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Library that translates between application and model requests/responses

dev-master 2012-08-12 07:31 UTC

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Last update: 2024-06-12 03:24:52 UTC


This library was trying to implement a nice way to implement the boundary between application/UI and business model. It fails in my opinion, because it offers no general theme and no guidance as to why this is useful this exact way.

One concept that I did take away from this is service wrapping, for transactional needs for example. This Gist shows the concept of a Transactional Doctrine ORM Service Proxy:

It is easier to implement this yourself in your code as explicit application boundary, rather than to use a generic library like Context though.

If you want to take a look at a much more strict approach to provide a boundary between UI/App and Model, take a look at what could be called a successor library LiteCQRS.


Small PHP library to help you shield your business-rules from the controller and presentation layers. To achieve this goal the Data-Context-Interaction and Entity-Boundary-Interceptor patterns are put to action. Context is a framework "for the model".

This library was born while trying to solve problems with todays Web/MVC applications and their focus on the controller. Using MVC frameworks the "documented" way often leads to tight coupling and painful reusability, testing and refactoring experience. Working with a completly seperate service layer is tedious however, requiring lots of manual mapping between application and model layers through Data-Transfer-Objects. Context tries to automate this mapping process as much as possible.

Context does not interfere in your model. It offers a convenience wrapper around your model that acts as translation mechanism between presentation layer and model.

This strict seperation does not even have to lead to overengineering and non-rapid application building. It is very simple to build rapid prototypes on top of the context abstraction.


  • Support mapping Requests (HTTP, Console, or any input for that matter) on model-request
  • Encourage Observers that notify presentation layer of different model results (subject).
  • Transparent transformation of model exceptions into application-level exceptions/errors
  • Pluggable delivery mechanisms (Web, CLI, MessageQueues, Mail, Unit-Tests, ..) map to the same model
  • Command pattern approach (Could allow to keep transactional log of the domain events: Do, Undo, Redo)
  • Simplify transaction-management
  • Hooks for Validation/Input Filtering
  • Avoid testing applications through controllers/frameworks


  • Context\Engine is a wrapper to call model commands from in your application.
  • Input sources describe what request data is available to the model, for example superglobals or console arguments.
  • Parameter Converters are rules to convert input/request-data into model-request data, for example "2010-01-01" into a datetime instance.
  • ExceptionHandler catch every exception from the model layer and allow to turn it into an application level exception.

Example: Calculator

This is a very simple README compatible example for a statistical calculator. It computes the average, variance and standard deviation of a list of numbers.

class Calculator
    public function statistics(array $numbers)
        if (count($numbers) > count(array_filter($numbers, 'is_numeric'))) {
            throw new \InvalidArgumentException("Input values are not numeric.");

        $average           = array_sum($numbers) / count($numbers);
        $square            = array_map(array($this, 'square'), $numbers);
        $variance          = (array_sum($square) / count($square)) - $this->square($average);
        $standardDeviation = sqrt($variance);

        return array(
            'numbers'           => $numbers,
            'average'           => $average,
            'variance'          => $variance,
            'standardDeviation' => $standardDeviation,

    public function square($x)
        if ( ! is_numeric($x)) {
            throw new \InvalidArgumentException("Input values are not numeric.");

        return $x * $x;

We want to implement a bunch of example applications on top of this model. During this experiment we will not change a single line of this model, yet make it usable from very different types of applications. Lets start with a completly unabstracted PHP/HTTP application:

$calculator = new Calculator();

if (isset($_GET['numbers'])) {
    $engine = new \Context\Engine();
    $stats   = $engine->execute(array(
        'context' => array($calculator, 'statistics'),
        'params'  => array($_GET['numbers']),

    $html = <<<HTML
<strong>Numbers:</strong> %s<br />
<strong>Average:</strong> %s<br />
<strong>Variance:</strong> %s<br />
<strong>Standard Deviation:</strong> %s<br />

    echo sprintf(

The Context\Engine just delegates the execution to the given context with the given parameters in this case, no additional abstraction. We can make use of the first abstraction of Context, we could try automatic mapping of input parameters into the model request. If the request contains a variable "numbers" it could be mapped on the $numbers parameter.

