Using Zend_Form in Your Models

A number of blog posts have sprung up lately in the Zend Framework community discussing the Model in the Model-View-Controller pattern. Zend Framework has never had a concrete Model class or interface; our stand has been that models are specific to the application, and only the developer can really know what would best suit it.

Many other frameworks tie the Model to data access — typically via the ActiveRecord pattern or a Table Data Gateway — which completely ignores the fact that this is tying the Model to the method by which it is persisted. What happens later if you start using memcached? or migrate to an SOA architecture? What if, from the very beginning, your data is coming from a web service? What if you do use a database, but your business logic relies on associations between tables?

While the aforementioned posts do an admirable job of discussing the various issues, they don't necessarily give any concrete approaches a developer can use when creating their models. As such, this will be the first in a series of posts aiming to provide some concrete patterns and techniques you can use when creating your models. The examples will primarily be drawing from Zend Framework components, but should apply equally well to a variety of other frameworks.

Input Filtering and Forms

In most cases, you want your model to perform its own input filtering. The reason is because input filtering is domain logic: it's the set of rules that define what input is valid, and how to normalize that input.

However, how does that fit in with forms? Zend Framework has a Zend_Form component, which allows you to specify your validation and filter chains, as well as rules for how to render the form via decorators. The typical pattern is to define a form, and in your controller, pass input to it; if it validates, you then pass the values to the model.

What if you were to instead attach the form to the model?

Some argue that this violates the concept of "separation of concerns", due to the fact that it mixes rendering logic into the model. I feel this is a pedantic argument. When attached to a form, Zend_Form can be used strictly as an input filter; you would pull the form from the model when you wish to render it, and perform any view-specific actions — configuring decorators, setting the action and method, etc — within your view script. Additionally, the various plugins — validators, filters, decorators — are not loaded until they are used — meaning there is little to no overhead from the decorators when you merely use Zend_Form as an input filter.

Basically, this approach helps you adhere to the DRY principle (one validation/filter chain), while simultaneously helping you keep a solid separation of business and view logic. Finally, you gain one or more form representations of your model, which helps with rapid application development, as well as providing a solid, semantic tie between the model and the view.

So, on to the technique.

Attaching Forms to Models

What I've been doing is adding a getForm() accessor to my models that takes an optional argument, the type of form to retrieve. This is then used within the model any time validation is necessary. (Some models require multiple forms, so best to plan for it early. A good example is a model that represents a user — you will need a login and registration form.) Let's look at it in action:

class Spindle_Model_Bug
    protected $_forms = array();

    public function getForm($type = 'bug')
        $type  = ucfirst($type);
        if (!isset($this->_forms[$type])) {
            $class = 'Spindle_Model_Form_' . $type;
            $this->_forms[$type] = new $class;
        return $this->_forms[$type];

    public function save(array $data)
        $form = $this->getForm();
        if (!$form->isValid($data)) {
            return false;

        $storage = $this->getStorage();
        if ($form->getValue('id')) {
            $id = $form->getValue('id');
            $storage->update($form->getValues(), $id));
        } else {
            $id = $storage->insert($form->getValues());

        return $id;

As the above code snippet demonstrates, the form acts as an input filter: you use it first to ensure the data provided is valid, and then to ensure the data you pass to your persistence layer is normalized according to your rules. You can also use it to verify the existence of certain optional values, as done here, in order to ascertain the actual action necessary to persist the data.

What Happens in the Controller and View?

Within your controller actions, you then have a slight paradigm shift. Instead of validating a form and then passing filtered data to the model, you simply attempt to save data to the model:

class BugController
    public function processAction()
        $request = $this->getRequest();
        if (!$request->isPost()) {
            return $this->_helper->redirector('new');

        if (!$id = $this->model->save($request->getPost())) {
            // Failed validation; re-render form page
            $this->view->model = $model;
            return $this->render('new');

        // redirect to view newly saved bug
        $this->_helper->redirector('view', null, null, array('id' => $id));

There's very little logic there, and no mention of forms whatsoever. So, how do we actually render the form? Note that the model is passed to the view — which ultimately gives us access to the form.

$form = $this->model->getForm();
     ->setAction($this->url(array('action' => 'process')));
echo $form;

This makes semantic sense; you're rendering a form that will be used to filter data for a given model. Note that some view logic is given — the form method and action are set here in the view layer. This is appropriate, as we're now performing display-related logic.


There are of course other ways to solve the problem, but this is a convenient and expedient solution that maximizes use of the various existing components. Attaching forms to your models keeps all logic related to input validation — including error reporting — in one place, and ensures that your forms do not go out of date when you change your model — as you will be updating your validation rules and list of allowed input in the form itself.

In the next post, we'll look at using and applying Access Control Lists (ACLs) in your models.