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Structure for enterprise-grade websites for Yii framework. Already thought-out.

While making websites with Yii framework for medium-sized businesses over and over again, we adopted a standard way of structuring the project over time. It was initially based on the following premises:

  1. Separate public ("frontend") and administrator's ("backend") sides to different domains for security purposes.
  2. Have an application configuration modular, so we can have parts of it committed to VCS repository for everyone and parts of it being crafted for every specific developer.

This two premises have lead to significant changes from the traditional project structure, described in Yii tutorial. It even affected the terminology, creating two new terms "entry point" and "environment".

For quite some time we were building Yii-based websites using this structure and it proved really effective. This article will describe to you the all-new YiiBoilerplate with all the new features added in that time.

We do really hope that you'll benefit from this boilerplate project template.

Being a Boilerplate

We must make a note first that YiiBoilerplate is neither a library nor an another framework. It's a boilerplate, stuff you use as a starting point for your work.

As a consequence of this, do not bother thinking about "updates" or "future versions" of YiiBoilerplate after you started your project over it. Just adapt it to your needs as you wish.


  • PHP 5.4. Seriously, even Debian Stable, notorious for slow library upgrades, has version 5.4 now. Upgrade right now and/or stop using hosting providers with old PHP versions.
  • Probably, enabled support for running PHAR archives from console (it has to be enabled via php.ini).
  • Optional: Java to be able to run Selenium.
  • Optional: Virtualbox and Vagrant for the easiest local deploy ever.

Easiest initial deploy ever

  1. Install Vagrant (not covered by this article).

  2. Install Virtualbox (not covered by this article).

  3. If you have PHP 5.4+ installed already (and you should have, because it's awesome), you've just installed all prequisites for YiiBoilerplate.

  4. Now just clone the YiiBoilerplate repo:

    git clone <yourprojectname>
  5. Inside cloned directory run and wait for complete:

    vagrant up

    Vagrant can complain about versions of VirtualBox Guest Additions and Virtualbox itself being different. This is solved by running vagrant plugin install vagrant-vbguest, the only non-obvious step you should encounter so far.

  6. You're done. Open up the http://localhost:8080/. It's your future frontend. Open up http://localhost:8081/. It's your future backend. You can start working. Don't forget to vagrant halt the virtual machine before turning off your workstation, virtualbox can fail to shut itself down in time before kill -9 arrives.

Manual preparations

Consult the carcass/vagrant/ and carcass/vagrant/ scripts for example.

Get a full health report for a project

We integrated almost everything from the PHP QA Tools project, over the Phing build system.

To get all possible static code analysis reports for your project and the API documentation, just run:


It will generate the following reports in the reports folder:

  • Report of the code style violations in Checkstyle format from PHP Code Sniffer
  • Code coverage report in Clover format from PHPUnit
  • Code duplications report in XML from PHP Copy-Paste Detector
  • Codebase size report in XML from PHPLOC
  • Various problems report in XML from PHP Mess Detector
  • Report in XML from PDepend
  • Two code metrics schematics in SVG from PDepend
  • Code coverage report in HTML format from PHPUnit
  • HTML pages tree with all of your codebase with all above problems highlighted from PHP Code Browser
  • and, finally, the autogenerated API documentation in HTML from ApiGen.

We believe it'll be sufficient for you to get an idea about the state of your codebase. Of course to generate code coverage reports this reporter has to run all unit tests, too, so you get regression testing as a side effect, assuming that your unit tests are really fast.


Now, let's delve into internals.

YiiBoilerplate was designed for medium-sized Yii-based web applications of any kind. By "meduim-sized" we mean 10 to 100 unique routes. Again, it has a harness to support two-tier test-first development, with Behat for end-to-end acceptance tests and PHPUnit for both pure unit tests and integration tests.

Basically, YiiBoilerplate is a bunch of files and folders you commit to your VCS repo as your "initial commit", then start working for real. It consists of a proof-of-concept website, having one-page blank frontend and an admin side with rudimentary UI and a password-based authentication already done.

You can read the whole "table of contents" for the various directories of the YiiBoilerplate in files inside that directories.

Top-level Directories

  1. backend

    Backend entry point, expected to be your "admin side" of the application.

  2. bin

    Binaries for you to use, including yiic, phing, phpunit and such. Note that while most of binaries are Composer-installed, yiic and selenium launchers are hand-crafted and not supposed to be removed/changed.

  3. carcass

    Configuration for various 3rd-party tools used in project harness, including Vagrant stuff and code style definition for CodeSniffer.

  4. common

    This folder is structured similarly to the traditional protected folder in autogenerated Yii application. You are expected to place the code global to all entry points in common. Backend-, frontend-, and console-specific stuff should go to backend, frontend and console dirs, respectively.

  5. console

    Console entry point, reachable by yiic console runner. Most important stuff here is your migrations, inside console/migrations subfolder.

  6. frontend

    Frontend entry point, expected to be public side of your application.

  7. reports

    All project status reports from various code quality tools will be placed in here. Documentation from APIGen, too. You will not see this directory initially, it's auto-generated when needed.

