How to Embed a Collection of Forms

How to Embed a Collection of Forms

In this article, you'll learn how to create a form that embeds a collection of many other forms. This could be useful, for example, if you had a Task class and you wanted to edit/create/remove many Tag objects related to that Task, right inside the same form.

Let's start by creating a Task entity:

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// src/AppBundle/Entity/Task.php
namespace AppBundle\Entity;

use Doctrine\Common\Collections\ArrayCollection;

class Task
{
    protected $description;
    protected $tags;

    public function __construct()
    {
        $this->tags = new ArrayCollection();
    }

    public function getDescription()
    {
        return $this->description;
    }

    public function setDescription($description)
    {
        $this->description = $description;
    }

    public function getTags()
    {
        return $this->tags;
    }
}

Note

The ArrayCollection is specific to Doctrine and is basically the same as using an array (but it must be an ArrayCollection if you're using Doctrine).

Now, create a Tag class. As you saw above, a Task can have many Tag objects:

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// src/AppBundle/Entity/Tag.php
namespace AppBundle\Entity;

class Tag
{
    private $name;

    public function getName()
    {
        return $this->name;
    }

    public function setName($name)
    {
        $this->name = $name;
    }
}

Then, create a form class so that a Tag object can be modified by the user:

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// src/AppBundle/Form/TagType.php
namespace AppBundle\Form;

use AppBundle\Entity\Tag;
use Symfony\Component\Form\AbstractType;
use Symfony\Component\Form\FormBuilderInterface;
use Symfony\Component\OptionsResolver\OptionsResolver;

class TagType extends AbstractType
{
    public function buildForm(FormBuilderInterface $builder, array $options)
    {
        $builder->add('name');
    }

    public function configureOptions(OptionsResolver $resolver)
    {
        $resolver->setDefaults([
            'data_class' => Tag::class,
        ]);
    }
}

Next, let's create a form for the Task entity, using a CollectionType field of TagType forms. This will allow us to modify all the Tag elements of a Task right inside the task form itself:

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// src/AppBundle/Form/TaskType.php
namespace AppBundle\Form;

use AppBundle\Entity\Task;
use Symfony\Component\Form\AbstractType;
use Symfony\Component\Form\Extension\Core\Type\CollectionType;
use Symfony\Component\Form\FormBuilderInterface;
use Symfony\Component\OptionsResolver\OptionsResolver;

class TaskType extends AbstractType
{
    public function buildForm(FormBuilderInterface $builder, array $options)
    {
        $builder->add('description');

        $builder->add('tags', CollectionType::class, [
            'entry_type' => TagType::class,
            'entry_options' => ['label' => false],
        ]);
    }

    public function configureOptions(OptionsResolver $resolver)
    {
        $resolver->setDefaults([
            'data_class' => Task::class,
        ]);
    }
}

In your controller, you'll create a new form from the TaskType:

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// src/AppBundle/Controller/TaskController.php
namespace AppBundle\Controller;

use AppBundle\Entity\Tag;
use AppBundle\Entity\Task;
use AppBundle\Form\TaskType;
use Symfony\Bundle\FrameworkBundle\Controller\Controller;
use Symfony\Component\HttpFoundation\Request;

class TaskController extends Controller
{
    public function newAction(Request $request)
    {
        $task = new Task();

        // dummy code - add some example tags to the task
        // (otherwise, the template will render an empty list of tags)
        $tag1 = new Tag();
        $tag1->setName('tag1');
        $task->getTags()->add($tag1);
        $tag2 = new Tag();
        $tag2->setName('tag2');
        $task->getTags()->add($tag2);
        // end dummy code

        $form = $this->createForm(TaskType::class, $task);

        $form->handleRequest($request);

        if ($form->isSubmitted() && $form->isValid()) {
            // ... do your form processing, like saving the Task and Tag entities
        }

        return $this->render('task/new.html.twig', [
            'form' => $form->createView(),
        ]);
    }
}

In the template, you can now iterate over the existing TagType forms to render them:

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{# app/Resources/views/task/new.html.twig #}

{# ... #}

{{ form_start(form) }}
    {{ form_row(form.description) }}

    <h3>Tags</h3>
    <ul class="tags">
        {% for tag in form.tags %}
            <li>{{ form_row(tag.name) }}</li>
        {% endfor %}
    </ul>
{{ form_end(form) }}

{# ... #}

When the user submits the form, the submitted data for the tags field is used to construct an ArrayCollection of Tag objects. The collection is then set on the tag field of the Task and can be accessed via $task->getTags().

So far, this works great, but only to edit existing tags. It doesn't allow us yet to add new tags or delete existing ones.

