Active Record

Although Yii DAO can handle virtually any database-related task, chances are that we would spend 90% of our time in writing some SQL statements which perform the common CRUD (create, read, update and delete) operations. It is also difficult to maintain our code when they are mixed with SQL statements. To solve these problems, we can use Active Record.

Active Record (AR) is a popular Object-Relational Mapping (ORM) technique. Each AR class represents a database table (or view) whose attributes are represented as the AR class properties, and an AR instance represents a row in that table. Common CRUD operations are implemented as AR methods. As a result, we can access our data in a more object-oriented way. For example, we can use the following code to insert a new row to the tbl_post table:

$post=new Post;
$post->title='sample post';
$post->content='post body content';

In the following we describe how to set up AR and use it to perform CRUD operations. We will show how to use AR to deal with database relationships in the next section. For simplicity, we use the following database table for our examples in this section. Note that if you are using MySQL database, you should replace AUTOINCREMENT with AUTO_INCREMENT in the following SQL.

CREATE TABLE tbl_post (
    title VARCHAR(128) NOT NULL,
    content TEXT NOT NULL,
    create_time INTEGER NOT NULL

Note: AR is not meant to solve all database-related tasks. It is best used for modeling database tables in PHP constructs and performing queries that do not involve complex SQLs. Yii DAO should be used for those complex scenarios.

1. Establishing DB Connection

AR relies on a DB connection to perform DB-related operations. By default, it assumes that the db application component gives the needed CDbConnection instance which serves as the DB connection. The following application configuration shows an example:

return array(
            // turn on schema caching to improve performance
            // 'schemaCachingDuration'=>3600,

Tip: Because Active Record relies on the metadata about tables to determine the column information, it takes time to read the metadata and analyze it. If the schema of your database is less likely to be changed, you should turn on schema caching by configuring the CDbConnection::schemaCachingDuration property to be a value greater than 0.

Support for AR is limited by DBMS. Currently, only the following DBMS are supported:

If you want to use an application component other than db, or if you want to work with multiple databases using AR, you should override CActiveRecord::getDbConnection(). The CActiveRecord class is the base class for all AR classes.

Tip: There are two ways to work with multiple databases in AR. If the schemas of the databases are different, you may create different base AR classes with different implementation of getDbConnection(). Otherwise, dynamically changing the static variable CActiveRecord::db is a better idea.

2. Defining AR Class

To access a database table, we first need to define an AR class by extending CActiveRecord. Each AR class represents a single database table, and an AR instance represents a row in that table. The following example shows the minimal code needed for the AR class representing the tbl_post table.

class Post extends CActiveRecord
    public static function model($className=__CLASS__)
        return parent::model($className);
    public function tableName()
        return 'tbl_post';

Tip: Because AR classes are often referenced in many places, we can import the whole directory containing the AR class, instead of including them one by one. For example, if all our AR class files are under protected/models, we can configure the application as follows:

return array(

By default, the name of the AR class is the same as the database table name. Override the tableName() method if they are different. The model() method is declared as such for every AR class (to be explained shortly).

Info: To use the table prefix feature, the tableName() method for an AR class may be overridden as follows,

public function tableName()
    return '{{post}}';

That is, instead of returning the fully qualified table name, we return the table name without the prefix and enclose it in double curly brackets.

Column values of a table row can be accessed as properties of the corresponding AR instance. For example, the following code sets the title column (attribute):

$post=new Post;
$post->title='a sample post';

Although we never explicitly declare the title property in the Post class, we can still access it in the above code. This is because title is a column in the tbl_post table, and CActiveRecord makes it accessible as a property with the help of the PHP __get() magic method. An exception will be thrown if we attempt to access a non-existing column in the same way.

Info: In this guide, we use lower case for all table names and column names. This is because different DBMS handle case-sensitivity differently. For example, PostgreSQL treats column names as case-insensitive by default, and we must quote a column in a query condition if the column contains mixed-case letters. Using lower case would help eliminate this problem.

AR relies on well defined primary keys of tables. If a table does not have a primary key, it is required that the corresponding AR class specify which column(s) should be the primary key by overriding the primaryKey() method as follows,

public function primaryKey()
    return 'id';
    // For composite primary key, return an array like the following
    // return array('pk1', 'pk2');

3. Creating Record

To insert a new row into a database table, we create a new instance of the corresponding AR class, set its properties associated with the table columns, and call the save() method to finish the insertion.

