Visual Studio Create Native Mac App

Visual Studio Create Native Mac App Average ratng: 4,4/5 4649 reviews


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In a recent post to software decision makers, I discussed reasons businesses should consider cross-platform native development over website development. You can read the previous Xamarin Tutorial post here.

In the post, I gave a case to use the Xamarin toolset, why it should be considered, and why it could be a good business and development decision for your organization.

In this Xamarin Tutorial series, I will be building a solution that can be used as a starting point for cross-platform applications using the Xamarin toolset. Today I will be focusing on the following:

  • What is Xamarin?
  • How to Setup the Xamarin development environment using Microsoft Visual Studio
  • Briefly talk about iOS support
  • Discuss Shared vs Portable Class Libraries (PCL) strategies and how to use both
  • Connecting to your Mac to debug an iOS version of your application
  • Using the Visual Studio iOS Simulator to debug your iOS application

Xamarin – What is it?

Before we start diving into creating our solution, I will include a snippet from the post mentioned above that gives you an overview of Xamarin. After this explanation, my assumption will be that you at least know what it is and why we are using it.

Xamarin is a Microsoft owned company that started with the engineers that created the popular Mono, Mono for Android and MonoTouch, which are cross platform implementations of the Common Language Infrastructure (CLI) and the Common Language Specifications, also known as .NET.

Xamarin uses a shared C#/.NET codebase along with either Xamarin Studio or Visual Studio, to write native Android, iOS, and Windows Apps. Did you understand that? Yes, native applications. Wow, so, all your code is 100% shared. Again, not exactly. But, close.

For most simple UI patterns, Xamarin.Forms allows you build native user interfaces for iOS, Android and Windows using 100% shared C#. It also includes dozens of controls and layouts which are mapped to native controls in their respective platform.

Depending on your application needs, however, you may need to access a platform specific feature, such as Live Tiles for Windows, or maybe you need to create a custom control that isn’t a native control for any of the platforms. In these scenarios, Xamarin provides a means to call into platform specific code. However, check this out, … wait for it … wait for it … it is still in C#.

So, as you can see, the App Logic and most of the user interface code is shared across all platforms. In fact, there is even a community of user-built components that you can leverage in your application using both NuGet and the Xamarin Component Store.


Development Environment – The Microsoft Way

Now that we have the basic definition and understanding of what Xamarin is, we can put that behind us and make sure that we have the tools necessary to start developing. For this, my plan is to stick with as many Microsoft technologies as possible.

Visual Studio

So, first in this Xamarin Tutorial, I am going to assume that you are using Windows 10 and have a flavor of Visual Studio 2015 installed on your machine. Even under that assumption, we need to make sure that you have the Xamarin tools installed. Luckily, this is easy.

First, make sure that you don’t have any instances of Visual Studio currently running.

Next, open your Windows Settings application and typeadd or remove in the search box. SelectAdd or remove programs from the dropdown list.

You will be taken to the Apps and Features section of settings. Scroll down and selectMicrosoft Visual Studio 2015. Now selectModify.

You will be prompted to give permission to the installer. Give it permission by selecting Yes. You should see the Installation program initializing.

If you didn’t shutdown Visual Studio 2015 before you selected Modify, the installer will notify you and recommend that you close Visual Studio now. If you did forget to close Visual Studio or skipped that step entirely, closeVisual Studio now and selectRetry.

If Visual Studio is closed, the installer should provide you an option to modify the current installation. SelectModify.

After selecting Modify, you will see a list of all the features currently installed. Since our goal in this Xamarin Tutorial series is to create a cross platform application, verify that all the Cross Platform Mobile Development features are enabled. We aren’t going to use all of features, but if you know you are going to do cross platform development and you have the space, install it now and forget it, you will have all the tools necessary for the future.

