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Just mapping out a git workflow for Symphony development

A Symphony Workflow

I'm describing my workflow in these articles, before I start my next Symphony project. Mostly for myself, to iron out my recurring problems, it is based on solid git techniques, taking heed of advice learned from Symphony community members, many many tips on the web, and flicking through the pages of O'Reilly's Version Control with git.

The core aim of this article, is to get a good Symphony development and deployment environment using git as the basis for the organisation, and have it written down for reference.

This workflow can be applied to any project, in theory, that has a starting point being a private remote git repo.


This article assumes you will be developing Symphony projects, and storing them under private remote repos. Due to some of the techniques described in this article, sensitive information will be made publicly available about your install and database if you decide to store your project under public remote repos. I hold no responsibility for you doing this publicly. You have been warned!


Planning a Symphony Workflow

So, where to begin and what to do. We need to outline a few things first, so we don't miss anything in the setup. I know from experience that having to backtrack and retrospectively do project-wide setup can go horribly wrong, and there have been many times I've scrapped a repo and started again (usually down to submodule headaches, and my own oversights). Luckily, I'm a sole developer. Just try doing that when there are two or more of you, and you could end up on the losing side of a git battle, and we don't want to fall out with developers.

Keeping branches separate

We need to Keep the Symphony, Development and Master branches separate. This is key to a hassle free working life, and can make it very easy to do separate work on mainline development, bug-fixing, and urgent quick-fix development all on the same source code. It will allow you to make use of the really useful git stash command and temporary git branching.

The best git branching model explanation I've seen, and advocate at my employers agency is 'A successful git branching model, by Vincent Driessen'. I highly recommend reading this article, as I won't go in to detail here.

We will begin with three branches master, develop and symphony to separate out our main actions. More will be added later, following the branching model.

Hang on, symphony isn't on the branching model!

No, it's not. As we're using Symphony, which gets updated often, we need a separate branch that's not in the model to pull our updates into; This way, we can test for any merge conflicts separately of our development, therefore keeping Symphony core development separate to that of our site.

Apply your remotes early

This makes sure that before development starts, you have all your sources/targets in place. It should really only be your repo and the Symphony repo to start with.

If you're planning to deploy the site to git enabled web-servers, there will be another remote or two to add, but this is beyond the scope of my requirements. Maybe in another article...

Physically map out your workflow

Whether you use Illustrator, Inkscape or some UML/ERD software, map out where everything goes. I have a bad memory personally, so it helps.

Extensions and Libraries Submodules

With a Symphony project, you're inevitably going to use submodules for extensions, and libraries of code too. This can be a pain to do if you don't plan it properly first. With submodules being quite a new feature in the life-cycle of Git, they are still buggy in their implementation, and the issues haven't even been fully discussed yet, let alone ironed out, especially when it comes to removal/deletion. So proper planning can be a lifesaver.

List the extensions, code libraries and submodules you intend to use for the project. Adding these later isn't a problem, but start a list, including the remote paths for them. It's better to copy and paste during setup than to have to keep going and finding them. Later additions can be added, to keep a record of outsourced code.

Extensions Planning

When it comes to extensions, it's very useful to make your list like the following, so you can use my method of automatically adding them all at once. The list needs to be a plain text csv document stored like the following:


Notice how there is no space after the comma? It needs to be that way if you intend to automatically add them all.

The above list is of the extensions that ship with Symphony, so you won't need to list these, but your list should follow suit.

The first item is the git link to the extension's repo. You will need to use read-only links here, don't use write access links as these can cause issues for developers who don't have write access to the extension. The second item is the path from the root of your repo. If you save it in this format, you will be pleasantly surprised later on

Libraries Planning

You're inevitably going to use code libraries at some point in your project too. Libraries are such things as jQuery, jQuery plug-ins etc. Making a list of ones you think you'll need will help in the future, but don't worry about it as these things will more than likely not be known until later in your project.

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Flex your terminal fingers

And we shall begin...

This example project is called mywebsite. You should replace these references with something more meaningful to your project.

You may notice through this process that we aren't doing any git clones. Cloning a repo is ideal for development on that code-base, but that isn't what we want to do here. We are starting a new project that uses an existing code-base as a kick-off point, not a duplicate of it, that's why we need to do a little more work in setting it up.

Setting Up

Firstly, we need to set up the project. My personal preference is to have a root folder for each project as the following:

/mywebsite					// I set my IDE to this root
/mywebsite/httpdocs			// Contains the site HTTP files, is the git repo
/mywebsite/project-files	// Contains any project documents

This way, I can keep my IDE and project files out of the git repo, for a clean code base.

