9. Working with Associations

Associations between entities are represented just like in regular object-oriented PHP code using references to other objects or collections of objects.

Changes to associations in your code are not synchronized to the database directly, only when calling EntityManager#flush().

There are other concepts you should know about when working with associations in Doctrine:

  • If an entity is removed from a collection, the association is removed, not the entity itself. A collection of entities always only represents the association to the containing entities, not the entity itself.
  • When a bidirectional assocation is updated, Doctrine only checks on one of both sides for these changes. This is called the owning side of the association.
  • A property with a reference to many entities has to be instances of the Doctrine\Common\Collections\Collection interface.

9.1. Association Example Entities

We will use a simple comment system with Users and Comments as entities to show examples of association management. See the PHP docblocks of each association in the following example for information about its type and if it’s the owning or inverse side.

<?php
/** @Entity */
class User
{
    /** @Id @GeneratedValue @Column(type="string") */
    private $id;

    /**
     * Bidirectional - Many users have Many favorite comments (OWNING SIDE)
     *
     * @ManyToMany(targetEntity="Comment", inversedBy="userFavorites")
     * @JoinTable(name="user_favorite_comments")
     */
    private $favorites;

    /**
     * Unidirectional - Many users have marked many comments as read
     *
     * @ManyToMany(targetEntity="Comment")
     * @JoinTable(name="user_read_comments")
     */
    private $commentsRead;

    /**
     * Bidirectional - One-To-Many (INVERSE SIDE)
     *
     * @OneToMany(targetEntity="Comment", mappedBy="author")
     */
    private $commentsAuthored;

    /**
     * Unidirectional - Many-To-One
     *
     * @ManyToOne(targetEntity="Comment")
     */
    private $firstComment;
}

/** @Entity */
class Comment
{
    /** @Id @GeneratedValue @Column(type="string") */
    private $id;

    /**
     * Bidirectional - Many comments are favorited by many users (INVERSE SIDE)
     *
     * @ManyToMany(targetEntity="User", mappedBy="favorites")
     */
    private $userFavorites;

    /**
     * Bidirectional - Many Comments are authored by one user (OWNING SIDE)
     *
     * @ManyToOne(targetEntity="User", inversedBy="commentsAuthored")
     */
     private $author;
}

This two entities generate the following MySQL Schema (Foreign Key definitions omitted):

CREATE TABLE User (
    id VARCHAR(255) NOT NULL,
    firstComment_id VARCHAR(255) DEFAULT NULL,
    PRIMARY KEY(id)
) ENGINE = InnoDB;

CREATE TABLE Comment (
    id VARCHAR(255) NOT NULL,
    author_id VARCHAR(255) DEFAULT NULL,
    PRIMARY KEY(id)
) ENGINE = InnoDB;

CREATE TABLE user_favorite_comments (
    user_id VARCHAR(255) NOT NULL,
    favorite_comment_id VARCHAR(255) NOT NULL,
    PRIMARY KEY(user_id, favorite_comment_id)
) ENGINE = InnoDB;

CREATE TABLE user_read_comments (
    user_id VARCHAR(255) NOT NULL,
    comment_id VARCHAR(255) NOT NULL,
    PRIMARY KEY(user_id, comment_id)
) ENGINE = InnoDB;

9.2. Establishing Associations

Establishing an association between two entities is straight-forward. Here are some examples for the unidirectional relations of the User:

<?php
class User
{
    // ...
    public function getReadComments() {
         return $this->commentsRead;
    }

    public function setFirstComment(Comment $c) {
        $this->firstComment = $c;
    }
}

The interaction code would then look like in the following snippet ($em here is an instance of the EntityManager):

<?php
$user = $em->find('User', $userId);

// unidirectional many to many
$comment = $em->find('Comment', $readCommentId);
$user->getReadComments()->add($comment);

$em->flush();

// unidirectional many to one
$myFirstComment = new Comment();
$user->setFirstComment($myFirstComment);

$em->persist($myFirstComment);
$em->flush();

In the case of bi-directional associations you have to update the fields on both sides:

<?php
class User
{
    // ..

    public function getAuthoredComments() {
        return $this->commentsAuthored;
    }

    public function getFavoriteComments() {
        return $this->favorites;
    }
}

class Comment
{
    // ...

    public function getUserFavorites() {
        return $this->userFavorites;
    }

    public function setAuthor(User $author = null) {
        $this->author = $author;
    }
}

// Many-to-Many
$user->getFavorites()->add($favoriteComment);
$favoriteComment->getUserFavorites()->add($user);

$em->flush();

// Many-To-One / One-To-Many Bidirectional
$newComment = new Comment();
$user->getAuthoredComments()->add($newComment);
$newComment->setAuthor($user);

$em->persist($newComment);
$em->flush();

Notice how always both sides of the bidirectional association are updated. The previous unidirectional associations were simpler to handle.

