phd uses an environment variables based configuration, see also Dev/prod parity for more information about this topic. There are basically two levels of configurations handled by environment variables.

Variables for controlling the application stacks (outside, on your host) with docker-compose, are defined in .env files residing in the current working directory.

If you are in the project root-folder you work with your dev environment, while you are in the tests/ folder you are working against your test stack, which has ie. an own database.

The structure of the services within a stack are defined in docker-compose.yml files, you can add or change additional databases or caching services here.

See also hierarchy & scopes below for more information about variables.

Host environment

:exclamation: Before starting the application the first time, run make init to create your .env and tests/.env from to corresponding -dist-files.

Development stack

In the .env file in your project root, there is by default just one setting:


This merges the configuration to given YAML files.

You can also set other variables here, like tokens required for running updates in a container. Please note that these variables will not be available when building the Docker image


Please also make sure to not commit the .env file and not have secrets in any -dist file.

Testing stack

For testing is it strongly recommended to set a COMPOSE_PROJECT_NAME, since docker-compose uses the directory name by default and all your containers would be prefixed with tests otherwise.


Windows users, use a semicolon as path separator COMPOSE_FILE=./docker-compose.yml;./

Application environment

Environment settings used within the application services (inside a container, such as PHP) are defined in

  • environment or env_file in docker-compose.yml, docker-compose.<CURRENT_ENVIRONMENT>.yml files (environment specific)
  • Dockerfile and/or src/app.env (application defaults).

Available environment variables for the application are defined in /app/src/config/env-defaults

app.env-dist should be adjusted and committed to reflect basic application settings, but we strongly recommend not to add secrets like passwords or tokens to the repository. Note: The app.env-dist file is intentionally copied as app.env onto the image. If you want to make changes during runtime, you also need to create a local file and mount this into the container.

Initial configuration adjustments should be made for the following values:


:build: Within a phd5-app we recommend to update app.env-dist settings, while in a phd5-template we usually update the Dockerfile.

Advanced configuration

Environment variables

Further important settings

  • YII_ENV - current application environment, eg. dev, test, prod
  • YII_DEBUG - application debug settings
  • APP_CONFIG_FILE - alias for additional configuration file
  • APP_MIGRATION_LOOKUP - alias for additional migration paths eg. @app/migrations/demo-data

For all available environment settings, see src/app.env.

To be able to use translatemanager every defined/used language must be present in the app_language table. You can insert new languages in backend: http://<YOUR_DOMAIN>/translatemanager/language/create

Development & debugging

During local development it is recommended to enable debug settings in src/app.env.

:bangbang: Make sure you do not have these settings enabled in production deployments.

PHP source-code

You find the config files for an application in src/config, those can also be changed at runtime during development:

  • config/main.php - main application configuration entrypoint
  • config/common.php - configuration for web and console applcations

:exclamation: An important difference between application and environment configuration is that ENV variables are usually immutable by convention.

Hierarchy & scopes

  • docker-compose.yml (shared across environments dev, test, prod and)
  • docker-compose.override.yml (local overrides, eg. src/ and vendor, shared across environments dev, test)
  •, docker-compose.test.yml (environment specific settings)

The following list displays configuration locations from highest to lowest priority and their corresponding scope; files are located in the application root folder / or in the tests/ direcory

Defined in .yml bash app runtime restart rebuild variable replacement
.env :ok: :x: :x: :x: :ok: :x: :x:
docker-compose.override.yml :ok: :ok: :ok: :x: :ok: :x: :ok:
docker-compose.yml :ok: :ok: :ok: :x::ok: :x: :ok:
Dockerfile :x: :ok: :ok: :x::ok: :ok: :x:
src/app.env :x: :x: :ok: :ok: :x: :x: :ok:
src/config/* :x: :x: :ok: :ok: :x: :x: :ok:

:exclamation: Values in .env must be explicitly passed to a service configuration in a .yml` file.

ENV variable are immutable by convention, so if a value is set in a Dockerfile, you can not overwrite it in your app.env file, but in docker-compose.yml.

Only values in app.env can be changed while the containers are running. If you change environment variables in docker-compose.yml you need to restart your containers.

Help us to improve the documentation, fork this page.