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Nguyen Truong Ky
Nguyen Truong Ky

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Customize your UITabBarController

From 2017, design trending has changed to tab bar, instead of slide menu. UITabBarController has become one of the most popular controller. It’s very simple to use. But sometime, it’s too simple to customize and make attractive. Designers are artists, and they usually want tab bar like this

or like this

I had to implement a tab bar like above in 2015. My implementation at that time was bad. I used a UIViewController as a main controller, and added a custom view like a tab bar. And everytime a tab selected, embed the other UIViewController into the main controller. That’s not good option.

Today I make a UITabBarController with a custom view like a tab bar. With this solution, we can use the max strength of UITabBarController with the same behavior and code. Much easier and better than my implementation before. Hope anyone can easily customize to their design if they want after this note.


First thing need to be customized is the UITabBarItem. UITabBarItem is not flexible enough to be customized to anything I want. I need to use UIButton.

class knTabBarItem: UIButton {
    // (1)
    var itemHeight: CGFloat = 0
    // (2)
    var lock = false
    // (3)
    var color: UIColor = UIColor.lightGray {
        didSet {
            guard lock == false else { return }
            iconImageView.change(color: color)
            textLabel.textColor = color

    // (4)
    private let iconImageView = knUIMaker.makeImageView(contentMode: .scaleAspectFit)
    private let textLabel = knUIMaker.makeLabel(font: UIFont.systemFont(ofSize: 11),
                                        color: .black, alignment: .center)

    convenience init(icon: UIImage, title: String,
                    font: UIFont = UIFont.systemFont(ofSize: 11)) {
        translatesAutoresizingMaskIntoConstraints = false
        iconImageView.image = icon
        textLabel.text = title
        textLabel.font = UIFont(name: font.fontName, size: 11)

    // (5)
    private func setupView() {
        addSubviews(views: iconImageView, textLabel) self, space: 4)
        iconImageView.centerX(toView: self)

        let iconBottomConstant: CGFloat = textLabel.text == "" ? -2 : -20
        iconImageView.bottom(toView: self, space: iconBottomConstant)

        textLabel.bottom(toView: self, space: -2)
        textLabel.centerX(toView: self)

(1) (2) (3)

  • Some tab items can be bigger than others. I can easily set the height for them to make difference with others.
  • Some tab items are very unacceptional with different color and don’t change color when selected.


  • knUIMaker is my collection to make controls. Just easier to make UIButton, UIImageView, UILabel by code.


  • addSubviews, top, centerX, bottom are from my knConstraints to make auto layout. I’m a fan of auto layout programmatically, so make controls and set layouts by code is what to do hundreds times everyday.


Next thing I have to focus on is UITabBar.

class knTabBar: UITabBar {
    // (1)
    var kn_items = [knTabBarItem]()
    convenience init(items: [knTabBarItem]) {
        kn_items = items
        translatesAutoresizingMaskIntoConstraints = false

    override var tintColor: UIColor! {
        didSet {
            for item in kn_items {
                item.color = tintColor

    func setupView() {
        backgroundColor = .white
        if kn_items.count == 0 { return }

        // (2)
        let line = knUIMaker.makeLine(color: .gray, height: 0.5)
        addSubviews(views: line)
        line.horizontal(toView: self) self)

        // (3)
        var horizontalConstraints = "H:|"
        let itemWidth: CGFloat = screenWidth / CGFloat(kn_items.count)
        for i in 0 ..< kn_items.count {
            let item = kn_items[i]
            addSubviews(views: item)
            if item.itemHeight == 0 {
                item.vertical(toView: self)
            else {
                item.bottom(toView: self)
            horizontalConstraints += String(format: "[v%d]", i)
            if item.lock == false {
                item.color = tintColor

        horizontalConstraints += "|"
        addConstraints(withFormat: horizontalConstraints, arrayOf: kn_items)


  • I can’t override items in UITabBar, so I name it a little bit similar to easier to remember


  • Add a line to separate the tab bar to the controller. Some designs need indicator at the selected item, I will add indicator here.


  • Flexible to add items by programmatically. Thanks Apple for Auto Layout Programmatically.


The easiest thing is here. Just inherit from UITabBarController, add some code, and it works.

class knTabController: UITabBarController {
    var kn_tabBar: knTabBar!
    var selectedColor = UIColor.darkGray
    var normalColor = UIColor.lightGray {
        didSet {
            kn_tabBar.tintColor = normalColor

    private var kn_tabBarHeight: CGFloat = 49
    override func viewDidLoad() {
        tabBar.isHidden = true

    func setupView() {}

    private func setTabBar(items: [knTabBarItem], height: CGFloat = 49) {
        guard items.count > 0 else { return }

        kn_tabBar = knTabBar(items: items)
        guard let bar = kn_tabBar else { return }
        kn_tabBar.tintColor = normalColor
        bar.kn_items.first?.color = selectedColor

        view.addSubviews(views: bar)
        bar.horizontal(toView: view)
        bar.bottom(toView: view)
        kn_tabBarHeight = height
        for i in 0 ..< items.count {
            items[i].tag = i
            items[i].addTarget(self, action: #selector(switchTab))

    @objc func switchTab(button: UIButton) {
        selectedIndex = button.tag

That’s ready for new tab bar. Just use it in a controller.

How to use?

  • Inherit class knTabController to your controller.
  • Override setupView method.
class DoctorController: knTabController {
    override func setupView() {
        let home = knTabBarItem(icon: #imageLiteral(resourceName: "home"), title: "Home")
        let appointment = knTabBarItem(icon: #imageLiteral(resourceName: "appointment"), title: "Appointment")
        let add = knTabBarItem(icon: #imageLiteral(resourceName: "add"), title: "")
        add.lock = true
        add.itemHeight = 66
        let doctors = knTabBarItem(icon: #imageLiteral(resourceName: "doctors"), title: "Doctors")
        let porfolio = knTabBarItem(icon: #imageLiteral(resourceName: "user"), title: "Porfolio")

        let red = UIViewController()
        red.view.backgroundColor = .red
        let green = UIViewController()
        green.view.backgroundColor = .green
        let blue = UIViewController()
        blue.view.backgroundColor = .white
        let yellow = UIViewController()
        yellow.view.backgroundColor = .yellow
        let gray = UIViewController()
        gray.view.backgroundColor = .gray

        setTabBar(items: [home, appointment, add, doctors, porfolio])
        viewControllers = [red, green, blue, yellow, gray]
        normalColor = .red
  • Run and see. The main button (Hexagon Add) is locked, don’t change the color when selected.

It’s much better if we have animation.

Add animation

  • In knTabController, change method switchTab content to
let newIndex = button.tag
changeTab(from: selectedIndex, to: newIndex)
  • Add method changeTab
 private func changeTab(from fromIndex: Int, to toIndex: Int) {
    kn_tabBar.kn_items[fromIndex].color = normalColor
    kn_tabBar.kn_items[toIndex].color = selectedColor
    animateSliding(from: fromIndex, to: toIndex)
  • And result:


Hope this can help anyone want to customize a tab bar can do it effortless. Code is here.

I will add some more animations and some properties to make it more convenience in very near future. Suggestions and feedbacks are welcome.


I am a fan of Auto Layout Programmatically, so usually use my library, knConstraints for setting constraints. knConstraints is a very simple way to setup Auto Layout with very easy to read syntax. You can try it yourself here.

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