9.3. Removing Associations

Removing an association between two entities is similarly straight-forward. There are two strategies to do so, by key and by element. Here are some examples:

<?php
// Remove by Elements
$user->getComments()->removeElement($comment);
$comment->setAuthor(null);

$user->getFavorites()->removeElement($comment);
$comment->getUserFavorites()->removeElement($user);

// Remove by Key
$user->getComments()->remove($ithComment);
$comment->setAuthor(null);

You need to call $em->flush() to make persist these changes in the database permanently.

Notice how both sides of the bidirectional association are always updated. Unidirectional associations are consequently simpler to handle. Also note that if you use type-hinting in your methods, i.e. setAddress(Address $address), PHP will only allow null values if null is set as default value. Otherwise setAddress(null) will fail for removing the association. If you insist on type-hinting a typical way to deal with this is to provide a special method, like removeAddress(). This can also provide better encapsulation as it hides the internal meaning of not having an address.

When working with collections, keep in mind that a Collection is essentially an ordered map (just like a PHP array). That is why the remove operation accepts an index/key. removeElement is a separate method that has O(n) complexity using array_search, where n is the size of the map.

Note

Since Doctrine always only looks at the owning side of a bidirectional association for updates, it is not necessary for write operations that an inverse collection of a bidirectional one-to-many or many-to-many association is updated. This knowledge can often be used to improve performance by avoiding the loading of the inverse collection.

You can also clear the contents of a whole collection using the Collections::clear() method. You should be aware that using this method can lead to a straight and optimized database delete or update call during the flush operation that is not aware of entities that have been re-added to the collection.

Say you clear a collection of tags by calling $post->getTags()->clear(); and then call $post->getTags()->add($tag). This will not recognize the tag having already been added previously and will consequently issue two separate database calls.

9.4. Association Management Methods

It is generally a good idea to encapsulate proper association management inside the entity classes. This makes it easier to use the class correctly and can encapsulate details about how the association is maintained.

The following code shows updates to the previous User and Comment example that encapsulate much of the association management code:

<?php
class User
{
    //...
    public function markCommentRead(Comment $comment) {
        // Collections implement ArrayAccess
        $this->commentsRead[] = $comment;
    }

    public function addComment(Comment $comment) {
        if (count($this->commentsAuthored) == 0) {
            $this->setFirstComment($comment);
        }
        $this->comments[] = $comment;
        $comment->setAuthor($this);
    }

    private function setFirstComment(Comment $c) {
        $this->firstComment = $c;
    }

    public function addFavorite(Comment $comment) {
        $this->favorites->add($comment);
        $comment->addUserFavorite($this);
    }

    public function removeFavorite(Comment $comment) {
        $this->favorites->removeElement($comment);
        $comment->removeUserFavorite($this);
    }
}

class Comment
{
    // ..

    public function addUserFavorite(User $user) {
        $this->userFavorites[] = $user;
    }

    public function removeUserFavorite(User $user) {
        $this->userFavorites->removeElement($user);
    }
}

You will notice that addUserFavorite and removeUserFavorite do not call addFavorite and removeFavorite, thus the bidirectional association is strictly-speaking still incomplete. However if you would naively add the addFavorite in addUserFavorite, you end up with an infinite loop, so more work is needed. As you can see, proper bidirectional association management in plain OOP is a non-trivial task and encapsulating all the details inside the classes can be challenging.

Note

If you want to make sure that your collections are perfectly encapsulated you should not return them from a getCollectionName() method directly, but call $collection->toArray(). This way a client programmer for the entity cannot circumvent the logic you implement on your entity for association management. For example:

<?php
class User {
    public function getReadComments() {
        return $this->commentsRead->toArray();
    }
}

This will however always initialize the collection, with all the performance penalties given the size. In some scenarios of large collections it might even be a good idea to completely hide the read access behind methods on the EntityRepository.

