Action Controllers


Zend_Controller_Action is an abstract class you may use for implementing Action Controllers for use with the Front Controller when building a website based on the Model-View-Controller (MVC) pattern.

To use Zend_Controller_Action, you will need to subclass it in your actual action controller classes (or subclass it to create your own base class for action controllers). The most basic operation is to subclass it, and create action methods that correspond to the various actions you wish the controller to handle for your site. Zend_Controller's routing and dispatch handling will autodiscover any methods ending in 'Action' in your class as potential controller actions.

For example, let's say your class is defined as follows:

  1. class FooController extends Zend_Controller_Action
  2. {
  3.     public function barAction()
  4.     {
  5.         // do something
  6.     }
  8.     public function bazAction()
  9.     {
  10.         // do something
  11.     }
  12. }

The above FooController class (controller foo) defines two actions, bar and baz.

There's much more that can be accomplished than this, such as custom initialization actions, default actions to call should no action (or an invalid action) be specified, pre- and post-dispatch hooks, and a variety of helper methods. This chapter serves as an overview of the action controller functionality

Note: Default Behaviour
By default, the front controller enables the ViewRenderer action helper. This helper takes care of injecting the view object into the controller, as well as automatically rendering views. You may disable it within your action controller via one of the following methods:

  1. class FooController extends Zend_Controller_Action
  2. {
  3.     public function init()
  4.     {
  5.         // Local to this controller only; affects all actions,
  6.         // as loaded in init:
  7.         $this->_helper->viewRenderer->setNoRender(true);
  9.         // Globally:
  10.         $this->_helper->removeHelper('viewRenderer');
  12.         // Also globally, but would need to be in conjunction with the
  13.         // local version in order to propagate for this controller:
  14.         Zend_Controller_Front::getInstance()
  15.             ->setParam('noViewRenderer', true);
  16.     }
  17. }
initView(), getViewScript(), render(), and renderScript() each proxy to the ViewRenderer unless the helper is not in the helper broker or the noViewRenderer flag has been set.
You can also simply disable rendering for an individual view by setting the ViewRenderer's noRender flag:
  1. class FooController extends Zend_Controller_Action
  2. {
  3.     public function barAction()
  4.     {
  5.         // disable autorendering for this action only:
  6.         $this->_helper->viewRenderer->setNoRender();
  7.     }
  8. }
The primary reasons to disable the ViewRenderer are if you simply do not need a view object or if you are not rendering via view scripts (for instance, when using an action controller to serve web service protocols such as SOAP, XML-RPC, or REST). In most cases, you will never need to globally disable the ViewRenderer, only selectively within individual controllers or actions.

Object Initialization

While you can always override the action controller's constructor, we do not recommend this. Zend_Controller_Action::__construct() performs some important tasks, such as registering the request and response objects, as well as any custom invocation arguments passed in from the front controller. If you must override the constructor, be sure to call parent::__construct($request, $response, $invokeArgs).

The more appropriate way to customize instantiation is to use the init() method, which is called as the last task of __construct(). For example, if you want to connect to a database at instantiation:

  1. class FooController extends Zend_Controller_Action
  2. {
  3.     public function init()
  4.     {
  5.         $this->db = Zend_Db::factory('Pdo_Mysql', array(
  6.             'host'     => 'myhost',
  7.             'username' => 'user',
  8.             'password' => 'XXXXXXX',
  9.             'dbname'   => 'website'
  10.         ));
  11.     }
  12. }

Pre- and Post-Dispatch Hooks

Zend_Controller_Action specifies two methods that may be called to bookend a requested action, preDispatch() and postDispatch(). These can be useful in a variety of ways: verifying authentication and ACL's prior to running an action (by calling _forward() in preDispatch(), the action will be skipped), for instance, or placing generated content in a sitewide template ( postDispatch()).

Note: Usage of init() vs. preDispatch()
In the previous section, we introduced the init() method, and in this section, the preDispatch() method. What is the difference between them, and what actions would you take in each?
The init() method is primarily intended for extending the constructor. Typically, your constructor should simply set object state, and not perform much logic. This might include initializing resources used in the controller (such as models, configuration objects, etc.), or assigning values retrieved from the front controller, bootstrap, or a registry.
The preDispatch() method can also be used to set object or environmental (e.g., view, action helper, etc.) state, but its primary purpose is to make decisions about whether or not the requested action should be dispatched. If not, you should then _forward() to another action, or throw an exception.
Note: _forward() actually will not work correctly when executed from init(), which is a formalization of the intentions of the two methods.


