Writing your own types of annotations

What is an Annotation?

An annotation is just a class - it is merely the way it gets initialized (and instantiated) that makes it an annotation.

In order for a class to work as an annotation, it must:

  • have a constructor with no arguments - e.g.: function __construct() (or no constructor)
  • implement the IAnnotation interface - e.g.: function initAnnotation($properties)
  • be annotated with an @usage annotation - see below for details.

Beyond the quantitative requirements, you should make some qualitative considerations. Here are some things to consider:

  • Annotations are specifications - they can provide default values for various components, or define additional behaviors or metadata. But your components should not depend on a specific annotation - if you find you’re trying to define an annotation that is required for your components to operate, there’s a good chance you’d be better off defining that behavior as an interface.
  • Try to design your annotation types for general purposes, rather than for a specific purpose - there is a good chance you may be able to use the same metadata in new ways at a later time. Choose broad terms for class-names (and property-names) so as not to imply any specific meaning - just describe the information, not it’s purpose.
  • Do you need a new annotation type, or can one of the existing types be used to define what you’re trying to specify? Be careful not to duplicate your specifications, as this leads to situations where you’ll be forced to write the same metadata in two different formats - the point of annotations is to help eliminate this kind of redundancy and overhead.


The UsageAnnotation class defines the constraints and behavior of an annotation.

An instance of the built-in @usage annotation must be applied to every annotation class, or to it’s ancestor - the @usage annotation itself is inheritable, and can be overridden by a child class.

The standard @length annotation, for example, defines it’s use as follows:

 * Specifies validation of a string, requiring a minimum and/or maximum length.
 * @usage('property'=>true, 'inherited'=>true)
class LengthAnnotation extends ValidationAnnotationBase

This specification indicates that the annotation may be applied to properties, and that the annotation can be inherited by classes which extend a class to which the annotation was applied.

The @usage annotation is permissive; that is, all of it’s properties are false by default - you have to turn on any of the permissions/features that apply to your annotation class, by setting each property to true.

Let’s review the available properties.

  • The $class, $property and $method flags simply specify to which type(s) of source-code elements an annotation is applicable.
  • The $multiple flag specifies whether more than one annotation of this type may be applied to the same source-code element
  • The $inherited flag specifies whether the annotation(s) will be inherited by a class extending the class to which the annotations were applied.

Different combinations of the $multiple and $inherited flags result in the following behavior:

  $multiple=true $multiple=false
$inherited=true Multiples allowed and inherited Only one allowed, inherited with override
$inherited=false Multiples allowed, not inherited Only one allowed, not inherited

Note that annotations with $multiple=false and $inherited=true are a special case, in which only one annotation is allowed on the same code-element, and is inherited - but can be overridden by a child-class which would otherwise inherit the annotation.

When overriding an inherited annotation, it’s important to understand that the individual properties of an annotation are not inherited - the entire annotation is replaced by the overriding annotation.