Working with Objects

This chapter explains how to work with the DocumentManager and the UnitOfWork. The Unit of Work encapsulates the information to be written to PHPCR when you call DocumentManager#flush().

A Unit of Work can be manually closed by calling DocumentManager#close(). Any changes to documents within this UnitOfWork that have not yet been persisted are lost.


It is very important to understand that only DocumentManager::flush() ever causes write operations against the repository to be executed. Any other methods such as DocumentManager::persist($document) or DocumentManager::remove($document) only notify the UnitOfWork to perform these operations during flush.

Not calling DocumentManager::flush() will lead to all changes during that request being lost.


The DocumentManager is very similar to the Doctrine ORM EntityManager and this chapter is similar to its corresponding ORM chapter. This chapter tries to help you by highlighting the places where PHPCR-ODM is different from the ORM.

Documents and the Identity Map

Objects managed by Doctrine PHPCR-ODM are called documents. Every document has an identifier, which is its PHPCR path. The path is unique inside the workspace. Take the following example, where you find an article with the headline “Hello World” with the ID /cms/article/hello-world:

$article = $documentManager->find(null, '/cms/article/hello-world');
$article->setHeadline('Hello World dude!');

$article2 = $documentManager->find(null, '/cms/article/hello-world');
echo $article2->getHeadline(); // Hello World dude!


The first argument to find() is the document class name. While the ORM has a table per class and thus always needs the document class name, PHPCR-ODM has one tree for all documents. The above call will find you whatever document is at that path. Note that you may optionally specify the class name to have PHPCR-ODM detect if the document is not of the expected type.

In this case, the article is retrieved from the document manager twice, but modified in between. Doctrine 2 realizes that it is the same ID and will only ever give you access to one instance of the Article with ID /cms/article/hello-world, no matter how often do you retrieve it from the DocumentManager and even no matter what kind of Query method you are using (find, findBy, query builder, getDocumentsByPhpcrQuery). This is called “Identity Map” pattern, which means Doctrine keeps a map of each document that has been retrieved in the current PHP request and keeps returning you the same instances.

In the previous example the echo prints “Hello World dude!” to the screen. You can even verify that $article and $article2 are indeed pointing to the same instance by running the following code:

if ($article === $article2) {
    echo "Yes we are the same!";

Sometimes you want to clear the identity map of a DocumentManager to start over. We use this regularly in our unit tests to enforce loading documents from the repository again instead of serving them from the identity map. You can call DocumentManager::clear() to achieve this result.


In PHPCR-ODM, the ID is the PHPCR path of the document. This means it is possible to change the ID of a document by moving it in the tree using the the DocumentManager::move() operation. To create a reference to a document that is stable over move operations, make the document referenceable and map the Uuid field. You can find a document by its universally unique identifier.

Document Graph Traversal

Although Doctrine allows for a complete separation of your domain model (Document classes) there will never be a situation where documents are “missing” when traversing associations. You can walk all the associations inside your document models as deep as you want.

Take the following example of a single Article document fetched from newly opened DocumentManager:

 * @Document
class Article
     * @Id
    private $id;

     * @String
    private $headline;

     * @ReferenceOne
    private $author;

     * @Referrers(referrerDocument="Comment", referencedBy="article")
    private $comments;

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

    public function getAuthor() { return $this->author; }
    public function getComments() { return $this->comments; }

$article = $em->find(null, '/cms/article/hello-world');

This code retrieves an Article instance with ID /cms/article/hello-world, executing a single getNode() operation on the repository, retrieving only the data required for the specified article. However, you can still access the associated properties author and comments and the associated documents they contain.

This works by utilizing the lazy loading pattern. Instead of passing you back a real Author instance and a collection of comments, Doctrine will create proxy instances for you. Only if you access these proxies for the first time they will go through the DocumentManager and load their state from the repository.


In PHPCR-ODM, relations between documents are expressed in references. References are directed links. You can map the backlinks using the Referrers mapping.