Caution

You can embed nested collections as many levels down as you like. However, if you use Xdebug, you may receive a Maximum function nesting level of '100' reached, aborting! error. To fix this, increase the xdebug.max_nesting_level PHP setting, or render each form field by hand using form_row() instead of rendering the whole form at once (e.g form_widget(form)).

Allowing "new" Tags with the "Prototype"

Previously you added two tags to your task in the controller. Now let the users add as many tag forms as they need directly in the browser. This requires a bit of JavaScript code.

But first, you need to let the form collection know that instead of exactly two, it will receive an unknown number of tags. Otherwise, you'll see a "This form should not contain extra fields" error. This is done with the allow_add option:

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// src/AppBundle/Form/TaskType.php

// ...
use Symfony\Component\Form\FormBuilderInterface;

public function buildForm(FormBuilderInterface $builder, array $options)
{
    $builder->add('description');

    $builder->add('tags', CollectionType::class, [
        'entry_type' => TagType::class,
        'entry_options' => ['label' => false],
        'allow_add' => true,
    ]);
}

The allow_add option also makes a prototype variable available to you. This "prototype" is a little "template" that contains all the HTML needed to dynamically create any new "tag" forms with JavaScript. To render the prototype, add the following data-prototype attribute to the existing <ul> in your template:

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<ul class="tags" data-prototype="{{ form_widget(form.tags.vars.prototype)|e('html_attr') }}">

On the rendered page, the result will look something like this:

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<ul class="tags" data-prototype="&lt;div&gt;&lt;label class=&quot; required&quot;&gt;__name__&lt;/label&gt;&lt;div id=&quot;task_tags___name__&quot;&gt;&lt;div&gt;&lt;label for=&quot;task_tags___name___name&quot; class=&quot; required&quot;&gt;Name&lt;/label&gt;&lt;input type=&quot;text&quot; id=&quot;task_tags___name___name&quot; name=&quot;task[tags][__name__][name]&quot; required=&quot;required&quot; maxlength=&quot;255&quot; /&gt;&lt;/div&gt;&lt;/div&gt;&lt;/div&gt;">
If you want to customize the HTML code in the prototype, see How to Customize a Collection Prototype.

Tip

The form.tags.vars.prototype is a form element that looks and feels just like the individual form_widget(tag) elements inside your for loop. This means that you can call form_widget(), form_row() or form_label() on it. You could even choose to render only one of its fields (e.g. the name field):

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{{ form_widget(form.tags.vars.prototype.name)|e }}

Note

If you render your whole "tags" sub-form at once (e.g. form_row(form.tags)), the data-prototype attribute is automatically added to the containing div, and you need to adjust the following JavaScript accordingly.

The goal of this section will be to use JavaScript to read this attribute and dynamically add new tag forms when the user clicks a "Add a tag" link. To make things simple, this example uses jQuery and assumes you have it included somewhere on your page.

Add a script tag somewhere on your page so you can start writing some JavaScript.

First, add a link to the bottom of the "tags" list via JavaScript. Second, bind to the "click" event of that link so you can add a new tag form (addTagForm() will be show next):

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var $collectionHolder;

// setup an "add a tag" link
var $addTagButton = $('<button type="button" class="add_tag_link">Add a tag</button>');
var $newLinkLi = $('<li></li>').append($addTagButton);

jQuery(document).ready(function() {
    // Get the ul that holds the collection of tags
    $collectionHolder = $('ul.tags');

    // add the "add a tag" anchor and li to the tags ul
    $collectionHolder.append($newLinkLi);

    // count the current form inputs we have (e.g. 2), use that as the new
    // index when inserting a new item (e.g. 2)
    $collectionHolder.data('index', $collectionHolder.find('input').length);

    $addTagButton.on('click', function(e) {
        // add a new tag form (see next code block)
        addTagForm($collectionHolder, $newLinkLi);
    });
});

The addTagForm() function's job will be to use the data-prototype attribute to dynamically add a new form when this link is clicked. The data-prototype HTML contains the tag text input element with a name of task[tags][__name__][name] and id of task_tags___name___name. The __name__ is a little "placeholder", which you'll replace with a unique, incrementing number (e.g. task[tags][3][name]).

The actual code needed to make this all work can vary quite a bit, but here's one example:

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function addTagForm($collectionHolder, $newLinkLi) {
    // Get the data-prototype explained earlier
    var prototype = $collectionHolder.data('prototype');

    // get the new index
    var index = $collectionHolder.data('index');

    var newForm = prototype;
    // You need this only if you didn't set 'label' => false in your tags field in TaskType
    // Replace '__name__label__' in the prototype's HTML to
    // instead be a number based on how many items we have
    // newForm = newForm.replace(/__name__label__/g, index);

    // Replace '__name__' in the prototype's HTML to
    // instead be a number based on how many items we have
    newForm = newForm.replace(/__name__/g, index);

    // increase the index with one for the next item
    $collectionHolder.data('index', index + 1);

    // Display the form in the page in an li, before the "Add a tag" link li
    var $newFormLi = $('<li></li>').append(newForm);
    $newLinkLi.before($newFormLi);
}

Note

It is better to separate your JavaScript in real JavaScript files than to write it inside the HTML as is done here.

Now, each time a user clicks the Add a tag link, a new sub form will appear on the page. When the form is submitted, any new tag forms will be converted into new Tag objects and added to the tags property of the Task object.

You can find a working example in this JSFiddle.

To make handling these new tags easier, add an "adder" and a "remover" method for the tags in the Task class:

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// src/AppBundle/Entity/Task.php
namespace AppBundle\Entity;

// ...
class Task
{
    // ...

    public function addTag(Tag $tag)
    {
        $this->tags->add($tag);
    }

    public function removeTag(Tag $tag)
    {
        // ...
    }
}

Next, add a by_reference option to the tags field and set it to false:

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// src/AppBundle/Form/TaskType.php

// ...
public function buildForm(FormBuilderInterface $builder, array $options)
{
    // ...

    $builder->add('tags', CollectionType::class, [
        // ...
        'by_reference' => false,
    ]);
}

With these two changes, when the form is submitted, each new Tag object is added to the Task class by calling the addTag() method. Before this change, they were added internally by the form by calling $task->getTags()->add($tag). That was just fine, but forcing the use of the "adder" method makes handling these new Tag objects easier (especially if you're using Doctrine, which you will learn about next!).

Caution

You have to create both addTag() and removeTag() methods, otherwise the form will still use setTag() even if by_reference is false. You'll learn more about the removeTag() method later in this article.

Caution

Symfony can only make the plural-to-singular conversion (e.g. from the tags property to the addTag() method) for English words. Code written in any other language won't work as expected.

To save the new tags with Doctrine, you need to consider a couple more things. First, unless you iterate over all of the new Tag objects and call $entityManager->persist($tag) on each, you'll receive an error from Doctrine:

A new entity was found through the relationship AppBundle\Entity\Task#tags that was not configured to cascade persist operations for entity...

To fix this, you may choose to "cascade" the persist operation automatically from the Task object to any related tags. To do this, add the cascade option to your ManyToMany metadata:

  • Annotations
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    // src/AppBundle/Entity/Task.php
    
    // ...
    
    /**
     * @ORM\ManyToMany(targetEntity="App\Entity\Tag", cascade={"persist"})
     */
    protected $tags;
    
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    # src/AppBundle/Resources/config/doctrine/Task.orm.yml
    AppBundle\Entity\Task:
        type: entity
        # ...
        oneToMany:
            tags:
                targetEntity: App\Entity\Tag
                cascade:      [persist]
    
  • XML
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    <!-- src/AppBundle/Resources/config/doctrine/Task.orm.xml -->
    <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" ?>
    <doctrine-mapping xmlns="http://doctrine-project.org/schemas/orm/doctrine-mapping"
        xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance"
        xsi:schemaLocation="http://doctrine-project.org/schemas/orm/doctrine-mapping
                        https://doctrine-project.org/schemas/orm/doctrine-mapping.xsd">
    
        <entity name="AppBundle\Entity\Task">
            <!-- ... -->
            <one-to-many field="tags" target-entity="Tag">
                <cascade>
                    <cascade-persist/>
                </cascade>
            </one-to-many>
        </entity>
    </doctrine-mapping>
    

A second potential issue deals with the Owning Side and Inverse Side of Doctrine relationships. In this example, if the "owning" side of the relationship is "Task", then persistence will work fine as the tags are properly added to the Task. However, if the owning side is on "Tag", then you'll need to do a little bit more work to ensure that the correct side of the relationship is modified.

The trick is to make sure that the single "Task" is set on each "Tag". One way to do this is to add some extra logic to addTag(), which is called by the form type since by_reference is set to false:

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// src/AppBundle/Entity/Task.php

// ...
public function addTag(Tag $tag)
{
    // for a many-to-many association:
    $tag->addTask($this);

    // for a many-to-one association:
    $tag->setTask($this);

    $this->tags->add($tag);
}

If you're going for addTask(), just make sure you have an appropriate method that looks something like this:

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// src/AppBundle/Entity/Tag.php

// ...
public function addTask(Task $task)
{
    if (!$this->tasks->contains($task)) {
        $this->tasks->add($task);
    }
}

Allowing Tags to be Removed

The next step is to allow the deletion of a particular item in the collection. The solution is similar to allowing tags to be added.

