Why CakePHP?

A Xmas post from Germany.

My last 6 years with CakePHP

I am now with CakePHP for over 6 years (wow.. time goes by!), the second half of it as core member. I started with it back in the days where 1.2 had just come out. I was just playing around back then.
Soon I started to write the first small 1.2 apps, mostly private stuff and ideas in my head. A "phonebook" app, "recipes" site, a "sandbox" for trying out Cake/PHP things, a small social network approach and few plugins on the side.

Not long after that I helped to develop the first real CakePHP app meant to be thrown out there for commercial purposes – and since then never stopped.
A little bit over a year ago I managed to finally upgrade even the last live app to the latest version 2.2/2.3 at that time.

Disclaimer: This is not meant to be a rip-off from josediazgonzalez’ why-to-actually-choose-cakephp/. It is my personal opinion why I have been sticking to this framework for the last years.

So why CakePHP in the first place?

There are alternatives, Symfony, Zend, Laravel, CI, …
But they all didn’t convince me in the beginning – and still don’t.
Mostly because as a beginner the first steps seemed and seems to be more complicated than with CakePHP. You need to do more to see actual and usable results.
But I don’t want to go into detail here too much.

A framework is an absolute must

At least as a beginner. But even as a pro you are sometimes happy to not have to modify all those "core changes" in your code when PHP, MYSQL or any other external script is used differently over time. You are also grateful for the community effort of being able to find and fix bugs as a group effort. And last but not least, you could never come up with all those great new features and ideas all on your own.
I found CakePHP to not only be community-driven but also very intuitive – over some time anyway.

CakePHP was already easy at the beginning

I already had PHP/MYSQL experience, but even without I might have succeeded with the first trial apps.
And although CakePHP has lots of conventions and opinions on certain things it still allows you in many ways to use your own way of doing it.
Since 2.x even more than ever before.
Once you understand what goes on behind the hood you start to like it even more. You are able to contribute to the framework code as well as the documentation directly.

My personal reasons to still stick with CakePHP

Well, first of all, after so many years working with it and contributing you kinda get attached to it. Within the last three years I rose to the one of most active core developers besides the master Mark Story ๐Ÿ™‚ After what one helped the framework to become it would not make too much sense to just hop on to the next framework without a good reason.
So here the hard facts:

Less coding time

CakePHP is all about reducing development time. So most of the things are already decided for you in best-practice approaches and you can overwrite only what you want to.
Using bake and other tools you have a usable app in no time. Adjustments in your code are then also just a couple of quick changes. Fast development means less costs and earlier results.

Fast core update/fix progress

Issues or enhancements usually get added pretty quick. From a few hours (happens quite often actually) to a few weeks. The less complicated the issue and the better your initial work the faster it gets approved and included. So providing a detailed report and a patch in form of a Github pull request can really speed up the process.


There are already quite a few very useful plugins or at least plugin-able snippets by very experienced programmers. You can easily use and enhance those.
I use my own plugins like Tools, Setup, … with various useful stuff to enhance the core and my apps even further in a DRY (Don’t Repeat Yourself) way.
That’s also one of the reasons why changing would be painful: I would miss so many of my already written Plugin classes I need every hour of every day. The overhead of rewriting it would probably be quite immense.

Busted myths

CakePHP is dead/legacy

Yeah, right ๐Ÿ™‚ That’s like super-lame to say. Check out the Github changelog and you will see how dead it really is.
Fact is, that with CakePHP3 the activity goes to a new all time high throughout the timeline. And that is just the beginning. Fact is also, that until now, it was a very constant log of activity and improvement.
Compared to other (very new) frameworks out there, that is quite the achievement. Most frameworks come and go as quick as the wind, but CakePHP is solid as a rock in
its presence and how it improves. People/Businesses can actually rely on it.

A far more interesting question would be: Why isn’t Cakephp popular despite being one of the earliest PHP framework to be written?.
People can get easily deceived by sparkling new "coolkidz" stuff. Backwords compatibility and reliability has’t been as important to any other framework. So they could progress to cutting edge in a faster pace, of course. There is a certain trade-off here to make. Nonetheless progress has been made, and that quite remarkable.
See for yourself.

CakePHP is slow

Yeah, that was partly true in 1.x due to missing lazyloading. So many things have been included without actually needing them. It could consume quite a lot of memory, as well. Since 2.x and lazyloading the developer is responsible for only fetching the data needed and making sure that caching and other speed/performance enhancements have been accounted for. Then Cake is not really that much slower than any other Framework or PHP script.
Sure: CakePHP 2 is still much more full-stack than most slim PHP frameworks. It might also not be cutting edge regarding speed. But with a little tweaking of server and app this difference is almost not measurable anymore.
And the upcoming version 3.0 beats even most other frameworks, as with composer autoloader dump and some minor caching layer it runs pretty darn fast. Even the routing, which often was a bottleneck, has been sped up a huge factor.

This is not even a good argument for comparison, as with server configuration this can easily be overcome anyway.
And what is often forgotten: CakePHP is actually super-fast in development time compensating for any speed issues compared to vanilla PHP coding.
If I had a project to finish, I would rather use CakePHP and 1/4 of the development time (and costs!) and invest those in better server infrastructure (fully compensating any speed issues and going beyond). The outcome: You still pay only half the costs ๐Ÿ˜‰

The documentation is outdated and incomplete

Total nonsense if you didn’t travel back in time. The documentation improved greatly since 2008 and Cake1.x. You could say that everything is covered and some things even more than you would probably need. Even the migration guides up until 2.6 (not released yet) are 100% complete and the code changed documented in the book in detail.
So if you don’t find something it must either be a really rare use case or you are not quite capable of using Google or the book internal search. Well, that is too harsh of course. We all overlook things sometimes. Drop in the IRC #cakephp channel and ask, if you really can’t find it, and you will be helped in seconds/minutes.