  8. tests

    Your test harness is here. See details in the there.

  9. vendor

    All third-party dependencies are installed by Composer in here, even Selenium. You will not see this directory initially, it's auto-generated when needed.

Configuration tree

Most complex part of the YiiBoilerplate application is the configuration, built from set of different parts.

Basically, configuration for backend, console and frontend entry points is being constructed from the following parts, later ones overriding previous ones:

  1. Base common config.
  2. Environment-specific common config.
  3. Local overrides for common config.
  4. Base entry point-specific config.
  5. Environment-specific entry point-specific config.
  6. Local overrides for entry-point-specific config.

For frontend entry point the corresponding files would be:

  1. common/config/overrides/base.php
  2. common/config/overrides/environment.php
  3. common/config/overrides/local.php
  4. frontend/config/overrides/base.php
  5. frontend/config/overrides/environment.php
  6. frontend/config/overrides/local.php

Local overrides and environment overrides can be absent.

You can trace the resulting tree of require calls starting from frontend/config/main.php file. That's the file you really use as the configuration file for application. In reality it's just a four-line builder constructing the resulting configuration tree from six different parts specified above.

Local overrides

Local overrides are simple. That's the snippets of configuration containing the non-portable parts like database access credentials.

config/overrides subdirectory in all of common, frontend, console and backend directories contains the local-example.php file which you can copy as local.php and immediately use.

These overrides are not to be committed to the repository as they contain the settings specific to each developer's machine.

Environment overrides

Configuration snippets for different environments are placed inside config/environments directories. You can specify things there like the different database paths, caching mechanisms, some OS-specific parameters, or anything you want. To activate the desired environment, you are expected to copy needed configuration snippet from inside config/environments subdir and place it into config/overrides/ under the name environment.php. As it's an obviously mundane and boring to hell task it's automated for you by invoking the following command:

bin/yiic environment set --id=<environmentname>

Of course, each config/environments subdirectory in all of entry points should have a configuration snippet named <environmentname>.

Environment overrides are to be committed to the repository as they contain the proven set of settings intended to adapt the application to different working conditions.

Nothing forces you to really use this system of environment-specific settings. Configuration builder will happily live without these files.


YiiBoilerplate includes Vagrant harness which you can use as you wish. Vagrantfile is set up to use the default precise64 box, which is Virtualbox image loaded with blank Ubuntu 12.04.

As YiiBoilerplate is a rudimentary web application, we prepared a set of scripts to deploy it to Vagrant virtual machine. They are located at carcass/vagrant subdirectory. Two scripts, which are used as provisioning scripts for Vagrant, can be used as an examples of automatic deploy of the YiiBoilerplate application to any *nix-based system:

  • is a script to install the required tech stack for common database-backed web application to Ubuntu 12.04: PHP 5.4, apache, mysql, git etc. and create the database.
  • is a script to install the application to prepared system: generate configs, required runtime directories, install dependencies.

You are encouraged to read through them yourself, they're not so hard to comprehend.

Note that in default installation after each vagrant provision call you will have to wait until all three apt-get update calls finish. This is time-consuming. To relieve yourself from this burden, you can safely pack the machine created by initial vagrant up to the custom Vagrant box and reference this box instead of generic precise64. This way you'll safely remove from the provisioning scripts list in Vagrantfile.

If you did not understand a word from the preceding paragraph, consult the documentation about vagrant box repackage command and the documentation about provisioning on Vagrant site.


All 3rd-party components of YiiBoilerplate, including Yii itself, are managed by the Composer. You get Behat+Mink+MinkExtension, PHPUnit, full stack of PHP Quality Assurance toolchain, Phing, ApiGen, Yii and YiiBooster as your dependencies. Even Selenium was packaged into Composer so it's being installed, too.

Using Composer greatly reduces the size of your application codebase checked into the repository. To ensure that everyone in your team gets exactly the same versions of the 3rd-party software, Composer generates a special file called composer.lock, which you commit to the repository instead of the whole vendor folder, and the presense of this file will indicate to Composer what exact versions of software to maintain in a given codebase. YiiBoilerplate repo contains such a file so you can be reasonably sure that at least its developers managed to run boilerplate application using the set of dependencies specified in there.

composer.json was tweaked so you will get all executables inside bin subdirectory.


Most possibly you'll need the build system for your application, so we included the PHP-based one, namely, Phing.

Build file included in YiiBoilerplate contains the targets allowing you to generate the comprehensive set of reports about the health of your application.

Results of running the default target by issuing bin/phing from root of codebase was already described before.

Please note that the set of source directories for each different tool being run by Phing is specified in separate build file carcass/filesets.xml. We're sorry, but various directories excluded from analysis you have to hack inside the main build file, in case you'll change the structure of a project.


Usual console runner from Yii was moved to bin subdirectory. As Composer is configured to install executables into the same directory, it was done to prevent you from using the default console runner instead of the one built-in to YiiBoilerplate, which you have total control over.

