While I have stated my opinion in the past that you should think twice before creating another web framework, it can be a useful tool. In particular, if you are familiar with a web framework in your language of choice, it may be a good learning exercise to try and implement that framework in another language. Note however that you should likely not try to get people to use your new framework if it is only for learning purposes. If you are seriously considering creating a new web framework, please read my post New Web Frameworks.


I’ve recently (as of the time this post was written) taken a new position in AdTech doing PHP for the purpose of web services. I really don’t know too much about PHP and it’s been a while since I’ve last encountered real PHP code. So, I figured that a little homework was in order.

I figured that the best way to learn would be to create a fun project in PHP that could utilize many of PHP’s newer features. For this, I wanted to create a (very) simple clone of my favorite web-app framework, Sinatra.


Obviously the main goal is to better learn PHP’s main language features, but let’s talk more about what the goal of the project will be:

  • Implement basic Sinatra/HTTP routing methods (GET, POST, PUT, DELETE)
  • Provide pre and post hooks
  • Implement parameratized routes in Sinatra fashion
  • Use lambdas to provide an authentic Sinatra-experience
  • Use PHP 5.4 features (where possible/applicable)


The result is a framework called Pinatra (to make it even more obvious my intent) that is available on my Github here. Let’s see how well I did at meeting the aforementioned goals:

Basic Routing

This was relatively simple. To get started, I created a main class Pinatra that I could use to register my routes with. I then created methods for each HTTP verb I would be supporting (GET, POST, PUT, DELETE) that took a path (a string) and a handler. The handler would then be called if the incoming request could be matched against the route. The method for registering a GET request looked generally like:

1 public static function get($match, $callback) {
2   $app = Pinatra::instance();
3   $app->register('get', $match, $callback);
4 }

As you can see, we are simply taking the route to match (the $match) and a callback (a callable) and sending that on to the register function. So, to look at the register function:

1 private function register($method, $match, $callback) {
2   $match = $this->compute_regex($match);
3   $this->routes[$method][$match] = $callback;
4 }

You can see here that we are extracting a regex out of the given match (we’ll look more at that later) and we are registering the route in a local hash based on the HTTP verb ($method).

We can use this very simply now as:

1 Pinatra::get('/hi', function () {
2   return 'hello world';
3 });

Very similar, we can register POST method like the following:

1 Pinatra::post('/name', function ($data) {
2   return 'Hello ' . $data['name'];
3 });

Pre/Post Hooks

Using the same functionality used to register the routes on a particular HTTP verb, we can also register before and after hooks. When we create them in our application, it is as simple as:

1 Pinatra::before('*', function () {
2   header('AppVersion: 0.0.1');
3 });
1 Pinatra::after('*', function () {
2   Logger::log_request('served yet another request');
3 });

Parameratized Routes

This is a way of representing data in a given route that is extracted automatically. For example, given the following route:

1 /authors/:author_id/books/:book_id

I should be able to extract the two values, :author_id and :book_id. Earlier you saw a method for building up the regular expression. This is what we’ll use to create our route and the match-patterns will be used to extract the route-data. The method for generating our regex from the user-supplied route is seen below.

 1 private $URIParser_PLACEHOLDER = '([^\/]+)';
 2 private $URIParser_GLOB = '.*?';
 4 /**
 5  * Private: Generate a PHP (Perl) regular expression given the
 6  *          Sinatra-style expression in the get/post/put/etc. functions.
 7  */
 8 private function compute_regex($match) {
 9   // get the URI parts of the match-pattern given
10   $parts = array_filter(explode('/', $match), function ($val) { 
11     return !empty($val);
12   });
14   // build our pattern-matching regex from given route
15   $regex= '/^';
17   foreach ($parts as $part) {
18     if ($part[0] === ':') {
19       $regex .= '\/' . $this->URIParser_PLACEHOLDER;
20     }
21     else if ($part[0] === '*'){
22       $regex .= '\/' . $this->URIParser_GLOB;
23     }
24     else {
25       $regex .= '\/' . $part;
26     }
27   }
28   $regex .= '\/?$/';
29   return $regex;
30 }

You can see how the match patterns could be used to extract data from the URI. This can then be passed to the route-methods. An example of how this would look is as such:

1 Pinatra::get('/hello/:name', function($name) {
2   return $this->json([
3     'key' => 'hello-route has been matched!', 
4     'name' => $name
5   ]);
6 });

You’ll also notice a JSON helper function (I’ll leave that one for your own exploration).


You’ve already seen the use of lambdas (anonymous functions) in my examples so far, so suffice it to say, I met that goal. One important thing to note is that newer versions of PHP provide easy way to rebind anonymous methods making it possible to use them here. Take a look at the method that actually matches a request to a route and calls a lambda:

 1 /**
 2    * Method that is called when we actually want to process an incoming
 3    * request based on the method and uri provided. This method (expecting
 4    * to be given a URI and method) can also be used for re-routing requests
 5    * internally.
 6    */
 7 public static function handle_request($method, $uri) {
 8   $app = Pinatra::instance();
11   // before hook code (removed for brevity)
13   // find and call route-handler
14   $route_match = $app->find_route($app->routes, $method, $uri);
15   if ($route_match !== null) {
17     $request_body_data = $app->get_body_data($method);
18     if ($request_body_data !== null) {
19       array_unshift($route_match['arguments'], $request_body_data);
20     }
22     $route_res = call_user_func_array(
23       $route_match['callback']->bindTo($app), 
24       $route_match['arguments']);
25   }
27   // after hook code (removed for brevity)
29 }

PHP 5.4 Usage

Several features were used, but the main new 5.4’ish feature that got used was traits. They were fun, but I probably used them wrong. Anyways, I’ll leave it up to you to check out my usage, however I will say that I mainly used them as modules and not so much as re-usable traits.

What Was Learned

While I already knew that a PHP script ran every time a new request was made, I learned that PHP may not be the best language in which to implement a Sinatra-like DSL. Simply put, we must register all of the routes on every request. Since we cannot cache these results, we end up doing a lot of parsing and string manipulation on every request. This means that as you add new routes, you incur overhead on every new request, even if that route is never called. This is unlike other languages in which the application starts up once and then those computed routes (regex’s) can be cached and re-used.

Final Notes

Like I had mentioned previously, this project was to learn. That being said, there is probably a lot of debug code and comments left in this project and I would not recommend it for real-world use. So, if you do want to play around with it, you might have to remove some echo and var_dump statements that might still be hanging around in the code.