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debug:container & How Autowiring Works


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Ok, I lied. Before we talk about environments, I need to come clean about something: I have not been showing you all of the services in Symfony. Not even close.

Head over your terminal and run our favorite command:

php bin/console debug:autowiring

We know that all of these services are floating around in Symfony, waiting for us to ask for them. And we know that bundles give us services. The Twig service down here comes from TwigBundle.

And since each service is an object, something somewhere must be responsible for instantiating these objects. The question is: "Who?" And the answer is... the service container!

Hello Service Container

It turns out that all of the services aren't really... "floating around": they all live inside something called the "container". And there are way more services in the container than debug:autowiring has been telling us about. Ooh... secrets! This time, run:

php bin/console debug:container

And... whoa! This prints out a huge list. It's so big, it's hard to see everything. Let me make my font smaller. Much better!

This is the full list of all of the services in our app... or in the "container". The container is basically a giant "array" where each service has a unique name that points to its service object. For example, down here... there we go... we can see that there's a service whose unique name - or "id" is twig.

Knowing that the id of the Twig service is twig is not usually important, but it is useful to understand that each service has a unique id... and that you can see all of them inside the debug:container command.

The Container Creates Objects

And really, the container might be better-described as a big array of instructions on how to instantiate services, if and when something asks for them. For instance, the container knows exactly how to instantiate this Twig service. It knows that its class is Twig\Environment. And even though you can't see it on this list, it knows the exact arguments to pass to its constructor. The moment someone needs the Twig service, the container instantiates it and returns it.

Yup, when we autowire a service, we're basically saying:

Hey container, can you please give me the HTTP Client service?

If nothing in our code has asked for that service yet during this request, the container will create it. But if something has already asked for it, then the container will simply return the one it already created. This means that if we ask for the HTTP Client service in ten different places, the container will only create and return the same one instance. Pretty cool!

How Autowiring Works

Anyway, debug:container shows us all of the services that the container knows how to instantiate. But debug:autowiring only shows us a fraction of those services. Why?

Well, it turns out that not all services are autowireable. Many of the items in this list are low-level services that just exist to help other services do their job. You'll probably never need to use these low-level services directly... and you actually cannot fetch them via autowiring.

But, let's back up a minute. Now that we know a bit more, we can now learn exactly how Symfony's autowiring system works. It's beautifully simple.

As we've seen, the container is really an array where every service has an id that points to that service object. When Symfony sees this HttpClientInterface type - this is the full type that it sees, thanks to our use statement - in order to figure out which service in the container it needs to pass us, it simply looks for a service whose ID matches this string exactly. Let me show you!

Scroll towards the top of this list to find... a service whose ID is Symfony\Contracts\HttpClient\HttpClientInterface! The vast majority of the services in the container use the "snake case" naming strategy. But if a service is intended for us to use in our code, Symfony will add an additional service inside that matches its class or interface name.

Thanks to that, when we type-hint HttpClientInterface, Symfony looks in the container for a service whose id is Symfony\Contracts\HttpClient\HttpClientInterface, it finds it and passes it to us.

Service Aliases

But look over on the right side: it says that this is an alias for a different service ID. An "alias" is like a symbolic link. It means that when someone asks for the HttpClientInterface service, Symfony will actually pass us this other service.

We can use the same logic down here for the CacheInterface type. If we check the list, here's the service whose id matches that type. But, in reality, it's just an alias for a service called cache.app. So when we autowire CacheInterface, the cache.app service is what's actually being passed to us.

If you're feeling unsure, here are the three big takeaways. One: there are a ton of service objects floating around and they all live inside something called the "container". Each service has a unique id.

Two, only a small percentage of these are useful to us... and those are set up so that we can autowire them. Autowiring works by looking in the container for a service whose id exactly matches the type. When we run debug:autowiring, it's basically just showing us the services from this list whose id is a class or interface name. Those are the "autowireable services".

The third and final takeaway is that services also have an alias system... which just means that when we ask for the CacheInterface service, what it will really give us is the service whose id is cache.app.

If you're wondering how we could ever use a non-autowireable service in our code, that's a great question! It's somewhat rare, but we will learn how to do that later.

Next, let's talk about using different configuration locally versus production. Let's talk about environments.