zend-config For All Your Configuration Needs

Different applications and frameworks have different opinions about how configuration should be created. Some prefer XML, others YAML, some like JSON, others like INI, and some even stick to the JavaProperties format; in Zend Framework, we tend to prefer PHP arrays, as each of the other formats essentially get compiled to PHP arrays eventually anyways.

At heart, though, we like to support developer needs, whatever they may be, and, as such, our zend-config component provides ways of working with a variety of configuration formats.


zend-config is installable via Composer:

$ composer require zendframework/zend-config

The component has two dependencies:

  • zend-stdlib, which provides some capabilities around configuration merging.
  • psr/container, to allow reader and writer plugin support for the configuration factory.

Latest version

This article covers the most recently released version of zend-config, 3.1.0, which contains a number of features such as PSR-11 support that were not previously available. If you are using Zend Framework, you should be able to safely provide the constraint ^2.6 || ^3.1, as the primary APIs remain the same.

Retrieving configuration

Once you've installed zend-config, you can start using it to retrieve and access configuration files. The simplest way is to use Zend\Config\Factory, which provides tools for loading configuration from a variety of formats, as well as capabilities for merging.

If you're just pulling in a single file, use Factory::fromFile():

use Zend\Config\Factory;

$config = Factory::fromFile($path);

Far more interesting is to use multiple files, which you can do via Factory::fromFiles(). When you do, they are merged into a single configuration, in the order in which they are provided to the factory. This is particularly interesting using glob():

use Zend\Config\Factory;

$config = Factory::fromFiles(glob('config/autoload/*.*'));

What's particularly interesting about this is that it supports a variety of formats:

  • PHP files returning arrays (.php extension)
  • INI files (.ini extension)
  • JSON files (.json extension)
  • XML files (using PHP's XMLReader; .xml extension)
  • YAML files (using ext/yaml, installable via PECL; .yaml extension)
  • JavaProperties files (.javaproperties extension)

This means that you can choose the configuration format you prefer, or mix-and-match multiple formats, if you need to combine configuration from multiple libraries!

Configuration objects

By default, Zend\Config\Factory will return PHP arrays for the merged configuration. Some dependency injection containers do not support arrays as services, however; moreover, you may want to pass some sort of structured object instead of a plain array when injecting dependencies.

As such, you can pass a second, optional argument to each of fromFile() and fromFiles(), a boolean flag. When true, it will return a Zend\Config\Config instance, which implements Countable, Iterator, and ArrayAccess, allowing it to look and act like an array.

What is the benefit?

First, it provides property overloading to each configuration key:

$debug = $config->debug ?: false;

Second, it offers a convenience method, get(), which allows you to specify a default value to return if the value is not found:

$debug = $config->get('debug', false); // Return false if not found

This is largely obviated by the ?: ternary shortcut in modern PHP versions, but very useful when mocking in your tests.

Third, nested sets are also returned as Config instances, which gives you the ability to use the above get() method on a nested item:

if (isset($config->expressive)) {
    $config = $config->get('expressive'); // same API!

Fourth, you can mark the Config instance as immutable! By default, it acts just like array configuration, which is, of course, mutable. However, this can be problematic when you use configuration as a service, because, unlike an array, a Config instance is passed by reference, and changes to values would then propagate to any other services that depend on the configuration.

Ideally, you wouldn't be changing any values in the instance, but Zend\Config\Config can enforce that for you:

$config->setReadOnly(); // Now immutable!

Further, calling this will mark nested Config instances as read-only as well, ensuring data integrity for the entire configuration tree.

Read-only by default!

One thing to note: by default, Config instances are read-only! The constructor accepts an optional, second argument, a flag indicating whether or not the instance allows modifications, and the value is false by default. Whenever you use the Factory to create a Config instance, it never enables that flag, meaning that if you return a Config instance, it will be read-only.

If you want a mutable instance from a Factory, use the following construct:

use Zend\Config\Config;
use Zend\Config\Factory;

$config = new Config(Factory::fromFiles($files), true);

Including other configuration

Most of the configuration reader plugins also support "includes": directives within a configuration file that will include configuration from another file. (JavaProperties is the only configuration format we support that does not have this functionality included.)