$engine = new \Context\Engine();
$engine->addInput(new \Context\Input\PhpSuperGlobalsInput());

$stats = $engine->execute(array(
    'context' => array($calculator, 'statistics')

If you studied the Calculator code you saw that it throws exceptions on invalid input. Context can handle exceptions from the model layer and transform them into valuable messages for the user:

$engine = new \Context\Engine();
$engine->addExceptionHandler(function ($e) {
    echo $e->getMessage();

Now lets move one step further and turn this logic into a command line application. Parameters are assigned to the 'statistics' function based on the positional arguments to the script:

// see examples/calculator/argv.php
$engine = new \Context\Engine();
$engine->addParamConverter(new \Context\ParamConverter\StringToArrayConverter());
$engine->addInputSource(new \Context\Input\ArgvInput());

$stats = $engine->execute(array(
    'context' => array($calculator, 'statistics'),


The 'statistics' method only takes one argument, an array. How can we pass the array on the command-line? The StringToArrayConverter allows us to call this script with:

php examples/calculator/argv.php "1,2,3,4"

If we want multiple options instead we can use the "GetOptInput" source:

// see examples/calculator/getopt.php
$engine = new \Context\Engine();
$engine->addParamConverter(new \Context\ParamConverter\StringToArrayConverter());
$engine->addInputSource(new \Context\Input\GetOptInput());

$stats = $engine->execute(array(
    'context' => array($calculator, 'statistics'),
    'shortOptions' => '',
    'longOptions' => array('numbers:'),

Call this script with:

php examples/calculator/getopt.php --numbers 1 --numbers 2 --numbers 3 --numbers 4

There are two concepts at work inside the Context Engine, when a request model is created from application inputs:

  1. Input instances are sources for input parameters during creation of the request model.
  2. Parameter converters look at the method signature of your model and convert application input into model request input based on rules and priorities.

Input sources

There are some default input sources shipped with Context:

  • PhpSuperGlobalsInput
  • ArgvInput
  • GetOptInput

Input sources can be much more powerful, by using the request information of your application framework. Input Sources could be:

  • Message Queues (RabbitMQ, ZeroMQ, ...)
  • SOAP
  • Mail Pipes

The RequestData can be array paramters with key-value pairs, raw data or both. These RequestData information is then available to the ParamConverters.

Parameter Converters

There are several parameter converts that ship with Context, however the power of Context can only be leveraged when you write your own converters, specific to the application framework you are using.

  • StringToArrayConverter - Converters a comma-seperated string into an array.
  • DateTimeConverter - Converts a string or an array into a DateTime instance.
  • ObjectConverter - Converts an array into an object by mapping keys of the array to constructor argument names, setter or public properties.

There are also generic converter which plugins should override:

  • AbstractPersistenceConverter - converters an array or an identifier value into a persistent object from your storage layer.
  • ServiceRegistryConverter - Grabs requested services based on type-hint information from a service registry.

We ship with a set of implementations in the "Context\Plugin" namespace:

  • EntityConverter using Doctrine2 ObjectManager
  • ContainerConverter using Symfony2 DI Container


The object converted needs a special introduction, as it is the powerhouse of Context.

Assume you have simple messaging application that sends e-mails to lists of recipients. One functionality would be the accepting, validating, and sending of an actual message:

class MessageService
    public function send(Sender $sender, Message $message, RecipientSpecification $spec)
        // code: $sender sends $message to all recipients matching $spec

There are three distinct arguments here, the Sender, the Message and a description of all recipients. These classes are data-transfer-objects and we can use them for validation and input filtering:

class Message
    public $subject;
    public $body;

    public function __construct($subject, $body)
        if (strlen($subject) > 100) {
            throw new \RuntimeException("Subject is not allowed to be larger than 100");
        $this->subject = strip_tags($subject);
        $this->body = strip_tags($body);

Now the ObjectConverter comes into play, as it allows us to automatically map arrays to these structs. When invoking the MessageSerivce#send() method through Context, the param converter will detect the argument type hints and will try to convert an input array into that type hinted class.

