Symfony 4: Automate your Workflow

Symfony 4’s most “innovative” feature is the way it drives the day-to-day application management. No more tedious copy/paste from README files. No more boilerplate code. Automation to the max. On a curated list of Composer packages.

Symfony Flex

Symfony 4 is powered by Symfony Flex, a deceptively simple but powerful Composer plugin. The default Symfony skeleton only lists two main dependencies: symfony/flex and symfony/framework-bundle. Everything else is optional.

As you can imagine, most projects need more than FrameworkBundle. And installing and configuring all packages and bundles by hand is error-prone, tedious, and just plain boring. Even for the few dependencies that Symfony Standard Edition depends on.

This is where Symfony Flex shines.

When you install a Composer package, Flex hooks into the installation process to automate its integration into your project via pre-defined and community-driven recipes. It works for any Composer packages, not just Symfony bundles. If a recipe does not exist, you can still configure it the old way, like you currently do.

Take sensiolabs/security-checker as an example. It works for any PHP projects. But when installed on a project using Symfony Flex, it knows how to run the checker whenever you run composer install.

The automation is implemented in a recipe that has a JSON manifest that describes how to integrate the package into a Symfony application. Here is the one for sensiolabs/security-checker:

{
"copy-from-recipe": {
"etc/": "%ETC_DIR%/"
},
"composer-scripts": {
"vendor/bin/security-checker security:check": "php-script"
}
}

Flex currently implements 9 “configurators” that helps automate the integration of any PHP package into a Symfony application: copy-from-recipe, copy-from-package, bundles, env, container, makefile, composer-scripts, gitignore, and post-install-output.

Bundles

The bundles configurator enables bundles in your project by adding them to the bundles.php file (and it removes them when you uninstall the dependency):

{
"bundles": {
"Symfony\\Bundle\\DebugBundle\\DebugBundle": ["dev", "test"],
"Symfony\\Bundle\\MonologBundle\\MonologBundle": ["all"]
}
}

Configuration

Configuration can be added via the copy-from-recipe and copy-from-package configurators: the former copies files from the recipe while the later copies files from the Composer package itself.

{
"copy-from-package": {
"bin/check.php": "%BIN_DIR%/check.php"
},
"copy-from-recipe": {
"etc/": "%ETC_DIR%/",
"src/": "%SRC_DIR%/"
}
}

Environment Variables

The env configurator knows how to add environment variables to the project's .env and .env.dist files (and removes them when uninstalling the dependency):

{
"env": {
"APP_ENV": "dev",
"APP_DEBUG": "1"
}
}

Makefile Tasks

The makefile configurator adds new tasks to the project's Makefile (and removes them when uninstalling the dependency). Unlike other configurators, there is no entry in the manifest.json. Just define tasks in a Makefile file:

cache-clear:
@test -f bin/console && bin/console cache:clear --no-warmup || rm -rf var/cache/*
.PHONY: cache-clear
cache-warmup: cache-clear
@test -f bin/console && bin/console cache:warmup || echo "cannot warmup the cache (needs symfony/console)"
.PHONY: cache-warmup

Note: A previous version of this blog post described a previous version where the post install output was defined in the manifest.json file.

Composer Scripts

The composer.json file defined in symfony/skeleton contains the following snippet:

{
"scripts": {
"auto-scripts": [ ],
"post-install-cmd": [ "@auto-scripts" ],
"post-update-cmd": [ "@auto-scripts" ]
}
}

The composer-scripts configurator manages the special @auto-scripts section by adding commands and scripts defined in recipes. Those are automatically run on composer install and composer update:

{
"composer-scripts": {
"assets:install --symlink --relative %WEB_DIR%": "symfony-cmd"
}
}

.gitignore

The .gitignore configurator adds patterns to the .gitignore file. And like for the other configurators, it knows how to clean up when you remove a package:

{
"gitignore": [
"/phpunit.xml"
]
}

post-install-output

If you want to display some next step actions when a package is installed, list them via the post-install-output configurator. Like for the Makefile, the output must be defined in a post-install.txt:

Execute <fg=blue>make serve</> to run your application.

Note: A previous version of this blog post described a previous version where
the post install output was defined in the `manifest.json` file.

Full Example

The most “complex” manifest is currently the one for symfony/framework-bundle and reads as follows:

{
"bundles": {
"Symfony\\Bundle\\FrameworkBundle\\FrameworkBundle": ["all"]
},
"copy-from-recipe": {
"etc/": "%ETC_DIR%/",
"src/": "%SRC_DIR%/",
"web/": "%WEB_DIR%/"
},
"composer-scripts": {
"make cache-warmup": "script",
"assets:install --symlink --relative %WEB_DIR%": "symfony-cmd"
},
"env": {
"APP_ENV": "dev",
"APP_DEBUG": "1",
"APP_SECRET": "%generate(secret)%"
},
"gitignore": [
".env",
"/var/",
"/vendor/",
"/web/bundles/"
]
}

That’s all. I have yet to find a case not covered by this small set of configurators. Note that I might remove the container one as it is not used anymore in the current set of recipes I have written so far.

An Opinionated Repository

The Symfony Flex recipe repository will be opinionated. The developer is free to use any combinations of packages, but to be able to provide a good sensible configuration, we need to make choices. We won’t be able to support all bundles, only a curated set of them. Which is probably a good thing as well.

Symfony doesn’t make choices for you. And that makes sense. You know what you need for your project. But with more than 3000 bundles to choose from, selecting the right bundle from the ecosystem is far from being easy for beginners. Want an admin generator? Currently, you need to choose between 26 different ones. And several are quite popular. Which one should I use?

Compare that to symfony1, where the admin generator was built-in. This is just one example. Have a look at the number of Blog bundles, or API ones. The great news is that the Symfony community is hard at work.

Along the years, Symfony became a very low-level framework, without batteries included. Now that Symfony gives us a very powerful platform to work with, I think we can work on being more opinionated again.

We should be giving more exposure to good bundles. In order to do that, we would first need to define what “good” means. I can imagine some simple rules like the license, or the number of opened bugs vs activity on the Git repository, the amount of documentation, the number of contributors, whether it is compatible with a large set of Symfony versions, and so on.

And of course, any bundle can still be installed the old way, without auto-configuration.

The Symfony Flex Server

Besides being a Composer plugin, Symfony Flex also communicates with an HTTP server to get up-to-date information about package recipes, aliases, and more.

Try curl https://flex.symfony.com/recipes/sensiolabs/security-checker/4.0 | json_pp.

Eager to try out Symfony Flex? Well, I will push everything to Github just in time for the next blog post.


Originally published at fabien.potencier.org.