A template engine for PHP devs. Lightweight, flexible and easy to use and extend in PHP.

v0.2 2017-03-08 16:26 UTC

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Last update: 2021-09-18 03:20:58 UTC


A template engine for PHP devs. Fast, flexible and easy to use and extend.

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AirTemplate has only one tag: {{field|option|...}}. Syntax is inspired by Twig, but it's not exactly the same. So it's more a templating system than a templating language.

However, AirTemplate has -- beside the usual render method -- an each method which can iterate over arrays and traversable objects, and field options are another powerful way to apply logic to templates and fields.

It's even possible to "include" sub-templates using render and each options. This allows AirTemplate to render not only flat data structures like those returned from database queries, but also nested arrays, XML and JSON structures.

AirTemplate has grown from a library to a little framework, but it's still much smaller than Twig or Mustache. Most components have no dependencies beside PHP 5.5 or better.

The only exceptions are the FilesystemLoader and the CacheLoader, which support logging to a PSR-3 compatible logger (for debugging purposes). The CacheLoader supports PSR-6 compatible caching too.


  • Lightweight: less than 50k (all components, including comments).
  • Clean templates with a simple syntax: {{field|option|option|...}}.
  • Supports custom field delimiters.
  • Efficient: Templates are parsed only once.
  • Parsed templates can be cached to speed up the initialisation phase.
  • Suitable for any size and type of text based output, not only HTML.
  • AirTemplate can render flat and nested datastructures (database query results, XML etc).
  • Two render methods: render and each.
  • Powerful field processing options.
  • Supports a memory-saving generator mode.
  • Framework and environment agnostic. Depends only on PHP 5.5+, psr/log and psr/cache.
  • Unit tested.
  • Conforms to the following PSR Standards:
  • Supports PSR compatible logging and caching:
  • Easy installation with composer (and without too).


The best way to install AirTemplate is through composer.

Just create a composer.json file for your project:

    "require": {
        "airtemplate/airtemplate": "~0.2"

Then you can run these two commands to install it:

$ curl -s | php
$ php composer.phar install

or simply run composer install if you have have already installed the composer globally.

Then you can include the autoloader, and you will have access to the library classes:

require 'vendor/autoload.php';

Without composer, you can use AirTemplate's own autoloader, where path/to/src is the path to your installation directory.

require 'path/to/src/lib/autoload.php';

Without autoloading at all, you need to require (or include) the classes as usual.

require 'path/to/src/ParserInterface.php';
require 'path/to/src/Parser.php';
require 'path/to/src/Loader/LoaderInterface.php';
require 'path/to/src/Loader/Loader.php';
// replace 'ArrayLoader' by 'FilesystemLoader' or 'CacheLoader' as appropriate
require 'path/to/src/Loader/ArrayLoader.php';
require 'path/to/src/EngineInterface.php';
require 'path/to/src/BaseEngine.php';
require 'path/to/src/Engine.php';
require 'path/to/src/Builder.php';


AirTemplate is split into several components, but for the setup are just two components needed, a loader and the builder. Loaders are responsible for loading and parsing templates, while the builder creates a rendering engine from these templates.

Three loaders are available, which loads templates from PHP (ArrayLoader), from the file system (FilesystemLoader) or from cache (CacheLoader).

The following example was taken from The full code is in the examples directory.

This is the view context object representing our data (Chris.php):

class Chris {
    public $name  = "Chris";
    public $value = 10000;

    public function taxed_value() {
        return $this->value - ($this->value * 0.4);

    public $in_ca = true;

This is one variant to render this template. Note, that the template has been split into two partials, as AirTemplate has no if/else construct. The condition is simply evaluated in PHP.

require './lib/bootstrap.php';
require './lib/Chris.php';

use AirTemplate\Builder;
use AirTemplate\Loader\ArrayLoader;

$templates = [
    'canonical' => 'Hello {{name}}
You have just won {{value}} dollars!
    'in_ca' => 'Well, {{taxed_value|data:taxed_value}} dollars, after taxes.

