Back in August I started working in PHPStorm, and as I’ve delved into the more advanced features recently, I’ve begun to wonder how I ever managed without it. The feature-set of this application is just mind-blowing and I’ve been able to automate many tasks which might otherwise have involved a lot of tedious repetition.

One thing that always bugged me though was that auto-completion didn’t work for my CakePHP 2 projects. That is, I wanted to be able to type $this-> in a controller class and a the list of properties/methods including components and models. Further, I wanted to be able to hit ctrl-b and jump to method declarations in model classes. Likewise, I wanted auto-complete and ‘jump’ support in view files.

Setting up PHPStorm for auto-completion with CakePHP 2 is pretty straightforward. Google is full of decent tutorials - here’s the one I used. In most cases it’s a case of adding some doc block properties to the appropriate classes. The app that I work on most has more than 150 model classes, a similar number of controllers and many hundreds of view files (*.ctp). The prospect of having to manualy add in those doc blocks was quite daunting, and also seemed like a waste of time.

So, I found a way to automate it!


I wanted to be able to auto-complete components and models from within controllers. Components were pretty easy - I just added the following to my AppController doc block:

 * @property AuthComponent $Auth
 * ...
 * @property FooComponent $Foo

As I only use a handful of components in my app, this was easy to do manually. I didn’t want to go down this route with models and add those to the AppController because I wanted my auto-completion to be a bit smarter and more specific to each controller class.

So, I wrote a CakePHP shell script wich did the following:

  • Scanned the controller folder
  • For each found controller file (matching FooController.php), assume we need a matching Foo model property
  • Scan the contents of the controller for any calls to $this->loadModel('Bar') (in this case we would have a property called $Bar
  • Generate the doc block contents and automatically insert it into the controller class, being careful not to overwrite any existing doc block

If a controller had a dependency on a model which didn’t have its own class file, I had the doc block use AppModel as the class for auto-completion. I’d end up with something like this in a controller doc block:

 * @property Foo $Foo Foo model
 * @property AppModel $Bar Bar model
 * /
 class FooController extends AppController {

Easy peasy!


Model classes need similar doc blocks for auto-completing associated models. For example, if model Bar has a belongsTo relationship with model Foo, I want to be able to have auto-completion for doing $this->Foo within the Bar class.

With 150+ model classes and even more model associations to manage, again I wanted to automate this. I wrote another shell script which did the following:

  • Scanned the model folder
  • For each found model file (matching Foo.php), used reflection to determine which models it had associations with
  • Examined the association definitions to see if the className property was set, in which case the doc block had to be tailored accordingly
  • Checked to see if the class exists, and if not use AppModel for auto-completion
  • Generate and insert the doc block into the model class

This resulted in something like:

 * @property Bar $Bar
 * @property Baz $Bat
 * @property AppModel $Garr
 * /
 class Foo extends AppModel
    public $belongsTo = [
        "Bat" => [
            "className" => "Baz"    //in this case "Bat" is just an alias for the "Baz" class
        "Garr"  //the class "Garr" doesn't exist, even though there is a table called "garrs" in the DB, so auto-completion has to use AppModel


To get auto-completion in view files (.ctp), you need to add a docblock which defines the meaning of $this within the file. Most tutorials advise telling you to define it as referring to the standard Cake View class. In Cake 2 at least, the standard View class contains doc blocks defining all of the core helpers as properties. However, it obviously doesn’t offer anything for your own custom helpers.

To get around this, I created a class called AppView which extends the core View class. This class isn’t touched in any by the actual application - it’s only there for auto-completion, so it feels a bit hacky but personally I think this is an acceptable solution ;-) Here’s what the class contains:

 * This class does nothing. It is not touched in any way by the application. It is simply here to define the helpers used
 * in views, allowing auto-completion in PHPStorm custom helpers in view files (*.ctp)
 * @property FooHelper $Foo
 * @property ExtendedFormHelper $Form
 class AppView extends View {}

Just by creating this class and including it in the project, PHPStorm can use it for auto-completion in view files. You didn’t even have to include this file in version control if you don’t want to. Again, I generated the list of helpers to include in the doc block using a PHP script.

Then, all you have to do is add this to all of your application’s view (.ctp) files:

 * @var $this AppView

Once again, I achieved this using an automated shell script.

The scripts

The scripts I used can be found here. I would suggest using this as a base for creating your own shell class. You could then invoke these from the CLI like so:

$ Console/cake tools modelDocBlocks

As they are, these scripts will change the content of your class files so use with caution!


After running all of these scripts, I did a few QA steps to make sure I hadn’t broken my app:

  • I ran my test suite (obvs)
  • I did a few manual inspections of the affected files (I used Git to double-check that only the intended files had been touched)
  • I did a few Git diffs to double-check that only the doc blocks had been touched
  • I then used PHP’s built-in linter to double-check that I hadn’t introduced any parse errors:

find app/Model \( -name "*.php" \) -print0 | xargs -0 -n 1 php -lf

Thanks to twisty for this gist which shows how to lint multiple fies at once.