This lazy-loading process happens behind the scenes, hidden from your code. Have a look at the following example:

$article = $em->find(null, '/cms/article/hello-world');

// accessing a method of the user instance triggers the lazy-load
echo "Author: " . $article->getAuthor()->getName() . "\n";

if ($article->getAuthor() instanceof User) {
    // getAuthor returns a proxy class which is instanceof User

// accessing the comments as an iterator triggers the lazy-load
// retrieving ALL the comments of this article from the repository
// using a single getNodes call
foreach ($article->getComments() AS $comment) {
    echo $comment->getText() . "\n\n";

// Article::$comments passes instanceof tests for the Collection interface
// But it will NOT pass for the ArrayCollection interface
if ($article->getComments() instanceof \Doctrine\Common\Collections\Collection) {
    echo "This will always be true!";

A slice of the generated proxy classes code looks like the following example. Real proxy class override all public methods along the lines of the getName() method shown below:

class UserProxy extends User implements Proxy
    private function _load()
        // lazy loading code

    public function getName()
        return parent::getName();
    // .. other public methods of User


Traversing the object graph for parts that are lazy-loaded will easily trigger lots of repository lookups and will perform badly if used too heavily. If you often use child documents for example, look into the fetchDepth configuration.

Persisting documents

When you create a new document, the DocumentManager knows nothing about it. You need to call DocumentManager::persist($document) to make the document MANAGED. You only need to do that on object instantiation. From now on, whenever you modify the object you loaded from the DocumentManager, it will automatically be synchronized with the repository when DocumentManager::flush() is invoked.


Invoking the persist method for a document does NOT cause an immediate addNode on the repository. Doctrine applies a strategy called “transactional write-behind”, which means that it will delay most SQL commands until DocumentManager::flush() is invoked which will then issue all necessary PHPCR calls to synchronize your documents with the repository in the most efficient way - a single, short transaction - taking care of maintaining referential integrity.


$user = new User;


Generated document identifiers / primary keys are guaranteed to be available after the next successful flush operation that involves the document in question. You may not rely on a generated identifier to be available directly after invoking persist. The inverse is also true. After a failed flush, a document may already show a generated identifier even though it was not persisted.

The semantics of the persist operation, applied on a document X, are as follows:

  • If X is a new document, it becomes managed. The document X will be entered into the repository as a result of the flush operation;
  • If X is a pre-existing managed document, it is ignored by the persist operation. However, the persist operation is cascaded to documents referenced by X if the relationships from X to these other documents are mapped with cascade=PERSIST or cascade=ALL (see “Transitive Persistence”);
  • If X is a removed document, it becomes managed;
  • If X is a detached document, an exception will be thrown on flush.

Removing documents

A document can be removed from persistent storage by passing it to the DocumentManager::remove($document) method. By applying the remove operation on some document, that document becomes REMOVED, which means that its persistent state will be deleted once DocumentManager::flush() is invoked.


Just like persist, invoking remove with a document does NOT cause an immediate remove() to be issued on the repository. The document will be deleted on the next invocation of DocumentManager::flush() that involves that document. This means that documents scheduled for removal can still be queried for and appear in query and collection results. See the section on Repository and UnitOfWork Out-Of-Sync for more information.



The semantics of the remove operation, applied to a document X are as follows:

  • If X is a new document, it is ignored by the remove operation. However, the remove operation is cascaded to documents referenced by X, if the relationship from X to these other documents is mapped with cascade=REMOVE or cascade=ALL (see “Transitive Persistence”);
  • If X is a managed document, the remove operation causes it to become removed. The remove operation is cascaded to documents referenced by X, if the relationships from X to these other documents is mapped with cascade=REMOVE or cascade=ALL (see “Transitive Persistence”);
  • If X is a detached document, an InvalidArgumentException will be thrown;
  • If X is a removed document, it is ignored by the remove operation;
  • A removed document X will be removed from the repository as a result of the flush operation.

After a document has been removed, its in-memory state is the same as before the removal, except that the identifier is set to null.

Removing a document will also automatically delete any children of it. Note that no events will be triggered for the removed children, only for the document explicitly removed.

By default, references and referring documents are not deleted. You can enable this by configuring cascading removal on the association mapping. If an association is marked as CASCADE=REMOVE, PHPCR-ODM will follow this association. If its a Single association it will pass this document to DocumentManager::remove(). If the association is a collection, Doctrine will loop over all its elements and pass them to``DocumentManager::remove()``. In both cases the cascade remove semantics are applied recursively. For large object graphs this removal strategy can be very costly.


