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DateTimeType & Data "Transforming"

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Let's use our new powers to add another field to the form. Our Article class has a publishedAt DateTime property. Depending on your app, you might not want this to be a field in your form. You might just want a "Publish" button that sets this to today's date when you click it.

But, in our app, I want to allow whoever is writing the article to specifically set the publish date. So, add publishedAt to the form... but don't set the type.

31 lines | src/Form/ArticleFormType.php
// ... lines 1 - 10
class ArticleFormType extends AbstractType
public function buildForm(FormBuilderInterface $builder, array $options)
// ... lines 16 - 19
// ... lines 23 - 29

So... ah... this is interesting! How will Symfony render a "date" field? Let's find out! Refresh! Woh... it's a bunch of dropdowns for the year, month, day and time. That... will technically work... but that's not my favorite.

Which Field Type was Guessed?

Go back to the list of field types. Obviously, this is working because the field guessing system guessed... some field type. But... which one? To find out, go back to the web debug toolbar, click to open the profiler and select publishedAt. Ha! Right on top: DateTimeType. Nice!

Let's click into the DateTimeType documentation. Hmm... it has a bunch of options, and most of these are special to this type. For example, you can't pass a with_seconds option to a TextType: it makes no sense, and Symfony will yell at you.

Anyways, one of the options is called widget. Ah! This defines how the field is rendered. And if you did a little bit of digging, you would learn that we can set this to single_text to get a more user-friendly field.

Passing Options but No Type

To set an option on the publishedAt field, pass null as the second argument and set up the array as the third. null just tells Symfony to continue "guessing" this field type. Basically, I'm being lazy: we could pass DateTimeType::class ... but we don't need to!

Under the options, set widget to single_text.

33 lines | src/Form/ArticleFormType.php
// ... lines 1 - 19
->add('publishedAt', null, [
'widget' => 'single_text'
// ... lines 23 - 33

Let's see what that did! Find your form, refresh and... cool! It's a text field! Right click and "Inspect Element" on that. Double cool! It's an <input type="datetime-local" ...>. That's an HTML5 input type that gives us a cool calendar widget. Unfortunately, while this will work on most browsers, it will not work on all browsers. If the user's browser has no idea how to handle a datetime-local input, it will fall back to a normal text field.

If you need a fancy calendar widget for all browsers, you'll need to add some JavaScript to do that. We did that in our Symfony 3 forms tutorial and, later, we'll talk a bit about JavaScript and forms in Symfony 4.

Data Transforming

But, the reason I wanted to show you the DateTimeType was not because of this HTML5 fanciness. Nope! The really important thing I want you to notice is that, regardless of browser support, when we submit this form, it will send this field as a simple, date string. But... wait! We know that, on submit, the form system will call the setPublishedAt() method. And... that requires a DateTime object, not a string! Won't this totally explode?

Actually... no! It will work perfectly.

In reality, each field type - like DateTimeType - has two superpowers. First, it determines how the field is rendered. Like, an input type="text" field or, a bunch of drop-downs, or a fancy datetime-local input. Second... and this is the real superpower, a field type is able to transform the data to and from your object and the form. This is called "data transformation".

I won't do it now, but when we submit, the DateTimeType will transform the submitted date string into a DateTime object and then call setPublishedAt(). Later, when we create a page to edit an existing Article, the form system will call getPublishedAt() to fetch the DateTime object, and then the DateTimeType will transform that into a string so it can be rendered as the value of the input.

We'll talk more about data transformers later. Heck, we're going to create one! Right now, I just want you to realize that this is happening behind the scenes. Well, not all fields have transformers: simple fields that hold text, like an input text field or textarea don't need one.

Next: let's talk about one of Symfony's most important and most versatile field types: ChoiceType. It's the over-achiever in the group: you can use it to create a select drop down, multi-select, radio buttons or checkboxes. Heck, I'm pretty sure it even knows how to fix a flat tire.

Let's work with it - and its brother the EntityType - to create a drop-down list populated from the database.