$post=new Post;
$post->title='sample post';
$post->content='content for the sample post';

If the table's primary key is auto-incremental, after the insertion the AR instance will contain an updated primary key. In the above example, the id property will reflect the primary key value of the newly inserted post, even though we never change it explicitly.

If a column is defined with some static default value (e.g. a string, a number) in the table schema, the corresponding property in the AR instance will automatically has such a value after the instance is created. One way to change this default value is by explicitly declaring the property in the AR class:

class Post extends CActiveRecord
    public $title='please enter a title';
$post=new Post;
echo $post->title;  // this would display: please enter a title

An attribute can be assigned a value of CDbExpression type before the record is saved (either insertion or updating) to the database. For example, in order to save a timestamp returned by the MySQL NOW() function, we can use the following code:

$post=new Post;
$post->create_time=new CDbExpression('NOW()');
// $post->create_time='NOW()'; will not work because
// 'NOW()' will be treated as a string

Tip: While AR allows us to perform database operations without writing cumbersom SQL statements, we often want to know what SQL statements are executed by AR underneath. This can be achieved by turning on the logging feature of Yii. For example, we can turn on CWebLogRoute in the application configuration, and we will see the executed SQL statements being displayed at the end of each Web page. We can set CDbConnection::enableParamLogging to be true in the application configuration so that the parameter values bound to the SQL statements are also logged.

4. Reading Record

To read data in a database table, we call one of the find methods as follows.

// find the first row satisfying the specified condition
// find the row with the specified primary key
// find the row with the specified attribute values
// find the first row using the specified SQL statement

In the above, we call the find method with Post::model(). Remember that the static method model() is required for every AR class. The method returns an AR instance that is used to access class-level methods (something similar to static class methods) in an object context.

If the find method finds a row satisfying the query conditions, it will return a Post instance whose properties contain the corresponding column values of the table row. We can then read the loaded values like we do with normal object properties, for example, echo $post->title;.

The find method will return null if nothing can be found in the database with the given query condition.

When calling find, we use $condition and $params to specify query conditions. Here $condition can be string representing the WHERE clause in a SQL statement, and $params is an array of parameters whose values should be bound to the placeholders in $condition. For example,

// find the row with postID=10
$post=Post::model()->find('postID=:postID', array(':postID'=>10));

Note: In the above, we may need to escape the reference to the postID column for certain DBMS. For example, if we are using PostgreSQL, we would have to write the condition as "postID"=:postID, because PostgreSQL by default will treat column names as case-insensitive.

We can also use $condition to specify more complex query conditions. Instead of a string, we let $condition be a CDbCriteria instance, which allows us to specify conditions other than the WHERE clause. For example,

$criteria=new CDbCriteria;
$criteria->select='title';  // only select the 'title' column
$post=Post::model()->find($criteria); // $params is not needed

Note, when using CDbCriteria as query condition, the $params parameter is no longer needed since it can be specified in CDbCriteria, as shown above.

An alternative way to CDbCriteria is passing an array to the find method. The array keys and values correspond to the criteria's property name and value, respectively. The above example can be rewritten as follows,


Info: When a query condition is about matching some columns with the specified values, we can use findByAttributes(). We let the $attributes parameters be an array of the values indexed by the column names. In some frameworks, this task can be achieved by calling methods like findByNameAndTitle. Although this approach looks attractive, it often causes confusion, conflict and issues like case-sensitivity of column names.

When multiple rows of data matching the specified query condition, we can bring them in all together using the following findAll methods, each of which has its counterpart find method, as we already described.

// find all rows satisfying the specified condition
// find all rows with the specified primary keys
// find all rows with the specified attribute values
// find all rows using the specified SQL statement

If nothing matches the query condition, findAll would return an empty array. This is different from find who would return null if nothing is found.

Besides the find and findAll methods described above, the following methods are also provided for convenience:

// get the number of rows satisfying the specified condition
// get the number of rows using the specified SQL statement
// check if there is at least a row satisfying the specified condition

5. Updating Record

After an AR instance is populated with column values, we can change them and save them back to the database table.

