Getting Started with Kohana 3, Part III – Controller/MVVM/KOstache

A popular framework tutorial

Posted on Apr 8, 2012
Tags webdev, kohana, tutorial, server

I am no longer using Kohana in any of my personal or professional projects. I have moved to a better, more modular framework in Silex, which I will be writing about shortly. This series has been permanently discontinued.

This is Part III of a multi-part series. Below are the links to other parts of this tutorial!

In my Getting Started with Kohana 3, Part II – Bootstrap, we went through the bootstrap.php file and figured out what many things did. We also moved our routes into a separate file for easier management. In this part III, we’ll go through the actual controller and views to get some real output into your browser, as well as setting up a popular Kohana module, KOstache.

I’ve put all the code up on my GitHub account at jtreminio/Kohana-3-Tutorial. Please feel free to clone and send it pull requests. I will try to keep each chapter in its own branch, so you can easily follow along.

Cascading Filesystem

One of my favorite features of the Kohana Framework is its cascading filesystem. It’s a great, easy to use way of extending or completely overriding core or module classes with your own code.

Documentation may be found here.

The CFS is a core concept of the framework, so it would be good to go through that page until you completely grasp how it works, which in reality is very simple.

The Kohana Framework ships with a Date class, which can be instantiated with $date = new Date. But if you look at that class, which can be found at system/classes/date.php you’ll notice it’s an empty class that simply extends Kohana_Date which is found at system/classes/kohana/date.php. If you create a new file at application/classes/date.php and set up the class then Kohana’s autoloader would look to that class when instantiating a new Date object.


In Kohana, modules are simply placed in their own folder within the modules folder. Each module should have its own folder.

Documentation may be found here.

The Controller

Kohana comes with a default controller, Controller_Welcome, which we renamed to Controller_Home in a previous step. Visiting the base URL of your application runs Controller_Home::action_index(). All URLs must have a controller prepended with Controller_ and an action prepended with action_.

Documentation may be found here.

The Controller_Home class is extremely simple and minimal – just enough to get some output to the screen. It extends the Controller class which provides it with all the necessary tools to operate, include $this->response->body().

One thing to note is that controller action methods should never return anything – any reponse you want outputted to any type of request, be it API, user’s browser, or HMVC, should be handled with the $this->response->body() method.

You pass HTML, JSON or anything else to $this->response->body(). No need to echo as the framework handles all this for you. If you pass parameters it’ll consider that as the output to send requestor. If no parameters are passed, it’ll return what you’ve previously set (if anything).

// ...

class Controller_Home extends Controller {
    public function action_index()
        $this->response->body('hello, world!');


In MVC, the Controller acts as the the manager between the Model and View. In optimal circumstances it shouldn’t be doing any heavy logic, but if you’ve been around frameworks for even a short time you’ll know that there is no lack of fat controllers in the wild.

Controllers should interact with the model by fetching data and then pass that data into the View for presentation.

Unfortunately, Kohana’s MVC makes it a little difficult to keep a skinny controller, since the Views are just templates that shouldn’t hold any logic whatsoever.

This is where MVVM comes into play. It stands for Model/View/ViewModel and it further separates out the responsibilities of each layer.

You’ll notice that Controller isn’t in the MVVM definition, but we’ll definitely still be using it but in a much leaner way. It will be reduced to responsibilities like handling HMVC requests, instantiating your ViewModel and injecting any dependencies, validation form submitions, etc. It should not deeply interact with your models, nor be used to format any output sent in the response.

If you’ve never worked with this pattern before, it may seem overly complicated and unnecessary, but hopefully by the end of this tutorial series you’ll see the benefits of separating out your concerns as much as is logical.

To turn Kohana from MVC to MVVM, you do not need to edit any core files or make any drastic changes, thanks to the Cascading File System – you only need to create more folders and write your own code. I’ll introduce the necessary steps next.


MVVC is very simple to achieve in Kohana. In fact, it’s mostly creating a few folders and installing a module that fits into the pattern.

