Routing vs Piping

Expressive provides two mechanisms for adding middleware to your application:

  • piping, which is a foundation feature of the underlying zend-stratigility implementation.
  • routing, which is an additional feature provided by zend-expressive.

Piping

zend-stratigility provides a mechanism termed piping for composing middleware in an application. When you pipe middleware to the application, it is added to a queue, and dequeued in order until a middleware returns a response instance. If none ever returns a response instance, execution is delegated to a "final handler", which determines whether or not to return an error, and, if so, what kind of error to return.

Stratigility also allows you to segregate piped middleware to specific paths. As an example:

$app->pipe('/api', $apiMiddleware);

will execute $apiMiddleware only if the path matches /api; otherwise, it will skip over that middleware.

This path segregation, however, is limited: it will only match literal paths. This is done purposefully, to provide excellent baseline performance, and to prevent feature creep in the library.

Expressive uses and exposes piping to users, with one addition: middleware may be specified by service name, and zend-expressive will lazy-load the service only when the middleware is invoked.

In order to accomplish the lazy-loading, zend-expressive wraps the calls to fetch the middleware from the container and to dispatch that middleware inside a closure. This poses a problem for error handling middleware, however, as zend-stratigility identifies error handling middleware by its arity (number of function arguments); as such, zend-expressive defines an additional method for piping service-driven error handling middleware, pipeErrorHandler(). The method has the same signature as pipe():

// Without a path:
$app->pipeErrorHandler('error handler service name');

// Specific to a path:
$app->pipeErrorHandler('/api', 'error handler service name');

This method will return a closure using the error middleware signature.

Routing

Routing is the process of discovering values from the incoming request based on defined criteria. That criteria might look like:

  • /book/:id (ZF2)
  • /book/{id} (Aura.Router)
  • /book/{id:\d+} (FastRoute)

In each of the above, if the router determines that the request matches the criteria, it will indicate:

  • the route that matched
  • the id parameter was matched, and the value matched

Most routers allow you to define arbitrarily complex rules, and many even allow you to define:

  • default values for unmatched parameters
  • criteria for evaluating a match (such as a regular expression)
  • additional criteria to meet (such as SSL usage, allowed query string variables, etc.)

As such, routing is more powerful than the literal path matching used when piping, but it is also more costly (though routers such as FastRoute largely make such performance issues moot).

When to Pipe

In Expressive, we recommend that you pipe middleware in the following circumstances:

  • It should (potentially) run on every execution. Examples for such usage include:
    • Logging requests
    • Performing content negotiation
    • Handling cookies
  • Error handling. Typically these should be piped after any normal middleware.
  • Application segregation. You can write re-usable middleware, potentially even based off of Expressive, that contains its own routing logic, and compose it such that it only executes if it matches a sub-path.

When to Route

Use routing when:

  • Your middleware is reacting to a given path.
  • You want to use dynamic routing.
  • You want to restrict usage of middleware to specific HTTP methods.
  • You want to be able to generate URIs to your middleware.

The above cover most use cases; in other words, most middleware should be added to the application as routed middleware.

Controlling middleware execution order

As noted in the earlier section on piping, piped middleware is queued, meaning it has a FIFO ("first in, first out") execution order.

Additionally, zend-expressive's routing capabilities are themselves implemented as piped middleware.

As such, if you programmatically configure the router and add routes without using Application::route(), you may run into issues with the order in which piped middleware (middleware added to the application via the pipe() method) is executed.

To ensure that everything executes in the correct order, you can call Application::pipeRouteMiddleware() at any time to pipe it to the application. As an example, after you have created your application instance:

$app->pipe($middlewareToExecuteFirst);
$app->pipeRouteMiddleware();
$app->pipe($errorMiddleware);

If you fail to add any routes via Application::route() or to call Application::pipeRouteMiddleware(), the routing middleware will be called when executing the application. This means that it will be last in the middleware pipeline, which means that if you registered any error middleware, it can never be invoked.

To sum:

  • Pipe middleware to execute on every request before routing any middleware and/or before calling Application::pipeRouteMiddleware().
  • Pipe error handling middleware after defining routes and/or after calling Application::pipeRouteMiddleware().

If you use the provided Zend\Expressive\Container\ApplicationFactory for retrieving your Application instance, you can do this by defining pre- and post-pipeline middleware, and the factory will ensure everything is registered correctly.

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