Whole console subdirectory is for this console entry point to the application.

So, to run any console command built-in to Yii or defined by you in console/commands, you have to run bin/yiic <command> from root of codebase (instead of more short ./yiic).

We have found this an acceptable trade-off.


As an acceptance tests driver we included Behat+Mink+MinkExtension combo over the Selenium2 driver.

This gives you arguably the best PHP-based acceptance testing solution out there. Gherkin syntax allows you and your QA team and perhaps even your client to specify the desired behavior of the application in human language, which is the clear win. Selenium uses real browser to manipulate the web GUI of your application, and does this insanely fast, so you will not need to cope with any of shortcomings of the headless browsers like phantomJS or Zombie.

All required configuration was already done. behat.yml config file is placed into the root of codebase for your convenience, so you'll be able to run Behat without the hassle of specifying the path to config file in command line arguments. You need to do only one thing: place a config called behat-local.yml into the root of codebase, in which you specify the only non-portable setting: base URL for Mink to be able to connect to your web application. If you run Vagrant virtual machine, provisioning script will place the behat-local.yml pointing to its URLs automatically. So you can look at carcass/vagrant/behat-local.yml file to understand what is needed from you.

If you use the default setup based on Selenium, you have to run the bin/selenium helper script which just launches Selenium, taking up one console terminal.

All of your specs related to frontend are expected to be placed into tests/specs/frontend. You run them all using the simple invocation bin/behat -p frontend.

All of your specs related to backend are expected to be placed into tests/specs/backend. You run them all using the simple invocation bin/behat -p backend.

Both sets of the specs use the same context class located in the tests/specs/contexts/FeatureContext.php. All of your test steps definitions should be placed there. Please note that a single FeatureContext class is just a starting point, nothing prevents you from structuring your acceptance test harness as you see fit.


For unit testing we included the PHPUnit library as the Composer dependency. Its executable is in bin, along with all other executables, and by default you run all unit tests at once, as they have to be crazy fast anyway. Its phpunit.xml config file is placed in the root of codebase for your convenience, so you'll be able to run PHPUnit as bin/phpunit and be freed from specifying the path to config file.

Config file we included in YiiBoilerplate does not have any code coverage setup definitions. To get a code coverage you are expected to use Phing target named coverage as follows: bin/phing coverage, which specifies code coverage settings using command line switches.

Our intention was to make a harness to support only pure isolated unit tests, so you get totally clean environment inside test cases. In case where you need the integration test, we prepared the bootstrap script for PHPUnit which does the common initialization of YiiBoilerplate application as defined in common/bootstrap.php and does some tricks the same way yiit.php script does. This bootstrap script is essentially the fourth entry point to your application.

So when you run:

bin/phpunit --bootstrap carcass/phpunit.bootstrap.php

You run your test cases in the environment where the Yii class is defined and all usual setup is done so you can freely instantiate WebApplication instances as you see fit and using any configuration you want in your tests.


For backend side of the application, we included our other library, YiiBooster as a Composer dependency, and made the configuration required to attach it.

So, in effect, you'll get the total power of YiiBooster to make the UI of your backend. You are expected to skim through the YiiBooster documentation to learn what widgets you get from this toolkit.

Frontend, in contrast, is completely blank HTML5Boilerplate, because judging from our own experience, public side of the application is unique for every project anyway, so default styles from Twitter Bootstrap will not find any place there.


All of the code by default is licensed by BSD license, as all opensource work from Clevertech.

However, as you most possibly will change everything inside the codebase over time, you can probably treat the code as being in public domain. Our terms and intention is that you can adapt anything inside YiiBoilerplate to your needs.

phpStorm tweaks

To fully utilize phpStorm's autocompletion feature we have to do some tweaks to instruct it to ignore some files from 3rd-party libraries.

  1. We use our custom Yii class, to utilize the F4 button over the Yii::app() invocation and to regain control over this singleton in general. However, this leads to duplicate definitions as far as phpStorm is concerned.

    1. In File -> Settings -> PHP under Include Path section find the entry ending in yiisoft/yii entry and change it so it will end in yiisoft/yii/framework.
    2. Similarly change the entry ending in clevertech/yii-booster so that it ends in clevertech/yii-booster/src.
    3. In File -> Settings -> File Types under Ignore files and folders section append the string ;framework/Yii.php;tests/fakes/Yii.php verbatim.
  2. Also, Behat distribution shipped with Composer includes the FeatureContext class which conflicts with our own. In File -> Settings -> PHP under Include Path section find the entry ending in behat/behat and append src to it. This will exclude the tests code from Behat library index.

Please note that due to the indexing mechanism of phpStorm you will either need to change the PHP include paths each time you make changes in composer.json or to disable the auto-reindexing of Composer-installed libraries altogether.

Side note regarding phpStorm usage with Yii-based applications: if you want Yii application components to be accessible by hitting F4 over the component name in expressions like Yii::app()->request, you have to write @property doc blocks for your WebApplication class assigning proper class names to the component IDs. It increases human-readability, too.


well-built beautifully designed web applications


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