Symfony Service Container: Using XML or YAML to describe Services

Fabien Potencier

April 01, 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:

With the last article on Dependency Injection, you learned how to describe services with PHP code by using the sfServiceContainerBuilder class. Today, with the help of service loaders and dumpers, you will learn how to use XML or YAML to describe your services.

The Subversion repository has been updated with the code needed for today's tutorial. If you got the code from yesterday's repository, ou can just update it (svn up). If not, the repository is available at

The Symfony Dependency Injection component provides helper classes that load services using "loader objects". By default, the component comes with two of them: sfServiceContainerLoaderFileXml to load XML files, and sfServiceContainerLoaderFileYaml to load YAML files.

But before diving into the XML and YAML notations, let's first have a look at another part of the Symfony Dependency Injection component: the "dumper objects". A service dumper takes a container object and convert it to another format. And of course, the component comes bundled with dumpers for the XML and YAML formats.

To introduce the XML format, let's convert yesterday's container service definitions to a container.xml file by using the sfServiceContainerDumperXml dumper class.

Remember the code we used to define the Zend_Mail service?

require_once '/PATH/TO/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')))

To convert this container to an XML representation, use the following code:

$dumper = new sfServiceContainerDumperXml($sc);

file_put_contents('/somewhere/container.xml', $dumper->dump());

A dumper class constructor takes a service container builder object as its first argument and the dump() method introspects the container services and converts them to another representation. If everything went fine, the container.xml file should look like the following XML snippet:


The XML format supports anonymous services. An anonymous service is a service that does not need a name and is defined directly in its use context. It can be very convenient when you need a service that won't be used outside of another one scope:


Loading back the container is dead simple thanks to the XML service loader class:

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

$sc = new sfServiceContainerBuilder();

$loader = new sfServiceContainerLoaderFileXml($sc);

As for dumpers, a loader takes a service container builder as its constructor first argument, and the load() method reads the file and registers the services into the container. The container is then useable as usual.

If you change the dumper code to use the sfServiceContainerDumperYaml class instead, you will have a YAML representation of your services:

require_once '/PATH/TO/sfYaml.php';

$dumper = new sfServiceContainerDumperYaml($sc);

file_put_contents('/somewhere/container.yml', $dumper->dump());

This will only work if you first load the sfYAML component ( as it is required for the service container loader and dumper.

The previous container is represented like follows in YAML:

  mailer.username: foo
  mailer.password: bar
  mailer.class:    Zend_Mail

    class:     Zend_Mail_Transport_Smtp
    arguments: [, { auth: login, username: %mailer.username%, password: %mailer.password%, ssl: ssl, port: 465 }]
    shared:    false
    class: %mailer.class%
      - [setDefaultTransport, [@mail.transport]]

You can of course mix and match the loaders and the dumpers to convert any format to any other one:

// Convert an XML container service definitions file to a YAML one
$sc = new sfServiceContainerBuilder();

$loader = new sfServiceContainerLoaderFileXml($sc);

$dumper = new sfServiceContainerDumperYaml($sc);
file_put_contents('/somewhere/container.yml', $dumper->dump());

To keep this article short, I won't list all possibilities of the YAML or XML format. But you can easily learn them by converting an existing container and look at the output.

Using YAML or XML files for configuring your services allows you to create your services with a GUI (yet to be done...). But it also opens a lot more interesting possibilities.

One of the most important one is the ability to import other "resources". A resource can be any other configuration file:


The imports section lists resources that need to be included before the other sections are evaluated. By default, it looks for files with a path relative to the current file, but you can also pass an array of paths to look in as the second argument of the loader:

$loader = new sfServiceContainerLoaderFileXml($sc, array('/another/path'));

You can even embed a YAML definition file in an XML one by defining the class that is able to load the resource:


And of course, the same goes for the YAML format:

  - { resource: default.xml, class: sfServiceContainerLoaderFileXml }

The import facility gives you a flexible way to organize your service definition files. It is also a great way to share and reuse definition files. Let's talk about the web session example we introduced in the first article. When you use web sessions in a test environment, the session storage object probably need to be mocked; on the contrary, and if you have several load-balanced web servers, the production environment need to store its sessions in a database like MySQL. One way to have a different configuration based on the environment is to create several different configuration files and import them as needed:







Using the right configuration is trivial:

$loader = new sfServiceContainerLoaderFileXml($sc, array(

I can hear people crying about using XML to define the configuration, as XML is probably not the most readable configuration format on earth. Coming from a Symfony background, you could have written all the files in the YAML format. But you can also decouple the service definitions from their configuration. As you can import files form other ones, you can define services in a services.xml file, and store the related configuration in a parameters.xml one. You can also define parameters in a YAML file (parameters.yml). Eventually, there is a last built-in INI loader that is able to read parameters from a standard INI file:


session.class = sfSessionTestStorage

It is not possible to define services in an INI file; only parameters can be defined and parsed.

These examples barely scratches the surface of the container loaders and dumpers features, but I hope this article has been a good overview of the power of the XML and YAML formats over the PHP one. And for those who are sceptic about the performance of a container that needs to load several files to be configured, I think you will be blown away by the next article. As this will be the last installment of this series on Dependency Injection, I will also talk about a nice way to visualize your service dependencies.