$chris = new Chris;

$builder = new Builder(new ArrayLoader);
$engine = $builder->build($templates);

echo $engine->render('canonical', $chris);
if ($chris->in_ca == true) {
    echo $engine->render('in_ca', $chris);

Well, AirTemplate is flexible and there is another way to create the exact same output:

require './lib/bootstrap.php';
require './lib/Chris.php';

use AirTemplate\Builder;
use AirTemplate\Loader\ArrayLoader;

$templates = [
    'canonical' => 'Hello {{name}}
You have just won {{value}} dollars!
    'in_ca' => 'Well, {{taxed_value|data:taxed_value}} dollars, after taxes.

function inCa($value, $field, $data)
    global $engine;
    if ($value == false) {
        return '';
    return $engine->render('in_ca', $data);

$chris = new Chris;

$builder = new Builder(new ArrayLoader);
$engine = $builder->build($templates);

echo $engine->render('canonical', $chris);

Here, we add a field in_ca at the end of template canonical and apply the user function inCa to it. This function renders the in_ca template, if chris lives in California or returns an empty string if not. The parameter $value is set to $chris->in_ca when the function is called.

Now, there is only one render call in the main program flow, and the user function inCa decides if it should render the in_ca template or not, so the field in_ca acts like a conditional field.

Templates may also be stored in files. Assume, the two templates from the example above are stored as two separate files in directory ./templates/mustache-canonical.

Then, we can use the FilesystemLoader to load it:

$templates = [

$builder = new Builder(new FilesystemLoader('./templates/mustache-canonical'));
$engine = $builder->build($templates);

The templates array now contains filenames instead of the templates itself. Filenames may also be fully qualified pathnames.

A file mask like *.tmpl can also be used, to load a set of template files from the directory given to the constructor of the loader (or set using setDir).

$builder = new Builder(new FilesystemLoader('./templates/mustache-canonical'));
$engine = $builder->build('*.tmpl');

The CacheLoader works exactly the same as the FilesystemLoader, but it is able to store parsed templates in a PSR-6 compatible caching system like symfony/cache. This may speed up initialisation, because the templates are stored in parsed format and as a single file.

Render methods

AirTemplate has two render methods: render and each.

The render method (see example above) is used to create a single instance from a template, while each can create multiple instances from a template.

echo $engine->render("template-name", $data);
echo $engine->each("template-name", $data[, "separator"[, $rowGenerator]]);

The $data parameter can be an array or an object, that contains keys or members with the fieldnames used in the template.

If each is called with an object, it must be traversable. That means, it must implement a traversable interface (e.g. Traversable, Iterator, Generator). The method has two optional parameters. A separator to be inserted between rendered rows and a row generator function.

The following is a simple example of the each method.

Two templates are defined to build an unordererd list. The list template contains one field, {{items}}, which will be replaced by the outcome of the each method. each is called with the list-item template and a simple data array. A newline character will be inserted between list items.

Note: The fieldname for simple arrays like in this example will always be item.

$templates = [
	'list' => '<ul>
	'list-item' => '<li>{{item|esc}}</li>'

$builder = new Builder(new ArrayLoader);
$engine = $builder->build($templates);

echo $engine->render(
		'items' => $engine->each(
			['one', 'two', 'three'],

And because AirTemplate is flexible, there is another way to do the same.

The each method can also be used as an option and applied to the field items. The content of the field items in the call to render is now just the raw data array. The content of this field is then passed to each, together with the template name and the separator.

$templates = [
	'list' => '<ul>
{{items|each("list-item", "\n")}}
	'list-item' => '<li>{{item|esc}}</li>'

$builder = new Builder(new ArrayLoader);
$engine = $builder->build($templates);

echo $engine->render(
		'items' => ['one', 'two', 'three']

Generator Mode

Normally, each accumulates the rendered rows in memory and returns it as a string when all rows are rendered. This can lead to growing memory use if there are many rows or if rows have a lot of columns.

The row generator function (see Generators) is a way to circumvent this. If such a function is given, AirTemplate works in generator mode and will send rendered rows, one by one, to the function instead of keeping them all in memory. The row generator function can then write the rows to a stream for example. It's an efficient way to render large amounts of data without having 'peaks' in memory usage.

