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AFNetworking custom response serializer to add error information

Good network APIs add helpful messages to failing responses. For example:

  "error": "You are not authorized to access this resource."

A possible approach to notify the user of an iOS app consuming network APIs that an error has been returned by the server is to show such error data in some way.

When using AFNetworking the first thought that might come to mind is: I'll read the response data in the failure callback. But that is not possible, unlike the success callback the failure one doesn't have a responseObject parameter.

This issue is relevant to the topic, and in particular Mattt's comment.

[...] the intended strategy is for API consumers to create their own response serializers to handle failures in such a way that populates the resulting NSError in the failure case with all necessary information to either communicate or recover from that particular error.

If, for example, an API were to send an error message as JSON, the response serializer might populate the localizedDescription and/or localizedFailureReason from fields in that document.

That makes sense. So how to create a custom response serializer?

Since our example talks of JSON APIs the simplest thing to do is to subclass AFJSONResponseSerializer. Another option would be to roll out our own NSObject conforming to AFURLResponseSerialization, which is the protocol all serializers need to conform to.

A serializer object needs to conform to AFURLResponseSerialization. So one option is to use a PONSO, plain old NSObject, and make it conform to the protocol. On the other hand what we are trying to achieve is adding a bit of functionality, adding info from the response to the failure callback error, to the standard JSON serialiation. So let's simply subclass AFJSONResponseSerializer.

@interface CustomJSONSerializer: AFJSONResponseSerializer

@implementation CustomJSONSerializer

- (id)responseObjectForResponse:(NSURLResponse *)response
                           data:(NSData *)data
                          error:(NSError *__autoreleasing *)error {
  // Let the superclass do its work.
  // Run the custom code only if there is an error.
  id responseToReturn = [super responseObjectForResponse:response
  if (!*error) { return responseToReturn; }

  NSError *parsingError;
  NSDictionary *JSONResponse = [NSJSONSerialization JSONObjectWithData:data

  if (parsingError) { return responseToReturn; }

  // Populate the error's userInfo using the parsed JSON
  NSMutableDictionary *userInfo = [(*error).userInfo mutableCopy];
  NSString *errorDescription = JSONResponse[@"error"];
  userInfo[NSLocalizedDescriptionKey] = errorDescription;

  NSError *annotatedError = [NSError errorWithDomain:(*error).domain
  (*error) = annotatedError;

  return responseToReturn;


That's it 👌.

Note how the error is managed. Because it is a NSError *__autoreleasing * instance we need to access is like this: (*error).

Food for Thought

  • Dig down into why we need to use (*error).
  • What other options do we have to achieve the same result? For example using the AFNetworkingOperationFailingURLResponseDataErrorKey key in the default failure callback NSError's userInfo.
  • How does Alamofire.

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