Working With Entities

CodeIgniter supports Entity classes as a first-class citizen in it’s database layer, while keeping them completely optional to use. They are commonly used as part of the Repository pattern, but can be used directly with the Model if that fits your needs better.

Entity Usage

At its core, an Entity class is simply a class that represents a single database row. It has class properties to represent the database columns, and provides any additional methods to implement the business logic for that row. The core feature, though, is that it doesn’t know anything about how to persist itself. That’s the responsibility of the model or the repository class. That way, if anything changes on how you need to save the object, you don’t have to change how that object is used throughout the application. This makes it possible to use JSON or XML files to store the objects during a rapid prototyping stage, and then easily switch to a database when you’ve proven the concept works.

Lets walk through a very simple User Entity and how we’d work with it to help make things clear.

Assume you have a database table named users that has the following schema:

id          - integer
username    - string
email       - string
password    - string
created_at  - datetime

Create the Entity Class

Now create a new Entity class. Since there’s no default location to store these classes, and it doesn’t fit in with the existing directory structure, create a new directory at application/Entities. Create the Entity itself at application/Entities/User.php.

<?php namespace App\Entities;

use CodeIgniter\Entity;

class User extends Entity
{
    protected $id;
    protected $username;
    protected $email;
    protected $password;
    protected $created_at;
    protected $updated_on;
}

At its simplest, this is all you need to do, though we’ll make it more useful in a minute. Note that all of the database columns are represented in the Entity. This is required for the Model to populate the fields.

Create the Model

Create the model first at application/Models/UserModel.php so that we can interact with it:

<?php namespace App\Models;

use CodeIgniter\Model;

class UserModel extends Model
{
    protected $table         = 'users';
    protected $allowedFields = [
        'username', 'email', 'password'
    ];
    protected $returnType    = 'App\Entities\User';
    protected $useTimestamps = true;
}

The model uses the users table in the database for all of its activities. We’ve set the $allowedFields property to include all of the fields that we want outside classes to change. The id, created_at, and updated_on fields are handled automatically by the class or the database, so we don’t want to change those. Finally, we’ve set our Entity class as the $returnType. This ensures that all methods on the model that return rows from the database will return instances of our User Entity class instead of an object or array like normal.

Working With the Entity Class

Now that all of the pieces are in place, you would work with the Entity class as you would any other class:

$user = $userModel->find($id);

// Display
echo $user->username;
echo $user->email;

// Updating
unset($user->username);
if (! isset($user->username)
{
    $user->username = 'something new';
}
$userModel->save($user);

// Create
$user = new App\Entities\User();
$user->username = 'foo';
$user->email    = 'foo@example.com';
$userModel->save($user);

You may have noticed that the User class has all of the properties as protected not public, but you can still access them as if they were public properties. The base class, CodeIgniterEntity, takes care of this for you, as well as providing the ability to check the properties with isset(), or unset() the property.

When the User is passed to the model’s save() method, it automatically takes care of reading the protected properties and saving any changes to columns listed in the model’s $allowedFields property. It also knows whether to create a new row, or update an existing one.

Filling Properties Quickly

The Entity class also provides a method, fill() that allows you to shove an array of key/value pairs into the class and populate the class properties. Only properties that already exist on the class can be populated in this way.

$data = $this->request->getPost();

$user = new App\Entities\User();
$user->fill($data);
$userModel->save($user);

Handling Business Logic

While the examples above are convenient, they don’t help enforce any business logic. The base Entity class implements some smart __get() and __set() methods that will check for special methods and use those instead of using the class properties directly, allowing you to enforce any business logic or data conversion that you need.

Here’s an updated User entity to provide some examples of how this could be used:

<?php namespace App\Entities;

use CodeIgniter\Entity;

class User extends Entity
{
    protected $id;
    protected $username;
    protected $email;
    protected $password;
    protected $created_at;
    protected $updated_at;

    public function setPassword(string $pass)
    {
        $this->password = password_hash($pass, PASSWORD_BCRYPT);

        return $this;
    }

    public function setCreatedAt(string $dateString)
    {
        $this->created_at = new \DateTime($datetime, new \DateTimeZone('UTC'));

        return $this;
    }

    public function getCreatedAt(string $format = 'Y-m-d H:i:s')
    {
        $timezone = isset($this->timezone)
        ? $this->timezone
        : app_timezone();

        $this->created_at->setTimezone($timezone);

        return $format === true
            ? $this->created_at
            : $this->created_at->format($format);
    }
}

The first thing to notice is the name of the methods we’ve added. For each one, the class expects the snake_case column name to be converted into PascalCase, and prefixed with either set or get. These methods will then be automatically called whenever you set or retrieve the class property using the direct syntax (i.e. $user->email). The methods do not need to be public unless you want them accessed from other classes. For example, the created_at class property will be access through the setCreatedAt() and getCreatedAt() methods.

