Is symfony the best documented OS project out there?


Well, I’m not actually going to answer that question because there are many thousands of projects and I don’t actually know how well they are all documented, so it would be completely unfair of me! However, with the release of this year’s advent calendar symfony is at least setting a high standard for others to follow.

So what should you read?

In our office, we have several symfony books kicking around, and new developers often ask where to start. In fact, it can be quite frustrating to have to tell a new guy that the 2 days they’ve spent studying the “Definitive guide to symfony” has really only helped them to maintain our first project from 2 years ago…

Starting a new project & don’t know much about symfony

  • Do the Jobeet tutorial – seriously, no matter how much you think you can wing it, don’t. Set aside a couple of days and go through it. It’s even supported by an svn repository so you don’t have to type much code if you don’t want to – although be aware that the documentation is much more up to date that the code behind it, so if in doubt, trust the doc. The tutorial is also available in the Propel flavour.
  • Scan the reference guide – I’m not saying read it, unless you have bags of time, but at least give it a quick scan so you know what’s there. When you’re struggling later you’ll think “I’ve seen that somewhere” – and chances are it was in the reference guide

Know the basics and want to take it further

  • Read the forms book – The newer versions of symfony still support the forms framework and chances are you will want to use it, so it’s a good idea to give this a read. You will have a good idea already after doing the  Jobeet tutorial but there are things you will have missed and this will open your eyes.
  • Read More with symfony (the 2009 advent calendar) – If you’ve started to get the hang of things and want to know what “the experts” do when they are coding with symfony, this is where to look! This book has been written by members of the symfony community, so comes totally from the perspective of experienced developers who have been through the same process as the one you are going through.
  • Browse the cookbook – If there is something you are wondering about that seems like it would be a common task, there might well be a “recipe” for that very task! The cookbook has not made it to the 1.4 branch of documentation at the time of writing, but most of the recipes (if not all) will work just fine in the later versions. 
  • Check the wiki – this is basically a cookbook with user supplied recipies, whereas the “official” cookbook is maintained by the core team. That’s not to say it’s any less of a resource – just that it’s slightly more likely to contain “opinions” and out of date ideas.

Stuck with something

  • Check through all of the above – in particular the reference guide and cookbook. “Googling” for a well structured phrase will often get you to one of the correct pages in the manual – just be sure to switch it to the correct version, as a lot of the old 1.0 pages still come up first in searches.
  • Browse the API documentation – The symfony codebase is generally very well commented, so if you are wondering about the methods of a particular class, or the options for a widget, or some other property/function/value that you can’t find anywhere in the documentation, there is a good chance the api docs will help you out.

Getting “human” help

Sometimes all the reading and googling gets you nowhere and you can quickly find yourself feeling very frustrated and alone. Fortunately symfony is backed by an enourmous community, and in a rare web-community-twist it’s one that works both ways. Not only do people ask questions, but there are hundreds of people around to answer them too!

My personal “hangouts”

  • IRC – Need a quick answer, this is the place.  You won’t always get a quick answer, because there are a lot of lurkers, but there are also a lot of “regulars” who hang around in there so be patient and try again a bit later if you don’t get a response straight away. Check out freenode channel #symfony (I’m rooster).
  • Symfony forum – Not quite as well publicised as the Google groups, but a valuable resource all the same. It’s really down to your communication preferences if you like forums or mailing lists, so just pick one (or both). What you will find is that different people are active on the forum compared to the Google group – it’s a shame there is not much harmony here as it can be a bit strange for newcomers. One thing I will say about the forum is that you will always get a response, if not by anyone else at least by Halfer, Ryan or myself (Russ).
  • Google symfony users group – Very busy but with a lot of experienced developers around to answer questions. Can take a bit longer than the forum to get a response, but you are generally speaking to a larger audience here. You are more likely to get a response from Fabien if you post here, he hasn’t posted in the forum for 6 months! I’m RussMonkey in this one.
  • Trac – If you have to come to the conclusion that what you are working with is a bug, or maybe it took you way to long to find the answer because the documentation on the subject was wrong, missing or just bad, then please raise a ticket. Depending on the nature of the issue, it can seem like it takes a while to get a response – so rather than “bumping” comments in the ticket itself, it’s normally best to start a discussion in an appropriate place, most likely the dev mailing list and be sure to link to the discussion from the ticket, and link to the ticket in the discussion.

Staying “fresh”

It’s quite hard to keep up with everything that’s going on, so there are a few things that you really should do:

  • Subsribe to the symfony project blog – this is where you’ll get the most important news about changes and future development from the core team.
  • Subscribe to the symfony bloggers feed – blog posts from the community, including this one, appear here. It has grown quite substantially lately, and can get cluttered with non-English blogs, which really should be in a seperate feed to be honest – but if you are using a feed reader you can just skip over them (unless you can read that particular language of course). There are a lot of experienced bloggers here, and you’ll start to recognise some of the more useful ones as you read.
  • Subscribe to the user group mailing list – either as a daily digest, or an rss feed (my preference). It’s useful to scan through and see what people are talking about, so you can recognise recurring problems and issues that you may face one day.
  • Those above things should take no more than a few minutes a day to browse and keep an eye on, but if you really want to get a bit more involved and have a bit more time to spare, then consider IRC, the forum and the dev mailing list also. 


So, you can see why I am starting to believe that symfony is at least one of the best documented and supported projects out there, in this post alone I have listed 14 resources that the developer can use can make the most of their time developing. Symfony has a (somewhat improving) reputation for being a one man show when it comes to the direction of the project and the core coding, but that is certainly not the case when it comes to the community support side of things – you are not alone!

1 Comment so far

  1. […] controversial claim, but he makes an interesting case. Russ argues that Symfony sets a high standard for all other open source projects to aspire to. No doubt this is […]

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