It is using the following semantics:

  • If any constructor argument name matches a name of the array the value is injected there.
  • If the class has a setter method named "set$key" it is used to inject the parameter.
  • If the class has a public property name after the key the value is injected there.
  • If the class implements ArrayAccess or __set, the value is injected this way.

An example of request arguments to make the MessageService working would be:

$engine = new \Context\Engine();
$engine->addParamConverter(new \Context\ParamConverter\ObjectConverter());

    'context' => array($messageService, 'send'),
    'params' => array(
        'sender'  => array('email' => ''),
        'spec'    => array('list' => 1234),
        'message' => array('subject' => 'Hello World!', 'body' => 'Hello World from body!')

With the PhpSuperGlobalsInput for example you could take the parameter information from $_POST automatically, it gets filtered and validated by the struct objects.


The plugin system acts as an AOP-layer around your model code. The model is the join-point, where additional behavior can be useful to add around. This additional behavior is called Advice. The following advices are general purpose behaviors that can be useful in your application:

  • Logging
  • Error Handling (and in fact the Context Exception Handler is an Advice)
  • Transactional Boundary, wrap every call into a transaction of your persistence layer (Doctrine TransactionAdvice)
  • Parameter Converters
  • Validation/Filtering
  • (Replayable) Command Log of every action against your model
  • Authorization (Access Control)

Doctrine Transaction Advice

The Doctrine Transaction Advice wraps all calls of the context engine in a transaction using $entityManager->beginTransaction() and $entityManager->commit(). When an exception is thrown the transaction is rolled back.

At the end of a successful transaction EntityManager#flush() is called by the advice.

To activate the advice you have to set 'tx' => true. In a web application you could set this as a default option based on HEAD/GET or other requests methods automatically.

Benefit: With this Advice you can avoid to inject the EntityManager into your model layer. This allows for a perfect seperation of your business logic and the transactional semantics of a database.

Symfony Form Advice

The Symfony Form Advice helps you handle Symfony forms with Context. A typical symfony form workflow has three important blocks of code:

  1. The business logic to execute when an object is updated/created.
  2. The failure block when your model is not valid and has to be re-displayed.
  3. The success block when model is valid and a redirect+flash messages happen.

In "Context" the first bullet point is part of the model and the other two are part of the application/UI logic. Generic seperation of these three concerns is not very easy but possible.

The Symfony Advice allows you to register an alternative context callbacks which is executed in the event of model validation failure. The 'context' is called only if the form is valid.

class CalculactorController
    public function statisticsAction()
        $engine = $this->getContextEngine();
        $result = $engine->execute(array(
            'context' => array($calculator, 'statistics'),
            'type'    => new NumberType(),
            'failure' => array($this, 'statisticsFormAction'),

        $this->get('flash')->setFlash('notice', 'yay!');

    public function statisticsFormAction(Form $form, MyObject $data)
        return array('form' => $form->createView(), 'object' => $data);

This advice is only executed when the Symfony Request is 'POST' and the content-type is 'application/x-www-form-urlencoded' or 'form/multipart'.

If you use the InstanceConverter ParamConverter the Form and Data of the form get injected using typehints. Otherwise you can use the form and form_data variable names to have access to this parameters.

Benefit: This advice lets you use Symfony forms and integrate them into calls against your model layer. You should never use domain objects as the form models but attach the Request Model (Struct) objects.

Symfony JMS Serializer Converter

If you are using JMSSerializerBundle you can have Context Engine convert the raw request body to an object.

For this to work the "Content-Type" header has to be something with xml or json to set the format and the data has to be in the request body.

Benefit: Lets you easily map REST requet bodies to your model parameters.