Since I already have the features installed, I can be assured that all the necessary tools are installed for me to start developing cross platform applications. If some of the features weren’t enabled for you, make sure they are and selectUpdate. This will install all the tools for you.

iOS Support

If we plan on having iOS support for our application, Xamarin.Forms does support it. So, yes, you can create iOS applications on Windows using C#.NET. However, you will need a networked Mac running OS X Yosemite (10.10) & above with XCode 7 installed. You will also need to install the Xamarin.iOS tools onto the Mac. The best way to do this is to use the Xamarin Unified Installer, which will install everything you need. You can view these instructions here.

I will assume that you have XCode and the Xamarin.iOS tools setup on your Mac. However, I will discuss how to attach to your Mac, build and run/debug the application later in the post.

One thing we can do right now is setup the permissions to allow us to debug our application on the iOS simulator on the Mac.

First, on your Mac, search for Remote Login in Spotlight.

Select Sharing. Select Remote Login and make sure that your account is in the list of Allow Access for: Only these users. I am an Administrator on my Mac, so I will just allow all Administrators.

NOTE: You could allow All Users to have remote access, but, I am not sure that is a good idea.

Your Mac should now be discoverable in Visual Studio. Again, we will talk more about this later.

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Create a New Project

Blank Application

Now we can create our new project. Open Visual Studio, select File, New, Project…

Next, select Installed, Templates, Visual C#, Cross-Platform. Then, select Cross Platform App (Xamarin.Forms or Native). Enter the name of your project. Make sure the directory is correct and then selectOK.

Another dialog prompting for the type of cross-platform project will be displayed. Select Blank App, Xamarin.Forms, Shared Project and then selectOK.

Visual Studio will start creating your Xamarin solution. However, since we are targeting Universal Windows Platform applications in our project, you will be prompted for your Target and Minimum versions of Windows. I have chosen to target Windows 10 Anniversary Edition with a Minimum version of Windows 10 (Build 10586). Once you have made your selection, select OK.

You will also probably see the following dialog while it is creating the solution.

When it is finished, you should notice that there are several projects in your solution. One for each of the platforms we will target with our application.

Along with the iOS, Android and UWP projects, you should also notice that there is a Shared project. I know, I kind of blew past that part when I had you select the Code Sharing Strategy shared project. I did this on purpose, I will explain this in more detail now.

Xamarin uses a couple of strategies for sharing code within our Xamarin solution: Shared and Portable Class Library (PCL).

Shared Strategy

The shared strategy basically takes each file in the shared project and compiles it under each of the other projects. Think of it as making a copy of the files in the shared project into each specific platform project and then doing a build. You can still do platform specific code in the shared project by using #if compiler directives, but be cautious, your code can, and probably will, become ugly fast.

Note: the shared project isn’t really a traditional project that gets built into an assembly. You can’t actually build it.

Portable Class Libraries (PCL)

With portable class libraries, the code is compiled separately and referenced in each project like any normal class library. The big difference here is that you have access to a subset of .NET that is compatible with all the target platforms. So, for example, you could use System.Net.Http, but trying to access hardware, such as, the camera API is not available. You could, however, use a generalized interface that uses dependency injection.

Both Shared and Portable?

So, as you can see, each strategy mentioned above, contains some pros and cons. So, it really depends on the type of application and how much external sharing you are going to need to do with the code. Simply put, if you are going to share code outside of the application itself, PCL’s are a good choice. However, if this is a one-time application with no externally shared code, the shared strategy would be a good choice.

That being stated, what if we want to use both? Can we do that? To answer your question, yes. What if you have a lot of shared code between applications, but you also have a significant amount that is just shared across your specific application?

In fact, let’s add a PCL to our project for any code that we might want to share with other applications we write in the future. We won’t do anything with it right now other than wire it up for use in my next blog post.

First, right-click on the solution, selectAdd and then selectNewProject…

From here, we want to repeat the same steps we used to create the solution, but in this case, we want to select a class library. Select Installed, Cross-Platform, Class Library (Xamarin.Forms). Enter the name of your shared class and selectOK.

