CTE Builder

Dave Redfern

Published: 20 Feb 23:53 in Standalone

Common Table Expression Builder

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Provides a programmatic interface via Doctrine DBAL Query Builder for creating Common Table Expressions (WITH clauses). Includes support for CTE dependencies and debugging. A CTE allows extracting a sub-select or derived query that can be executed separately to the main query, but then referenced again. Depending on the database server being used, there may be significant performance advantages to this approach, for example: in Postgres a CTE is evaluated once and the same result used no matter how many times it is referenced.

CTEs can also be used to pre-generate content that is needed multiple times, ensuring that any significant computational cost is only incurred once.

Be sure to read up on CTEs and WITH clauses for your chosen database server.


  • PHP 8.0+
  • doctrine/dbal
  • somnambulist/collection


Install using composer, or checkout / pull the files from github.com.

  • composer require somnambulist/cte-builder


CTE Builder consists of the ExpressionBuilder and the Expression. Expressions are created either directly and bound to the builder, or via the builder. The builder requires:

  • DBAL Connection

If using Symfony the default configured connection can be used.

use Somnambulist\Components\CTEBuilder\ExpressionBuilder;

$eb = new ExpressionBuilder($connection);
$expr = $eb->createExpression('first_clause');

$stmt = $eb->select('field', 'another field')->from('table_or_cte')->execute();

Each expression is its own independent query builder instance using the same connection. Each CTE can be as complex as required.

CTEs can reference other CTEs. When creating the query, use the CTE alias. It helps to use constants for the aliases to make it easier to keep them in-sync. When referencing other CTEs it is important to then set that as an explicit dependency of the CTE:

use Somnambulist\Components\CTEBuilder\ExpressionBuilder;

$eb = new ExpressionBuilder($connection);
$expr1 = $eb->createExpression('first_clause');
$expr2 = $eb->createExpression('second_clause');


It is very important to keep track of your dependencies as CTEs must be defined before they are referenced - they cannot be back-referenced; hence the need to set the dependency.

Alternatively, specify the dependencies when creating the expression:

use Somnambulist\Components\CTEBuilder\ExpressionBuilder;

$eb = new ExpressionBuilder($connection);
$expr1 = $eb->createExpression('first_clause', 'second_clause');

Note: if dependencies are specified at creation they cannot be undone i.e. they are permanently bound to the expression.

Both the ExpressionBuilder and Expression expose query() for accessing the QueryBuilder directly. Parameters can be bound to both and will be automatically merged together in the ExpressionBuilder as needed.

Note: because the CTEs can be re-ordered and all parameters must be collected together and passed to the compiled query named-placeholders MUST be used. If positional placeholders are used, the query will almost certainly fail.

Once defined a CTE can be accessed from the ExpressionBuilder either via the get() method or via a dynamic property accessor:

use Somnambulist\Components\CTEBuilder\ExpressionBuilder;

$eb = new ExpressionBuilder($connection);



If you use Symfony; using the standard Doctrine DBAL connection from your entity manager will automatically ensure that the main SQL query is automatically profiled. However: the fully compiled query with substituted parameters can be dumped by passing in a logger instance. The query will be logged using debug. This should be done when testing / debugging building a complex query.

For further insights consider using an application profiler such as:

For other frameworks; as DBAL is used, hook into the Configuration object and add an SQL logger instance that can report to your frameworks profiler.

Test Suite

Run the test suite via: vendor/bin/phpunit.

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