In previous CakeAdvent posts, I’ve been speaking about using a tool called Composer. Composer is a PHP dependency management tool, not unlike Bundler for Ruby or Pip for Python. We can use it to manage the installation and maintenance of third-party components in our application.

Composer installation

Composer requires PHP 5.3, and this tutorial will require PHP 5.4. You really should upgrade, considering 5.3 is EOL and 5.5 is currently stable.

For the rest of this post, you’ll need the composer tool installed. The following are instructions across various systems to do so:

Mac OS X

Users of the homebrew package manager can use the homebrew-php tap to install composer globally, which is the easiest way of interacting with the tool:

brew tap josegonzalez/php
brew install composer

Manual Install

The following will manually install the composer.phar in your current directory. Note that you’ll need to execute a PHP script from the internet, so be mindful of not running as root or verifying the script contents:

curl -sS | php

If you wish to make it globally available, please install it to your /usr/local/bin directory:

curl -sS | php -- --install-dir=/usr/local/bin

I normally rename the composer.phar file to remove the extension:

mv composer.phar composer

Other manual instructions are available on the composer website

Application Skeletons

The first thing most people get stuck on is how to manage your application distinctly from the CakePHP core. This is a bit weird, because in the 1.x and 2.x line, the CakePHP framework is distributed with an app folder. Instead, your app folder should be the base of the repository. Let’s start from scratch and see what this might look like.

Composer has the ability to create projects from project templates registered on the official composer repository, In our case, the FriendsOfCake organization provides a composer template for CakePHP application development. We’ll use it to create a new app called lollipop:

composer -sdev create-project friendsofcake/app-template lollipop

The command in the image is purposefully different from what is written.

What the above command does is create a new project named lollipop based on friendsofcake/app-template project. It will use the stability minimum of dev for all dependencies. You can change it to something else if desired.

You’ll want to point your virtualhost root to the app/webroot directory. Beginning CakePHP developers usually point to the directory containing app and lib, but this is both incorrect and a potential security hazard. The purpose of this project template is to foster good practices, so keep this in mind.

Some things you’ll want to update:

  • Use a caching engine other than Apc. By default, it is set to File.
  • Set the default timezone in PHP to UTC via date_default_timezone_set('UTC');. UTC should be standard across your infrastructure for reasons outside the scope of this post.
  • Create a database.php with your db credentials.
  • Update Security.cipherSeed and Security.salt in your core.php



By default, this application template comes with the following plugins:

  • Crud: An application scaffolding tool
  • DebugKit: A toolbar used to add debug information to your application

These are maintained within the composer.json file. Lets add the CakeEntity plugin to this file, under the require block:

"josegonzalez/cakephp-entity": "1.0.0"

And then install the plugin:

composer update

We should now have the directory ./Plugin/Entity available to us!

PHP Packages

Composer can be used to handle non-cakephp dependencies as well. For example, lets say we wanted to install the Identicon dependency from CakeAdvent Day 2. We would add the following to our require block:

"yzalis/identicon": "*"

And simply run composer update to install the package. This time, you’ll need to find the identicon package within ./vendor/yzalis/identicon. Composer will automatically handle placing CakePHP plugin vs all else within the appropriate directories.

To require non-cakephp code within your application, you will want to require the proper autoload file. For example, in our boris shell, we might want to use following instead of the existing boris autoloader:

if (!include (ROOT . DS . 'vendor' . DS . 'autoload.php')) {
  trigger_error("Unable to load composer autoloader.", E_USER_ERROR);

We could implement similar code within our application’s bootstrap.php. This removes the need to manually require non-CakePHP code, keeping your include structure relatively easy to understand.

Composer: A step in the right direction

CakePHP 3.0 fully embraces composer right down to the core. While we are able to use Composer with 2.x applications - and 1.x to a certain extent - you should expect all CakePHP code to conform to composer specifications going forward.

Managing your application dependencies today should be much easier due to composer. Feel free to browse for other packages on