Okay, now, one thing you should know is, by default, the project will add a Xamarin ContentPage, XamarinBlog.CommonServices.cs. You can go ahead and delete it now.

Okay, we now have a portable class library in our solution, however, it isn’t being referenced. So, go ahead and reference it in each of the platform specific projects by right clicking on references and selectingAddReference…

SelectProjects, then Solution, then select your new PCL from the list. Finally, selectOK.

Okay, now that we have our PCL referenced in each project, you should be able to build most of the projects. As far as the iOS project, we really haven’t talked about how to connect to your Mac for building, so let’s do that quickly.

Connecting to the Mac

For us to build our iOS project, we will need to connect your Visual Studio iOS project to a Mac. To do this for the first time, all you do is attempt to build the project. Right-click on the project and selectBuild. If you haven’t connected before, Visual Studio will display instructions for setting up the remote login functionality on your Mac. Since we already did this earlier in the post, we will skip them and selectNext. If you would like, you can turn off the instructions for next time, however, if you are like me, I forget the “setup once and forget” things, so I usually leave mine unchecked.

You will now be prompted to pick your Mac. For it to show up in the list, you must have setup remote access properly and the Mac bust be on the same network as Visual Studio. Select your Mac and then selectConnect.

Next, you will be prompted for your username and password. Enter your credentials and selectLogin.

Once you have selected Login, it will attempt to connect to your Mac. If it is successful, you will see a link under the Icon for the machine you selected. Once you see this, selectClose.

Now, go ahead and try to build. I should build successfully if everything on your Mac is setup correctly.

Can I see Something?

I know, we have done a lot up to this point and we haven’t seen a darn thing. Well, before we run the application, I do want to mention a couple more things. First, let’s look at where this whole application starts in code. Where is the application object for this thing?

In the shared project, XamarinBlog, open App.xaml.cs.

Notice this is where our Application object for all our projects resides. How do we know what page to load first? Check out the constructor. Notice that we assign XamarinBlog.MainPage to the MainPage property of our application. Also, you may have noticed that there are a number of events that are created for us: OnStart(), OnSleep() and OnResume(). These are application lifecycle events that get fired for each platform. We will probably talk more about these in later posts in this series.

Let’s look at the XamarinBlog.MainPage object in Mainpage.xaml and see if we can figure out what this page is going to be presenting us. Select MainPage.xaml.

Looking at the markup, we see we are creating a ContentPage with a label, that has the text ‘Welcome to Xamarin Forms!”, and it is centered in the middle of the page.

Now that we know what it is supposed to do, let’s see it in action. Build and run the applicationfor each platform and see what you get. It should look something like the following:

Cool, right? Three platforms, mostly the same code. Well at least the UI, so far.

Using Visual Studio iOS Simulator

Mac Visual Studio

It is nice to be able to debug on your Mac, but I must admit, it is kind of a pain at times to be forced to sit by the machine to test your application. Well, a cool new feature for Visual Studio is the Visual Studio iOS Simulator. This add-in for Visual Studio allows us to debug our iOS version of the app right on our computer. So, you don’t need to be near your Mac to do the debugging. You can do it right on your PC.

To get the add-in, download the installer here. You might have to restart Visual Studio for changes to take effect. Once you do, make sure that you selectiPhoneSimulator and run the application again.

You should see the Visual Studio iOS Simulator with your application.

If for some reason, you would like to disable the Visual Studio add-in and go back to debugging your iOS application on the Mac you can do so. All you need to do is selectTools from the main menu and then selectOptions…

Scroll down to the Xamarin tab and select iOS Settings. Uncheck the Remote Simulator to Windows checkbox and selectOK.

Now, you should be able to debug on your Mac again.


