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This chapter gives an overview of the overall architecture, terminology and constraints of Doctrine ORM. It is recommended to read this chapter carefully.

Using an Object-Relational Mapper

As the term ORM already hints at, Doctrine ORM aims to simplify the translation between database rows and the PHP object model. The primary use case for Doctrine are therefore applications that utilize the Object-Oriented Programming Paradigm. For applications that do not primarily work with objects Doctrine ORM is not suited very well.


Doctrine ORM requires a minimum of PHP 7.1. For greatly improved performance it is also recommended that you use APC with PHP.

Doctrine ORM Packages

Doctrine ORM is divided into four main packages.

This manual mainly covers the ORM package, sometimes touching parts of the underlying DBAL and Persistence packages. The Doctrine code base is split in to these packages for a few reasons and they are to...

  • ...make things more maintainable and decoupled
  • ...allow you to use the code in Doctrine Persistence and Collections

without the ORM or DBAL

  • ...allow you to use the DBAL without the ORM

Collection, Event Manager and Persistence

The Collection, Event Manager and Persistence packages contain highly reusable components that have no dependencies beyond the packages themselves (and PHP, of course). The root namespace of the Persistence package is Doctrine\Persistence. The root namespace of the Collection package is Doctrine\Common\Collections, for historical reasons. The root namespace of the Event Manager package is just Doctrine\Common, also for historical reasons.

The DBAL Package

The DBAL package contains an enhanced database abstraction layer on top of PDO but is not strongly bound to PDO. The purpose of this layer is to provide a single API that bridges most of the differences between the different RDBMS vendors. The root namespace of the DBAL package is Doctrine\DBAL.

The ORM Package

The ORM package contains the object-relational mapping toolkit that provides transparent relational persistence for plain PHP objects. The root namespace of the ORM package is Doctrine\ORM.



An entity is a lightweight, persistent domain object. An entity can be any regular PHP class observing the following restrictions:

  • An entity class must not be final nor read-only but it may contain final methods or read-only properties.
  • Any two entity classes in a class hierarchy that inherit directly or indirectly from one another must not have a mapped property with the same name. That is, if B inherits from A then B must not have a mapped field with the same name as an already mapped field that is inherited from A.

Entities support inheritance, polymorphic associations, and polymorphic queries. Both abstract and concrete classes can be entities. Entities may extend non-entity classes as well as entity classes, and non-entity classes may extend entity classes.

The constructor of an entity is only ever invoked when you construct a new instance with the new keyword. Doctrine never calls entity constructors, thus you are free to use them as you wish and even have it require arguments of any type.

Mapped Superclasses

A mapped superclass is an abstract or concrete class that provides persistent entity state and mapping information for its subclasses, but which is not itself an entity.

Mapped superclasses are explained in greater detail in the chapter on inheritance mapping.

Transient Classes

The term transient class appears in some places in the mapping drivers as well as the code dealing with metadata handling.

A transient class is a class that is neither an entity nor a mapped superclass. From the ORM's point of view, these classes can be completely ignored, and no class metadata is loaded for them at all.

Entity states

An entity instance can be characterized as being NEW, MANAGED, DETACHED or REMOVED.

  • A NEW entity instance has no persistent identity, and is not yet associated with an EntityManager and a UnitOfWork (i.e. those just created with the "new" operator).
  • A MANAGED entity instance is an instance with a persistent identity that is associated with an EntityManager and whose persistence is thus managed.
  • A DETACHED entity instance is an instance with a persistent identity that is not (or no longer) associated with an EntityManager and a UnitOfWork.
  • A REMOVED entity instance is an instance with a persistent identity, associated with an EntityManager, that will be removed from the database upon transaction commit.

Persistent fields

The persistent state of an entity is represented by instance variables. An instance variable must be directly accessed only from within the methods of the entity by the entity instance itself. Instance variables must not be accessed by clients of the entity. The state of the entity is available to clients only through the entity’s methods, i.e. accessor methods (getter/setter methods) or other business methods.

Collection-valued persistent fields and properties must be defined in terms of the Doctrine\Common\Collections\Collection interface. The collection implementation type may be used by the application to initialize fields or properties before the entity is made persistent. Once the entity becomes managed (or detached), subsequent access must be through the interface type.

Serializing entities

Serializing entities can be problematic and is not really recommended, at least not as long as an entity instance still holds references to proxy objects or is still managed by an EntityManager. By default, serializing proxy objects does not initialize them. On unserialization, resulting objects are detached from the entity manager and cannot be initialiazed anymore. You can implement the __serialize() method if you want to change that behavior, but then you need to ensure that you won't generate large serialized object graphs and take care of circular associations.

The EntityManager

The EntityManager class is a central access point to the functionality provided by Doctrine ORM. The EntityManager API is used to manage the persistence of your objects and to query for persistent objects.

Transactional write-behind

An EntityManager and the underlying UnitOfWork employ a strategy called transactional write-behind that delays the execution of SQL statements in order to execute them in the most efficient way and to execute them at the end of a transaction so that all write locks are quickly released. You should see Doctrine as a tool to synchronize your in-memory objects with the database in well defined units of work. Work with your objects and modify them as usual and when you're done call EntityManager#flush() to make your changes persistent.

The Unit of Work

Internally an EntityManager uses a UnitOfWork, which is a typical implementation of the Unit of Work pattern, to keep track of all the things that need to be done the next time flush is invoked. You usually do not directly interact with a UnitOfWork but with the EntityManager instead.