Contrary to the ORM, the PHPCR query language knows no DELETE statement. If you expect to remove large object graphs, try to model them in a way that you can simply remove the parent, as children removal is as cheap as having a relational database cascade removal through foreign keys.

Detaching documents

You can make Doctrine stop tracking a document by detaching it from the UnitOfWork. To do this, you invoke the DocumentManager::detach($document) method with the document. Changes made to the detached document, including removal of the document, will not be synchronized to the repository after the document has been detached.

Doctrine will discard all references to a detached document.



The semantics of the detach operation, applied to a document X are as follows:

  • If X is a managed document, the detach operation causes it to become detached. The detach operation is cascaded to documents referenced by X, if the relationships from X to these other documents is mapped with cascade=DETACH or cascade=ALL (see “Transitive Persistence”). Documents which previously referenced X will continue to reference X;
  • If X is a new or detached document, it is ignored by the detach operation;
  • If X is a removed document, the detach operation is cascaded to documents referenced by X, if the relationships from X to these other documents is mapped with cascade=DETACH or cascade=ALL (see “Transitive Persistence”). Documents which previously referenced X will continue to reference X.

There are several situations in which a document will become detached automatically without invoking the detach method:

  • When DocumentManager::clear() is invoked, all documents that are currently managed by the DocumentManager instance become detached;
  • When serializing a document. The document retrieved upon subsequent unserialization will be detached (This is the case for all documents that are serialized and stored in some cache).

The detach operation is usually not as frequently needed and used as persist and remove.

Merging documents

Merging documents refers to the merging of (usually detached) documents into the context of a DocumentManager so that they become managed again. To merge the state of a document into a DocumentManager use the DocumentManager::merge($document) method. The state of the passed document will be merged into a managed copy of this document and this copy will subsequently be returned.


$detachedDocument = unserialize($serializedDocument); // some detached document
$document = $em->merge($detachedDocument);
// $document now refers to the fully managed copy returned by the merge operation.
// The DocumentManager now manages the persistence of $document as usual.

The semantics of the merge operation, applied to a document X, are as follows:

  • If X is a detached document, the state of X is copied onto a pre-existing managed document instance X’ of the same identity;
  • If X is a new document instance, a new managed copy X’ will be created and the state of X is copied onto this managed instance;
  • If X is a removed document instance, an InvalidArgumentException will be thrown;
  • If X is a managed document, it is ignored by the merge operation, however, the merge operation is cascaded to documents referenced by relationships from X if these relationships have been mapped with the cascade element value MERGE or ALL (see “Transitive Persistence”);
  • For all documents Y referenced by relationships from X having the cascade element value MERGE or ALL, Y is merged recursively as Y’. For all such Y referenced by X, X’ is set to reference Y’. (Note that if X is managed then X is the same object as X’.);
  • If X is a document merged to X’, with a reference to another document Y, where cascade=MERGE or cascade=ALL is not specified, then navigation of the same association from X’ yields a reference to a managed object Y’ with the same persistent identity as Y.

The merge operation is usually not as frequently needed and used as persist and remove. The most common scenario for the merge operation is to reattach documents to a DocumentManager that come from some cache (and are therefore detached) and you want to modify and persist such a document.


If you need to perform multiple merges of documents that share certain subparts of their object-graphs and cascade merge, then you have to call DocumentManager::clear() between the successive calls to DocumentManager::merge(). Otherwise you might end up with multiple copies of the “same” object in the repository, however with different IDs, or a duplicate ID conflict - depending on how you generate IDs.


If you load some detached documents from a cache and you do not need to persist or delete them or otherwise make use of them without the need for persistence services there is no need to use merge. I.e. you can simply pass detached objects from a cache directly to the view.

Synchronization with the Repository

The state of persistent documents is synchronized with the repository by calling flush on a DocumentManager by commiting the underlying UnitOfWork. The synchronization involves writing any updates to persistent documents and their relationships to the repository. Thereby bidirectional relationships are persisted based on the references held by the owning side of the relationship as explained in the Association Mapping chapter.

When DocumentManager::flush() is called, Doctrine inspects all managed, new and removed documents and will perform the necessary operations.

Effects of Repository and UnitOfWork being Out-Of-Sync

As soon as you begin to change the state of documents, call persist or remove the contents of the UnitOfWork and the repository will get out of sync. They can only be synchronized by calling DocumentManager::flush(). This section describes the effects of repository and UnitOfWork being out of sync.