There is no single, best way for association management. It greatly depends on the requirements of your concrete domain model as well as your preferences.

9.5. Synchronizing Bidirectional Collections

In the case of Many-To-Many associations you as the developer have the responsibility of keeping the collections on the owning and inverse side in sync when you apply changes to them. Doctrine can only guarantee a consistent state for the hydration, not for your client code.

Using the User-Comment entities from above, a very simple example can show the possible caveats you can encounter:

<?php
$user->getFavorites()->add($favoriteComment);
// not calling $favoriteComment->getUserFavorites()->add($user);

$user->getFavorites()->contains($favoriteComment); // TRUE
$favoriteComment->getUserFavorites()->contains($user); // FALSE

There are two approaches to handle this problem in your code:

  1. Ignore updating the inverse side of bidirectional collections, BUT never read from them in requests that changed their state. In the next Request Doctrine hydrates the consistent collection state again.
  2. Always keep the bidirectional collections in sync through association management methods. Reads of the Collections directly after changes are consistent then.

9.6. Transitive persistence / Cascade Operations

Persisting, removing, detaching, refreshing and merging individual entities can become pretty cumbersome, especially when a highly interweaved object graph is involved. Therefore Doctrine 2 provides a mechanism for transitive persistence through cascading of these operations. Each association to another entity or a collection of entities can be configured to automatically cascade certain operations. By default, no operations are cascaded.

The following cascade options exist:

  • persist : Cascades persist operations to the associated entities.
  • remove : Cascades remove operations to the associated entities.
  • merge : Cascades merge operations to the associated entities.
  • detach : Cascades detach operations to the associated entities.
  • refresh : Cascades refresh operations to the associated entities.
  • all : Cascades persist, remove, merge, refresh and detach operations to associated entities.

Note

Cascade operations are performed in memory. That means collections and related entities are fetched into memory, even if they are still marked as lazy when the cascade operation is about to be performed. However this approach allows entity lifecycle events to be performed for each of these operations.

However, pulling objects graph into memory on cascade can cause considerable performance overhead, especially when cascading collections are large. Makes sure to weigh the benefits and downsides of each cascade operation that you define.

To rely on the database level cascade operations for the delete operation instead, you can configure each join column with the onDelete option. See the respective mapping driver chapters for more information.

The following example is an extension to the User-Comment example of this chapter. Suppose in our application a user is created whenever he writes his first comment. In this case we would use the following code:

<?php
$user = new User();
$myFirstComment = new Comment();
$user->addComment($myFirstComment);

$em->persist($user);
$em->persist($myFirstComment);
$em->flush();

Even if you persist a new User that contains our new Comment this code would fail if you removed the call to EntityManager#persist($myFirstComment). Doctrine 2 does not cascade the persist operation to all nested entities that are new as well.

More complicated is the deletion of all of a user’s comments when he is removed from the system:

<?php
$user = $em->find('User', $deleteUserId);

foreach ($user->getAuthoredComments() as $comment) {
    $em->remove($comment);
}
$em->remove($user);
$em->flush();

Without the loop over all the authored comments Doctrine would use an UPDATE statement only to set the foreign key to NULL and only the User would be deleted from the database during the flush()-Operation.

To have Doctrine handle both cases automatically we can change the User#commentsAuthored property to cascade both the “persist” and the “remove” operation.

<?php
class User
{
    //...
    /**
     * Bidirectional - One-To-Many (INVERSE SIDE)
     *
     * @OneToMany(targetEntity="Comment", mappedBy="author", cascade={"persist", "remove"})
     */
    private $commentsAuthored;
    //...
}

Even though automatic cascading is convenient it should be used with care. Do not blindly apply cascade=all to all associations as it will unnecessarily degrade the performance of your application. For each cascade operation that gets activated Doctrine also applies that operation to the association, be it single or collection valued.

9.6.1. Persistence by Reachability: Cascade Persist

There are additional semantics that apply to the Cascade Persist operation. During each flush() operation Doctrine detects if there are new entities in any collection and three possible cases can happen:

  1. New entities in a collection marked as cascade persist will be directly persisted by Doctrine.
  2. New entities in a collection not marked as cascade persist will produce an Exception and rollback the flush() operation.
  3. Collections without new entities are skipped.