$post->title='new post title';
$post->save(); // save the change to database

As we can see, we use the same save() method to perform insertion and updating operations. If an AR instance is created using the new operator, calling save() would insert a new row into the database table; if the AR instance is the result of some find or findAll method call, calling save() would update the existing row in the table. In fact, we can use CActiveRecord::isNewRecord to tell if an AR instance is new or not.

It is also possible to update one or several rows in a database table without loading them first. AR provides the following convenient class-level methods for this purpose:

// update the rows matching the specified condition
// update the rows matching the specified condition and primary key(s)
// update counter columns in the rows satisfying the specified conditions

In the above, $attributes is an array of column values indexed by column names; $counters is an array of incremental values indexed by column names; and $condition and $params are as described in the previous subsection.

6. Deleting Record

We can also delete a row of data if an AR instance has been populated with this row.

$post=Post::model()->findByPk(10); // assuming there is a post whose ID is 10
$post->delete(); // delete the row from the database table

Note, after deletion, the AR instance remains unchanged, but the corresponding row in the database table is already gone.

The following class-level methods are provided to delete rows without the need of loading them first:

// delete the rows matching the specified condition
// delete the rows matching the specified condition and primary key(s)

7. Data Validation

When inserting or updating a row, we often need to check if the column values comply to certain rules. This is especially important if the column values are provided by end users. In general, we should never trust anything coming from the client side.

AR performs data validation automatically when save() is being invoked. The validation is based on the rules specified in the rules() method of the AR class. For more details about how to specify validation rules, refer to the Declaring Validation Rules section. Below is the typical workflow needed by saving a record:

    // data is valid and is successfully inserted/updated
    // data is invalid. call getErrors() to retrieve error messages

When the data for inserting or updating is submitted by end users in an HTML form, we need to assign them to the corresponding AR properties. We can do so like the following:


If there are many columns, we would see a long list of such assignments. This can be alleviated by making use of the attributes property as shown below. More details can be found in the Securing Attribute Assignments section and the Creating Action section.

// assume $_POST['Post'] is an array of column values indexed by column names

8. Comparing Records

Like table rows, AR instances are uniquely identified by their primary key values. Therefore, to compare two AR instances, we merely need to compare their primary key values, assuming they belong to the same AR class. A simpler way is to call CActiveRecord::equals(), however.

Info: Unlike AR implementation in other frameworks, Yii supports composite primary keys in its AR. A composite primary key consists of two or more columns. Correspondingly, the primary key value is represented as an array in Yii. The primaryKey property gives the primary key value of an AR instance.

9. Customization

CActiveRecord provides a few placeholder methods that can be overridden in child classes to customize its workflow.

  • beforeValidate and afterValidate: these are invoked before and after validation is performed.

  • beforeSave and afterSave: these are invoked before and after saving an AR instance.

  • beforeDelete and afterDelete: these are invoked before and after an AR instance is deleted.

  • afterConstruct: this is invoked for every AR instance created using the new operator.

  • beforeFind: this is invoked before an AR finder is used to perform a query (e.g. find(), findAll()).

  • afterFind: this is invoked after every AR instance created as a result of query.

10. Using Transaction with AR

Every AR instance contains a property named dbConnection which is a CDbConnection instance. We thus can use the transaction feature provided by Yii DAO if it is desired when working with AR:

    // find and save are two steps which may be intervened by another request
    // we therefore use a transaction to ensure consistency and integrity
    $post->title='new post title';
catch(Exception $e)
    throw $e;

11. Named Scopes

Info: The original idea of named scopes came from Ruby on Rails.

A named scope represents a named query criteria that can be combined with other named scopes and applied to an active record query.

Named scopes are mainly declared in the CActiveRecord::scopes() method as name-criteria pairs. The following code declares two named scopes, published and recently, in the Post model class:

class Post extends CActiveRecord
    public function scopes()
        return array(
                'order'=>'create_time DESC',

Each named scope is declared as an array which can be used to initialize a CDbCriteria instance. For example, the recently named scope specifies that the order property to be create_time DESC and the limit property to be 5, which translates to a query criteria that should bring back the most recent 5 posts.