A number of objects and variables are registered with the object, and each has accessor methods.

  • Request Object: getRequest() may be used to retrieve the request object used to call the action.

  • Response Object: getResponse() may be used to retrieve the response object aggregating the final response. Some typical calls might look like:

    1. $this->getResponse()->setHeader('Content-Type', 'text/xml');
    2. $this->getResponse()->appendBody($content);
  • Invocation Arguments: the front controller may push parameters into the router, dispatcher, and action controller. To retrieve these, use getInvokeArg($key); alternatively, fetch the entire list using getInvokeArgs().

  • Request parameters: The request object aggregates request parameters, such as any _GET or _POST parameters, or user parameters specified in the URL's path information. To retrieve these, use _getParam($key) or _getAllParams(). You may also set request parameters using _setParam(); this is useful when forwarding to additional actions.

    To test whether or not a parameter exists (useful for logical branching), use _hasParam($key).

    Note: _getParam() may take an optional second argument containing a default value to use if the parameter is not set or is empty. Using it eliminates the need to call _hasParam() prior to retrieving a value:

    1. // Use default value of 1 if id is not set
    2. $id = $this->_getParam('id', 1);
    4. // Instead of:
    5. if ($this->_hasParam('id') {
    6.     $id = $this->_getParam('id');
    7. } else {
    8.     $id = 1;
    9. }

View Integration

Note: Default View Integration is Via the ViewRenderer
The content in this section is only valid when you have explicitly disabled the ViewRenderer. Otherwise, you can safely skip over this section.

Zend_Controller_Action provides a rudimentary and flexible mechanism for view integration. Two methods accomplish this, initView() and render(); the former method lazy-loads the $view public property, and the latter renders a view based on the current requested action, using the directory hierarchy to determine the script path.

View Initialization

initView() initializes the view object. render() calls initView() in order to retrieve the view object, but it may be initialized at any time; by default it populates the $view property with a Zend_View object, but any class implementing Zend_View_Interface may be used. If $view is already initialized, it simply returns that property.

The default implementation makes the following assumption of the directory structure:

  1. applicationOrModule/
  2.     controllers/
  3.         IndexController.php
  5.         scripts/
  6.             index/
  7.                 index.phtml
  8.         helpers/
  9.         filters/

In other words, view scripts are assumed to be in the /views/scripts/ subdirectory, and the /views/ subdirectory is assumed to contain sibling functionality (helpers, filters). When determining the view script name and path, the /views/scripts/ directory will be used as the base path, with directories named after the individual controllers providing a hierarchy of view scripts.

Rendering Views

render() has the following signature:

  1. string render(string $action = null,
  2.               string $name = null,
  3.               bool $noController = false);

render() renders a view script. If no arguments are passed, it assumes that the script requested is [controller]/[action].phtml (where .phtml is the value of the $viewSuffix property). Passing a value for $action will render that template in the /[controller]/ subdirectory. To override using the /[controller]/ subdirectory, pass a TRUE value for $noController. Finally, templates are rendered into the response object; if you wish to render to a specific named segment in the response object, pass a value to $name.

Note: Since controller and action names may contain word delimiter characters such as '_', '.', and '-', render() normalizes these to '-' when determining the script name. Internally, it uses the dispatcher's word and path delimiters to do this normalization. Thus, a request to / will render the script foo-bar/baz-bat.phtml. If your action method contains camelCasing, please remember that this will result in '-' separated words when determining the view script file name.

Some examples:

  1. class MyController extends Zend_Controller_Action
  2. {
  3.     public function fooAction()
  4.     {
  5.         // Renders my/foo.phtml
  6.         $this->render();
  8.         // Renders my/bar.phtml
  9.         $this->render('bar');
  11.         // Renders baz.phtml
  12.         $this->render('baz', null, true);
  14.         // Renders my/login.phtml to the 'form' segment of the
  15.         // response object
  16.         $this->render('login', 'form');
  18.         // Renders site.phtml to the 'page' segment of the response
  19.         // object; does not use the 'my/' subirectory
  20.         $this->render('site', 'page', true);
  21.     }
  23.     public function bazBatAction()
  24.     {
  25.         // Renders my/baz-bat.phtml
  26.         $this->render();
  27.     }
  28. }

Utility Methods

Besides the accessors and view integration methods, Zend_Controller_Action has several utility methods for performing common tasks from within your action methods (or from pre- and post-dispatch).