For instance:

  • INI files can use the key @include to include another file relative to the current one; values are merged at the same level:

    webhost = ''
    @include = 'database.ini'
  • For XML files, you can use XInclude:

    <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8">
    <config xmlns:xi="">
      <xi:include href="database.xml"/>
  • JSON files can use an @include key:

      "webhost": "",
      "@include": "database.json"
  • YAML also uses the @include notation:

    @include: database.yaml

Choose your own YAML

Out-of-the-box we support the YAML PECL extension for our YAML support. However, we have made it possible to use alternate parsers, such as Spyc or the Symfony YAML component, by passing a callback to the reader's constructor:

use Symfony\Component\Yaml\Yaml as SymfonyYaml;
use Zend\Config\Reader\Yaml as YamlConfig;

$reader = new YamlConfig([SymfonfyYaml::class, 'parse']);
$config = $reader->fromFile('config.yaml');

Of course, if you're going to do that, you could just use the original library, right? But what if you want to mix YAML and other configuration with the Factory class?

There aer two ways to register new plugins. One is to create an instance and register it with the factory:

use Symfony\Component\Yaml\Yaml as SymfonyYaml;
use Zend\Config\Factory;
use Zend\Config\Reader\Yaml as YamlConfig;

Factory::registerReader('yaml', new YamlConfig([SymfonyYaml::class, 'parse']));

Alternately, you can provide an alternate reader plugin manager. You can do that by extending Zend\Config\StandaloneReaderPluginManager, which is a barebones PSR-11 container for use as a plugin manager:

namespace Acme;

use Symfony\Component\Yaml\Yaml as SymfonyYaml;
use Zend\Config\Reader\Yaml as YamlConfig;
use Zend\Config\StandaloneReaderPluginManager;

class ReaderPluginManager extends StandaloneReaderPluginManager
     * @inheritDoc
    public function has($plugin)
        if (YamlConfig::class === $plugin
            || 'yaml' === strtolower($plugin)
        ) {
            return true;

        return parent::has($plugin);

     * @inheritDoc
    public function get($plugin)
        if (YamlConfig::class !== $plugin
            && 'yaml' !== strtolower($plugin)
        ) {
            return parent::get($plugin);

        return new YamlConfig([SymfonyYaml::class, 'parse']);

Then register this with the Factory:

use Acme\ReaderPluginManager;
use Zend\Config\Factory;

Factory::setReaderPluginManager(new ReaderPluginManager());

Processing configuration

zend-config also allows you to process a Zend\Config\Config instance and/or an individual value. Processors perform operations such as:

  • substituting constant values within strings
  • filtering configuration data
  • replacing tokens within configuration
  • translating configuration values

Why would you want to do any of these operations?

Consider this: deserialization of formats other than PHP cannot take into account PHP constant values or class names!

While this may work in PHP:

return [
    Acme\Component::CONFIG_KEY => [
        'host' => Acme\Component::CONFIG_HOST,
        'dependencies' => [
            'factories' => [
                Acme\Middleware\Authorization::class => Acme\Middleware\AuthorizationFactory::class,

The following JSON configuration would not:

    "Acme\\Component::CONFIG_KEY": {
        "host": "Acme\\Component::CONFIG_HOST"
        "dependencies": {
            "factories": {
                "Acme\\Middleware\\Authorization::class": "Acme\\Middleware\\AuthorizationFactory::class"

Enter the Constant processor!

This processor looks for strings that match constant names, and replaces them with their values. Processors generally only work on the configuration values, but the Constant processor allows you to opt-in to processing the keys as well.

Since processing modifies the Config instance, you will need to manually create an instance, and then process it. Let's look at that:

use Acme\Component;
use Zend\Config\Config;
use Zend\Config\Factory;
use Zend\Config\Processor;

$config = new Config(Factory::fromFile('config.json'), true);
$processor = new Processor\Constant();

// ['Acme\Middleware\Authorization' => 'Acme\Middleware\AuthorizationFactory']

This is a really powerful feature, as it allows you to add more verifications and validations to your configuration files, regardless of the format you use.

In version 3.1.0 forward

The ability to work with class constants and process keys was added only recently in the 3.1.0 version of zend-config.

Config all the things!

This post covers the parsing features of zend-config, but does not even touch on another major capability: the ability to write configuration! We'll leave that to another post.

In terms of configuration parsing, zend-config is simple, yet powerful. The ability to process a number of common configuration formats, utilize configuration includes, and process keys and values means you can highly customize your configuration process to suit your needs or integrate different configuration sources.

Get more information from the zend-config documentation.



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