$templates = [
	'list-start' => '<ul>
	'list-end' => '</ul>
	'list-item' => '<li>{{item|esc}}</li>'

// receive list-items one-by-one and write it to the output
// this tiny closure acts as a co-routine to the each-method
$rowGenerator = function() {
	while (true) {
		echo yield;

$builder = new Builder(new ArrayLoader);
$engine = $builder->build($templates);

echo $engine->render('list-start');
// echo items in the genarator function
$engine->each('list-item', ['one', 'two', 'three'], PHP_EOL, $rowGenerator());
echo $engine->render('list-end');

The list template has been split into a list-start and list-end template, so they can be separately written to the output. The each method returns nothing, when using the generator mode. The list items are echoed out in the generator function.

There are two more examples of the generator mode in the benchmark directory.


Templates in AirTemplate can also be called partials. So in most cases, more than one template is required to render a page, a widget or something else.

Templates consist solely of the template code itself and embedded fields.


Fields are the only element needed by AirTemplate. The syntax is as follows (optional parts in square brackets []):


The fieldname 'links' this placeholder with an element in the data object or array. A single datapath preceded by an equal sign (=) and one or more options, preceded by a pipe symbol (|) may follow the fieldname.

Templates may contain multiple fields, and the field delimiters can be customized.

Custom field delimiters

Custom field delimiters can be set through the loader class constructor. There are two options that must be set: splitPattern and fieldPrefix. The split-pattern is a regular expression needed for the PHP-function preg_split, the prefix is a string.

One important thing to note is that the regular expression for the starting delimiter must be enclosed in parentheses and must also match the field prefix, but the ending delimiter must NOT be enclosed in parentheses. This is, because the template parser needs the prefix to recognize the following token as a field name.

To use field delimiters [@field], the options array would look like this:

$options = [
	'splitPattern' => '/(\[@)|\]/',
	'fieldPrefix'  => '[@'
$loader = new ArrayLoader($options);
// or
$loader = new FilesystemLoader('path/to/templates', $options);

Note, how the parentheses are used within the split_pattern to catch the starting field delimiter.


A datapath is similar to an XPath expression, as is can be used to access nested values in the data object or array. There are some limitations, but it works well with nested arrays and object types like SimpleXMLElement. In case of a simple XML object, it is also possible to access attributes.

However, members in a stdClass with numeric keys are not accessible using datapath.

Datapath has the following syntax:


Keys must be separated by a slash. A datapath may be absolute (with a leading slash) or relative to the current field. A leading slash gives access to all keys or properties in the data array or object.

The last element in a datapath may be an attribute, if the data object is a simple XML object.

An example:

$data = [
	'key1' => [
		'key1.1' => [ 'hello' ],
		'key1.2' => [ 'world' ]
	'key2' => [
		'key2.1' => 'abc'

$template = [
	'relative' => '{{key1=key1.2}}',
	'absolute' => '{{key1=/key2.1}}'

Template relative will output 'world', while absolute will output 'abc' when render is called with this data structure.

Field Options

Field options are the key to extend the built-in functionality of AirTemplate. They can be used to format or transform field values in any way you like, but also to include sub-templates or turn a field into a logical element.

There are five different variants, which are called with different parameters:

// 1

// 2
|function(arg[, arg])

// 3

// 4

// 5
|render("template"[, ?])
|each("template"[, "separator"])
|default("Default Value")
  1. Shortcuts, Global functions, Static methods
    These are called with a single parameter: the field value.
  2. Functions with parameters
    Such functions are called with the specified parameter list. Parameters must be constants (strings, numbers) or a question mark (?) as a placeholder for the field value (e.g. sprintf("%1.6f", ?)).
  3. User functions and application methods
    These functions are called with three parameters, field value, field name and the data object or array. Function and method names must be prepended by user:, app: or app::.
  4. Data object methods
    These will be called without any parameter and are only available, when data (passed to render or each) is an object. Method names must be prepended with data: or data::.
  5. Built-in methods
    render and each are used to render sub-templates in nested data-structures. They are called with the template name and the value of the current field.
    The separator in each is optional and defaults to an empty string ('').
    Default value must be a (properly encoded) string.
Shortcuts, Global functions, Static methods

The simplest form of options works with functions (PHP and custom) that await its input on the first parameter, has no other required parameters and returns a result value. Therefore, many well known functions like strip_tags, md5 and similar functions can be used out of the box.

