Library for handling tree structures based on parent IDs, e.g. a self-joined database table

1.5.3 2016-05-20 07:09 UTC


Build Status SensioLabsInsight

Tree Overview

What is it?

Tree and Tree\Node are PHP classes for handling data that is structured hierarchically using parent ID references. A typical example is a table in a relational database where each record’s “parent” field references the primary key of another record. Of course, Tree cannot only use data originating from a database, but anything: you supply the data, and Tree uses it, regardless of where the data came from and how it was processed.

It is important to know that the tree structure created by this package is read-only: you can’t use it to perform modifications of the tree nodes. If you need a library for that, you might want to take a look at nicmart/tree.

On the other hand, one nice thing is that it’s pretty fast. This does not only mean the code itself, but also that the constructor takes the input data in a format that is simple to create. For instance, to create a tree from database content, a single SELECT is sufficient, regardless of the depth of the tree and even for thousands of nodes.


The preferred way to install Tree is through Composer. For this, add "bluem/tree": "~1.0" to the requirements in your composer.json file. As this library uses semantic versioning, you will get fixes and feature additions when running composer update, but not changes which break the API.

Alternatively, you can clone the repository using git or download a tagged release.


$tree = new BlueM\Tree($data);

// Get the top-level nodes
$rootNodes = $tree->getRootNodes();

// Get all nodes
$allNodes = $tree->getNodes();

// Get a single node by its unique identifier
$node = $tree->getNodeById(12345);

// Get a node's ID
$id = $node->getId();

// Get a node's parent node (will be null for the root node)
$parentNode = $node->getParent();

// Get the node's hierarchical level (1-based)
$level = $node->getLevel();

// Get a node's siblings as an array
$siblings = $node->getSiblings();

// Ditto, but include the node itself (identical to $node->parent->getChildren())
$siblings = $node->getSiblingsAndSelf();

// Get a node's preceding sibling (null, if there is no preceding sibling)
$precedingSibling = $node->getPrecedingSibling();

// Get a node's following sibling (null, if there is no following sibling)
$followingSibling = $node->getFollowingSibling();

// Get a node's ancestors (parent, grandparent, ...)
$ancestors = $node->getAncestors();

// Ditto, but include the node itself
$ancestorsPlusSelf = $node->getAncestorsAndSelf();

// Get a node's child nodes
$children = $node->getChildren();

// Does the node have children?
$bool = $node->hasChildren();

// Get the number of Children
$bool = $node->countChildren();

// Get a node's descendants (children, grandchildren, ...)
$descendants = $node->getDescendants();

// Ditto, but include the node itself
$descendantsPlusSelf = $node->getDescendantsAndSelf();

// Access node properties using get() overloaded getters or __get():
$value = $node->get('myproperty');
$value = $node->myproperty;
$value = $node->getMyProperty();

// Get the node's properties as an associative array
$array = $node->toArray();

// Get a string representation (which will be the node ID)
echo "$node";


Using it with a self-joined database table


require '/path/to/vendor/autoload.php';

$db = new PDO(...); // Set up your database connection
$stm = $db->query('SELECT id, parent, title FROM tablename ORDER BY title');
$records = $stm->fetchAll(PDO::FETCH_ASSOC);

$tree = new BlueM\Tree($records);

Advanced topics

Controlling JSON serialization

In case you want to serialize a tree of nodes managed by this class to JSON using json_encode(), you will probably find that you don’t get the data you expect or even are confronted with a recursion-related warning.

The code in this package cannot anticipate in what way you will use it and what you would like the JSON representation to contain. Luckily, you can fully control the generated JSON. Starting with PHP 5.4, there is the JsonSerializable interface which includes a single method jsonSerialize(), which may return anything.

An example implementation which returns the node’s properties plus children as an array might look like this:

class YourNodeClass extends \BlueM\Tree\Node implements \JsonSerializable
     * @return array Or whatever datatype you like
    public function jsonSerialize()
        return array_merge($this->properties, ['children' => $this->getChildren()]);

The result is recursive, which is probably too much when using getNodes() to get all nodes, but can be handy when invoking getRootNodes(). When using getNodes(), you might therefore – again: depending on your needs – just skip including the children or include only children IDs.

To be able to use a custom node class you must extend BlueM\Tree and overwrite the createNode() method (requires version 1.5 or later), but that’s really easy to do.

Version History


  • Handle IDs of mixed type (strings and integers)


  • Add info on JSON serialization in Readme. No code changes.


  • Remove superfluous 2nd argument to build() in constructor


  • Added createNode() method to Tree, which makes it possible to use instances of a Node subclass as nodes


  • Added getSiblingsAndSelf() method on Node class.
  • The argument to getSiblings() is deprecated and will be removed in version 2


  • Added getNodeByValuePath() method on Tree class, which can be used to find a node deeply nested in the tree based on ancestors’ and the node’s values for an arbitrary property. (See method doc comment for example.)


  • Implemented __isset() and __get() on the Node class. This makes it possible to pass nodes to Twig (or other libraries that handle object properties similarly) and to access nodes’ properties intuitively.
  • Improved case-insensitive handling of node properties


  • Added getDescendantsAndSelf()
  • Added getAncestorsAndSelf()
  • Arguments to getDescendants() and getAncestors() are deprecated and will be removed with version 2
  • Added a check to make sure that nodes don’t use their own ID as parent ID. This throws an exception which would not have been thrown before if this is the case. Hence, it might break backward compatibility, but only if the data data is inconsistent.

Author & License

This code was written by Carsten Blüm ( and licensed under the BSD 2-Clause license.