself looks like this:

#ifdef __OBJC__
# define ADD_COCOA_NATIVE_REF(CocoaClass) 
    @class CocoaClass; 
    typedef CocoaClass *Native##CocoaClass##Ref
#else /* __OBJC__ */
# define ADD_COCOA_NATIVE_REF(CocoaClass) typedef void *Native##CocoaClass##Ref
#endif /* __OBJC__ */

The advantage of using such a macro is that one can use all methods of the NSButton in the Cocoa part of the source code without any casting.

A little bit of Cocoa

The initialization of the CocoaHelpButton class is straight forward as seen in the next code part:

CocoaHelpButton::CocoaHelpButton(QWidget *pParent /* = 0 */)
  :QMacCocoaViewContainer(0, pParent)
    m_pButton = [[NSButton alloc] init];
    [m_pButton setTitle: @""];
    [m_pButton setBezelStyle: NSHelpButtonBezelStyle];
    [m_pButton setBordered: YES];
    [m_pButton setAlignment: NSCenterTextAlignment];
    [m_pButton sizeToFit];
    NSRect frame = [m_pButton frame];
    frame.size.width += 12; /* Margin */
    [m_pButton setFrame:frame];
    /* We need a target for the click selector */
    NSButtonTarget *bt = [[NSButtonTarget alloc] initWithObject: this];
    [m_pButton setTarget: bt];
    [m_pButton setAction: @selector(clicked:)];
    /* Make sure all is properly resized */
    resize(frame.size.width, frame.size.height);
    setSizePolicy(QSizePolicy::Fixed, QSizePolicy::Fixed);

QSize CocoaHelpButton::sizeHint() const
    NSRect frame = [m_pButton frame];
    return QSize(frame.size.width, frame.size.height);

void CocoaHelpButton::onClicked()
    emit clicked(false);

This set up the NSButton object and make sure that everything has the right size. As shown there, to make a standard button a help button the bezel style has been set to NSHelpButtonBezelStyle. To get the click notification the wrapper class NSButtonTarget is necessary.  As highlighted in the code above the target action is set to the selector “clicked”.  The NSButtonTarget class looks as follow:

@interface NSButtonTarget: NSObject
    CocoaHelpButton *m_pTarget;
@implementation NSButtonTarget
    self = [super init];
    m_pTarget = object;
    return self;

If you put all this together and add the CocoaHelpButton class to your project you will get some output like this:

More integration could be reached by adding wrapper methods for e.g. setting the tooltip, but this is left out as an exercise for the reader.


For more complex controls like a NSSearchField more interaction with Cocoa will be necessary. On the other hand this little excursion to the Cocoa world should make it easy for everyone to add shiny new Mac OS X controls to the own Qt application.

5 thoughts on “Integrating native Cocoa controls into Qt

      1. Do you have any demos about webView?
        I have a Qt app with a webview loading a specific web, and I need to deal with the result it returns. how to realize
        “– webView:didFinishLoadForFrame:” in your solution?

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