I recently came up a very steep learning curve using the Zend Framework (version 1.11.3). I had used components of ZF in the past with success, but this was the first time I had used Zend_Application for my core MVC.  I am no stranger to MVC frameworks in general, but I struggled with Zend.

My biggest source of confusion was the bootstrap process.  Namely, the autoloading of resources.  Yes, I followed the Zend Framework Quick Start and got my app up and running. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually know what was happening.  Finally, I came across this great question on Stackoverflow about bootstrapping the layout resource that pointed me in the right direction:

The line from application.ini

resources.layout[] = 

is equivalent to:

_initLayout() {}

in Bootstrap.php

Aha!  So now it was clear. There are two ways to initialize a resource in Zend:

  1. By adding one or more mysterious lines to your application.ini, or
  2. By constructing them with good old fashion code in a method that begins with “_init” in Bootstrap.php.

Option #1 bothers me.  Yes, it’s really cool that you can bootstrap a whole MVC application with no code and only a config file, but IMO that option should not be the recommended way for beginners and that options should most definitely not be used in any sort of “Quick Start” guide.  That sort of magic should be reserved for advanced users.  With a little more exploring, I found the code that initialized these resources in the non-trivial Zend_Application_Bootstrap_BootstrapAbstract class.  And I found all the built-in Zend resources in Zend/Application/Resource, which let me see which resources had which options and how to bootstrap them. 

On to option #2, my preferred way. If I want to initialize the Front Controller, I’ll just put this in the bootstrap file:

protected function _initFrontController()
    $front = Zend_Controller_Front::getInstance();
    $front->setControllerDirectory(APPLICATION_PATH . '/controllers');
    return $front;

If I want to enable and initialize the layout:

protected function _initLayout()
    $layout = Zend_Layout::startMvc();
    $layout->setLayoutPath(APPLICATION_PATH . '/layouts/scripts/');
    return $layout;

I really don’t mind carrying this around to every project.  Then I can make changes in the PHP, and not in an INI file.

Clearly I am not the only one struggling with this. I googled problems heavily and the top results usually contained 3 or 4 of the same question asked on Stackoverflow, each of which I opened in a tab.  I think Zend would benefit with a re-organization of the documentation from the ground up, at least of the starter docs and Zend_Application. They should also post a big, flashing red link to that Stackoverflow question about bootstrapping layout. 

Eventually, other components became clear: Resources, Plugins, Action Helpers, and View Helpers, Modules.  I see real power in using the Zend Framework now, particularly with Plugins and Modules, but only after much pain.

I have created a starter project for Zend projects that contains Bootstrap.php the way I like it, and some other custom classes for logging and error handling.  There is a branch for a starter project with modules and without modules.  (Modules is a different blog post altogether.)