Named scopes are mostly used as modifiers to the find method calls. Several named scopes may be chained together and result in a more restrictive query result set. For example, to find the recently published posts, we can use the following code:


In general, named scopes must appear to the left of a find method call. Each of them provides a query criteria, which is combined with other criterias, including the one passed to the find method call. The net effect is like adding a list of filters to a query.

Note: Named scopes can only be used with class-level methods. That is, the method must be called using ClassName::model().

Parameterized Named Scopes

Named scopes can be parameterized. For example, we may want to customize the number of posts specified by the recently named scope. To do so, instead of declaring the named scope in the CActiveRecord::scopes method, we need to define a new method whose name is the same as the scope name:

public function recently($limit=5)
        'order'=>'create_time DESC',
    return $this;

Then, we can use the following statement to retrieve the 3 recently published posts:


If we do not supply the parameter 3 in the above, we would retrieve the 5 recently published posts by default.

Default Scope

A model class can have a default scope that would be applied for all queries (including relational ones) about the model. For example, a website supporting multiple languages may only want to display contents that are in the language the current user specifies. Because there may be many queries about the site contents, we can define a default scope to solve this problem. To do so, we override the CActiveRecord::defaultScope method as follows,

class Content extends CActiveRecord
    public function defaultScope()
        return array(

Now, if the following method call will automatically use the query criteria as defined above:


Note: Default scope and named scopes only apply to SELECT queries. They are ignored for INSERT, UPDATE and DELETE queries. Also, when declaring a scope (default or named), the AR class cannot be used to make DB queries in the method that declares the scope.


Total 9 comments

#17416 report it
Masoud Sawari at 2014/06/09 02:10am
Validate data dynamically

You can add new properties to the model to validate data dynamically depending on various conditions. (sorry for my bad English)

// in the model's class (Post for example)
class Post extends CActiveRecord
   public $max = 255;
   public function rules()
      return array(
         array('title', 'length', 'max'=>$this->max),
         // other validation rules         
   // other stuffs
// in the controller's class (PostController for example)
class PostController extends CController
   public function actionCreate()
      $model = new Post();
      $model->max = 10;
      $model->title = 'just new article';
      $model->body = 'some text...';
         // If saving data was successful
         // if there are wrong data
   // other stuffs
#6946 report it
marcovtwout at 2012/02/15 11:40am
Further named scope limitations

Quote from Qiang in Issue 2468

"You should not perform queries in a named scope. The whole named scope mechanism is about modifying the DB criteria object stored in the finder AR. If you perform a query inside of a named scope, you will destroy this mechanism."

If you don't pay attention to this, you could get a lot of unexpected results.

#5329 report it
klod at 2011/10/05 05:01am
DefaultScope with dynamic table alias
public function defaultScope()
    return array(
            'order'=>$this->getTableAlias(false, false).'.update_time DESC',
            'condition'=>$this->getTableAlias(false, false).'.actif =1',
#4244 report it
jogasa21 at 2011/06/19 10:35pm
Unique record validation example

I am new to Yii and it took me some hours to understand how validation rules work along with the validate() method or save() method in a model. Hope this can be useful to new Yii users.

In this example I want to validate that one record key is unique in a database table, otherwise the rule error message will be automatically displayed.

In my model:

class EmailGroup extends CActiveRecord {
   public function rules() {
      return array(
        array('name, description', 'required'),
        array('name', 'length', 'max'=>20),
        array('description', 'length', 'max'=>45),
        array('name, description', 'safe', 'on'=>'search'),
        array('name', 'unique', 'on'=>'insert', 'message'=>'This value already exists!')

In my controller:

class EmailGroupController extends Controller {
   public function actionCreate() {
      $model = new EmailGroup;
      if (isset($_POST['EmailGroup'])) {
         $model->attributes = $_POST['EmailGroup'];
         // $model->save() automatically invokes the $model->validate() method
         // which fires the rules() function defined in the EmailGroup class.
         if ($model->save())
            $this->redirect(array('view', 'id'=>$model->name));
      $this->render('create', array('model'=>$model));

This simple example shows how easy is to define validation rules for an ActiveRecord, to guarantee that the record's key is unique and valid. In this case, the predefined validator used is "unique" and the scenario is "insert". The error message is displayed under the form's input element, by default.

