What is intrinsicContentSize Anyway?

Make it fit the content

Photo by Dalton Touchberry on Unsplash

Make it fit the content

Difficulty: Beginner | Easy | Normal | Challenging

This article is paired with a YouTube video, that covers similar ground.

Keywords and Terminology:

Auto Layout: A constraint-based layout system intrinsicContentSize: The natural size for the receiving view, considering only properties of the view itself


There aren’t any, although you will need to set up a project, although you might like to read through subclassing a UIView

What is this article about?

Each view should have an idea amount of space that will display it’s content. For example a UILabel has a width and height that is based on the size of the text it contains. This simplifies layouts, as rather than specifying the width and height of a component we can tell Auto Layout where to display the component and Auto Layout.

The Theory

Components often display content, and therefore have an instance property that allows it to communicate to the layout system what size it would like to be, based upon the content which it contains:

var intrinsicContentSize: CGSize { get }

For any given dimension a view may have no intrinsic size, and in this case noIntrinsicMetric can be used for that dimension.

Let us move onto the example.

A Simple UILabel

A UILabel instance will have an intrinsicContentSize that is calculated according to the text which it contains. For this example I'm going to set up the views programatically, and use a lazy property for the component:

which is then constrained to the middle-top of the parent view:

print the intrinsicContentSize and frame of the simpleLabel:

Now it would be tempting to think that all UIView subclasses have their size defined by the intrinsicContentSize, however that is not true. If we print out the frame and intrinsicContentSize of the view we get another couple of facts"

Avoiding Hard Coding Width and Height For A UIView Subclass

In order to create a UIView subclass, we can avoid having a hardcoded height and width.

We can add the view much as before:

and then create our UIView subclass, and this particular one will not do much, other than setting the background colour.

Now if you run this, the view will not appear on screen. Logging the frame and intrinsicContentSize we can see the problem

a natural solution to this would be to hardcode (in this instance at least) some constraints for the width and height of the view. Unfortunately this isn’t an article about constraints, so we are going to override the intrinsicContentSize property. That is, we are going to add the following variable to the ContainerView code:

which then sets us up with the following frame and intrinsicContentSize:

(so incidently if you se the constraints on the view you will get the same frame, but intrinsicContentSize would then be (-1.0, -1.0)).

What about the clash?

Auto Layout can calculate the space that a component might need based on the intrinsicContentSize property, however in some circumstances a component may have more or less height than that specified and in this case Auto Layout will use the content compression resistance property and content hugging property to resolve the layout issues appropriately.

What about changes to the content?

If the content size changes we can call from the outside of the class, so something like:


Marks the instrinsicContentSize as changed and that the frame should be updated.


instrinsicContentSize allows you to set a size for a view accorrding to their layout. Now it does go slightly deeper than this article has covered (and that might well be an article for the future), but I hope that this article has given you some idea of this important feature of the iOS SDK.

That is: I hope this helps! Oh, and there is a YouTube video that might further help you.

If you’ve any questions, comments or suggestions please hit me up on Twitter

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