Create the following two folders:

application/classes/view is where your ViewModel files will go. These files can include logic that interacts with your Models, formats HTML to be output in your templates, and any misc. code that does not belong directly in your presentation-layer.

application/templates will contain your files that will get rendered directly into HTML or JSON or whatever type of response you’d like to output to either the user’s browser or API script. Ideally the files in this folder should never contain any real logic other than simple if, foreach or similar functions. You should not be interacting with your model or doing any assigning in this layer.

application/views is where your templates were originally houses, but it will no longer be needed. Safe to delete.

Templating You have a multitude of options when it comes to templating with PHP.

You can go the classic route and use PHP itself as a templating engine. Every PHP developer has done this, and at the beginning it is usually organized and legible… but what happens when you bring in a designer or front-end developer that may not know the backend as well as you do? Their main strengths aren’t PHP – it’s HTML/CSS or design! Allowing full access to your models, all the powerful methods within them, is not a great idea for someone who may or may not completely understand the ramifications of calling them.

Many developers solve this issue by forcing the templates to only process variables that they specifically allow it to access. This is better than nothing, but they are still relying on the assumption that the front end guys know PHP well enough to be able to work well with it.

For templating engines you have Smarty, Dwoo, Savant3, and one of my favorites, Twig. I personally dislike working with Smarty with a passion, and have tried and found faults with other engines in the past. Twig has come close to perfect for me (I particularly like its {% block %}, but it still sometimes felt like too much logic was being handled within templates, where none should exist.

Enter Mustache which is similar to other templating systems like Smarty and Twig, with the distinct difference being that Mustache allows no logic in templates at all. It is very simple to use, is language agnostic (Mustache templates can be used in PHP, Ruby, Javascript, Python, etc without changing a single line), and allows you to be extremely explicit about what is accessible from the templates.

There is a popular Kohana module for Mustache called KOstache that was created by Kohana’s project manager, zombor.

KOstache To install KOstache, simply go to the github repo and download the zip file and extract to your modules folder, or do a git clone, then enable it in your bootstrap by adding a single line:

// ...

 * Enable modules. Modules are referenced by a relative or absolute path.
    // ...
    'KOstache'  => MODPATH.'KOstache',  // Logic-less templates

In Kohana, this is all that needs done to enable a module. From here on out you can easily access your new module by simply instantiating its’ class.

Setting up KOstache

KOstache is a great, simple to use implementation of Mustache. It completely replaces Kohana’s Controller_Template class or any other templating method you may have previously been using. All it takes is a few simple steps and you’re up and running.

I’d like to point out one more time that Kohana allows us to easily and transparently extend and modify core and module files without needing to ever touch the files included in them.

Our first step will be to create a base Kostache class to extend all our viewmodels from. This will provide us with a basic setup that we can add to later on that all our viewmodels will have access to.

Create the file application/classes/kostache.php and insert:

// ...

 * This class provides basic functionality to all Kostache classes that extend it.
abstract class Kostache extends Kohana_Kostache {

    * @var string Partial name for content ( {{>content}} )
    const CONTENT_PARTIAL = 'content';

    * @var string Base URL string
    public $base_url;

    * @var boolean Render template in layout?
    *              This includes the base layout file with the Mustache template (Included with {{>[CONTENT_PARTIAL]}})
    public $render_layout = TRUE;

    * @var string Page title
    public $title;

    /** @var string Defines base template to use.
    *               It *must* have {{>[CONTENT_PARTIAL]}} in it, calling the current view body.
    *               layout filename gets changed to ".{$_layout}.mustache"
    protected $_layout = 'layout';

    /** @var array Defines partials/child template files */
    protected $_partials = array();

    * @param string|null $template
    * @param array|null $partials
    public function __construct($template = NULL, array $partials = NULL)
        $this->base_url = URL::base(TRUE);

        parent::__construct($template, $partials);

    * Change the base template
    * @param String $layout
    * @return Kostache
    public function set_layout($layout)
        $this->_layout = $layout;

        return $this;

    * Kick off the Mustache render process and return the rendered string (HTML/JSON/etc)
    * @return string
    public function render()
        * If base layout is not to be rendered
        if ( ! $this->render_layout)
            return parent::render();

        * We want to include the base layout
        $partials = $this->_partials;

        $partials[self::CONTENT_PARTIAL] = $this->_template;

