Watch Me Get Grumpy -- Zend Expressive Doctrine Configuration

I am in the process of starting the dreaded Rewrite Of An Existing Application That Works. In this case, it is time that I turned OpenCFP from a install-it-yourself web application into a Software-As-A-Service offering.

As part of this rewrite I have decided to use CQRS and Event Sourcing instead of the traditional CRUD-backed-with-a-DB architecture that most of the web is built on.

I believe that an application that has so many domain-specific events associated with it will benefit greatly from the ideas underpinning CQRS and Event Sourcing. Anyway, the architecture is not up for debate since I'm the one doing it!

This app is going to replace what I already created at OpenCFP Central and I will cut over to this new one once I have implemented the two existing features:

  • allowing people to register accounts
  • allowing people who are running OpenCFP to use OpenCFP Central for single-sign-on

Because there is so much reworking to be done with the OpenCFP code base to make it a SaaS capable of hosting multiple events, I felt it was better to start fresh with the code base. Especially because I now need to add all the CQRS+ES implementation.

The existing version of the application is a standard CRUD-backed-with-a-DB that was built using Laravel. My research into figuring out how to add CQRS+ES led me to believe that I did not have the requisite knowledge of the framework to figure out how to make it work. Laravel is great in that it has lots of packages and add-ons to allow you to quickly build something. I felt like this was not going to help me in this case. Laravel is good! But not a great fit for someone with my level of expertise with it.

So I decided to use Zend Expressive as the framework to build this app. My online network of friends includes many people who have used the framework, and one of the best and most thorough examples of how to build an application using CQRS+ES was done by Marco Pivetta and it was backed by Zend Framework and uses Prooph for CQRS+ES functionality.

(As an aside, using Zend Expressive has reminded me how much I have relied on 'batteries included' frameworks in recent years. Forcing myself to also write glue code is actually a good thing for me)

So, I knew the framework, I knew what I could use for CQRS+ES. Now it was time to install some other tools to help me build out this version of OpenCFP.

I was going to require some sort of tool to create database migrations as the app gets built. I was also learning towards trying not to use an ORM but instead something like Doctrine DBAL so I decided to also use Doctrine Migrations since it can be used with our without the ORM.

I found some great examples of how to set things up...and it just wouldn't work for me. The steps seemed straightforward and I highly recommend watching Adam Culp's Beachcasts tutorial on configuring Doctrine ORM and DBAL. I had my database configured and working. I added in the code to allow the Zend Service manager to locate Doctrine as required. The examples said "this should work just fine with DBAL." I had the 'migrations.php' and 'migrations-db.php' file and it Just Wouldn't Work.

Until I realized the key critical thing I had hand-waved and did not think anything off -- environment variables.

The app is going to be deployed to Heroku, where I can set environment variables that can be accessed by code, both in a CLI and web environment. I use environment variables in my work at the day job so why wouldn't I do that here?

This is what my 'migrations-db.php' file looked like:


return [
    'driver' => 'pdo_pgsql',
    'dbname' => \getenv('DB_DATABASE'),
    'user' => \getenv('DB_USER'),
    'password' => \getenv('DB_PASSWORD'),
    'host' => \getenv('DB_HOST')

When I would run the migration tool it would spit out errors telling me it could not read the database configuration file and a bunch of other noise that just made me grumpier and grumpier as I struggled to figure out what was wrong.

Eventually I decided to see what as actually inside those environment variables. To my surprise there were empty! Ugh. But I did know what I could do to fix it. I would make use of Vance Lucas' dotenv tool to make sure the contents of my own '.env' file would be available.

After installing it using Composer as per the documentation, I added this code to my 'migrations-db.php' file:

use Dotenv\Dotenv;

if (file_exists(__DIR__ . '/.env')) {
    $dotenv = Dotenv::create(__DIR__);

Now the migrations tool worked just fine, and I was on my way towards the first step of the app -- building the user registration system and making sure authentication worked correctly.

If you have any comments or suggestions, please reach out to me via Twitter (my preferred way) or you can email me at