Symfony Service Container: Using a Builder to create Services

Fabien Potencier

March 31, 2009

This article is part of a series on Dependency Injection in general and on a lightweight implementation of a Container in PHP in particular:

In the previous article on Dependency Injection, you learned how to use the sfServiceContainer class to provide a more appealing interface to your service containers. In this article, we will go one step further and learn how to leverage the sfServiceContainerBuilder class to describe services and their configuration in pure PHP code.

The Subversion repository has been updated with the code needed for this tutorial. If you have checkout the code yesterday, you can simple update it. If not, the repository is available at

The sfServiceContainerBuilder class extends the basic sfServiceContainer class and allows the developer to describe services with a simple PHP interface.

The description of the services are done by registering service definitions. Each service definition describes a service: from the class to use to the arguments to pass to the constructor, and a bunch of other configuration properties (see the sfServiceDefinition sidebar below).

The Zend_Mail example can easily be rewritten by removing all the hardcoded code and building it dynamically with the builder class instead:

require_once 'PATH/TO/sf/lib/sfServiceContainerAutoloader.php';

$sc = new sfServiceContainerBuilder();

  register('mail.transport', 'Zend_Mail_Transport_Smtp')->
    'auth'     => 'login',
    'username' => '%mailer.username%',
    'password' => '%mailer.password%',
    'ssl'      => 'ssl',
    'port'     => 465,

  register('mailer', '%mailer.class%')->
  addMethodCall('setDefaultTransport', array(new sfServiceReference('mail.transport')))

The creation of a service is done by calling the register() method, which takes the service name and the class name, and returns a sfServiceDefinition instance.

A service definition is internally represented by an object of class sfServiceDefinition. It is also possible to create one by hand and registering it directly by using the service container setServiceDefinition() method.

The definition object implements a fluid interface and provides methods that configure the service. In the above example, we have used the following ones:

  • addArgument(): Adds an argument to pass to the service constructor.

  • setShared(): Whether the service must be unique for a container or not (true by default).

  • addMethodCall(): A method to call after the service has been created. The second argument is an array of arguments to pass to the method.

Referencing a service is now done with a sfServiceReference instance. This special object is dynamically replaced with the actual service when the referencing service is created.

During the registration phase, no service is actually created, it is just about the description of the services. The services are only created when you actually want to work with them. It means you can register the services in any order without taking care of the dependencies between them. It also means you can override an existing service definition by re-registering a service with the same name. That's yet another simple way to override a service for testing purpose.

As the sfServiceContainerBuilder class implements the standard sfServiceContainerInterface interface, using the service container does not need to be changed:

  'mailer.username' => 'foo',
  'mailer.password' => 'bar',
  'mailer.class'    => 'Zend_Mail',

$mailer = $sc->mailer;

The sfServiceContainerBuilder is able to describe any object instantiation and configuration. We have demonstrated it with the Zend_Mail class, and here is another example using the sfUser class from Symfony:

$sc = new sfServiceContainerBuilder(array(
  'storage.class'        => 'sfMySQLSessionStorage',
  'storage.options'      => array('database' => 'session', 'db_table' => 'session'),
  'user.class'           => 'sfUser',
  'user.default_culture' => 'en',

$sc->register('dispatcher', 'sfEventDispatcher');

  register('storage', '%storage.class%')->

  register('user', '%user.class%')->
  addArgument(new sfServiceReference('dispatcher'))->
  addArgument(new sfServiceReference('storage'))->
  addArgument(array('default_culture' => '%user.default_culture%'))->

$user = $sc->user;

In the Symfony example, even if the storage object takes an array of options as an argument, we passed a string placeholder (addArgument('%storage.options%')). The container is smarter enough to actually pass an array, the value of the placeholder.

That's all for today. Using PHP code to describe the services is quite simple and powerful. It gives you a tool to create your container without duplicating too much code and to abstract objects instantiation and configuration. In the next article, we will see how services can also be described with XML or YAML files. Stay tuned!