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Django style forms for PHP
branch: master



We found the missing PHP forms library. It was in Python.


This package is a work in progress, and does not guarantee any useful functionality yet. Your mileage may seriously vary.


A modern web project's success can hinge on the underlying HTML forms library upon which it is built. PHP has come a long way since the days of manually manipulated $_POST data, but somehow a robust forms library has eluded the PHP community until now. Sure, you can get by with HTML_Quickform2, Zend_Form, or (my ol' standby) Phorms, but they all leave something to be desired. Maybe I've been spoiled - after all, I'm (now) a Python guy and have enjoyed some of the many decent Python form libraries that are available. My personal favorite has always been Django's django.forms library (django.newforms to the old-hat Django guys). It's a dream to work with, and has the one modern convenience I haven't found in a PHP library anywhere: form media. Once you've worked with flashy, complex, possibly AJAX'ed forms in Django, you'll dread returning to the less advanced libraries of PHP. Also, it's worth mentioning that the concepts used in Django's forms are (imho) the most logically implemented that I've seen. No doubt, Django's ubiquity among Python web developers owes a great deal to its forms. After wrestling with yet another PHP forms library recently, I realized that it had to be done: django.forms needed a PHP port. Welcome to DForms!

Departures From Django

Sometimes PHP is quirky. It doesn't support many of the familiar Python language constructs to begin with, so porting Python code to PHP can be a rocky endeavor. Every effort has been made to duplicate the exact behavour of Django forms, with the following concessions:

  • PHP lacks keyword arguments, so to change the value of a parameter near the end of the argument list requires a much longer constructor. I'm open for suggestions about how to implement keyword arguments in PHP, but every solution I've seen so far has required a lot of boilerplate, which defeats the purpose. In most cases, argument lists have been rearranged to allow short method calls for the most common scenarios.
  • Method names have been converted to camel case with very few exceptions. Eventually all method names should be camel case, but for now it is much easier to use the Django names for "special" methods like Form::clean_<field name>().
  • The __toString() method in PHP must not throw or catch any exceptions due to a limitation of the PHP engine. Since form validation can sometimes be triggered automatically by outputting the string representation of a form (in Django anyway), the __toString() method cannot be used to output the rendered form in DForms. To get the rendered form, use the html() method instead. At some point this could be rectified by pre-rendering and caching the html, but that's a less than optimal solution.
  • There exists no way to define class level member variables with complex types like in Python. In cases where this method is used in Django forms (i.e. when defining fields), a public static method is provided in DForms to accomplish the same task. Simply override the method in the child class to define new class data. See below for an example of defining fields in this manner.
  • DForms defines a TextField class where Django does not. Long constructors make overriding widgets just a tad annoying if you have to do it many times, so a TextField class is a CharField with a Textarea widget added for convenience.
  • Django allows you to pass a callable as initial data for a field. If found, the initial value will be the value returned by the callable. In PHP, you can't store an actual function in a variable. Instead, you may pass initial data that is either a string or an array in the form accepted by call_user_func(). Be careful when setting initial values so that you don't accidentally collide with an existing PHP function.

Importing Into Your Project

PHP code often becomes confusing, redundant and possibly erroneous when many classes or files rely on each other and must be imported, often in a very specific order. DForms takes a cue from Python in this regard, and offers an "import" script as a single point of entry for the entire library. By importing DForms once in your project, you are assured that all classes are made available to your code, without having to remember which class depends on which file or the correct order of inclusion. Just require_once 'DForms/import.php'; and you're good to go!

Under the hood, import.php simply registers the DForms auto loader, which borrows yet another Pythonic concept: lazy loading. Referencing a DForms class by name will automatically include the source file and any dependencies for the requested class. From that point on, the class is available in your code, and any classes that haven't been used are not even loaded to begin with. The end result is clean, intuitive and efficient code.

Quick Example

Here's a quick introductory snippet:


 * Import DForm.
require_once 'DForms/import.php';

 * Define a simple form.
class DemoForm extends DForms_Forms_Form
     * Declare some fields.
    public static function fields() {
        return array(
            'first_name' => new DForms_Fields_CharField(
                'First Name',
                'Enter your first name.'
            'last_name' => new DForms_Fields_CharField(
                'Last Name',
                'Enter your last name.'

     * Declare some form media.
    public static function media() {
        return array(
            'js' => array(
            'css' => array(
                    'screen' => 'demo.css',
                    'print' => 'print.css'

     * Bind the form to the POST data.
    $form = new DemoForm($_POST);

    if ($form->isValid()) {
         * Do something with the form data.

} else {
     * Instantiate an unbound form.
    $form = new DemoForm();

    <?= $form->media ?>
        <form action="" method="POST">
                <?= $form->html() ?>
                    <td colspan="2">
                        <input type="submit" />

The Future

There are a few things that still need to be completed:

  • File upload handling - Since Django's file manipulation classes are obviously going to be very different from PHP's, I haven't gotten around to implementing file fields in DForms yet. It should be fairly simple and is first priority.
  • Debugger - PHP errors and exceptions are a real pain to handle. One unfinished DForms feature is a built in debugger that kicks you to a Django style error page when something goes awry. Although off by default, this could be overkill.
  • Tests - I've got a few SimpleTest test suites for regression testing, but they have not been included in the DForms package. This is because I'm reviewing PHP testing options. Any suggestions?
  • More field types - Right now we're lacking a few field types that Django provides, but they should all be available soon.
  • Formsets - Django formsets should work as expected when the factory code is ported into DForms, but it hasn't yet.
  • Demos / Examples - For the uninitiated, DForms might evoke a "eh, big deal" reaction. It would be nice to have some examples showing why Django style forms are so great.
  • Documentation site - DForms is always documented inline with extreme verbosity using phpDoc and the rendered docs should be uploaded somewhere.

I could always use help with the above tasks, so please get in contact if you have hacking time to spare!

PHP 5.3 contains some REALLY nice features like late static bindings, anonymous functions, statically called magic methods and namespaces. Unfortunately, almost no one has access to version 5.3 in a shared hosting environment, which would seriously limit the real world usability of DForms. However, at some point the 5.3 branch will be ubiquitous and we will want to take advantage of the new features. Specifically, the following changes would be made:

  • Namespace DForms.
  • Allow true anonymous functions as initial data callbacks.
  • Simplify field, media, etc. inheritance with late static bindings.

A PHP 5.3 branch of DForms will be created once the time comes to start thinking about transitioning. The code for both versions cannot exit in the same branch no matter how much internal version detection is in place; the static keyword in any functional code will cause a fatal (uncatchable) error when parsed.

Coding Style

One of DForms' strengths is its meticulously clean code. If you're planning to contribute code or want to better understand the inner workings of the library, it's important to be familiar with our coding style, which is a combination of of those used by PEAR and Zend. Notable departures include:

  • PHP files may never contain the closing PHP tag at the end of the file.
  • Multi-line array declarations should contain only one array element per line.
  • The @access and @static documentation directives are never used since they are redundant when using PHP5 classes.
  • Use only long form type names in documentation (i.e. boolean instead of bool).
  • Never use void in documentation. Always use null.

In the future, a custom PHP CodeSniffer extension will be available, All code contributions must pass all tests defined by the extension to be eligible for inclusion in the library.

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