Facebook to release open source library for iOS interface development

Async Display Kit, part of Facebook's Paper interface app for iOS, offers users better scrolling on devices

Facebook, within a few weeks, plans to release an open source library intended to help developers build native Apple iOS apps with smooth, responsive user interfaces.

In a closed beta stage of release at the moment, Async Display Kit is part of Facebook's Paper interface application for iOS. Async Display Kit defines a UI in a separate thread, so it does not hold up the user experience; when ready, changes are mapped across to the main thread.

"[The library offers] a completely new take on the way in which you can design the user interface of iOS apps," said Facebook open source technology lead James Pearce, in an interview Tuesday at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON) in Portland, Ore. Users get a fast, fluid 60-frames-per-second-type experience, with better scrolling of applications on their devices, he said.

Previously Facebook released other libraries from Paper, including KVOController, for thread-safe key value observing; Tweaks, to adjust parameters in apps; the Pop animation library, providing bouncing, sliding, and physics in Paper; and Shimmer, for adding a shimmering effect to iOS apps.

Facebook drew a lot of attention in 2012 when, citing performance concerns, it switched its iOS application from HTML5 Web technology to a native iOS application. But Pearce said Facebook still has some elements of HTML5 in its native iOS app.

Although perhaps not considered a dominant force in the open source realm, Facebook has been developing open source software for a number years now, Pearce stressed. "We see open source as a key part of the Facebook engineering culture. It's a very strong way for us to interact with communities and give something back," he said.

The company recently rebooted its open source program, improving maintenance of projects by forming a team dedicated to maintaining the portfolio. Among other Facebook open source projects are HHVM, formerly HipHop Virtual Machine, which provides PHP Web server infrastructure, and the React JavaScript library for building user interfaces. Facebook's Hack, meanwhile, provides a programming language that serves as a dialect of PHP and interoperates with HHVM, and Facebook's Buck is a Build tool for Android and Java.

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