For CakePHP3.0 the focus was even put on documentation: Writing thorough docs for each part that has is been added in sync with the actual feature PR.
So far the result should be quite remarkable for a not-even-yet-RC version.

CakePHP is too much convention over configuration

I sometimes hear people complain about too many conventions and that you can’t configure CakePHP the way you like/need it. This actually was true in earlier versions.
But in 2.x this also improved quite a lot. You can pretty much configure/adjust the whole framework as you need it – either via extending, aliasing, replacing core files or events/callbacks.
Bear in mind that conventions are usually a good thing. They – in a default scenario – help you to get it done very quickly. If you start to reach an edge case you can still adjust accordingly, but first try to stay within the conventions for your own benefit.

With CakePHP3.0 this even goes one step further:
You can leverage the whole conventions stack if you want to, or you can go totally down your own path. The latter I wouldn’t recommend, though, as you really save a lot of config overhead when using conventions wisely.
Also: Using namespaces, there is pretty much no limitation anymore. Classes can be finally named the same without fatal errors. A simple use x as y and it’s resolved.
You can replace complete parts of the application. Since major parts like "bake" and "translation" are moved out of the core, you can also more easily extend and adjust those now.

My learnings

Over the years, you also learn from your previous work – and mistakes.
And we all make em. That’s natural.

Documenting is important

I didn’t really think of documenting in the beginning. Over the years there were many times were I had to regret that for various reasons.
So new plugins and functionality get documented from the start, making it transparent both for me and others what to expect.
I follow the approach to put the dochs directly into the repo as subfolder, containing a README.md as overview. This is very handy (close to the code) and readable (automatic markdown parsing online).

Write tests

I also didn’t test much when I started to develop. Working with CakePHP showed me how simple and yet effective it can be to do that though.
You save yourself from a lot more regressions and it serves as part of implicit feature documentation, in case your forgot that.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

Yeah, back in 200x I had to write everything myself. But the systems around us evolve quicker and quicker. It is just impossible to keep up with everything and still write new application code. So if there are existing libs or services that do the job, I try to use them now. An example is "Carbon" for datetime or "Mailchimp/Mandrill" for sending emails/newsletters.

Keep code clean

Refactor once in a while to keep the code clean and readable. This makes understanding and extending it afterwards easier.
Follow best practice approaches where applicable. Use a documented coding standard and stick to it.

Learning from other code and frameworks

Other frameworks have different approaches, they are valid for some use cases nonetheless. I had to look into Symfony2 and alike for one or two projects and even if I wouldn’t use them for my RAD (Rapid Application Development) projects, they can be useful for other projects. I could also once in a while get some very good ideas from them on how to approach certain things, and sometimes even let them mold into CakePHP functionality.
Similar things can be said about existing library code out there. So be open minded and take a look over the "comfort zone" once in a while and suck in other people’s ideas and approaches.
And always check if the tools you use still are the right ones for the task. If at some point something could be better handled with a different framework, I would probably look into it. But knowing my "tool" quite well, I didn’t see anything yet that wouldn’t have been handled by it so far in an appropriate way for the tasks at hand.

Splitting Utility repos into smaller chunks

I wouldn’t exactly call this a mistake, it was more the logical choice back then with SVN (and later basic GIT). My Tools plugin got pretty loaded with stuff, just because it was easier to include a single plugin than trying to svn:externals or git submodules separate ones. The overhead was not acceptable.
Now in 2014+ with composer as de-facto standard, it looks a whole lot different. As such, I try to outsource some functionality of it into their own plugin repos, e.g. Geo and TinyAuth for 3.0. More should follow.

Which brings me to the last point which will also be easier with smaller repo code:

Follow some kind of semantic versioning

With composer this is an even more important task than before: SemVar is necessary to prevent incompatible libraries.
So if you develop new features for a plugin for one app, other apps using the old version should still function normally.
By always using a single branch directly, this can soon blow up. Using semantic versioning and releasing new versions (version numbers are cheap)
we can assert that everyone is happy and code breakage stays at a minimum.

What’s next

I will try to help with the release of 3.0, the next major step in PHP framework history, as much as possible besides my day job and extracurricular activities.
Earlier versions of CakePHP sure lacked the "coolness" of new PHP features, letting quite a few users drift off to other frameworks. I can understand that partially. We all want to use the newest and geeky stuff. If it is really necessary (at that point in time!) is a different story.
Anyway, CakePHP 3 will catapult itself to the very front, and probably beyond most other PHP frameworks. And rumor has it that this time it will try to stay on top – with a fairly high chance of succeeding.

So I am really looking forward to how this will change the balance of framework usage here again, and how probably many of laravel’s or symfony’s followers will jump back to the framework with the longest history of all. Stay tuned for more posts on how to prepare 2.x apps for 3.x so that the final migration will be as smooth as possible.

Don’t forget to spread the word about CakePHP(3). Blog, twitter, write plugins (or upgrade existing ones) …

Additional Resources

For German developers there’s a very recent podcast where I go into details about CakePHP.
The (English) podcast.cakephp.org one is mainly about upgrading between the different versions of the framework.

If you want to stay updated, subsribe to the blog RSS feed or follow my on twitter.

Merry Xmas everyone

And a great start into the next chapters of coding!

4.64 avg. rating (92% score) - 11 votes


  1. Hey Mark

    Nice article – fun to read ๐Ÿ™‚ Keeps me confident that Ive choosen the right framework 3 years ago ๐Ÿ™‚

    Ans thanks for the help out there on git and the forums.

    Wish you a happy x-mas,

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