        $template = $this->_load($this->_layout);

        return $this->_stash($template, $this, $partials)->render();

I won’t go through the whole file, but will point out a few things you should know:

const CONTENT_PARTIAL = 'content'; defines the tag name that you’ll insert into your base layout file. The base layout file is a sort of master file that includes other layouts in a single location. If you’ve ever used WordPress, the index.php file is similar in that it calls the header, footer and sidebar templates. What this constant is defining is that you will use the Mustache tag {{>content}} to define where you want your current template to work on. That is, when you are working on a single article view page, say, “single-blog”, you won’t have to manually call the master template as KOstache will automatically integrate the “single-blog” template into the master template wherever you have placed the {{>content}} tag.

If you do not want a master template to be automatically called, and would rather simply display the specific template you’re working with and nothing else, you should take a look at public $render_layout = TRUE; and set it to FALSE. This would be useful for JSON reponses where you want nothing but the JSON values to be returned.

If you attempt to call a KOstache template with $render_layout set to TRUE and don’t have that tag identified anywhere in your CONTENT_PARTIAL template, you’ll get an error.

The protected $_partials = array(); line identifies extra templates you can call within either your master template (CONTENT_PARTIAL), the current template (eg: “single-blog” template), or any templates any other template calls. These are called partials.

An important note about KOstache templates: All templates should have a .mustache extension. For example, our “single-blog” template file would be named single-blog.mustache. You should simply omit the extension when defining the names. Also, KOstache will look for your templates in the application/templates folder, and it supports as many subfolders as you want, so go hogwild.

protected $_layout = '.layout'; defines the master template name… which would be .layout.mustache. The preceding dot in the name isn’t necessary, but I like to put it there as it clearly identifies a master template.

You can change the master, or base, template with the set_layout() method.

Settings up the ViewModels

Now, create two new files:

// application/classes/view/front.php

class View_Front extends Kostache {

    protected $_layout = 'front/.layout';


// application/classes/view/front/home.php

class View_Front_Home extends View_Front {}

The purpose of creating two nearly empty classes is so you can add in specific details to each viewmodel later on. For example, View_Front can be used for all frontend templates and we could later create a View_Admin class that will apply specifically to backend administrative templates. Likewise, View_Front_Home will apply to your homepage template.

Since we’ll have all frontend templates in the application/classes/view/front folder, we define the location of the master layout in View_Front. Any viewmodels that inherit this class will automatically pick that up.

Setting up the templates

Now let’s create our actual templates:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="en">
    <meta charset="utf-8" />

    <p>Begin ((>content))</p>
    <p>End ((>content))</p>

We’re simply setting up some base HTML. Notice the {{>content}}. This gets replaced with whatever our current layout’s contents are.

// application/templates/front/home.mustacheXHTML

This is the home.mustache file!

Some text just to show where our home.mustache template goes.

Setting up your controller

Now edit the front controller:

// application/controller/home.php

class Controller_Home extends Controller {

    public function action_index()
        $this->response->body('hello, world!');
        $view = new View_Front_Home;
        $view->title = 'This is our title!';


This is a very basic controller that we’ve set up. It instantiates a View_Front_Home object, sets the title (did you see the {{title}} in the .layout.mustache template?) and passes the rendered output to Kohana’s response object.

$view->render() kicks off KOstache’s rendering process, where it turns all those {{foo}} and other special tags into desired output.

Note: if you do not define a variable that is present in a Mustache template, Mustache will parse the tag as blank, removing the empty Mustache tag. This means you can omit the $view->title from above and you would have no issues. This does not extend to partial tags!

Kohana’s $this->response->body() was explained previously, but it’s what actually sends output to your browser or whatever the request method was.

Test it Out

Open your browser and go to

Surprise! It should be working.

Wrapping it up

Kohana comes packed with powerful features right out of the box, one of them being how easy it is to change almost everything about it to better suit your workflow.

You set up a great templating engine, changed the architecture around and extended module files – all without touching the core.

We’ve only just begun toying with this framework, and in the coming chapters we’ll keep adding more powerful modules (including zombor’s Auto-Modeler v5 that breaks the Model down into separate components) and utilizing many other core features.

I hope you join me as we continue exploring this great framework!