Building a simple template engine in PHP.

Yes that’s another template engine in PHP. I’ve been using Smarty for years. It’s easy to install and easy to use. But there is something I don’t like in Smarty. I need to learn another language (smarty markup) to create my templates. Normally my templates are not very complex. I only use them to move HTML code outside PHP. Basically my templates are: HTML and some variables that pass from PHP to tpl. Sometimes I need to do a loop. I know Smarty has a lot of helpers but I never use them.

Now I’m in a project and I must to choose a template engine. This project don’t have any dependencies to any other libraries, so I don’t want to include full Smarty library to my simple templates. A quick search in Google gives us a list of template engines in PHP. Mostly all engines use PHP as template language. That’s a good decision. In fact PHP is a template language so, why we need to use another one?. I think the main problem of using PHP as template language is the temptation of put logic in the template and have a nice spaghetti code.

So I am going to build a simple template engine. Let’s start:
As always I like to start from the interface. When I start a library I like to think the library is finished (before start coding. cool isn’t it?) and write the code to use it. Finally when the I like the interface I start coding the library.

I want this template:

<h1>Example of tpl</h1>
var1 = _('var1') ?>
var2 = _('var2') ?>
foreach ($this->_('var3') as $item) {
    echo $this->clean($item);

And I want to call it with something like this:

echo Tpl::singleton()->init('demo1.phtml')->render(array(
    'var1' => 1,
    'var2' => 2,
    'var3' => array(1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

Basically Tpl class will be a container to collect the configuration and init function will be a factory of another class (Tpl_Instance) that will do the templating itself.

render function is the main function. Basically call to php’s include function with the selected tpl.

if (!is_file($_tplFile)) {
    throw new Exception('Template file not found');

include ($_tplFile);

$out = ob_get_contents();

return $out;

As we see the tpl file is a simple PHP file included in our script with Tpl_Instance::render. So $this in our tpl’s PHP code is the instance of Tpl_Instance. That means whe can use protected and even private functions of Tpl_Instance.

Now I going to show different usages of the library:

// Sets the path of templates. If nuls asumes file is absolute
Tpl::singleton()->setConf(Tpl::TPL_DIR, realpath(dirname(__FILE__)));
echo Tpl::singleton()->init('demo1.phtml')->render(array(
    'var1' => 1,
    'var2' => 2,
    'var3' => array(1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
// The same instance a different template and params added in a different way
$tpl = Tpl::singleton()->init('demo2.phtml');
$tpl->addParam('header', 'header');
$tpl->addParam('footer', 'footer');
echo $tpl->render();
// Disable exceptions if we don't assign a variable
Tpl::singleton()->setConf(Tpl::THROW_EXCEPTION_WITH_PARAMS, false);
$tpl = Tpl::singleton()->init('demo1.phtml');
$tpl->addParam('var1', 'aaaa');
$tpl->addParam('var3', array(1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7));
echo $tpl->render();
// Using factory
$objTpl = Tpl::factory();
$objTpl->setConf(Tpl::THROW_EXCEPTION_WITH_PARAMS, true);
try {
    $tpl = $objTpl->init('demo1.phtml');
    $tpl->addParam('var1', 'aaaa');
    $tpl->addParam('var3', array(1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7));
    echo $tpl->render();
} catch (Exception $e) {
    echo "" . $e->getMessage() . "


And like always full source code is available on google code.


2 thoughts on “Building a simple template engine in PHP.

  1. I think if temptation of putting logic in the template is the only motivator to use a template engine. Your template engine is not going to prevent it because the template is a php file.

    I think your template engine can be reduced to one function

    function render((string) $template,(array) $vars)

    return ob_get_clean();

    If you want to create a minimal template engine don’t add fat.

    1. Totally agree. The temptation of building logic in the template is the bad side of using php as template language. But I preffer this risk than building a new language.
      In the other side, basically the template engine is almost like you say. I use two classes because I want to use the interface I show you in the examples. I know I can reduce the code to the example you show and I can reduce the library to one class instead of two but the main objetive for me if the interface

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