Expressive allows you to write PSR-15 middleware applications for the web.

PSR-15 consumes PSR-7 HTTP Message Interfaces; these are the incoming request and outgoing response for your application. By using both PSR-15 and PSR-7, we ensure that your applications will work in other contexts that are compatible with these standards.

Middleware is any code sitting between a request and a response; it typically analyzes the request to aggregate incoming data, delegates it to another layer to process, and then creates and returns a response. Middleware can and should be relegated only to those tasks, and should be relatively easy to write and maintain.

PSR-15 also defines request handlers; these are classes that receive a request and return a response, without delegating to other layers of the application. These are generally the inner-most layers of your application.

Middleware is also designed for composability; you should be able to nest middleware and re-use middleware.

With Expressive, you can build middleware applications such as the following:


Expressive builds on zend-stratigility to provide a robust convenience layer on which to build applications. The features it provides include:

Stratigility provides limited, literal matching only via its PathMiddlewareDecorator. Expressive allows you to utilize dynamic routing capabilities from a variety of routers, providing much more fine-grained matching capabilities. The routing layer also allows restricting matched routes to specific HTTP methods, and will return "405 Not Allowed" responses with an "Allow" HTTP header containing allowed HTTP methods for invalid requests.

Routing is abstracted in Expressive, allowing the developer to choose the routing library that best fits the project needs. By default, we provide wrappers for Aura.Router, FastRoute, and the zend-router.

Expressive encourages the use of Dependency Injection, and defines its Application class to compose a PSR-11 ContainerInterface instance. The container is used to lazy-load middleware, whether it is piped (Stratigility interface) or routed (Expressive).

While Expressive does not assume templating is being used, it provides a templating abstraction. Developers can write middleware that typehints on this abstraction, and assume that the underlying adapter will provide layout support and namespaced template support.

Applications should handle errors gracefully, but also handle them differently in development versus production. Expressive provides both basic error handling via Stratigility's own ErrorHandler implementation, providing specialized error response generators that can perform templating or use Whoops.

Flow Overview

Below is a diagram detailing the workflow used by Expressive.

Expressive Architectural Flow

The Application acts as an "onion"; in the diagram above, the top is the outer-most layer of the onion, while the bottom is the inner-most.

The Application dispatches each middleware. Each middleware receives a request and a delegate for handing off processing of the request should the middleware not be able to fully process it itself. Internally, the delegate composes a queue of middleware, and invokes the next in the queue when invoked.

Any given middleware can return a response, at which point execution winds its way back out the onion.


The terminology "pipeline" is often used to describe the onion. One way of looking at the "onion" is as a queue, which is first-in-first-out (FIFO) in operation. This means that the first middleware on the queue is executed first, and this invokes the next, and so on (and hence the "next" terminology). When looked at from this perspective:

  • In most cases, the entire queue will not be traversed.
  • The inner-most layer of the onion represents the last item in the queue, and should be guaranteed to return a response; usually this is indicative of a malformed request (HTTP 400 response status) and/or inability to route the middleware to a handler (HTTP 404 response status).
  • Responses are returned back through the pipeline, in reverse order of traversal.

Double pass middleware

The system described above is what is known as lambda middleware. Each middleware receives the request and a handler, and you pass only the request to the handler when wanting to hand off processing:

php function (ServerRequestInterface $request, RequestHandlerInterface $handler) { $response = $handler->handle($request); return $response->withHeader('X-Test', time()); }

In Expressive 1.X, the default middleware style was what is known as double pass middleware. Double pass middleware receives both the request and a response in addition to the handler, and passes both the request and response to the handler when invoking it:

php function (ServerRequestInterface $request, ResponseInterface $response, callable $next) { $response = $next($request, $response); return $response->withHeader('X-Test', time()); }

It is termed "double pass" because you pass both the request and response when delegating to the next layer.

Expressive 3 no longer supports double-pass middleware directly. However, if you decorate it using Zend\Stratigility\doublePassMiddleware(), we can consume it. That function requires first the double-pass middleware, and then a response prototype (which will be passed as the $response argument to the middleware):

```php use function Zend\Stratigility\doublePassMiddleware;

$app->pipe(doublePassMiddleware(function ($request, $response, $next) { // ... }, new Response())); ```

If you use double-pass middleware, do not use the $response instance passed to it unless you are returning it specifically (e.g., because you are not delegating to another layer).

The Application allows arbitrary middleware to be injected, with each being executed in the order in which they are attached; returning a response from middleware prevents any middleware attached later from executing.

The middleware pipeline is executed in the order of attachment.

Expressive provides default implementations of "routing" and "dispatch" middleware, which you will attach to the middleware pipeline. These are implemented as the classes Zend\Expressive\Router\Middleware\RouteMiddleware and Zend\Expressive\Router\Middleware\DispatchMiddleware, respectively.

Routing within Expressive consists of decomposing the request to match it to middleware that can handle that given request. This typically consists of a combination of matching the requested URI path along with allowed HTTP methods:

Dispatching is simply the act of calling the middleware mapped by routing. The two events are modeled as separate middleware to allow you to act on the results of routing before attempting to dispatch the mapped middleware; this can be useful for implementing route-based authentication or validation, or, as we provide by default, handling HEAD and OPTIONS requests, or providing 405 Method Not Allowed responses.

The majority of your application will consist of routing rules that map to routed middleware and request handlers.

Middleware piped to the application earlier than routing should be middleware that you wish to execute for every request. These might include:

Such middleware may decide that a request is invalid, and return a response; doing so means no further middleware will be executed! This is an important feature of middleware architectures, as it allows you to define application-specific workflows optimized for performance, security, etc.

Middleware piped to the application after the routing and dispatch middleware will execute in one of two conditions:

As such, the largest use case for such middleware is to provide a "default" error response for your application, usually as an HTTP 404 Not Found response.

The main points to remember are: