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Complex Symfony2 Examples: Users, Menus, CMS Features

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Complex Symfony2 Examples: Users, Menus, CMS Features

From pieter lelaona:

It’s been very difficult to find examples of applications and explanations actually implement symfony2 framework. e.g.

  1. how to create a complete multi-user management with an ACL that retrieves data from a database and integrated with the menus link, filter data, and dynamic multi-role and permission
  2. best project skeleton in symfony2 framework.
  3. create a dynamic system such as the theme cms wordpress, drupal, joomla, etc

This is a small part of what many people, especially in my country (Indonesia) want to learn more about the Symfony2 framework. what do you think??


Hi Pieter! As you know, Symfony2 isn’t a CMS but contains all the tools needed to create any system of any complexity that you want. However, for complex systems like you’re describing, there are ultimately many pieces that need to be integrated to get this all working.

This is a huge topic, but let’s go through your questions and clarify the best way to approach each.

1) Multi-user system with ACLs, Menus and Filtering

This is still a huge topic, so let’s break it down even further:

  1. Multi-User systems
  2. ACL’s
  3. Menus
  4. Filtering

Multi-User Systems

Creating multi-user systems that load user and permission information from the database is easy in Symfony2. Depending on your preference, you will probably either use the popular FOSUserBundle or implement this yourself by following our How to load Security Users from the Database cookbook entry.

In either case, creating a system with “groups” and “permissions” is very possible, where a user belongs to many groups and each group has a sub-set of permissions. In Symfony’s point-of-view, each user ultimately has an array of “roles”, which are returned by your User object’s getRoles function. You can use whatever logic you want to return these, including referencing “groups” and “permissions” database relationships.

In fact, Groups Functionality is available in FOSUserBundle out-of-the-box. This works simply because their base User object calculates its roles by aggregating all of the roles (or permissions) across all of the groups:

public function getRoles()
    $roles = $this->roles;

    foreach ($this->getGroups() as $group) {
        $roles = array_merge($roles, $group->getRoles());

    // we need to make sure to have at least one role
    $roles[] = static::ROLE_DEFAULT;

    return array_unique($roles);

You can do the same thing - or whatever complex logic you want - to determine the roles that a user should have.


This is a very common question, and my answer might be surprising.

Symfony2 has built-in ACL functionality, which I never use. I’m sure it has its use-cases, but each time that I talk to someone that wants to use Symfony’s ACL’s, what they really need is a voter.

What’s a voter? I’m glad you asked! First, let’s look at one way to enforce security from within a controller:

use Symfony\Component\Security\Core\Exception\AccessDeniedException;
// ...

public function indexAction()
    $securityContext = $this->container->get('security.context');
    if (!$securityContext->isGranted('ROLE_USER')) {
        throw new AccessDeniedException('Get outta here!');

On the surface, isGranted simply checks to see if the current user has this role and returns true or false. But behind the scenes, Symfony passes ROLE_USER (called an “attribute”) to a number of “voters” and asks each to “vote” on whether or not the current user should be “granted” ROLE_USER.

And while it’s technically possible for two voters to vote on a single attribute and disagree with each other, life is much simpler in reality. Symfony2 comes with 3 voters by default:

1) RoleVoter Votes only if the attribute starts with ROLE_ and checks to see if the current user has this exact attribute as a role.

2) RoleHierarchyVoter Votes only if the attribute starts with ROLE_ and checks to see if the user has this role by using the role hierarchy.


So what happens if we invent a new type of attribute that none of these voters “votes” on?

use Symfony\Component\Security\Core\Exception\AccessDeniedException;
// ...

public function indexAction()
    $securityContext = $this->container->get('security.context');
    if (!$securityContext->isGranted('CONTENT_EDIT')) {
        throw new AccessDeniedException('Get outta here!');

In this case, none of the existing voters will vote on CONTENT_EDIT. You won’t get an error: isGranted will silently return false (by default). This is significant - as we’ll see in a moment - because we can create our own voters that respond on these new attributes.

One other commonly-unknown property of isGranted is that there’s a second argument, which is any type of “object”:

use Symfony\Component\Security\Core\Exception\AccessDeniedException;
// ...

public function showAction($slug)
    $post = // query for a Post object using the $slug

    $securityContext = $this->container->get('security.context');
    if (!$securityContext->isGranted('CONTENT_EDIT', $post)) {
        throw new AccessDeniedException('Get outta here!');

When you do this, each “voter” is passed the object. This is very important because it means that your custom voter can make its access decision based off of a specific piece of data. This is typically what you think of when you talk about ACL: the ability to say that “this user” has access to “edit” some “object”. In Symfony2, you can leverage a custom voter to use whatever complex business logic you have to determine this.

This is a somewhat shortened version of this topic, but there is a cookbook article on creating voters. However, you’ll do several things differently in your implementation:

  • Invent your own attributes - like CONTENT_EDIT and CONTENT_DELETE and make your voter only respond to those.
  • Use the $object argument passed to your vote function. You may then need to determine what type of object it is (e.g. is this a blog post? A user object?) and use any business rules you have (querying some database relationships) to determine if access should be granted.
  • You will not need to change the “Access Decision Strategy”.

I hope this at least gives you some direction on using ACL’s without ACL’s in Symfony2! The big disadvantage to this method is performance. But since the solution is so much more natural than ACL’s, you should worry about this later when it’s an issue. You can always cache the decisions you’re making, which is very similar to what true ACL’s do in the database.


The last piece of all of this is how we filter data based on the user’s permissions. Unfortunately, this works much differently than voters where you start with an object and then determine if the user has some sort of permissions to operate on that object.

One way or another, the solution is one that comes down to writing good repository methods that filter your data properly. For example, suppose that you have a Post entity with a ManyToMany relationship to User that stores all of the users that have access to edit this blog post:

// src/KnpU/QADayBundle/Entity/Post.php
// ...

 * @ORM\ManyToMany(targetEntity="User")
protected $admins;

In this case, a custom repository method should be added to PostRepository to fetch all of the blog posts that this user can edit:

// src/KnpU/QADayBundle/Entity/PostRepository.php
// ...

public function findAllEditableByUser(User $user)
    // query for all Post objects that have a Post.admins join to this User

This can be used from within your controller and a related (more efficient) version could also be used inside your custom voter to determine if a user has access to edit one specific blog post. These two repository functions can share most of their logic to avoid any duplication.

In other words, there’s no magic to do all of this, but the solution is quite straightforward. By leveraging well-built repository methods, we can re-use that logic in both our custom voters (when determining if a user has access to do something with an object) and in a controller (to get a list of all the items a user has access to).

2) Best Project Skeleton for Symfony2

Symfony2 uses “distributions”, which are like pre-started projects using the Symfony2 framework. In theory, there could be a lot of these, though in practice, there aren’t very many that I’m aware of. Your best option is to start with the Symfony Standard Edition, which can be downloaded at

If you’ve started a few projects with Symfony, and they always look the same, then you might even create your own distribution. A distribution is nothing more than a Symfony2 “project” at some state. In other words, if you start with the Symfony2 Standard Distribution, delete the AcmeDemoBundle, then install and configure a few bundles that you like, then you’ve just created your very own project skeleton. This is a great option for people that start a lot of Symfony2 projects.

3) Dynamic systems and themes like a CMS

This is also a huge topic, but we can at least link to various resources related to this.

On the “CMS” side of things (particularly content storage), take a look at the Symfony CMF project. This is not meant to be a CMS - if you need something like a CMS, I recommend using an actual CMS, like Drupal. Instead, it’s all about standardizing how content is stored.

If you’re looking for “theming” functionality, that’s also very possible in Symfony2 due to its flexibility. One great bundle for this - which may work for you or at least serve as an example - is LiipThemeBundle.

That’s a rushed explanation of a huge question, but hopefully it gives you some things to look into!