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How to create an optimized version of your website for the iPhone

symfony 1.1 introduces native support for different formats and mime-types. This means that the same model and controller can have different templates based on the requested format. The default format is still HTML, but symfony supports several other formats out of the box as defined in the factories.yml file:

  class: sfWebRequest
        txt:  text/plain
        js:   [application/javascript, application/x-javascript, text/javascript]
        css:  text/css
        json: [application/json, application/x-json]
        xml:  [text/xml, application/xml, application/x-xml]
        rdf:  application/rdf+xml
        atom: application/atom+xml

Each format is associated with one or more mime-types. These mime-types are used to automatically determine the requested format by parsing the Accept HTTP header. This comes in very handy if you want to make your data available via a browser and expose them as a Web Service. To change the format of the response, a Web Service client can just change the Accept header as shown below:

$ curl -H "Accept: application/xml" # to get a XML representation of the data
$ curl -H "Accept: application/json" # to get a JSON representation of the data

Supporting different formats is as easy as creating different templates. So, let's say the web service is managed by an api/article action. Here is the list of templates you have to create in apps/frontend/modules/api/templates to support HTML, XML, and JSON formats:

  • articleSuccess.php
  • articleSuccess.xml.php
  • articleSuccess.json.php

By default, symfony will change the response Content-Type according to the format, and for all non-HTML formats, the layout will be disabled. Even partials and layouts can be different based on the requested format. For example, if you include a list partial in a template, the loaded partial name will depend on the current format:

  • _list.php
  • _list.xml.php
  • _list.json.php

Let's take another example. You want to create some stylesheets or JavaScript files on the fly. As you can't always rely on the browser Accept HTTP header for those cases, you can force a format by using the special sf_format variable in your routing rules. Here is how to create a route for a dynamic stylesheet:

  url:   /css/dynamic1.css
  param: { module: css, action: dynamic, sf_format: css }

You can also use the sf_format variable in the URL pattern to allow several formats for one action:

  url:   /api/article.:sf_format
  param: { module: api, action: article }
    sf_format: (?:html|xml|json)

Most of the time, you don't have to change a single line in your actions to support new formats; but if you really need to do something special for a format, you can call the $request->getRequestFormat() to get the current format and act accordingly.

Ok, now for the fun part! Let's say you want to create an optimized version of your website for the iPhone. The iphone format does not exist by default but it's pretty easy to configure one. First, we need a way to determine that a request comes from an iPhone. If the User-Agent header contains the words Mobile and Safari, we can safely guess that the browser is an iPhone. We can put this logic in the ProjectConfiguration class by registering a listener for the request.filter_parameters event:

// config/ProjectConfiguration.class.php
class ProjectConfiguration extends sfProjectConfiguration
  public function setup()
    // ...
    $this->dispatcher->connect('request.filter_parameters', array($this, 'filterRequestParameters'));
  public function filterRequestParameters(sfEvent $event, $parameters)
    $request = $event->getSubject();
    if (preg_match('#Mobile/.+Safari#i', $request->getHttpHeader('User-Agent')))
    return $parameters;

Now, everytime a request comes in, the filterParameters() method is called and if the browser is an iPhone, the request format is changed to iphone.

That's all! Now, every request from an iPhone will use *Success.iphone.php templates instead of *Success.php templates.

If you use some special stylesheets or JavaScript files to support the iPhone (for example if you use the iui library), you can also configure the view by listening to the view.configure_format:

class ProjectConfiguration extends sfProjectConfiguration
  public function setup()
    // ...
    $this->dispatcher->connect('view.configure_format', array($this, 'configureIPhoneFormat'));
  public function configureIPhoneFormat(sfEvent $event)
    if ('iphone' == $event['format'])
      // add some CSS, javascript, or whatever you want

Thanks to the new format support in symfony 1.1, developing websites that supports Web Services, API or the iPhone has never been easier. Supporting a new format is as easy as creating a new set of templates.