How To Install and Use Composer on Ubuntu

July 13, 2015

Step 1 — Installing the Dependencies

Before we download and install Composer, we need to make sure our server has all dependencies installed.

First, update the package manager cache by running:

  • sudo apt-get update

Now, let’s install the dependencies. We’ll need curl in order to download Composer and php-cli for installing and running it. The php-mbstring package is necessary to provide functions for a library we’ll be using. git is used by Composer for downloading project dependencies, and unzip for extracting zipped packages. Everything can be installed with the following command:

  • sudo apt-get install curl php-cli php-mbstring git unzip

You can now proceed to the next step.

Step 2 — Downloading and Installing Composer

Composer provides an installer, written in PHP. Make sure you’re in your home directory, and retrieve the installer using curl:

  • cd ~
  • curl -sS -o composer-setup.php

Next, run a short PHP script to verify that the installer matches the SHA-384 hash for the latest installer found on the Composer Public Keys / Signatures page. You will need to make sure that you substitute the latest hash for the highlighted value below:

  • php -r “if (hash_file(‘SHA384’, ‘composer-setup.php’) === ‘92102166af5abdb03f49ce52a40591073a7b859a86e8ff13338cf7db58a19f7844fbc0bb79b2773bf30791e935dbd938‘) { echo ‘Installer verified’; } else { echo ‘Installer corrupt’; unlink(‘composer-setup.php’); } echo PHP_EOL;”
Installer verified

To install composer globally, use the following:

sudo php composer-setup.php --install-dir=/usr/local/bin --filename=composer

This will download and install Composer as a system-wide command named composer, under /usr/local/bin. The output should look like this:

All settings correct for using Composer
Downloading 1.1.1...

Composer successfully installed to: /usr/local/bin/composer
Use it: php /usr/local/bin/composer

To test your installation, run:

  • composer

And you should get output similar to this:

  / ____/___  ____ ___  ____  ____  ________  _____
 / /   / __ \/ __ `__ \/ __ \/ __ \/ ___/ _ \/ ___/
/ /___/ /_/ / / / / / / /_/ / /_/ (__  )  __/ /
\____/\____/_/ /_/ /_/ .___/\____/____/\___/_/
Composer version 1.1.1 2016-05-17 12:25:44

  command [options] [arguments]

  -h, --help                     Display this help message
  -q, --quiet                    Do not output any message
  -V, --version                  Display this application version
      --ansi                     Force ANSI output
      --no-ansi                  Disable ANSI output
  -n, --no-interaction           Do not ask any interactive question
      --profile                  Display timing and memory usage information
      --no-plugins               Whether to disable plugins.
. . .

This means Composer was succesfully installed on your system.

If you prefer to have separate Composer executables for each project you host on this server, you can simply install it locally, on a per-project basis. Users of NPM will be familiar with this approach. This method is also useful when your system user doesn’t have permission to install software system-wide.

In this case, installation can be done, after downloading and verifying the installation script as above, like so:

  • php composer-setup.php

This will generate a composer.phar file in your current directory, which can be executed with ./composer.phar command.

Step 3 — Generating the composer.json File

In order to use Composer in your project, you’ll need a composer.json file. The composer.json file basically tells Composer which dependencies it needs to download for your project, and which versions of each package are allowed to be installed. This is extremely important to keep your project consistent and avoid installing unstable versions that could potentially cause backwards compatibility issues.

You don’t need to create this file manually – it’s easy to run into syntax errors when you do so. Composer auto-generates the composer.json file when you add a dependency to your project using the require command. Additional dependencies can also be added in the same way, without the need to manually edit this file.

The process of using Composer to install a package as dependency in a project usually involves the following steps:

  • Identify what kind of library the application needs
  • Research a suitable open source library on, the official package repository for Composer
  • Choose the package you want to depend on
  • Run composer require to include the dependency in the composer.json file and install the package

We’ll see how this works in practice with a simple demo application.

The goal of this application is to transform a given sentence into a URL-friendly string – a slug. This is commonly used to convert page titles to URL paths (like the final portion of the URL for this tutorial).

Let’s start by creating a directory for our project. We’ll call it slugify:

  • cd ~
  • mkdir slugify
  • cd slugify

Searching for Packages on Packagist

Now it’s time to search for a package that can help us generating slugs. If you search for the term “slug” on Packagist, you’ll get a result similar to this:

Packagist Search: easy-slug/easy-slug, muffin/slug, ddd/slug, zelenin/slug, webcastle/slug, anomaly/slug-field_type

You’ll see two numbers on the right side of each package in the list. The number on the top represents how many times the package was installed, and the number on the bottom shows how many times a package was starred on GitHub. You can reorder the search results based on these numbers (look for the two icons on the right side of the search bar). Generally speaking, packages with more installations and more stars tend to be more stable, since so many people are using them. It’s also important to check the package description for relevance – is that really what you are looking for?