In Terminal, make the folders then initialise the git repo:

mkdir mywebsite mywebsite/httpdocs mywebsite/project-files
cd mywebsite
git init

Once this is done, we can start to add our remotes.

Our Remotes

We will need to apply at least our two main remotes for the project. One for the Symphony official Github repo, and the other for your project's remote repo.

For Symphony, we need to use git options to limit what we use from the repo. This will enable us to not overload our project with excess information that we will never use, i.e. all of the Symphony version tags and other branches.

The options we use are:

  • --no-tags which will make sure we never pull the tag list down. You just have to ask yourself:

    What happens when I want to tag my site as 2.0 or 2.1, when that version tag already exists in Symphony?


  • -t master which will only deal with the master branch for our repo. (Some of you may notice that this is tracking the two branches together, but we will change this later.)

In Terminal, add the git remotes

git remote add --no-tags -t master symphonycms git://
git remote add mywebsite

Our second remote makes use of the ssh style git protocol to give us write access to the repository, where myusername is the username you have on Github. Feel free to host your project elsewhere, changing the details as required.

Branching Our Project

We need to set up our branches next, but just before that, we have to give our project some default content to work with. We have to fetch and pull the Symphony repo into the project.

Firstly we need to fetch a reference to the Symphony repo. With this step, we can make sure we don't copy the entire history of the project and bloat our own project.

In Terminal, fetch the Symphony repo

git fetch --depth 1 symphonycms

Next we pull the Symphony repo to give our branches a default start point to work from, so that when we set up our remote tracking, we have some content to track. If we tried to do all this without content, problems will ensue.

In Terminal, pull the Symphony repo

git pull symphonycms

Once done, we can start branching. We should specify the start point for best practice. It isn't required, but getting into the habit will benefit us in the long run. Our start point is the current and default branch of master

In Terminal, create the required branches

git branch symphony master
git branch develop master

All is good so far. Now we have our three branches.

Remote Tracking

Remote tracking makes it easier for us to push and pull from our remotes, without having to remember which branches on our remotes we are working with. When you end up having lots of branches for different features/bug-fixes/developers, things can get very confusing when you have to switch between them for simultaneous development and management of your project.

First off, we need to push to our site's remote to give us something to track to, for all of our project branches (including the Symphony branch). If we skip this step, git will give us an error when setting up tracking, saying that the branches don't exist on the remote.

In Terminal, push to our remote

git push --all mywebsite

Now we can commence tracking our remotes

In Terminal, apply tracking for our branches

git branch --set-upstream master mywebsite/master
git branch --set-upstream develop mywebsite/develop
git branch --set-upstream symphony symphonycms/master

An upstream basically tells git that the branches are linked to each other, and lets git give us useful information when committing changes, like how many commits we are ahead of the remote, or whether the remote has received more commits than we have locally. This information can become vital when dealing with multiple developers. It also allows us to omit the branch name to push to, so dependent on which branch we are developing on we can use

git push mywebsite

instead of

git push mywebsite master


git push mywebsite develop

So, that's the setup complete, now all we need to do is checkout our development branch, and get on with it.

In Terminal, checkout the develop branch

git checkout develop

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Adding Extension Submodules

Adding submodules is rather easy. Just make sure you get it right, as removing mistakes isn't easy. It can be really annoyingly confusing (until you read Removing Submodules that is).

To add a Symphony extension, you need to know the repo's path and the extension's directory folder name. Irrespective of the fact that some extension developers don't use the generally accepted method of naming a repo, we will have to manually write out the extensions path to add it.

If you have made the list as mentioned in Planning A Symphony Workflow, then you can just copy and paste the required text.

In Terminal, from the root of your repo, add an extension like so:

git submodule add git:// extensions/extension

The git:// path is the path to the developer's repo, and the second path is where we would like the extension to be added within the /extensions folder. You really need to get these paths right because once the submodule is added, it can't be changed other than updating the contents.

Auto Adding Extension Submodules

Because we will invariably want to use lots of the really cool extensions that are available to Symphony, adding them one by one at the beginning of the project is going to make you pull your hair out in desperation of finding a better way of doing it, well, look no further! I asked for help and I got it, so now I will share this with you all.

