Practical PHP Patterns: Record Set

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Practical PHP Patterns: Record Set

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This is the last article from the Practical PHP Patterns series. Stay tuned on css.dzone.com for the new series, Practical PHP Testing Patterns.

The RecordSet pattern's goal is to represent a set of relational database rows, with the main purpose of giving access to their values (a data structure), sometimes with the possibility of modification (via single Row Data Gateway instances). Despite the term set, the rows have usually a defined order.

The intent is ultimately representing a result from an SQL query with an object, to gain the usual advantages of objects over scalars and functions: it can be passed around but maintain its encapsulated behavior, injected, mocked, wrapped and so on.

A Record Set is usually not mocked if it is provided by an external extension or library, because instancing a real one working on a lightweight database such as Sqlite is used in substitution for the real one. Especially in the PHP world, this solution is fast enough to become a standard.

Today, Record Set is less used on the client side to favor Object-Relational Mapping approaches, which make some kind of translation over the raw rows (what an horrible pun). Record Set instead maintains by definition a one-to-one relationship with the table rows, and it is still diffused in ORM internals (such as Doctrine's own code) or in applications that call PDO directly. It is a fairly basic pattern, but given that a vast part of legacy PHP applications still uses mysql_query()...

Interesting things happen when...

Interesting leverages of this pattern happen when someone stays in the middle between the Record Set creation and the user interface, with the goal of modifying or decorating it. The UI can then explore the RecordSet and automatically generate itself, in a form of scaffolding. Continuing on this line of thought, UI components can  edit the RecordSet without knowing the model which it refers to, via building forms driven by the Record Set metadata. This solution is diffused, but it does not scale to Domain Models with a level of complexity greater than plain arrays.

Of course, the Record Set may also encapsulate business logic as a low-cost form of Domain Model. In this case, the ability to unlink it from the database connection is important to its serializability and ease of testing.


PDOStatement represents both a SQL query and a RecordSet implementation, after it has been executed. When fetching all the results, it returns an array.

In other languages Record Sets are more evolved and can for example be used to navigate a table and modify only certain records (via their annexed Row Data Gateway). PDOStatement is used only for reading.

If you want further functionalities (which obviously depends on your domain), you should create your own Record Set accordingly. It is probably best to wrap the PDOStatement because extending it is out of question due to the instantiation not being under our control.

 * This isn't a Record Set: it is a Table Data Gateway
class TweetsTable
    private $connection;

    public function __construct(PDO $connection)
        $this->connection = $connection;

    public function getTweetsRecordSet($username)
         * @var PDOStatement this is a Record Set
        $stmt = $this->connection->prepare('SELECT * FROM tweets WHERE username = :username');
        $stmt->bindValue(':username', $username, PDO::PARAM_STR);
        return $stmt;

$pdo = new PDO('sqlite::memory:');
$pdo->exec('CREATE TABLE tweets (id INT NOT NULL, username VARCHAR(255) NOT NULL, text VARCHAR(255) NOT NULL, PRIMARY KEY(id))');
$pdo->exec('INSERT INTO tweets (id, username, text) VALUES (42, "giorgiosironi", "Practical PHP Patterns has come to an end")');
$pdo->exec('INSERT INTO tweets (id, username, text) VALUES (43, "giorgiosironi", "Cool series: will continue as Practical PHP Testing Patterns")');

// client code
$table = new TweetsTable($pdo);
$recordSet = $table->getTweetsRecordSet('giorgiosironi');
while ($row = $recordSet->fetch()) {



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