Start by adding the allow_delete option in the form Type:

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// src/AppBundle/Form/TaskType.php

// ...
public function buildForm(FormBuilderInterface $builder, array $options)
{
    // ...

    $builder->add('tags', CollectionType::class, [
        // ...
        'allow_delete' => true,
    ]);
}

Now, you need to put some code into the removeTag() method of Task:

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// src/AppBundle/Entity/Task.php

// ...
class Task
{
    // ...

    public function removeTag(Tag $tag)
    {
        $this->tags->removeElement($tag);
    }
}

Template Modifications

The allow_delete option means that if an item of a collection isn't sent on submission, the related data is removed from the collection on the server. In order for this to work in an HTML form, you must remove the DOM element for the collection item to be removed, before submitting the form.

First, add a "delete this tag" link to each tag form:

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jQuery(document).ready(function() {
    // Get the ul that holds the collection of tags
    $collectionHolder = $('ul.tags');

    // add a delete link to all of the existing tag form li elements
    $collectionHolder.find('li').each(function() {
        addTagFormDeleteLink($(this));
    });

    // ... the rest of the block from above
});

function addTagForm() {
    // ...

    // add a delete link to the new form
    addTagFormDeleteLink($newFormLi);
}

The addTagFormDeleteLink() function will look something like this:

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function addTagFormDeleteLink($tagFormLi) {
    var $removeFormButton = $('<button type="button">Delete this tag</button>');
    $tagFormLi.append($removeFormButton);

    $removeFormButton.on('click', function(e) {
        // remove the li for the tag form
        $tagFormLi.remove();
    });
}

When a tag form is removed from the DOM and submitted, the removed Tag object will not be included in the collection passed to setTags(). Depending on your persistence layer, this may or may not be enough to actually remove the relationship between the removed Tag and Task object.

When removing objects in this way, you may need to do a little bit more work to ensure that the relationship between the Task and the removed Tag is properly removed.

In Doctrine, you have two sides of the relationship: the owning side and the inverse side. Normally in this case you'll have a many-to-one relationship and the deleted tags will disappear and persist correctly (adding new tags also works effortlessly).

But if you have a one-to-many relationship or a many-to-many relationship with a mappedBy on the Task entity (meaning Task is the "inverse" side), you'll need to do more work for the removed tags to persist correctly.

In this case, you can modify the controller to remove the relationship on the removed tag. This assumes that you have some editAction() which is handling the "update" of your Task:

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// src/AppBundle/Controller/TaskController.php
use AppBundle\Entity\Task;
use Doctrine\Common\Collections\ArrayCollection;

// ...
public function editAction($id, Request $request)
{
    $entityManager = $this->getDoctrine()->getManager();
    $task = $entityManager->getRepository(Task::class)->find($id);

    if (!$task) {
        throw $this->createNotFoundException('No task found for id '.$id);
    }

    $originalTags = new ArrayCollection();

    // Create an ArrayCollection of the current Tag objects in the database
    foreach ($task->getTags() as $tag) {
        $originalTags->add($tag);
    }

    $editForm = $this->createForm(TaskType::class, $task);

    $editForm->handleRequest($request);

    if ($editForm->isValid()) {

        // remove the relationship between the tag and the Task
        foreach ($originalTags as $tag) {
            if (false === $task->getTags()->contains($tag)) {
                // remove the Task from the Tag
                $tag->getTasks()->removeElement($task);

                // if it was a many-to-one relationship, remove the relationship like this
                // $tag->setTask(null);

                $entityManager->persist($tag);

                // if you wanted to delete the Tag entirely, you can also do that
                // $entityManager->remove($tag);
            }
        }

        $entityManager->persist($task);
        $entityManager->flush();

        // redirect back to some edit page
        return $this->redirectToRoute('task_edit', ['id' => $id]);
    }

    // render some form template
}

As you can see, adding and removing the elements correctly can be tricky. Unless you have a many-to-many relationship where Task is the "owning" side, you'll need to do extra work to make sure that the relationship is properly updated (whether you're adding new tags or removing existing tags) on each Tag object itself.

The Symfony community has created some JavaScript packages that provide the functionality needed to add, edit and delete elements of the collection. Check out the @a2lix/symfony-collection package for modern browsers and the symfony-collection package based on jQuery for the rest of browsers.

This work, including the code samples, is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0 license.