Validate input using zend-validator

In our previous post, we covered zend-filter, The filters in zend-filter are generally used to pre-filter or normalize incoming data. This is all well and good, but we still don't know if the data is valid. That's where zend-validator comes in.


To install zend-validator, use Composer:

$ composer require zendframework/zend-validator

Like zend-filter, the only required dependency is zend-stdlib. However, a few other components are suggested, based on which filters and/or features you may want to use:

  • zendframework/zend-servicemanager is used by the ValidatorPluginManager and ValidatorChain to look up validators by their short name (versus fully qualified class name), as well as to allow usage of validators with dependencies.
  • zendframework/zend-db is used by a pair of validators that can check if a matching record exists (or does not!).
  • zendframework/zend-uri is used by the Uri validator.
  • The CSRF validator requires both zendframework/zend-math and zendframework/zend-session.
  • zendframework/zend-i18n and zendframework/zend-i18n-resources can be installed in order to provide translation of validation error messages.

For our examples, we'll be using the ValidatorChain functionality with a ValidatorPluginManager, so we will also want to install zend-servicemanager:

$ composer require zendframework/zend-servicemanager


The current incarnation of zend-validator is stateful; validation error messages are stored in the validator itself. As such, validators must implement the ValidatorInterface:

namespace Zend\Validator;

interface ValidatorInterface
     * @param mixed $value
     * @return bool
    public function isValid($value);

     * @return array
    public function getMessages();

The $value can be literally anything; a validator examines it to see if it is valid, and returns a boolean result. If it is invalid, a subsequent call to getMessages() should return an associative array with the keys being message identifiers, and the values the human-readable message strings.

As such, usage looks like the following:

if (! $validator->isValid($value)) {
    // Invalid value
    echo "Failed validation:\n";
    foreach ($validator->getMessages() as $message) {
        printf("- %s\n", $message);
    return false;
// Valid value!
return true;

Stateless validations are planned

We are planning to rewrite the zend-validator component for its version 3 release to be stateless. When we do, the ValidatorInterface will be rewritten to have isValid() return a ValidationResult. That instance will provide a method for determining if the validation was successful, encapsulate the value that was validated, and, for invalid values, provide access to the validation error messages. Doing so will allow better re-use of validators within the same execution process.

zend-validator provides a few dozen filters for common operations, including things like:

  • Common conditionals like LessThan, GreaterThan, Identical, NotEmpty, IsInstanceOf, InArray, and Between.
  • String values, such as StringLength, Regex.
  • Network-related values such as Hostname, Ip, Uri, and EmailAddress.
  • Business values such as Barcode, CreditCard, GpsPoint, Iban, and Uuid.
  • Date and time related values such as Date, DateStep, and Timezone.

Any of these validators may be used by themselves.

In many cases, though, your validation may be related to a set of validations: as an example, the value must be non-empty, a certain number of characters, and fulfill a regular expression. Like filters, zend-validator allows you to do this with chains.


Usage of a validator chain is similar to filter chains: attach validators you want to execute, and then pass the value to the chain:

use Zend\Validator;

$validator = new Validator\ValidatorChain();
$validator->attach(new Validator\NotEmpty());
$validator->attach(new Validator\StringLength(['min' => 6]));
$validator->attach(new Validator\Regex('/^[a-f0-9]{6,12}$/');

if (! $validator->isValid($value)) {
    // Failed validation

The above uses validator instances, eliminating the need for ValidatorPluginManager, and thus avoids usage of zend-servicemanager. However, if we have zend-servicemanager installed, we can replace usage of attach() with attachByName():

use Zend\Validator;

$validator = new Validator\ValidatorChain();
$validator->attachByName('StringLength', ['min' => 6]);
$validator->attachByName('Regex', ['pattern' => '/^[a-f0-9]{6,12}$/']);

if (! $validator->isValid($value)) {
    // Failed validation

Breaking the chain

If you were to run either of these examples with $value = '', you may discover something unexpected: you'll get validation error messages for every single validator! This seems wasteful; there's no need to run the StringLength or Regex validators if the value is empty, is there?

To solve this problem, when attaching a validator, we can tell the chain to break execution if the given validator fails. This is done by passing a boolean flag:

  • as the second argument to attach()
  • as the third argument to attachByName() (the second argument is an array of constructor options)

Let's update the second example:

use Zend\Validator;

$validator = new Validator\ValidatorChain();
$validator->attachByName('NotEmpty', [], true);
$validator->attachByName('StringLength', ['min' => 6], true);
$validator->attachByName('Regex', ['pattern' => '/^[a-f0-9]{6,12}$/']);

if (! $validator->isValid($value)) {
    // Failed validation

The above adds a boolean true as the $breakChainOnFailure argument to the attachByName() method calls of the NotEmpty and StringLength validators (we had to provide an empty array of options for the NotEmpty validator so we could pass the flag). In these cases, if the value fails validation, no further validators will be executed.


