PHP: Should You Use Inheritance or Composition?


The debate between composition vs inheritance has been ongoing. Both are essential tools in a developer’s toolkit, but which one is the right choice for your project? In this blog post, I will explore the inheritance vs. composition debate, showcasing their pros, cons along with real-world use cases. Discover the best approach to structure your PHP code and make informed decisions in your next project.

When developing PHP applications, one of the fundamental decisions you’ll face is how to structure your code to ensure flexibility, maintainability, and scalability. In object-oriented programming (OOP), two common approaches are often discussed: inheritance and composition.

In this blog post, I will explore the differences between these two techniques, provide real-world examples, and guide you in choosing the right approach for your PHP projects.

Understanding PHP Inheritance

Inheritance is one of the core principles of OOP, allowing you to create a new class (a subclass or child class) based on an existing class (a superclass or parent class).

The child class inherits properties and methods from the parent class, promoting code reuse and establishing an “is-a” relationship.Here’s a simple PHP example using inheritance:

class Animal {
    protected $name;

    public function __construct($name) 
        $this->name = $name;

    public function speak() {
        return "Animal speaks";

class Dog extends Animal {
    public function speak() {
        return "Woof!";

$dog = new Dog("Buddy");
echo $dog->speak(); 

// Output: "Woof!"

In this example, the Dog class inherits from the Animal class and overrides the speak method to provide a specific implementation.

When Should You Use Inheritance in PHP?

  • You have a clear “is-a” relationship between classes.You want to promote code reuse for common behaviors.You need to override and extend functionality from a parent class.
  • You want to promote code reuse for common behaviors.
  • You need to override and extend functionality from a parent class.

Pros and Cons of Inheritance

Advantages of Using Inheritance In PHP

Code Reusability: Inheritance allows you to reuse code from parent classes in child classes. This promotes the DRY (Don’t Repeat Yourself) principle, reducing redundant code.

Code Simplicity: Inheritance can make code more straightforward and intuitive when there is a clear “is-a” relationship between classes. It models the natural hierarchy of objects.

Method Overriding: Child classes can override methods inherited from parent classes, allowing for customisation of behavior while retaining common functionality. This supports the Open-Closed Principle (OCP).

Polymorphism: Inheritance facilitates polymorphism, where objects of child classes can be treated as instances of their parent class. This enables flexibility and dynamic behavior at runtime.

Code Consistency: Inheritance enforces a consistent interface across related classes, ensuring that certain methods and properties are available in all child classes.

Organised Code: It helps in organizing code into a structured and hierarchical format, making it easier to understand and manage.

Disadvantages of Using Inheritance In PHP

Tight Code Coupling: Inheritance can create tight coupling between parent and child classes. Changes in the parent class can affect all child classes, potentially leading to unintended consequences.

Development Inflexibility: Inheritance locks child classes into the structure and behavior of the parent class. This can limit the flexibility to adapt to changing requirements.

Code Complexity: Deep inheritance hierarchies can become complex and difficult to maintain, especially if multiple levels of inheritance are involved.

Limited Code Reusability: Inheritance can lead to a hierarchical structure where code is tightly bound to a specific class hierarchy, limiting the reusability of components in different contexts.

Fragile Base Class Problem: Modifying a base class can introduce unintended side effects or bugs in derived classes, creating a “fragile base class problem.”

Difficulty To Test: Testing derived classes in isolation can be challenging, as inherited behavior from parent classes might be intertwined with customizations in the derived class.

Rigid Type Hierarchies: Overuse of inheritance can result in rigid type hierarchies that are challenging to extend or modify without affecting existing code.

Exploring Composition

Composition is another OOP concept where objects are combined to form more complex objects. Rather than inheriting behavior, a class includes other classes to achieve its functionality, establishing a “has-a” relationship.

Let’s take a look at a composition example. In this scenario, the Car class uses composition to include an Engine object, allowing it to delegate the start functionality to the Engine class.

class Engine {    
  public function start() {        
    return "Engine started";    

class Car {
    private $engine;
    public function __construct() {        
      $this->engine = new Engine();

    public function start() {        
      return $this->engine->start();       

$car = new Car();
echo $car->start(); 

// Output: "Engine started"

When Should You Use Composition in PHP?

  • You have a “has-a” relationship, where an object is composed of other objects
  • You want greater flexibility and avoid tight coupling between classes
  • You need to change components dynamically at runtime

## Pros and Cons of Composition

Advantages of Using Composition in PHP

Flexibility: Composition allows for greater flexibility in defining and changing the behavior of a class. You can dynamically change components at runtime, making it easier to adapt to different scenarios.

Reduced Code Coupling: Using composition reduces tight coupling between classes. Components can be easily replaced or extended without affecting the entire class structure, leading to more maintainable and modular code.

Improved Code Reusability: By composing classes from smaller, reusable components, you can achieve code reusability at a finer level of granularity, promoting the DRY (Don’t Repeat Yourself) principle.

Testing: Composition simplifies unit testing. You can mock or substitute components with test doubles, allowing for easier isolation and testing of individual parts of the code.

Single Responsibility Principle (SRP): Composition aligns with the SRP, one of the SOLID principles, by encouraging classes to have a single responsibility. Each component can focus on a specific task.

Better Encapsulation: Composition allows for better encapsulation of behavior. Components can encapsulate their own state and methods, reducing the exposure of internal details.

Disadvantages of Using Composition in PHP

Complexity: Overusing composition can lead to an overly complex class structure, making code harder to understand and maintain, especially if there are many levels of nesting.

Increased Code Size: Composition may result in larger codebases because you’re creating more classes to represent components. This can be a drawback in terms of codebase size and maintainability.

Boilerplate Code: Implementing composition can sometimes involve writing boilerplate code to delegate method calls from the composed class to its components. This can be repetitive and verbose.

Runtime Overhead: While the runtime overhead of composition is generally negligible, there can be a small performance cost associated with managing multiple objects and method calls.

Learning Curve: Developers who are new to composition may need time to grasp the concept and understand how to structure classes effectively using composition.

Package Dependencies: Managing dependencies between components can become challenging as the number of components grows. Proper dependency management is essential to avoid circular dependencies and maintain a clear structure.


In PHP development, the choice between inheritance and composition is not about one being better than the other; it’s about selecting the right tool for the job. Understanding the principles and differences between these two approaches is essential for crafting clean, maintainable, and efficient PHP code.

Remember that real-world projects often involve a mix of both techniques, leveraging the strengths of inheritance for certain scenarios and harnessing the flexibility of composition for others. By making informed choices based on your project’s requirements, you’ll be well on your way to building robust PHP applications.

Start a conversation about your experience using these advanced development techniques. I would love to hear how others use these tools to approach development projects.

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