In the setPassword() method we ensure that the password is always hashed.

In setCreatedOn() we convert the string we receive from the model into a DateTime object, ensuring that our timezone is UTC so we can easily convert the the viewer’s current timezone. In getCreatedAt(), it converts the time to a formatted string in the application’s current timezone.

While fairly simple, these examples show that using Entity classes can provide a very flexible way to enforce business logic and create objects that are pleasant to use.

// Auto-hash the password - both do the same thing
$user->password = 'my great password';
$user->setPassword('my great password');

Data Mapping

At many points in your career, you will run into situations where the use of an application has changed and the original column names in the database no longer make sense. Or you find that your coding style prefers camelCase class properties, but your database schema required snake_case names. These situations can be easily handled with the Entity class’ data mapping features.

As an example, imagine your have the simplified User Entity that is used throughout your application:

<?php namespace App\Entities;

use CodeIgniter\Entity;

class User extends Entity
{
    protected $id;
    protected $name;        // Represents a username
    protected $email;
    protected $password;
    protected $created_at;
    protected $updated_at;
}

Your boss comes to you and says that no one uses usernames anymore, so you’re switching to just use emails for login. But they do want to personalize the application a bit, so they want you to change the name field to represent a user’s full name now, not their username like it does currently. To keep things tidy and ensure things continue making sense in the database you whip up a migration to rename the name field to full_name for clarity.

Ignoring how contrived this example is, we now have two choices on how to fix the User class. We could modify the class property from $name to $full_name, but that would require changes throughout the application. Instead, we can simply map the full_name column in the database to the $name property, and be done with the Entity changes:

<?php namespace App\Entities;

use CodeIgniter\Entity;

class User extends Entity
{
    protected $id;
    protected $name;        // Represents a full name now
    protected $email;
    protected $password;
    protected $created_at;
    protected $updated_at;

    protected $_options = [
        'datamap' => [
            'full_name' => 'name'
        ]
    ];
}

By adding our new database name to the $datamap array, we can tell the class what class property the database column should be accessible through. The key of the array is the name of the column in the database, where the value in the array is class property to map it to.

In this example, when the model sets the full_name field on the User class, it actually assigns that value to the class’ $name property, so it can be set and retrieved through $user->name. The value will still be accessible through the original $user->full_name, also, as this is needed for the model to get the data back out and save it to the database. However, unset and isset only work on the mapped property, $name, not on the original name, full_name.

Mutators

Date Mutators

By default, the Entity class will convert fields named created_at, updated_at, or deleted_at into Time instances whenever they are set or retrieved. The Time class provides a large number of helpful methods in a immutable, localized way.

You can define which properties are automatically converted by adding the name to the options[‘dates’] array:

<?php namespace App\Entities;

use CodeIgniter\Entity;

class User extends Entity
{
    protected $id;
    protected $name;        // Represents a full name now
    protected $email;
    protected $password;
    protected $created_at;
    protected $updated_at;

    protected $_options = [
        'dates' => ['created_at', 'updated_at', 'deleted_at'],
    ];
}

Now, when any of those properties are set, they will be converted to a Time instance, using the application’s current timezone, as set in application/Config/App.php:

$user = new App\Entities\User();

// Converted to Time instance
$user->created_at = 'April 15, 2017 10:30:00';

// Can now use any Time methods:
echo $user->created_at->humanize();
echo $user->created_at->setTimezone('Europe/London')->toDateString();

Property Casting

You can specify that properties in your Entity should be converted to common data types with the casts entry in the $_options property. The casts option should be an array where the key is the name of the class property, and the value is the data type it should be cast to. Casting only affects when values are read. No conversions happen that affect the permanent value in either the entity or the database. Properties can be cast to any of the following data types: integer, float, double, string, boolean, object, array, datetime, and timestamp.

For example, if you had a User entity with an is_banned property, you can cast it as a boolean:

<?php namespace App\Entities;

use CodeIgniter\Entity;

class User extends Entity
{
    protected $is_banned;

    protected $_options = [
        'casts' => [
            'is_banned' => 'boolean'
        ]
    ];
}

Array Casting

Array casting is especially useful with fields that store serialized arrays or json in them. When cast as an array, they will automatically be unserialized when you read the property’s value. Unlike the rest of the data types that you can cast properties into, the array cast type will serialize the value whenever the property is set:

<?php namespace App\Entities;

use CodeIgniter\Entity;

class User extends Entity
{
    protected $options;

    protected $_options = [
        'casts' => [
            'options' => 'array'
        ]
    ];
}

$user    = $userModel->find(15);
$options = $user->options;

$options['foo'] = 'bar';

$user->options  = $options;
$userModel->save($user);