  • Documents that are scheduled for removal can still be queried from the repository. They are returned from queries, calls to getReferrers and getChildren and stay visible in collections;
  • Documents that are passed to DocumentManager::persist do not turn up in query results and do not appear in collections;
  • Documents that have changed will not be overwritten with the state from the repository. This is because the identity map will detect the construction of an already existing document and assumes its the most up to date version.

DocumentManager::flush() is never called implicitly by Doctrine. You always have to trigger it manually.

Synchronizing New and Managed Documents

The flush operation applies to a managed document with the following semantics:

  • The document itself is synchronized to the repository using PHPCR API calls, only if at least one persistent field has changed;
  • No PHPCR API calls are executed if the document did not change.

The flush operation applies to a new document with the following semantics:

  • The document itself is synchronized to the repository using PHPCR API calls.

For all (initialized) relationships of the new or managed document the following semantics apply to each associated document X:

  • If X is new and persist operations are configured to cascade on the relationship, X will be persisted;
  • If X is new and no persist operations are configured to cascade on the relationship, an exception will be thrown as this indicates a programming error;
  • If X is removed and persist operations are configured to cascade on the relationship, an exception will be thrown as this indicates a programming error (X would be re-persisted by the cascade);
  • If X is detached and persist operations are configured to cascade on the relationship, an exception will be thrown (This leads to the same result as passing X to persist()).

Synchronizing Removed Documents

The flush operation applies to a removed document by deleting its persistent state from the repository. No cascade options are relevant for removed documents on flush, the cascade remove option is already executed during DocumentManager::remove($document).

The size of a Unit of Work

The size of a Unit of Work mainly depends on the number of managed documents at a particular point in time.

The cost of flushing

How costly a flush operation is, mainly depends on two factors:

  • The size of the document manager’s current Unit of Work;
  • The configured change tracking policies.

You can get the size of a Unit of Work as follows:

$uowSize = $dm->getUnitOfWork()->size();

The size represents the number of managed documents in the Unit of Work. This size affects the performance of flush() operations due to change tracking (see “Change Tracking Policies”) and, of course, memory consumption, so you may want to check it from time to time during development.


Do not invoke flush after every change to a document or every single invocation of persist/remove/merge/... This is an anti-pattern and unnecessarily reduces the performance of your application. Instead, form units of work that operate on your documents and call flush when you are done. While serving a single HTTP request there should be usually no need for invoking flush more than 0-2 times.

Direct Access to a Unit of Work

You can get direct access to the Unit of Work by calling DocumentManager::getUnitOfWork(). This will return the UnitOfWork instance the DocumentManager is currently using:

$uow = $em->getUnitOfWork();


Directly manipulating a UnitOfWork is not recommended. When working directly with the UnitOfWork API, respect methods marked as INTERNAL by not using them and carefully read the API documentation.

Document State

As outlined in the architecture overview, a document can be in one of four possible states: NEW, MANAGED, REMOVED, DETACHED. If you explicitly need to find out what the current state of a document is in the context of a certain DocumentManager you can ask the underlying UnitOfWork:

switch ($dm->getUnitOfWork()->getDocumentState($document)) {
    case UnitOfWork::STATE_MANAGED:
    case UnitOfWork::STATE_REMOVED:
    case UnitOfWork::STATE_DETACHED:
    case UnitOfWork::STATE_NEW:

The states mean the following:

  • MANAGED: The document is associated with a DocumentManager and it is not scheduled for removal.
  • REMOVED: The document has been passed to DocumentManager::remove() but no flush operation executing the removal was triggered yet. A REMOVED document is still associated with a DocumentManager until the next flush operation.
  • DETACHED: The document has persistent state and identity but is currently not associated with a DocumentManager.
  • NEW: The document has no persistent state and identity and is not associated with a DocumentManager (for example those just created via the “new” operator).


Doctrine PHPCR-ODM provides the following ways, in increasing level of power and flexibility, to query for persisted documents. You should always start with the simplest one that suits your needs.

