Some pattern setting classes for seeding best practice

1.0.3 2019-04-01 13:29 UTC


Seeding is in our view a primary component of modern development. Rather than a retrospective way to populate tables with random data we view it as a means to drive development in a way that unlocks teams of people working on different components of the system.

This library provides a few helper classes to projects that want to use our "Scenario" data seeding approach.

Scenario Data Seeding

Scenario data seeding creates data required to complete key journies through the software. They expose the functionality by setting up states ready for the user to join and complete key actions. It saves time as testers don't need to create those states themselves.

Scenarios can be useful to a number of people on the team.

  1. QA: Testers will be able to join complex journeys at key places without the tedium of setting up the relevant state. QA may also setup scenarios for automated testing tools in order to minimise test run times

  2. PMs: Project Managers will also be interested in testing key journeys. They may also request scenarios configured in order to complete demos with a client.

  3. Designers: Designers often need to assist on components or screens in the middle or at the end of complex journeys. Scenarios can get them there immediately without wasting time exploring how to do it.

  4. Developers: Developers often need to reset data in order to retry modifications to code. Scenario seeding makes this fast and easy.

In practice the helper objects used to make seeding easy are also useful to unit test creators.

Golden rules

In our experience there are some golden rules which if observed by everyone ensures we all get the maximum value from data seeding.

1. Naming: Scenarios name a feature (or sub feature).

The name of a scenario should describe not 'what' it creates, by 'why' it creates it. Why is this scenario important and to whom?

2. Descriptive: Scenarios should describe what they've created

The scenario body should detail to the console the various objects and journeys it has configured. Logins should be detailed, URLs presented etc. This should be done with regard for presentation - tabs, bold etc. to make it as readable as possible.

The output of a scenario should give the user everything they need to complete the scenario.

3. Idempotent: Scenarios should not 'spam' the database

If you run a seeder twice in succession it should not create double the records. It should find and reset existing records, and only add if missing. This is extremely important as seeding is expected to be ran repeatedly.

4. Complete: Scenarios should be independent of one another

One scenario should not depend upon another scenario, or indeed upon the order of execution. Users should be able to run all scenarios, or just one scenario and expect it to work.

5. Isolated: Don't delete or update other records

Scenarios should only modify data for the records it has created. It should not empty tables etc. In theory you should be able to run another person's Scenario at any point without it damaging your own data.

6. Composed: Built from shared units

Keep things DRY by using Factories to make objects from Recipes.

Key Classes


This is a class provided by Rhubarb's Stem module and is the container for our scenarios.

The basic usage looks like:

class CustomerSeeder extends ScenarioDataSeeder
    public function getScenarios(): array
       return [
           new Scenario("Customers can't register if email address is in use", function(ScenarioDescription $description){
               // Code to create scenario data
               $description->writeLine("Something to describe what we've made");    
           new Scenario("Customers can reset their password", function(ScenarioDescription $description){
               // Code to create scenario data
               $description->writeLine("Something to describe what we've made");

We simply create a getScenarios function and return an array of Scenario objects. Those objects are constructed with a string name and a callback function which is passed a ScenarioDescription object. The call back should implement the core logic of the seeder and then use the description object to describe what has been configured.


This is a simple extension of ScenarioDataSeeder that seeds the Faker library so that random data while still random is predictable. This allows for seeders to be idempotent even if using random data.


A SeedingFactory is a class responsible for creating the objects involved in a feature. It's not uncommon to find a SeedingFactory for each 'top level' model in a project. It doesn't follow however that there should be a SeedingFactory for every model.

Each public method in a SeedingFactory should take a Recipe and return a new model. e.g.


Instead of creating new instances of a SeedingFactory you should call the static ::get() method. This is a simple convenience method so that you can keep seeding expressions short:

// Not this
$seeder = new CustomerSeeder();
$customer = $seeder->createCustomer(CustomerRecipe::create());

// Do this instead
$customer = CustomerSeeder::get()->createCustomer(CustomerRecipe::create());


A Recipe object is a simple class that expresses the values, flags and switches a Factory might need to control what it returns.

Recipes are created by calling the ::create() static method again so that the expressions can read clearly to the user.

While Recipes often contain all public properties, it is still common to have a fluent pattern of setting methods to allow those elements to be chained together. e.g.

        ->withName("John", "Smith"),

The fluent methods are commonly prefixed with 'with' but this can vary as in the example above. Readability is the main goal here. Note also that the methods don't have to just accept a single argument especially if they come in groups or pairs.

A Recipe class that encapsulates the settings above might look like:

class CustomerRecipe extends Recipe
    public $forename;
    public $surname;
    public $email;
    public $archived = false;
    public $numberOfcontacts = 0;
    public function withName($forename, $surname)
        $this->forename = $forename;
        $this->surname = $surname;
        return $this;       // Fluent style - don't forget to return $this
    public function withEmail($email)
        $this->email = $email;
        return $this;
    public function isArchived()
        $this->archived = true;
        return $this;
    public function hasContacts($contacts)
        $this->numberOfContacts = $contacts;
        return $this;

Creating a seeding method

When creating a seeding method in a Factory you generally follow the same pattern:

  1. If no recipe is passed, make an empty one
  2. Complete the recipe by setting unset values with random ones
  3. Look for the model already existing, otherwise create a new one
  4. Set all the model values and return the model

To assist in finding a preexisting model the SeedingFactory has a useful helper function findOrCreateByColumns to which you pass the model class name and an array of key value pairs that must be matched.

This full example might help:

class CustomerFactory extends SeedingFactory
    public function createCustomer(?CustomerRecipe $recipe = null)
        // 1. Make sure we have a recipe
        if (!$recipe){
            $recipe = CustomerRecipe::create();
        // 2. Complete the recipe
        $recipe->forname = $recipe->forename ?? $this->faker->firstname;  
        $recipe->surname = $recipe->surname ?? $this->faker->lastname;  
        $recipe->email = $recipe->email ?? $this->faker->email;
        // 3. Find or make the object
        $customer = $this->findOrCreateByColumns(Customer::class, [
            'Forename' => $recipe->forname,
            'Surname' => $recipe->surname
        // 4. Set the values and save
        $customer->Email = $recipe->email;
        $customer->Archived = $recipe->archived;
        // And in this case spin up some contacts too..        
        for($x = 0; $x < $recipe->numberOfContacts; $x++){        
            $this->createContact($customer, $this->faker->firstname, $this->faker->lastname);
    private function createContact(Customer $customer, $forename, $surname)
        // Do something to make a contact...

Note that a SeedingFactory gives you a $faker property that is already seeding. Any random element in the seeder should use this Faker instance rather than doing custom randomisation.