Implementing an Expandable Text Cell

Learn how to implement an expandable text cell which automatically cuts off the text at a specified number of lines; just like in the reviews section of the App Store!



I’ve posted the full code for this blog post on GitHub:

Project Classes


A simple UITableViewCell that gives us an outlet to an ExpandableLabel, which is just a subclass of UILabel.


An NSObject that contains information on how each cell will be presented. First we have NSString *string, which contains the text that will go inside the label. Then we have BOOL expanded, which is used to track whether the cell has been expanded already. This is a very important class because it controls how many lines of text the cell will display via kMaxNumberOfLines.


The view controller is pretty standard. We populate the cell models with random-sized strings, implement UITableViewDelegate / UITableViewDataSource, and just display the cells. Most of the logic is handled by ExpandableLabelCellModel and ExpandableLabel.


The most important part of the project and why you came to see this blog post! This special UILabel subclass handles all of the truncation. We will talk about how ExpandableLabel is implemented step-by-step below, but I’ll summarize the most important parts here. First we must decide whether we need to truncate the text in the cell, if we decide to truncate, we append “…More” to the truncated text. Truncation is decided by the labels numberOfLines property. If the value is 0, it means that we do not want to truncate the text. If the value >0, we must calculate whether the text of the UILabel fits the numberOfLines. If the text fits, we want to leave it alone and display it in its full form, otherwise, we truncate it.

ExpandableLabel Functionality

Let’s truncate!

The -(void)truncate function first checks whether we should truncate the text in the label. If it decides not to truncate, we don’t do anything! Otherwise, the function decides how many characters fit the label via numberOfCharactersThatFitLabel function. Once we know that number, we just do simple truncating math, append “…More”, add some NSAttributedString attributes and set the label text!

static NSString *const kExpandableLabelText = @"More";

- (void)truncate {
    self.lineBreakMode = NSLineBreakByClipping;

    if ([self shouldTruncate]) {
        // Truncate the original string to 'self.numberOfLines' and append a special suffix
        NSInteger numberOfCharactersThatFitLabel = [[self numberOfCharactersThatFitLabel] integerValue];

        NSString *specialSuffix = [NSString stringWithFormat:@" ...%@", kExpandableLabelText];
        NSString *truncatedOriginalString = [self.text substringToIndex:numberOfCharactersThatFitLabel-specialSuffix.length];
        NSString *truncatedNewString = [truncatedOriginalString stringByAppendingString:specialSuffix];

        NSMutableAttributedString *attributedTruncatedNewString = [[NSMutableAttributedString alloc] initWithString:truncatedNewString attributes:nil];
        // Re-apply all of the attributes of the original string
        [self.attributedText enumerateAttributesInRange:NSMakeRange(0, numberOfCharactersThatFitLabel) options:NSAttributedStringEnumerationReverse usingBlock:
         ^(NSDictionary *attributes, NSRange range, BOOL *stop) {
             [attributedTruncatedNewString setAttributes:attributes range:range];

        // Apply special attributes to the 'kExpandableLabelText'
        NSRange range = NSMakeRange(truncatedOriginalString.length + specialSuffix.length-kExpandableLabelText.length, kExpandableLabelText.length);
        [attributedTruncatedNewString addAttribute:NSFontAttributeName value:self.font range:range];
        [attributedTruncatedNewString addAttribute:NSForegroundColorAttributeName value:[UIColor blueColor] range:range];
        // Set the new string
        [self setAttributedText:attributedTruncatedNewString];

When to truncate?

The project calls truncate in layoutSubviews. Whether this is the right place to call the function can be arguable, but there is one very important thing to keep in mind: the calculations are done based off the UILabel bounds, so make sure they are correct before calling the truncate function!

Should we be truncating?

As stated above, truncation is decided by the labels numberOfLines property. If the value is 0, it means that we do not want to truncate the text. If the value >0, we must calculate whether the text of the UILabel fits the numberOfLines. First we calculate the actualHeightOfText: the height of the UILabel if we were to display every line of text. Then we calculate the desiredHeightOfText: the height of the UILabel with respect to the value of numberOfLines. If desiredHeightOfText < actualHeightOfText we want to truncate!

- (BOOL)shouldTruncate {

    if (self.numberOfLines == 0) {
        return NO;
    // Calculate the height of the text with no truncation
    CGSize sizeOfText = [self.text boundingRectWithSize:CGSizeMake(self.bounds.size.width, CGFLOAT_MAX)
                                             attributes:[NSDictionary dictionaryWithObject:self.font forKey:NSFontAttributeName] context:nil].size;
    CGFloat actualHeightOfText = sizeOfText.height;
    // Calculate the height of the text bound to 'self.numberOfLines'
    CGFloat desiredHeightOfText = [self textRectForBounds:self.bounds limitedToNumberOfLines:self.numberOfLines].size.height;
    return desiredHeightOfText < actualHeightOfText;

How many characters fit a rectangle?

The most important function in the whole project! Apple’s Core Text library provides CTFramesetterSuggestFrameSizeWithConstraints function. We can pass a CFRange called the fitRange (“On return, contains the range of the string that actually fit in the constrained size.”) to the function. By passing in the desired rectangle of the UILabel and by taking the length from the fitRange, we get the number of characters that fit our desired label!

- (NSInteger)numberOfCharactersThatFitLabel {
    // Create an 'CTFramesetterRef' from an attributed string
    CTFontRef fontRef = CTFontCreateWithName((CFStringRef)self.font.fontName, self.font.pointSize, NULL);
    NSDictionary *attributes = [NSDictionary dictionaryWithObject:(__bridge id)fontRef forKey:(id)kCTFontAttributeName];
    NSAttributedString *attributedString  = [[NSAttributedString alloc] initWithString:self.text attributes:attributes];
    CTFramesetterRef frameSetterRef = CTFramesetterCreateWithAttributedString((CFAttributedStringRef)attributedString);

    // Get a suggested character count that would fit the attributed string
    CFRange characterFitRange;
    CTFramesetterSuggestFrameSizeWithConstraints(frameSetterRef, CFRangeMake(0,0), NULL, CGSizeMake(self.bounds.size.width, self.numberOfLines*self.font.lineHeight), &characterFitRange);
    return (NSInteger)characterFitRange.length;


And that’s it! Keep in mind that this functionality can be applied to many different UX cases. For example, Facebook’s “… Continue Reading” button, which pushes to a new view controller upon the press of the button.