  • $value = '' will result in a single validation failure message, produced by the NotEmpty validator.
  • $value = 'test' will result in a single validation failure message, produced by the StringLength validator.
  • $value = 'testthis' will result in a single validation failure message, produced by the Regex validator.


Validators are executed in the same order in which they are attached to the chain by default. However, internally, they are stored in a PriorityQueue; this allows you to provide a specific order in which to execute the validators. Higher values execute earlier, while lower values (including negative values) execute last. The default priority is 1.

Priority values may be passed as the third argument to attach() and fourth argument to attachByName().

As an example:

$validator = new Validator\ValidatorChain();
$validator->attachByName('StringLength', ['min' => 6], true, 1);
$validator->attachByName('Regex', ['pattern' => '/^[a-f0-9]{6,12}$/'], false, -100);
$validator->attachByName('NotEmpty', [], true, 100);

In the above, when executing the validation chain, the order will still be NotEmpty, followed by StringLength, followed by Regex.

Why prioritize?

Why would you use this feature? The main reason is if you want to define validation chains via configuration, and cannot guarantee the order in which the items will be present in configuration. By adding a priority value, you can ensure that recreation of the validation chain will preserve the expected order.


Sometimes we may want to vary how we validate a value based on whether or not another piece of data is present, or based on that other piece of data's value. zend-validator offers an unofficial API for that, via an optional $context value you can pass to isValid(). The ValidatorChain accepts this value, and, if present, will pass it to each validator it composes.

As an example, let's say you want to capture an email address (form field "contact"), but only if the user has selected a radio button allowing you to do so (form field "allow_contact"). We might write that validator as follows:

use ArrayAccess;
use ArrayObject;
use Zend\Validator\EmailAddress;
use Zend\Validator\ValidatorInterface;

class ContactEmailValidator implements ValidatorInterface
    const ERROR_INVALID_EMAIL = 'contact-email-invalid';

    /** @var string */
    private $contextVariable;

    /** @var EmailAddress */
    private $emailValidator;

    /** @var string[] */
    private $messages = [];

    /** @var string[] */
    private $messageTemplates = [
        self::ERROR_INVALID_EMAIL => 'Email address "%s" is invalid',

    public function __construct(
        EmailAddress $emailValidator = null,
        string $contextVariable = 'allow_contact'
    ) {
        $this->emailValidator = $emailValidator ?: new EmailAddress();
        $this->contextVariable = $contextVariable;

    public function isValid($value, $context = null)
        $this->messages = [];

        if (! $this->allowsContact($context)) {
            // Value will be discarded, so always valid.
            return true;

        if ($this->emailValidator->isValid($value)) {
            return true;

        $this->messages[self::ERROR_INVALID_EMAIL] = sprintf(
            var_export($value, true)
        return false;

    public function getMessages()
        return $this->messages;

    private function allowsContact($context) : bool
        if (! $context ||
            ! (is_array($context)
              || $context instanceof ArrayObject
              || $context instanceof ArrayAccess)
        ) {
            return false;

        $allowsContact = $context[$this->contextVariable] ?? false;

        return (bool) $allowsContact;

We would then add it to the validator chain, and call it like so:

$validator->attach(new ContactEmailValidator());
if (! $validator->isValid($data['contact'], $data)) {
    // Failed validation!

This approach can allow for some quite complex validation routines, particularly if you nest validation chains within custom validators!

Registering your own validators.

If you write your own validators, chances are you'll want to use them with the ValidatorChain. This class composes a ValidatorPluginManager, which is a plugin manager built on top of zend-servicemanager. As such, you can register your validators with it:

$plugins = $validator->getPluginManager();
$plugins->setFactory(ContactEmailValidator::class, ContactEmailValidatorFactory::class);
$plugins->setService(ContactEmailValidator::class, $contactEmailValidator);

Alternately, if using zend-mvc or Expressive, you can provide configuration via the validators configuration key:

return [
    'validators' => [
        'factories' => [
            ContactEmailValidator::class => ContactEmailValidatorFactory::class,

If you want to use a "short name" to identify your validator, we recommend using an alias, aliasing the short name to the fully qualified class name.

Wrapping up

Between using zend-filter to normalize and pre-filter values, and zend-validator to validate the values, you can start locking down the input your users submit to your application.

That said, what we've demonstrated so far is how to work with single values. Most forms submit sets of values; using the approaches so far can lead to a lot of code!

We have a solution for this as well, via our zend-inputfilter component, which we'll be detailing in our next post!

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