Using Yii as a Micro-framework

Yii can be easily used without the features included in basic and advanced templates. In other words, Yii is already a micro-framework. It is not required to have the directory structure provided by templates to work with Yii.

This is especially handy when you do not need all the pre-defined template code like assets or views. One of such cases is building a JSON API. In the following sections will show how to do that.

Installing Yii

Create a directory for your project files and change working directory to that path. Commands used in examples are Unix-based but similar commands exist in Windows.

mkdir micro-app
cd micro-app

Note: A little bit of Composer knowledge is required to continue. If you don't know how to use composer yet, please take time to read Composer Guide.

Create file composer.json under the micro-app directory using your favorite editor and add the following:

    "require": {
        "yiisoft/yii2": "~2.0.0"
    "repositories": [
            "type": "composer",
            "url": ""

Save the file and run the composer install command. This will install the framework with all its dependencies.

Creating the Project Structure

After you have installed the framework, it's time to create an entry point for the application. Entry point is the very first file that will be executed when you try to open your application. For the security reasons, it is recommended to put the entrypoint file in a separate directory and make it a web root.

Create a web directory and put index.php inside with the following content:


// comment out the following two lines when deployed to production
defined('YII_DEBUG') or define('YII_DEBUG', true);
defined('YII_ENV') or define('YII_ENV', 'dev');

require(__DIR__ . '/../vendor/autoload.php');
require(__DIR__ . '/../vendor/yiisoft/yii2/Yii.php');

$config = require __DIR__ . '/../config.php';
(new yii\web\Application($config))->run();

Also create a file named config.php which will contain all application configuration:

return [
    'id' => 'micro-app',
    // the basePath of the application will be the `micro-app` directory
    'basePath' => __DIR__,
    // this is where the application will find all controllers
    'controllerNamespace' => 'micro\controllers',
    // set an alias to enable autoloading of classes from the 'micro' namespace
    'aliases' => [
        '@micro' => __DIR__,

Info: Even though the configuration could be kept in the index.php file it is recommended to have it separately. This way it can be used for console application also as it is shown below.

Your project is now ready for coding. Although it's up to you to decide the project directory structure, as long as you observe namespaces.

Creating the first Controller

Create a controllers directory and add a file SiteController.php, which is the default controller that will handle a request with no path info.


namespace micro\controllers;

use yii\web\Controller;

class SiteController extends Controller
    public function actionIndex()
        return 'Hello World!';

If you want to use a different name for this controller you can change it and configure yii\base\Application::$defaultRoute accordingly. For example, for a DefaultController that would be 'defaultRoute' => 'default/index'.

At this point the project structure should look like this:

├── composer.json
├── web/
    └── index.php
└── controllers/
    └── SiteController.php

If you have not set up the web server yet, you may want to take a look at web server configuration file examples. Another options is to use the yii serve command which will use the PHP build-in web server. You can run it from the micro-app/ directory via:

vendor/bin/yii serve --docroot=./web

Opening the application URL in a browser should now print "Hello World!" which has been returned in the SiteController::actionIndex().

Info: In our example, we have changed default application namespace app to micro to demonstrate that you are not tied to that name (in case you thought you were), then adjusted controllers namespace and set the correct alias.

Creating a REST API

In order to demonstrate the usage of our "micro framework", we will create a simple REST API for posts.

For this API to serve some data, we need a database first. Add the database connection configuration to the application configuration:

'components' => [
    'db' => [
        'class' => 'yii\db\Connection',
        'dsn' => 'sqlite:@micro/database.sqlite',

Info: We use an sqlite database here for simplicity. Please refer to the Database guide for more options.

Next we create a database migration to create a posts table. Make sure you have a separate configuration file as explained above, we need it to run the console commands below. Running the following commands will create a database migration file and apply the migration to the database:

vendor/bin/yii migrate/create --appconfig=config.php create_post_table --fields="title:string,body:text"
vendor/bin/yii migrate/up --appconfig=config.php

Create directory models and a Post.php file in that directory. This is the code for the model:


namespace micro\models;

use yii\db\ActiveRecord;

class Post extends ActiveRecord
    public static function tableName()
        return '{{posts}}';

Info: The model created here is an ActiveRecord class, which represents the data from the posts table. Please refer to the active record guide for more information.

To serve posts on our API, add the PostController in controllers:


namespace micro\controllers;

use yii\rest\ActiveController;

class PostController extends ActiveController
    public $modelClass = 'micro\models\Post';

    public function behaviors()
        // remove rateLimiter which requires an authenticated user to work
        $behaviors = parent::behaviors();
        return $behaviors;

At this point our API will provide the following URLs:

  • /index.php?r=post - list all posts
  • /index.php?r=post/view&id=1 - show post with ID 1
  • /index.php?r=post/create - create a post
  • /index.php?r=post/update&id=1 - update post with ID 1
  • /index.php?r=post/delete&id=1 - delete post with ID 1

Starting from Here you may want to look at the following guides to further develop your application:

  • The API currently only understands urlencoded form data as input, to make it a real JSON API, you need to configure yii\web\JsonParser.
  • To make the URLs more friendly you need to configure routing. See guide on REST routing on how to do this.
  • Please also refer to the Looking Ahead section for further references.