A few useful shortcuts are defined to make it a bit simpler: esc, escape, lcase, ucase, int, float, urlenc and rawurlenc.

// Capitalize words in field title, then escape it with 'htmlspecialchars'
// Rawurlencode the field article_url
// Transform bodytext markdown into HTML
Functions with parameters

Some useful functions (like sprintf) require more than one parameter. Such functions can be called with a parameter list, which is specified as a list of (constant) values between parentheses. The question mark is used as a placehoder for the field value.

The parameter list is parsed with str_getcsv and must therefore follow the format defined in the PHP manual. However, the question mark can be written without quotes.

// Format the price field with 'sprintf'
// The price field is injected as second parameter, replacing the question mark (?)
{{price|sprintf("$%1.2f", ?)}}
// Convert value to a float and format it using the PHP function 'number_format'
{{value|float|number_format(?, 2, ".", " ")}}
User functions and application methods

These functions are called with three parameters, field value, field name and the data object or array. User functions are very powerful and can do more than normal functions, because the data object or array originally passed to the render function will also be passed to user functions.

This allows them to create content on the fly using other fields from "data" or rendering this or that, depending on some condition. Fields with a user function can therefore be used as a replacement for the non existing if/else constructs in templates.

User functions can exist in the global scope and within an "app" class. In the latter case, an object must be passed to the constructor of the Builder.

// call global function 'getArticleCode'
// call the static method 'listCategories' from the app-class
// call instance method

The showColors method for example might look like so:

class AppView
    public function showColors($value, $field, $data)
        if (empty($value)) {
            return $this->view->render('no-colors', $data);
        return $this->view->render('color-table', $value);

$view = new AppView;

// The view object can be passed to the builder via constructor
$builder = new Builder(new ArrayLoader, $view);

// or it can be later set using the setApp method

User functions may also alter the data parameter, for example create new array keys or properties on the fly. Such fields may then be used later on within the same template. Just get the data parameter as a reference:

function getArticleCode($value, $field, &$data)
    // create a new new field
    $data['new_field'] = ...
    // return article-code
    return $data['type'] . '-' . $data['category1'];
Data object methods

It is also possible to call instance and static methods defined in the data object. These are called without any parameters. However, it is also possibe to use the data object as the app object in the constructor of the Builder and then call them using app: or app::.

// field definition: {{somefield|data:doubleSomething}}
class DataObj
    public function doubleSomething()
        return $something * 2;
Built-in methods

Three methods are built-in: default, render and each.

Default inserts the string specified when the value parameter is empty. Options specified after default are ignored in this case, so the value must be properly encoded.

render and each are used to include sub-templates. They are called with the template specified and the value of the field they are attached to. The render method can also be called with the same data object or array as the current render method was called with, by specifying a question mark (?) as second parameter. This makes it possible to break up flat data structures in groups and render them with separate sub-templates.

The separator in each is optional and defaults to an empty string ('').

The example below shows how to use each to render a table in one go. The fields thead and tbody in the data parameter passed to render are both arrays. The same fields in the template have the each option specified which calls the each method with the content of the fields they belong to.

$data = [
  ['name' => 'Bob', 'email' => ''],
  ['name' => 'Mary', 'email' => ''],
  ['name' => 'Jenny', 'email' => ''],

$templates = [
	'table' => '<table>
{{thead|each("th", "\n")}}
{{tbody|each("tr", "\n")}}
	'th' => '<th>{{item|esc}}</th>',
	'tr' => '<tr>
<td><a href="mailto:{{email}}">{{email|esc}}</a></td>

// render the table
echo $engine->render(
		'thead' => ['Username', 'Email'],
		'tbody' => $data

Example Code

There are some (commented) examples in the examples directory and in benchmark. The latter have simple benchmark tests included, giving some hints about rendering times and memory usage.

Please note that the displayed memory consumption values may have strong variations when compared between different platforms and PHP versions (see discussion on stackoverflow: PHP memory_get_usage.


The MIT License.

The testdata used in the benchmark tests, is an extract from the public sample data medsamp2016.xml, available from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.