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First of all, you may want to read up on the StandardService concept so you can be certain that you know what you’re trying to do here.

There are three main parts to an application that provides services (excepting any non-service-related parts of the application, of course):

I’ll cover all three in this page.

The Main Function

In an application that doesn’t vend services to other applications, the main function is typically just used to make your main AutoReleasePool, and start the current RunLoop.

In an application that does vend services, however, you’re going to have just a little bit more code.

Basically, you have to:

That’s right, four lines of added code. Not bad, eh?

Allocating and initializing the object that handles the service requests (our class will be called MyServiceProvider) is straight out of a textbook:

MyServiceProvider *serviceObject = [[MyServiceProvider alloc] init];

Registering the object as a service provider isn’t much more difficult, but it’s a rather obscure function call, so if you’re going to be making a lot of applications with services, you might want to write it down:

NSRegisterServicesProvider(serviceObject, @”CocoaDevServicesApp”);

CocoaDevServicesApp is the name of our application.

Configuring the RunLoop as a server is pretty simple, but also pretty obscure. Note that this line is placed after NS_DURING, ie. in the exception catching block (the line you’ll add is commented, the others are provided for clarity):

NS_DURING [[NSRunLoop currentRunLoop] configureAsServer]; // this is it! [[NSRunLoop currentRunLoop] run]; NS_HANDLER …

Finally, where the AutoReleasePool is itself released, you add in a simple line to release your service handling object(again, further lines provided for clarity):

[pool release]; [serviceObject release]; …

And your application can vend services.

Or, if you’re a lazy application author like I, MikeTrent, am, you can just add this to your application delegate’s applicationDidFinishLaunching: method:

[NSApp setServicesProvider: serviceObject];

If you do this, you don’t have to call NSRegisterServicesProvider or monkey around with creating your own event loop. The above steps are great for command-line tools and daemons that need to register services, but is a bit overkill for us lazy app authors. For an example, see the graphic man page Xmanview available at – MikeTrent

The Service Request Handler

The next thing that you need is a class to handle requests to your application for services. You’ll recall that in the main function, we had an object called serviceObject that was of class MyServiceProvider. So, we’re going to create MyServiceProvider now.

First of all, the class interface is fairly simple:

@interface MyServiceProvider : NSObject @end

If your services were very complex indeed, you might do something more complex with this, but it probably wouldn’t make much sense to declare any instance variables, and method declarations aren’t needed either.

Next, the implementation (the good bit!). Our service providing example isn’t that big of a deal, so what we’re going to do is make a service that capitalizes the selected string.

And that’s what you have to do on this end. Note that if you don’t return a value, you can skip the bits after the second if loop, but before the “return;” line.


Every Cocoa application has an Info.plist file that tells the system a little bit about it. Inside it are things like the bundle identifier, development region, executable, package type, and the like.

Our app is called CocoaDevServicesApp, so we’re going to change the string in CFBundleName to read CocoaDevServicesApp. If you’re reading the straight text (without ProjectBuilder’s sprucing up available in the target editor), then the lines you’ve changed will look like this when you’re done:

CFBundleName CocoaDevServicesApp

That lets the system know what to call our application.

Now, since our app only provides a service, and doesn’t have any other interface, it wouldn’t make much sense for it to have a Dock icon. So, we’re going to let it run in the background only:

LSBackgroundOnly 1

Now to the really fun bit: telling the system a little more about our service. Please also note the NSBGOnly had been replaced with LSBackgroundOnly.

It begins with an array for the key NSServices (this is an array so you can have multiple services in the same application, if you so desire):

NSServices Next, we define the key equivalent. So, if we want to be able to access our service with a keystroke, say, a simple shift-command-c (the shift modifier is set by the system, so services don't interfere with application menu items), then we do this: NSKeyEquivalent default C Next, we have to tell it what we want the menuitem to be called, and whether we want it to be in a submenu or not. For our example, we're going to use a submenu, just to demonstrate how it's done: NSMenuItem default CocoaDev/Capitalize String When our service is installed, it will show up in the Services menu, under the CocoaDev submenu. If we wanted to forego the submenu, we'd just omit the CocoaDev/ part of the string. Next, we tell the system what method it has to call when our service is selected: NSMessage doCapitalizeService Note that doCapitalizeService is the name of the method we wrote which handles the capitalization. Also note that you're omitting the colons et al, because they have to be there, so the system can just ask for the main part of the method name. Next, we supply the port name, which is just the name of our application, in this case: NSPortName CocoaDevServicesApp The final thing we have to do is tell it what send types our method, doCapitalizeService, responds to, and to finally close the dict and array: NSSendTypes NSStringPboardType

And there you have it. All you have to do is compile and build, install into /Library/Services, and log out and log in again.

If you were writing a full-fledged app, you wouldn’t have to install it into the /Library/Services folder, because the system remembers that it provides services after it’s been launched the first time. That’s how Mail and OmniWeb can offer services without sticking anything inside the /Library/Services folder!

One last caveat: if you’re writing an application that only provides services, and is to be installed in the /Library/Services folder, you have to change the setting in the Edit Active Target… window in ProjectBuilder for the file extension from .app to .service, or the system won’t recognize it.


So, now that you’ve absorbed all this knowledge about how to write a service, you can add them to your applications, or go out and write small .service’s for various tasks! And they’re off!

More info can be found on your system at /Developer/Documentation/Cocoa/ProgrammingTopics/Services.pdf, and an example, which I learned from, and whose code I blatantly, um, borrowed for the example herein, is at /Developer/Examples/AppKit/SimpleService.

– RobRix, with thanks to Apple/NeXT, and especially Ali T. Ozer

Localisation of Service Menu entries

An Issue I ran into a few days ago was how to localise the Services Menu entries. Apple seems not to document this (or I failed to find it), and simply adding InfoPlist.strings to /Contents/Resources/.lproj/ (e.g. /Contents/Resources/de.lproj/InfoPlist.strings for German) did not do the trick. After Poking around for a while and some googling I found out how this is done:

  1. Inside your Bundle’s Info.plist, name the menu entries as described above
NSMenuItem default Some Service

I suspect this entry will be used as default if no localisation for a particular language exists, but I haven’t checked that.

  1. For each language you’d like to add, create the usual .lproj directory inside your /Contents/Resources/ directory, if not done already. (e.g. en.lproj/ for English, also see and

  2. Create a file named ServicesMenu.strings inside each of these directories. Use a text editor that lets you set the encoding. XCode 2 does that.

  3. Write your translation(s) in these files like this:

// A Comment “Some Service” = “Ein Dienst”; “Another Service” = “Ein anderer Dienst”;

All non-comment lines must end with a semicolon.

  1. Set the Encoding to UTF-16 before you save. To do that in XCode 2 right-click (ctrl-click) somewhere in your text, select “Get Info” and open the Tab “General”. Change File Encoding from “No Explicit File Encoding” (or whatever is set) to “UTF-16”. Also change File Type to “text.plist.strings”. Then Save.

That’s it. After installation and log-out,log-in again your Service Menu entries will (hopefully) show up in your native laguage. Have fun!

Markus Walther