By Primary Key

The most basic way to query for a persisted document is by its identifier (PHPCR path) using the DocumentManager::find(null, $id) method. Here is an example:

/** @var $em DocumentManager */
$user = $em->find('MyProject\Domain\User', $id);

The return value is either the found document instance or null if no instance could be found with the given identifier.

If you need several documents and know their paths, you can have a considerable performance gain by using DocumentManager::findMany(null, $ids) as then all those documents are loaded from the repository in one request.

You can also specify the class name instead of null to filter to only find instances of that class. If you go through the repository for a document class this is equivalent to calling find on the DocumentManager with that document class.

By Simple Conditions

To query for one or more documents based on several conditions that form a logical conjunction, use the findBy and findOneBy methods on a repository as follows:

/** @var $dm DocumentManager */

// All users that are 20 years old
$users = $dm->getRepository('MyProject\Domain\User')->findBy(array('age' => 20));

// All users that are 20 years old and have a surname of 'Miller'
$users = $dm->getRepository('MyProject\Domain\User')->findBy(array('age' => 20, 'surname' => 'Miller'));

// A single user by its nickname
$user = $dm->getRepository('MyProject\Domain\User')->findOneBy(array('nickname' => 'romanb'));


Note that due to the nature of PHPCR, the primary identifier is no field. You can thus not use findBy(array('id' => '/my/path')) but should pass the ID into the find method. There is also findMany if you need to fetch several documents.

You can also query by references through the repository:

$number = $dm->find('MyProject\Domain\Phonenumber', '/path/to/phone/number');
$user = $dm->getRepository('MyProject\Domain\User')->findOneBy(array('phone' => $number->getUuid()));

Be careful that this only works by passing the uuid of the associated document, not yet by passing the associated document itself.

The DocumentRepository::findBy() method additionally accepts orderings, limit and offset as second to fourth parameters:

$tenUsers = $dm
    ->findBy(array('age' => 20), array('name' => 'ASC'), 10, 0);

If you pass an array of values, Doctrine will convert the query into a WHERE field IN (..) query automatically:

$users = $dm
    ->findBy(array('age' => array(20, 30, 40)));


The ORM has a shortcut for querying by one field, using the __call handler. In PHPCR-ODM this is not yet implemented, so the rest of this section does not work yet.

A DocumentRepository also provides a mechanism for more concise calls through its use of __call. Thus, the following two examples are equivalent:

// A single user by its nickname
$user = $dm->getRepository('MyProject\Domain\User')->findOneBy(array('nickname' => 'romanb'));

// A single user by its nickname (__call magic)
$user = $dm->getRepository('MyProject\Domain\User')->findOneByNickname('romanb');

By Lazy Loading

Whenever you have a managed document instance at hand, you can traverse and use any associations of that document that are configured LAZY as if they were in-memory already. Doctrine will automatically load the associated documents on demand through the concept of lazy-loading.

By Query Builder

PHPCR-ODM provides a query builder that wraps around native PHPCR queries. See The QueryBuilder.

By Native Queries

PHPCR-ODM has no DQL (yet), but you can query using the JCR-SQL2 query language or the JCR-QOM to build a query object tree.

You can create your SQL2 query by calling DocumentManager::createPhpcrQuery with the query as string, or get the phpcr-utils query builder by calling DocumentManager::createPhpcrQueryBuilder. You can either execute that query to get raw PHPCR nodes, or pass a PHPCR query to DocumentManager::getDocumentsByPhpcrQuery to get documents.

Custom Repositories

By default the DocumentManager returns a default implementation of Doctrine\ODM\PHPCR\DocumentRepository when you call DocumentManager::getRepository($documentClass). You can overwrite this behaviour by specifying the class name of your own Document Repository in the Annotation, XML or YAML metadata.

In applications that require lots of specialized queries, using a custom repository is the recommended way of grouping these queries in a central location:

namespace MyDomain\Model;

use Doctrine\ODM\PHPCR\DocumentRepository;

 * @Document(repositoryClass="MyDomain\Model\UserRepository")
class User


class UserRepository extends DocumentRepository
    public function getAllAdminUsers()
        $qb = $this->dm->getQueryBuilder();
        // ... build some fancy query
        return $qb->getQuery()->getResult();

You can access your repository now by calling:

/** @var $dm DocumentManager */

$admins = $dm->getRepository('MyDomain\Model\User')->getAllAdminUsers();
Fork me on GitHub