This concept is called Persistence by Reachability: New entities that are found on already managed entities are automatically persisted as long as the association is defined as cascade persist.

9.7. Orphan Removal

There is another concept of cascading that is relevant only when removing entities from collections. If an Entity of type A contains references to privately owned Entities B then if the reference from A to B is removed the entity B should also be removed, because it is not used anymore.

OrphanRemoval works with one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many associations.

Note

When using the orphanRemoval=true option Doctrine makes the assumption that the entities are privately owned and will NOT be reused by other entities. If you neglect this assumption your entities will get deleted by Doctrine even if you assigned the orphaned entity to another one.

As a better example consider an Addressbook application where you have Contacts, Addresses and StandingData:

<?php

namespace Addressbook;

use Doctrine\Common\Collections\ArrayCollection;

/**
 * @Entity
 */
class Contact
{
    /** @Id @Column(type="integer") @GeneratedValue */
    private $id;

    /** @OneToOne(targetEntity="StandingData", orphanRemoval=true) */
    private $standingData;

    /** @OneToMany(targetEntity="Address", mappedBy="contact", orphanRemoval=true) */
    private $addresses;

    public function __construct()
    {
        $this->addresses = new ArrayCollection();
    }

    public function newStandingData(StandingData $sd)
    {
        $this->standingData = $sd;
    }

    public function removeAddress($pos)
    {
        unset($this->addresses[$pos]);
    }
}

Now two examples of what happens when you remove the references:

<?php

$contact = $em->find("Addressbook\Contact", $contactId);
$contact->newStandingData(new StandingData("Firstname", "Lastname", "Street"));
$contact->removeAddress(1);

$em->flush();

In this case you have not only changed the Contact entity itself but you have also removed the references for standing data and as well as one address reference. When flush is called not only are the references removed but both the old standing data and the one address entity are also deleted from the database.

9.8. Filtering Collections

Collections have a filtering API that allows to slice parts of data from a collection. If the collection has not been loaded from the database yet, the filtering API can work on the SQL level to make optimized access to large collections.

<?php

use Doctrine\Common\Collections\Criteria;

$group          = $entityManager->find('Group', $groupId);
$userCollection = $group->getUsers();

$criteria = Criteria::create()
    ->where(Criteria::expr()->eq("birthday", "1982-02-17"))
    ->orderBy(array("username" => Criteria::ASC))
    ->setFirstResult(0)
    ->setMaxResults(20)
;

$birthdayUsers = $userCollection->matching($criteria);

Tip

You can move the access of slices of collections into dedicated methods of an entity. For example Group#getTodaysBirthdayUsers().

The Criteria has a limited matching language that works both on the SQL and on the PHP collection level. This means you can use collection matching interchangeably, independent of in-memory or sql-backed collections.

<?php

use Doctrine\Common\Collections;

class Criteria
{
    /**
     * @return Criteria
     */
    static public function create();
    /**
     * @param Expression $where
     * @return Criteria
     */
    public function where(Expression $where);
    /**
     * @param Expression $where
     * @return Criteria
     */
    public function andWhere(Expression $where);
    /**
     * @param Expression $where
     * @return Criteria
     */
    public function orWhere(Expression $where);
    /**
     * @param array $orderings
     * @return Criteria
     */
    public function orderBy(array $orderings);
    /**
     * @param int $firstResult
     * @return Criteria
     */
    public function setFirstResult($firstResult);
    /**
     * @param int $maxResults
     * @return Criteria
     */
    public function setMaxResults($maxResults);
    public function getOrderings();
    public function getWhereExpression();
    public function getFirstResult();
    public function getMaxResults();
}

You can build expressions through the ExpressionBuilder. It has the following methods:

  • andX($arg1, $arg2, ...)
  • orX($arg1, $arg2, ...)
  • eq($field, $value)
  • gt($field, $value)
  • lt($field, $value)
  • lte($field, $value)
  • gte($field, $value)
  • neq($field, $value)
  • isNull($field)
  • in($field, array $values)
  • notIn($field, array $values)

Note

There is a limitation on the compatibility of Criteria comparisons. You have to use scalar values only as the value in a comparison or the behaviour between different backends is not the same.

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