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Introducing Flatterizor

09 Mag 12

Flatterizor is a PHP library developed in order to issue a very specific problem.

Sometimes you have a complex object and you need to store it into your database. Most cases the serialize function does work. Unfortunately sometimes it does not ( not because serialize is broken/bugged ).

The Library is useful only if the followings are true:

  • You want to store your object inside a database
  • Your object is not “Flat”  ( meaning you’ve at least a value in your object that is an array or an object itself )
  • You want to use your Database SQL to Search & filter objects with a particular value.

The last sentence is actually the most appealing. Lets take, for example, the following objects:

Mat and Bob are 2 users. We’d like to persist them in a database but You can’t design a Database Table that scales well. Why?

  1. Cause maybe you’ll also add a “surname” key sometimes in the future
  2. Cause you don’t know if you’ll add other permissions in the future ( Sub-Set of the previous sentence )

So, what stops us to use serialize() ? Well, take a look to how $mat looks when “serialized”

Good Luck creating an SQL Query that finds all the users that have the permission to write. 🙂

Using Flatterizor you’ll have a completely different output. First, lets see how our code would change if we’re going to use the library.

The output of the flatterize method is an object with 2 keys:

  • objectDefinitions:  Used to rebuild the object it contains a plain array of strings with the name of the classes and their paths
  • values:  An array of arrays. Each array will contain 2 keys
    • path:  It’s the path of the value
    • val

Let’s take a look to the var_dump output.

The end goal was to persist the object inside a database so that we could easily search through an SQL Query. For the example I designed the following database table.

In our example we’ll need to perform a loop on $matGoodLooking->values and insert the values inside the table where

  • path‘ will be mapped in the ‘name‘ column
  • val‘  will be mapped in the ‘val‘ column
After inserting Mat and Bob into the database this is how the table should look:
userID name val
1 /name Mat
1 /permissions/[can_write] false
1 /permissions/[can_read] true
2 /name Bob
2 /permissions/[can_write] true
2 /permissions/[can_read] true

With a very simple SQL Statement we’ll be able to find all the  users that have the ability to write.

Note: It’s not hard to understand that if you’ve a lot of users, the table is going to fill your disk space very quickly. There’re a lot of solutions to this so I won’t cover them here.

Sooner or later you’ll want to retrieve your users in the original form. Doing that is very easy… just use the static method called ObjectFlatterizor::rebuild . It accepts 1 parameter which is the exact output of the flatterize() method… you’ll be required to rebuild it correctly.

Using with WordPress

The idea came working with WordPress. I had a Box inside the “Post Edit” screen, this box contained ~30 input fields. I then created a way to save those fields in an object. Soon I realized I needed to search posts using this object values… since WordPress provides a way to search posts using the post_meta values,  I built the library to serialize/deserialize my objects in the post_meta table.

The whole thing works very well 🙂

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