Setting up Subject / Observer Relationships

Table of Contents

  1. Overview
  2. In Practice
  3. Convention


Often in a program an input stimulus triggers a certain event, but as business logic grows, the number of events triggered grows. The observer pattern is an ideal way to attach responses to events. Take the simple example of a user registration which we'll call the 'registration event'.

A user registers for an insurance policy, upon invocation this event requires the following responses:

  • email sent to user confirming registration request
  • email sent to admin notifying new registrant
  • insertion of user record in a temporary table, awaiting confirmation
  • posting of user info to marketing partner gateway
  • increment of stats table
  • and so on ...

Handling these responses proceduraly quickly turns your code into a mess. Furthermore, responses should be modular so they can be reused across a range of events. Enter the observer pattern, the example here is taken from a Seagull registration.

In Practice

Looking at the insert action of the RegisterMgr, a few steps are required to setup observers that listen for this event.

Subject = the registration event,  User_AddUser, encapsulated in RegisterMgr::_cmd_insert();
Observers = EmailConfirmation, AuthenticateUser, UpdateTracAuth

The insert action must create a subject object, also referred to as an observable object. The class in question is:

class User_AddUser extends SGL_Observable {}

By extending SGL_Observable the User_AddUser class is implementing observable behaviour. Note in PHP5 the implements keyword would be more appropriate.

The observers are attached to the observable event, in this case the list of observers comes from a config file:

$addUser = new User_AddUser($input, $output);
$aObservers = explode(',', $this->conf['RegisterMgr']['observers']);
foreach ($aObservers as $observer) {
    $path = SGL_MOD_DIR . "/user/classes/observers/$observer.php";
    if (is_file($path)) {
        require_once $path;
        $addUser->attach(new $observer());

When all observers are attached, simply run the process:


Once the business logic in the observable event has been executed, invoke the observers with the following line of code:


and all attached listeners (observers) are notified that the trigger event has fired.


Currently all observers are stored within the module that requires them, in a folder called 'observers' in the classes directory.