Recommended links:

#3042 report it
Woil at 2011/03/09 05:03pm
Delete doesn't use scopes!

Just a word of caution: deleteAll and other delete functions do not use applied scopes.

This is by design, but can cause problems.

An easy way around this is to add the following function to your base active record class:

     * Deletes rows with the specified condition, after applying existing scopes
     * See {@link find()} for detailed explanation about $condition and $params.
     * @param mixed $condition query condition or criteria.
     * @param array $params parameters to be bound to an SQL statement.
     * @return integer the number of rows deleted
    public function deleteAllWithScopes($condition='',$params=array())
        return $command->execute();
#3014 report it
phazei at 2011/03/08 03:23am
reusing a single AR instance for multiple inserts

Here is an example of what must be done if you want to reuse an active record instance to insert multiple but similar items:

$model->isNewRecord = true;
$model->primaryKey = NULL;
$model->someAttribute = 'new value';

The second save will insert a new record.

#2962 report it
phazei at 2011/03/02 09:23pm
findAllByAttributes $attributes value

Just to clarify, the $attributes value for the findAllByAttributes and findByAttributes methods is an array with attribute value pairs like so:

$attributes = array('column_A'=>$column_A_desiderd_value, 'column_B'=>$column_B_desiderd_value)
#2395 report it
Sheldmandu at 2010/12/22 11:45pm
Class Level Methods vs Static Methods

It seems that many developers are a little confused with the use of what in Yii is referred to as Class Level Methods and don't understand how to use them as opposed to Static Methods.

For example people write Comments::generateTags() instead of Comments::model()->generateTags().

This is understandable, given how little guidance is given on this...

Here's the more detailed guidance.

What Class Level Methods are are effectively Static Methods BUT with the benefit of being able to use inheritance. That is, you can override the operation of a Class Level Method in a subclass, whereas if you used a static method you would not be able to override it. Much of the confusion actually comes from the fact that you're putting something that acts on the recordset (as opposed to on an individual record) as a non-static method of an active record class and it just feels weird, so you drop back to using a static method. Usually, what one would do is if they wanted to create methods to act on the recordset rather than the individual record (and have the benefit of inheritance) is to create a Manager/Module class which is responsible for operations on sets of records.

For example CommentManager/CommentModule (note that module is not used in the sense that Yii uses it but in the sense that Martin Fowler uses it when describing Table Module pattern). As Martin Fowler points out on on p.127 of his book called Patterns of Enterprise Application Architecture, the benefit of an instance is inheritance.

Effectively what the designers of Yii have done is rolled this all into the one ActiveRecord class. So it might feel a little weird at first, but then you get used to it.

In general, you should use class level methods, not static methods, as it gives you the benefit of inheritance although it might feel a little weird. Then you call them using $class::model()->method().

Hope this helps developers understand how to structure their code.

#1907 report it
KJedi at 2008/12/17 04:30pm
  1. When overriding/adding methods like beforeSave, beforeDelete etc, you should return boolean value. If you don't return anything or return false, operation will not be executed. Yes, that's written in the class reference, but hope this notice will save debugging time for someone. General rule - if you override similar method and something goes wrong (not exceptions, but some logic errors), check the class reference for this method details and return value before digging framework's code.

  2. If you want to display value from the DB in another way, for example, yes-no instead of 1-0, don't use afterFind method for this conversion because you'll have to override beforeSave method also to revert that. Better approach is using view

  3. beforeValidate method may be used for normalizing user input. For example, you get yes-no from the form, but need 1-0. You can do it here. Why here, not in beforeSave? Because when you've used yiic tool to create the model and there was a field with integers, yiic, added validation rules for these fields; it requires that field to be integer. Sure, you can remove that, but why to break validation logic :) Alternative usage - is populating default fields. Reason for not using beforeSave method for this is the same.

  4. beforeSave method is used best for preprocessing protected fields. For example, you need to display url in the form of, where 'dresses' is the category. Sure, you will not put category name to the url. so you'll create additional field like intName, that is the same as category name, but with processing - remove spaces, special symbols etc. This job can be done in beforeSave

  5. Note, that when you performing relational query and do findAll(), you get objects, however when you use DAO's queryAll, you get associative arrays.

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