  • _forward($action, $controller = null, $module = null, array $params = null): perform another action. If called in preDispatch(), the currently requested action will be skipped in favor of the new one. Otherwise, after the current action is processed, the action requested in _forward() will be executed.

  • _redirect($url, array $options = array()): redirect to another location. This method takes a URL and an optional set of options. By default, it performs an HTTP 302 redirect.

    The options may include one or more of the following:

    • exit: whether or not to exit immediately. If requested, it will cleanly close any open sessions and perform the redirect.

      You may set this option globally within the controller using the setRedirectExit() accessor.

    • prependBase: whether or not to prepend the base URL registered with the request object to the URL provided.

      You may set this option globally within the controller using the setRedirectPrependBase() accessor.

    • code: what HTTP code to utilize in the redirect. By default, an HTTP 302 is utilized; any code between 301 and 306 may be used.

      You may set this option globally within the controller using the setRedirectCode() accessor.

Subclassing the Action Controller

By design, Zend_Controller_Action must be subclassed in order to create an action controller. At the minimum, you will need to define action methods that the controller may call.

Besides creating useful functionality for your web applications, you may also find that you're repeating much of the same setup or utility methods in your various controllers; if so, creating a common base controller class that extends Zend_Controller_Action could solve such redundancy.

Example #1 Handling Non-Existent Actions

If a request to a controller is made that includes an undefined action method, Zend_Controller_Action::__call() will be invoked. __call() is, of course, PHP's magic method for method overloading.

By default, this method throws a Zend_Controller_Action_Exception indicating the requested method was not found in the controller. If the method requested ends in 'Action', the assumption is that an action was requested and does not exist; such errors result in an exception with a code of 404. All other methods result in an exception with a code of 500. This allows you to easily differentiate between page not found and application errors in your error handler.

You should override this functionality if you wish to perform other operations. For instance, if you wish to display an error message, you might write something like this:

  1. class MyController extends Zend_Controller_Action
  2. {
  3.     public function __call($method, $args)
  4.     {
  5.         if ('Action' == substr($method, -6)) {
  6.             // If the action method was not found, render the error
  7.             // template
  8.             return $this->render('error');
  9.         }
  11.         // all other methods throw an exception
  12.         throw new Exception('Invalid method "'
  13.                             . $method
  14.                             . '" called',
  15.                             500);
  16.     }
  17. }

Another possibility is that you may want to forward on to a default controller page:

  1. class MyController extends Zend_Controller_Action
  2. {
  3.     public function indexAction()
  4.     {
  5.         $this->render();
  6.     }
  8.     public function __call($method, $args)
  9.     {
  10.         if ('Action' == substr($method, -6)) {
  11.             // If the action method was not found, forward to the
  12.             // index action
  13.             return $this->_forward('index');
  14.         }
  16.         // all other methods throw an exception
  17.         throw new Exception('Invalid method "'
  18.                             . $method
  19.                             . '" called',
  20.                             500);
  21.     }
  22. }

Besides overriding __call(), each of the initialization, utility, accessor, view, and dispatch hook methods mentioned previously in this chapter may be overridden in order to customize your controllers. As an example, if you are storing your view object in a registry, you may want to modify your initView() method with code resembling the following:

  1. abstract class My_Base_Controller extends Zend_Controller_Action
  2. {
  3.     public function initView()
  4.     {
  5.         if (null === $this->view) {
  6.             if (Zend_Registry::isRegistered('view')) {
  7.                 $this->view = Zend_Registry::get('view');
  8.             } else {
  9.                 $this->view = new Zend_View();
  10.                 $this->view->setBasePath(dirname(__FILE__) . '/../views');
  11.             }
  12.         }
  14.         return $this->view;
  15.     }
  16. }

Hopefully, from the information in this chapter, you can see the flexibility of this particular component and how you can shape it to your application's or site's needs.

blog comments powered by Disqus