In this blog post, I would like to introduce you to some advanced techniques to Laravels / Eloquents Relationship model. The most common use cases for Relationships are already well documented. I assume you know something about PHP, Laravel and Eloquent Relationships.

The code for this article is available in this demo project on Github.

Requirements

The following use case is straight from a real world application I worked on in the last months.
Let's imagine you want to provide a way to write data into your database through an API for your customers. The data-source are simple HTML forms, but the structure of those forms changes depending on the page they are displayed. Maybe there's a form to hire a lawyer, one to search the best mortgage or you want an offer for a painter. Because we didn't want to code every API endpoint over and over again, we created a system where we can "build" our API with a drag & drop interface.

Below are the simplified requirements (I just want to cover the important stuff for this article):

Database Schema for this example

Rule

  • Represent validation rules which are applied to Field (A default set of Rules which are always applied; eg. field "email" should always be validated as an email) or to FieldEndpoint (Attach a Rule when you build your API)
  • Rule morphedByMany Field
  • Rule morphedByMany FieldEndpoint (That's the Pivot Table!)

Field

  • Represents a single HTML field; "firstname", "street", "email"
  • Field belongsToMany Endpoint
  • Field morphToMany Rule

Endpoint

  • Represents a single API endpoint ("hire-painter", "hire-lawyer", etc.)
  • Endpoint hasMany Field

FieldEndpoint

  • Represents the Pivot table (the connection) between a single Field and a single Endpoint
  • FieldEndpoint morphToMany Rule

The Migrations

Next we need the database tables. Because they're quite easy I just link them here. The most important part is, that our pivot table has an id column.

The Models

Let's create our first Model, Rule. The fields method returns a simple Many to Many Polymorphic relationship. Nothing special. The second relationship fieldEndpoints is also a "Many to Many Polymorphic" Relationship but instead of a "normal" Model, we point to the FieldEndpoint Pivot Model.

<?php

namespace App;

use Illuminate\Database\Eloquent\Model;

class Rule extends Model
{
    /**
     * Relationship with the Field model.
     *
     * @return    Illuminate\Database\Eloquent\Relations\MorphToMany
     */
    public function fields()
    {
        return $this->morphedByMany(Field::class, 'ruleable');
    }

    /**
     * Relationship with the FieldEndpoint model.
     *
     * @return    Illuminate\Database\Eloquent\Relations\MorphToMany
     */
    public function fieldEndpoints()
    {
        return $this->morphedByMany(FieldEndpoint::class, 'ruleable');
    }
}

Next, we create our Field Model. Here we have a simple "Belongs to Many" Relationship called endpoints. It is important you add the ->withPivot(["id"]) statement here.
We also have the counterpart to the polymorphic relationship of the Rule model.
And then there's something new. We override the newPivot method and check if the passed $parent variable is an instance of Endpoint, if this is true we create a new instance of the FieldEndpoint model. This if-clause is resolved when we access the endpoint-Relationship.

<?php

namespace App;

use Illuminate\Database\Eloquent\Model;

class Field extends Model
{
    /**
     * Relationship with the Endpoint model.
     *
     * @return    Illuminate\Database\Eloquent\Relations\BelongsToMany
     */
    public function endpoints()
    {
        return $this->belongsToMany(Endpoint::class)->withPivot(['id']);
    }

    /**
     * Relationship with the Rule model.
     *
     * @return    Illuminate\Database\Eloquent\Relations\MorphToMany
     */
    public function rules()
    {
        return $this->morphToMany(Rule::class, 'ruleable');
    }

    public function newPivot(Model $parent, array $attributes, $table, $exists)
    {
        if ($parent instanceof Endpoint) {
            return new FieldEndpoint($parent, $attributes, $table, $exists);
        }

        return parent::newPivot($parent, $attributes, $table, $exists);
    }
}

Next, we create the Endpoint Model. It's quite similar to the Field Model. We also have a "Belongs To Many" Relationship called fields (don't forget the withPivot-Statement) and we also override the newPivot method. This time, we check if the passed $parent variable is an instance of the Field Model.

<?php

namespace App;

use Illuminate\Database\Eloquent\Model;

class Endpoint extends Model
{
    /**
     * Relationship with the Field model.
     *
     * @return    Illuminate\Database\Eloquent\Relations\BelongsToMany
     */
    public function fields()
    {
        return $this->belongsToMany(Field::class, 'fields_endpoints')->withPivot(['id']);
    }

    public function newPivot(Model $parent, array $attributes, $table, $exists)
    {
        if ($parent instanceof Field) {
            return new FieldEndpoint($parent, $attributes, $table, $exists);
        }

        return parent::newPivot($parent, $attributes, $table, $exists);
    }
}

Finally, we create our Pivot-Model FieldEndpoint. Because this is not a normal Model the class extends the Pivot class rather than the Model class.
Thanks to the overwritten newPivot methods, this Model is now initiated every time we access the "Belongs to Many" Relationships.

Now we can add our final Relationship to this Model. Another "Many to Many Polymorphic" Relationship called rules. Thanks to this, we can attach a Rule to the connection between Endpoint and Field

<?php

namespace App;

use Illuminate\Database\Eloquent\Relations\Pivot;

class FieldEndpoint extends Pivot
{
    /**
     * Relationship with the Rule model.
     *
     * @return    Illuminate\Database\Eloquent\Relations\MorphToMany
     */
    public function rules()
    {
        return $this->morphToMany(Rule::class, 'ruleable')->withPivot('parameters');
        ;
    }
}

Usage

The hard work is done. Our Relationships are all set up and now we can start using it in our code. I won't cover, how you create a user-friendly interface for this use-case, but rather how you would attach and access the Models. You find more examples in this test.

I annotated the test with some comments, which should explain the workflow for this Relationship system.

<?php

use App\Endpoint;
use App\Field;
use App\Rule;
use Illuminate\Foundation\Testing\DatabaseMigrations;
use Illuminate\Foundation\Testing\DatabaseTransactions;
use Illuminate\Foundation\Testing\WithoutMiddleware;

class RelationshipTest extends TestCase
{
    public function an_endpoint_can_have_many_fields_and_this_connection_can_have_many_rules()
    {
        // A Field may have a default set of Rules, which are always applied
        $fieldRules = factory(Rule::class, 2)->create();
        $field      = factory(Field::class)->create();
        $endpoint   = factory(Endpoint::class)->create();

        // Attach default Rules to Field
        $field->rules()->sync($fieldRules);

        // Attach Field with default set of Rules to Endpoint
        $endpoint->fields()->attach($field);

        // Create 5 new Rules which will be stored to the pivot table Model
        $fieldEndpointRules = factory(Rule::class, 5)->create();

        /**
         * This is the "not so nice part". We have to receive the Pivot Model,
         * which connects Endpoint and Fields. In this example we only have
         * one Field which connects with the Endpoint, so we can simply
         * call `first()`. In your implementation you would have to
         * do `whereName($field->name)` or something similar.
         */
        $pivotModel = $endpoint->fields()->first()->pivot;

        // Attach Rules to the Pivot Model
        $pivotModel->rules()->sync($fieldEndpointRules);

        $this->assertCount(2, $field->rules);
        $this->assertCount(1, $endpoint->fields);
        $this->assertCount(5, $endpoint->fields()->first()->pivot->rules);
    }
}

As you can imagine there are thousands of ways on how you can use this in your application.