The first thing you will need is the list of extensions you should have made during the Planning A Symphony Workflow section. We will need this to automate the extension adding. Thoroughly check this list to make sure that there are no mistakes, as the automation process isn't foolproof by any means, and will just keep on trucking past mistakes.

In a text editor of your choice, write this code out

while IFS="," read one two
git submodule add "$one" "$two"
done < "$filename"
git submodule update --init

What's that? Doesn't make any sense to you? No, me neither, but it works. Thanks go to ghostdog74 on for writing this for me. I'm no bash-er and would never have come up with this.

Once you have this script, save it as, somewhere that you can access it via your shell.

On my Mac, I have it saved under /usr/local/bin which is in my path. You will need to give it Execute permissions to use it too.

OK. Ready? Grab the path to the list you made earlier.

In Terminal, from the root of your repo, run the script path/to/extensions.csv

This will automatically add every extension you have listed in the csv file. Magical eh?

Removing Submodules

Submodules can be a nightmare and the bain of a git user, although as a feature, they're quite cool! Until you need to remove them, that is.

There isn't as of yet a magical command to do this, why it's been left out I don't really know, but it is doable, it just takes a little work.

Multiple Manifest's

One problem that has been encountered by many with Symphony is how to keep separate configurations for separate servers. There is discussion among the working groups to add this functionality in to the config file, but until that happens, we should use Rowan Lewis' method of adding multiple manifest's.

Warning: this is the bit the disclaimer was talking about. manifest/config.php is where your database details are stored and will be tracked by git using the method outlined here. If you add this to git control and save it publicly, everyone and their grandmother will have your database!

The following has been taken from Rowan's article, and updated to fit this article's writing style.

Rowan talks about just two manifest folders, one for each server in the workflow, however my own workflow uses three servers (dev, staging, production) so I will be writing for three.

Create the Manifest folder

Firstly, as we haven't installed Symphony yet, we need to create the manifest folder ourselves.

In Terminal, at the root of your repo, create some folders

mkdir manifest manifest/cache manifest/logs manifest/tmp

We will need to add some git ignore code to these now to ensure that the contents are hidden from Git

In Terminal, create some ignore files

touch manifest/cache/.gitignore manifest/logs/.gitignore manifest/tmp/.gitignore

These files need to be edited now to contain the following lines. You can use your personal editor of choice.


This tells git to ignore every file except for the ignore file itself, which is handy as git won’t try and merge temp files, cache files or logs.

Now, we will use this manifest folder to create our live and development manifests.

A Manifest For Each Server

As we're writing about a three server workflow, we will need to duplicate this manifest folder for each server in our workflow.

In Terminal, copy the manifest folder, appending the name of the server to the end

cp -R manifest
cp -R manifest manifest.stage
mv manifest

That last command just renames the manifest folder to our production copy. It's easier than copying three times and deleting one.

Let Symphony See the Manifest

If we were to install Symphony at this stage, it would create itself a new manifest folder, and ignore the hard (easy really) work we've just done, so we need to let Symphony know that there is a manifest folder already there. We do this by creating a link to the relevant manifest.* folder we've created.

In Terminal, create a symbolic link

ln -s manifest

Easy as that. Now we need to let Git see that we have three extra folders to track.

Hang on, only three? What about the link we just created?

Good question. Because of the nature of the manifest folder for Symphony, we never track it's content as it can get very heavy with temp files, cache files etc, and constantly merging them with each commit will be tedious, especially when they are only relevant to the current install of Symphony.

Symphony uses the .gitignore file at it's root to ignore the manifest folder, but our symbolic link will not be ignored as standard. We want our other manifest folders to be tracked by Git, so that when we deploy to a server, we can create a symbolic link there too, and have our config file ready and waiting to work. So, to ignore the manifest sym-link, edit your root .gitignore file, and under the line manifest/ add manifest.

In Terminal, track the manifest folders and commit them

git add manifest.*
git commit -m 'Added manifest folders'
git push mywebsite

When we install Symphony on our dev server now, it will create all the relevant files under the folder as we sym-linked to it. A config file will be created too, and this is the only file you will need to copy into each other manifest folder. When you are ready to push to another server, all you will need to do is copy the config.php file and change the database section to match you servers database details.

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Installing Symphony

Installing Symphony couldn't be easier. I'm not going into it in this article, as the process has already been well documented on the Symphony site. The links below will guide you through the process. Notice that I'm starting in the middle of the documented process? That's because we've just done the first bits, albeit slightly differently. Enjoy.

Check Server Requirements (

Create a Database (

Run the Install Script (

Conclusion (

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