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Observer pattern (Dependents, Publish-Subscribe)

Observer pattern defines the interaction between a Subject and its Observers in a way that the Subject keeps the list of Observers and notifies them when the event that they listen to happens.

The Subject doesn’t depend on concrete Observers classes but on the generic interface (Observer or Listener or \SplObserver) that have the only method, usually called notify or update or onEventName.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observer_pattern for more information.


  1. Event. The Subject evolves over the time, therefore the events that change the Subject's state and provokes the notification of observers are always differents. It is a quite rare situation when an observer needs to be notified on all subject's events. Mostly each particular observer should be attached to a particular subject (e.g. Order) AND a particular event (Order::CREATED, Order::PAYED, Order::REFUSED, Order::SENT, ...).

  2. Context. An observer is permitted to observe any number of Subjects, therefore when the Observer is called it must know a Subject that emitted the notification or any other useful information. In the first case the observer's method notify must accept the only parameter of Subject's type. In the second case the observer's method notify accepts en Event object the incapsulates the information about the event (FormEvent, LifecycleEventArgs, GetResponseForExceptionEvent, ...).

  3. Infinite loop. Make sure that your code doesn't run to infinite loop when the notify method of Observer calls some method of Subject that in turn broadcasts the notifications to Observers.


This example makes use of two SPL interfaces: SplSubject and SplObserver.

Observer pattern class diagram

In this case Order class as a Subject that evolves over the time: from INITIALIZED to FINALIZED state.

Whenever Order changes its state it notifies all attached Observers. Note that Order knows nothing about its Observers but the fact that they implement \SplObserver interface. This ensures better reusability of both the Order class and Observer subclasses.

There are three Observers:

  • PersisterObserver is a listener that reacts to any change of Order and "persists" it to database.
  • SendEmailObserver is a listener that reacts to any change of Order object. When Order is finalized it "sends" an email.
  • LoggerObserver is a listener that reacts to any state change of Order object and logs its new state.

Observers can be and usually wired to other services to achieve their goal: the persister can be wired to Doctrine, the emailer can be wired to SwiftMailer, the logger can be wired to Monolog.

In this implementation all listeners are notified any time the state is changed even though for exemple SendEmailObserver needs to be called only on Order's finalization state. One variation of Observer pattern assumes that Observers are subscribed to receive notifications about particular event.

Check out ObserverTest the see the proper use of these classes.