So, to summarize what we learned in the first part of our Xamarin Tutorial series:

  • We answered the question, “What is Xamarin?”
  • We Setup the development environment using Microsoft Visual Studio
  • Briefly talked about iOS support in Xamarin and Visual Studio
  • Pointed out the differences between the Shared and Portable Class Libraries (PCL) strategies and how to use both
  • Demonstrated how to connect to your Mac to debug the iOS version of your application
  • Installed Visual Studio iOS Simulator and ran our iOS application on our PC

In Part 2 of this Xamarin Tutorial series, we will talk about implementing the Model-View-ViewModel pattern using the MVVM Light Toolkit to maintain a solid separation of concerns. So, stop back and continue your journey with me on developing cross-platform applications using Xamarin.

I hope you enjoyed this post. If so, please feel free to share with others.

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Back in .NET Conf 2017 The Xamarin team already shared what’s going to be new with Xamarin Forms 3.0 and it actually surprised me. I was expecting some performance improvements, bug fixing and a big upgrade on XAML. But, what they announced focuses on enabling the usage of Xamarin.Forms in more ways and on more platforms. I was really hoping for XAML improvements, maybe add some cascading styling like how CSS works. Maybe sometime in the future, we’ll get it. For now, I’ll just use the XAMLCss by warapa. Anyway if you want to watch all sessions from .NET Conf 2017, you can check it out on Channel9. Going back, I really didn’t expect these new features, but definitely, I love it and really excited to try it out!

That’s why right now, I’m going to show to you one of the exciting features added to the Xamarin.Forms 3.0 that I think you’ll also love. I’m talking about Xamarin.Form’s macOS support.

One of the Xamarin team’s plan is to reach more platforms. That means UWP, iOS and Android are not only platform the Xamarin.Forms will be able to target from now on, they are also bringing macOS, GTK#, Linux and WPF!

You might think that it will be hard and will take a lot of time to integrate your Xamarin.Forms solution into the macOS project, but it’s not. Not at all. You’ll be able to create a native macOS application using your Xamarin.Forms solution using Visual Studio for Mac or Xamarin Studio in just 3 quick steps!

First step: Add a Cocoa App project

Right now, Xamarin.Forms template doesn’t have a Cocoa App initially. So, what you would do is to start Visual Studio for Mac or Xamarin Studio and open your existing Xamarin.Forms solution. Then, add a project into the solution by right-clicking the solution and selecting Add > Add New Existing Project.

You can then select Mac > App > Cocoa App and name it whatever you want, but ideally, the name has a suffix of .macOs.

Second Step: Add the Xamarin.Forms NuGet Package

You will have to add the Xamarin.Forms’ latest pre-release nuget package or specifically To do this, right click the Cocoa App project that you just created and select Add > Add Nuget Packages.

Then, search for ‘Xamarin.Forms’ and make sure that the ‘Show pre-release packages’ is ticked. Click ‘Add’ to add Xamarin.Forms nuget package.

You will also need to update the Xamarin.Forms on your shared project and the version should be the same with what the Cocoa app have.

Third Step: Configure the Cocoa App Project

The first thing that you should do with your Cocoa app project is to add the shared project into your Cocoa app as a reference.

Then, open the Info.plist and remove the ‘Main storyboard file base name’ entry (Opened with XCode)

Or just open the Info.plist inside Visual Studio or Xamarin Studio by clicking it and leave the Main Interface blank.

The next one is to update your Main.cs’ Main method to initialize the AppDelegate:

Visual Studio App Download

Lastly, update the AppDelegate by changing the NSApplicationDelegate to FormsApplicationDelegate:

Initialize the Cocoa app window within the constructor:

Visual Studio Create App Packages

Then inside the DidFinishLaunching method, initialize Xamarin.Forms and load the application:

Visual Studio Mobile App Tutorial

You can now set your project as the startup project and run your macOS!

Visual Studio App Tutorial

Again, in just 3 quick steps, it’s done!

Visual Studio Create Native Mac Apps

This is just a basic walkthrough since this is still on preview. Expect that there are still bugs and not ready for production. Not all nuget packages are compatible and surely, there are lots of UI features still not implemented, but this is a good start. For now, you can send your issues and problems that you encounter in this forum discussion: