6 things to know about embedded forms in Symfony

When using symfony, if you use it long enough, pretty soon you will need to use embedded forms. The down side of this is, embedded forms can be problematic at best. Seeing as I have spent a lot of time getting embedded forms working just right, let me show you some of the things I have learned, so that maybe I can spare you from the same fate as our friend on the right.

1. save() is only called on the root form

That’s right! Only the root form has save() called. So if there’s other logic you want to run, you will want to override the saveEmbeddedForm method and call that code before. Oversimplification ahead: when you save a form with embedded forms, it calls $this->getObject()->save(), then it calls saveEmbeddedForms, which, for each embedded form, calls $form->saveEmbeddedForms() and then calls $form->getObject()->save(). This is critical to know, as it will save you a lot of headaches later on.

2. Extend classes for simplicity and security

When you’re working on embedding a form into a related object’s form, do yourself a favor and always extend your form to remove unneeded fields such as id, and the foreign key field. It will make your life much simpler.

For example, here’s the configure() command from my embedded version of the media registry form in my majaxDoctrineMediaPlugin:

The only reason I’m bringing the embedded form in is to be able to assign photos, videos, and audio clips to galleries, so all I really care about is $this[‘galleries_list’]. Here’s how I use it then, in the Video form:

You see there how we pass the instance that is related to our object to the embedded form? That’s why we can unset all of the foreign keys… because it already knows about the relation! Removing the foreign keys keeps it simpler, and improves security.

3. Embedded many-to-many relations are TRICKY

Ok, well, they are if you don’t know what I’m about to tell you. But then you will. Remember when we were talking about save() and saveEmbeddedForms() and how saveEmbeddedForms() doesn’t call the embedded form’s save() function? Well, this is why many-to-many relations break down in embedded forms. The function to save those relations are never called. Even better, because the embedded forms are never officially bound, they don’t even store the data to run those functions. To solve this, I use a two-prong attack.

First, I trick it into allowing us to access the values passed through bind:

Then, after being tricked into thinking it’s a real form, we close the deal by forcing it to run the function Doctrine built to save our many-to-many relationship:

4. I do it MY SELF

While watching the screens roll by in #symfony (on irc.freenode.org), I often see people having this problem or that problem with related forms. Invariably, they will be using the embedRelation command. To be honest… I don’t know what this does. I do know people seem to have lots of trouble with it though! I know, it saves time. I know, it makes it easy. I know, it’s a stock function, so you should use it, instead of expending more effort.

I also know that my forms work! I’m a huge fan of Doing What Works(tm) and Getting The Job Done(tm). It may take an extra 3 minutes to extend your form class (point #2), and hack it to make your many-to-many relations work (point 3), but it’s a whole heck of a lot better than slamming your head into the wall (or keyboard) repeatedly.

5. Post validators only fire on the root form

Another reason to simply consider your embedded form a different beast than the form on it’s own, is that any post validators you have set to run in the embedded form will not be run! However, you can access your embedded form’s data in the root form’s post validator.

Here’s an example of how to make such a validator:

6. embedMergeForm

This is something picked up from Roland Tapken. It’s really quite beautiful. Before embedMergeForm, you had two options when it came to bringing two forms together. On one hand, you have mergeForm, which looks nice, but for all intents and purposes, without a lot of extra work, doesn’t work. On the other, you have embedForm, which works for many situations, but in some circumstances (the admin generator) it will produce horrible results visually. embedMergeForm is the key! It combines the beauty of mergeForm with the mostly functional setup of embedForm.

Just to make it real easy, here’s the code I use. Place this in your lib/form/BaseFormDoctrine.class.php:

   * Embeds a form like "mergeForm" does, but will still
   * save the input data.
  public function embedMergeForm($name, sfForm $form)
    // This starts like sfForm::embedForm
    $name = (string) $name;
    if (true === $this->isBound() || true === $form->isBound())
      throw new LogicException('A bound form cannot be merged');
    $this->embeddedForms[$name] = $form;
    $form = clone $form;
    // But now, copy each widget instead of the while form into the current
    // form. Each widget ist named "formname|fieldname".
    foreach ($form->getWidgetSchema()->getFields() as $field => $widget)
      $widgetName = "$name-$field";
      if (isset($this->widgetSchema[$widgetName]))
        throw new LogicException("The forms cannot be merged. A field name '$widgetName' already exists.");
      $this->widgetSchema[$widgetName] = $widget;                           // Copy widget
      $this->validatorSchema[$widgetName] = $form->validatorSchema[$field]; // Copy schema
      $this->setDefault($widgetName, $form->getDefault($field));            // Copy default value
      if (!$widget->getLabel())
        // Re-create label if not set (otherwise it would be named 'ucfirst($widgetName)')
        $label = $form->getWidgetSchema()->getFormFormatter()->generateLabelName($field);
        $this->getWidgetSchema()->setLabel($widgetName, $label);
    // And this is like in sfForm::embedForm
   * Override sfFormDoctrine to prepare the
   * values: FORMNAME|FIELDNAME has to be transformed
  public function updateObject($values = null)
    if (is_null($values))
      $values = $this->values;
      foreach ($this->embeddedForms AS $name => $form)
        foreach ($form AS $field => $f)
          if (isset($values["$name-$field"]))
            // Re-rename the form field and remove
            // the original field
            $values[$name][$field] = $values["$name-$field"];
    // Give the request to the original method