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Integrating Composer class loader into TYPO3 CMS

In our efforts to make the TYPO3 CMS system faster and closer oriented to common PHP standard systems, we looked into the integration of the class loader that is used by all composer-based projects. We consider this functionality a crucial feature for the future of TYPO3 CMS on the base level, but also as a dramatic increase of the overall performance of every request inside TYPO3 CMS.

Understanding the TYPO3 CMS class loader

The TYPO3 class loader is instantiated within the TYPO3 CMS Bootstrap at a very early point. It does a lot of logic (checking ext_autoload.php, ClassAliasMap.php), and caches this logic away on a per-class basis by default in typo3temp/Cache/ to store all information for a class. This information contains: The full path to the class, the namespaced class name itself and possible class aliases.

The latter part looks into all extensions and checks the Migrations/ClassAliasMap.php file for any possible “legacy class” that could be used (e.g. t3lib_extmgm). This way, all extensions still using non-namespaced class that are shipped with the TYPO3 core are still made available.

The information is stored in a SimpleFileBackend via the built-in Caching Framework by default. At the early stage of the bootstrap process some classes need to be included manually as the whole TYPO3 core engine has not been loaded yet. This is done for all PHP classes in use, which may result in 500+ files inside typo3temp/Cache which are created one by one on an initial request with no caches set up. This is done by intention on a per-file-basis during runtime as a cache file is only created if a PHP class is requested to be instantiated. On a second hit, the caching framework does not create the cache files, but fetches one by one for each class used in the request via a separate file_get_contents() call.

When debugging the TYPO3 CMS system on an initial request, there are a lot of file_get_contents() and file_put_contents() calls to store and fetch this information. This is quite a lot of overhead for loading PHP classes. Even without a lot of class aliases (e.g. in CMS7) this overhead of writing / storing the file caches still exists. Some overhead however is already taken care, especially if a class is loaded which is shipped with the core and no class alias is used.

This is all built in a way so a lot of backwards-compatibility can be ensured.

Understanding the Composer class loader

Compared to the TYPO3 CMS class loader, the composer class loader concept differs in the following major points:

Caching on build stage

When setting up a project, like a TYPO3 CMS project, Composer checks the main composer.json of a project and builds a static file with all PSR-4 prefixes defined in that json file. Unless in a development environment or when updating the source, this file does not need to be rebuilt as the PHP classes of the loaded packages won’t change in a regular instance. This way all classes available inside TYPO3 CMS are always available to the class loader.

Using PSR-4 compatible prefix-based resolving

Instead of looking up every single class and caching the information away, composer works on a “prefix”-based resolution. As an example, the Composer class loader only needs to know that all PHP classes starting with TYPO3\CMS\Core are located within typo3/sysext/core/Classes. The rest is done by a simple resolution to include the necessary PHP class files. This means that the information to be cached away is only the list of available namespace-prefixes. All classes inside the TYPO3 CMS Core are PSR-4 compatible since TYPO3 CMS 6.0 already.

The definition of these prefixes is set inside the composer.json of each package or distribution / project. In the TYPO3 CMS Core, every system extension defined these namespace prefixes already since TYPO3 CMS 7.1 and TYPO3 CMS 6.2.10.

Autoloading developer-specific data differently

The composer class loader checks the composer.json for a development installation differently, including e.g. Unit and Functional Tests separately to the rest of the installation. The static map with all namespaces are thus different when using Composer with "composer install" or "composer install --no-dev"

Integration Approach

The Composer class loader is injected inside the Bootstrap process of TYPO3 CMS and registered before the TYPO3 class loader. This means that a lookup on a class name is first checked via the Composer logic, and if none found, the regular TYPO3 class loader takes over.

The support for class aliases is quite important for TYPO3 CMS, but is not supported by Composer by default. There is a separate Composer package created by Helmut Hummel (available on which serves as a facade to the Composer class loader and creates not just the information for the prefixes but also the available class aliases for a class and loads them as well.

The necessary information about the “which namespaced classes can be found at which place” is created before every release and shipped inside the typo3_src directory. The generated class information is available under typo3/contrib/vendor/composer/. For TYPO3 installations that are set up with composer, the TYPO3 bootstrap checks Packages/Libraries/autoload.php first which can be shipped with any composer-based project and include many more PHP Composer packages than just TYPO3 extensions. To ensure maximum backwards-compatibility, the option to load from Packages/Library/autoload.php instead of the shipped "required-core-packages-only" needs to be activated via an environment variable called "TYPO3_COMPOSER_AUTOLOAD" which needs to be set on server-side level.

If the composer-based logic is not used in some legacy cases (for extensions etc), the usual TYPO3 class loader comes into play and does the same logic as before. Please note that during the CMS7 development this might be improved further.

See the following reviews for the change:

Backport Considerations

We backported the base functionality to TYPO3 CMS 6.2. The integration of the Composer class loader decreases the loading of a frontend page inside a real-life installation up to 10% on a “first hit” (no caches set up) and up to 8% on a fully cached page. This leads to fewer race conditions while setting up class loader caches, as the TYPO3 class loader cache is not as populated as much as before. The IO access to the file systems is decreased due to less lookups of classes in temporary files. If used in a pure-composer-setup together with the environment variable "TYPO3_COMPOSER_AUTOLOAD" activated, the performance increase will be even bigger.

The integration is a 1:1 backport without adaptations to the base code, only to load different class maps. The functionality contains proper fallbacks, so there will be no breaking changes.

Do I need a Packages/ directory then for 6.2 as well?

No. For 6.2 a pre-generated autoload.php (and additional necessary files) are committed to “typo3/contrib/vendor” directory and used for the TYPO3 core if it is not installed via composer.

Project Setup and Extension Considerations

If you already use Composer to set up your project, and the composer.json and their extensions ship a valid composer.json, the Composer class loader generates the valid PSR-4 cache file with all prefixes on installation and update. Running "composer update" will automatically re-generate the PSR-4 cache file.

The Composer class loader also supports PSR-0 and static inclusion of files, which can be used as well.

As a base line: Any regular installation will see a proper speed improvement after the update to the Composer class loader.

How to Measure

We used xhprof to profile the overall performance with a default caching setup shipped with the TYPO3 CMS default configuration.

We measured non-cached page (after clearing all caches, including system caches) and a fully cached page. Of course any TYPO3 backend requests profit from this change as well.

We noticed a decrease in request times, and the number of function calls, as well as large drop of file_get_contents() and file_put_contents() in the function calls.

We measured these changes with a 6.2 installation as well as a TYPO3 installation on master, the first one set up with the tarball distribution shipped on