What we need is a simple string-to-slug converter. From the search results, the package cocur/slugify seems to be a good match, with a reasonable amount of installations and stars. (The package is a bit further down the page than the screenshot shows.)

You will notice that the packages on Packagist have a vendor name and a package name. Each package has a unique identifier (a namespace) in the same format GitHub uses for its repositories: vendor/package. The library we want to install uses the namespace cocur/slugify The namespace is what we need in order to require the package in our project.

Requiring a Package

Now that we know exactly which package we want to install, we can run composer require to include it as a dependency and also generate the composer.json file for the project:

  • composer require cocur/slugify
Using version ^2.1 for cocur/slugify
./composer.json has been created
Loading composer repositories with package information
Updating dependencies (including require-dev)
  - Installing cocur/slugify (v2.1.1)
    Downloading: 100%         

Writing lock file
Generating autoload files

As you can see from the output, Composer automatically decided which version of the package should be used. If you check your project’s directory now, it will contain two new files: composer.json and composer.lock, and a vendor directory:

  • ls -l
total 12
-rw-rw-r-- 1 sammy sammy   59 May 17 10:24 composer.json
-rw-rw-r-- 1 sammy sammy 2894 May 17 10:24 composer.lock
drwxrwxr-x 4 sammy sammy 4096 May 17 10:24 vendor

The composer.lock file is used to store information about which versions of each package are installed, and make sure the same versions are used if someone else clones your project and installs its dependencies. The vendor directory is where the project dependencies are located. The vendor folder should not be committed into version control – you only need to include the composer.json and composer.lock files.

When installing a project that already contains a composer.json file, you need to run composer install in order to download the project’s dependencies.

Understanding Version Constraints

If you check the contents of your composer.json file, you’ll see something like this:

  • cat composer.json
  • {
  • require“: {
  • cocur/slugify“: “^2.1”
  • }
  • }

You might notice the special character ^ before the version number in composer.json. Composer supports several different constraints and formats for defining the required package version, in order to provide flexibility while also keeping your project stable. The caret (^) operator used by the auto-generated composer.json file is the recommended operator for maximum interoperability, following semantic versioning. In this case, it defines 2.1 as the minimum compatible version, and allows updates to any future version below 3.0.

Generally speaking, you won’t need to tamper with version constraints in your composer.json file. However, some situations might require that you manually edit the constraints – for instance, when a major new version of your required library is released and you want to upgrade, or when the library you want to use doesn’t follow semantic versioning.

Here are some examples to give you a better understanding of how Composer version constraints work:

Constraint Meaning Example Versions Allowed
^1.0 >= 1.0 < 2.0 1.0, 1.2.3, 1.9.9
^1.1.0 >= 1.1.0 < 2.0 1.1.0, 1.5.6, 1.9.9
~1.0 >= 1.0 < 2.0.0 1.0, 1.4.1, 1.9.9
~1.0.0 >= 1.0.0 < 1.1 1.0.0, 1.0.4, 1.0.9
1.2.1 1.2.1 1.2.1
1.* >= 1.0 < 2.0 1.0.0, 1.4.5, 1.9.9
1.2.* >= 1.2 < 1.3 1.2.0, 1.2.3, 1.2.9

Step 4 — Including the Autoload Script

Since PHP itself doesn’t automatically handle the loading of classes, Composer also provides an autoload script that you can include in your project to get autoloading for free. This makes it much easier to work with your dependencies and define your own namespaces.

The only thing you need to do is include the vendor/autoload.php file in your PHP scripts, before any class instantiation.

Let’s come back to the slugify example application. We’ll use nano to create a test.php script where we’ll use the cocur/slugify library:

  • nano test.php
  • <?php
  • require __DIR__ . ‘/vendor/autoload.php’;
  • use Cocur\Slugify\Slugify;
  • $slugify = new Slugify();
  • echo $slugify->slugify(‘Hello World, this is a long sentence and I need to make a slug from it!’);

You can run the script in the command line with:

  • php test.php

This should produce the output hello-world-this-is-a-long-sentence-and-i-need-to-make-a-slug-from-it.

Step 5 — Updating the Project Dependencies

Whenever you want to update your project dependencies, you just need to run the update command:

  • composer update

This will check for newer versions of the libraries you required in your project. If a newer version is found and it’s compatible with the version constraint defined in the composer.json file, it will replace the previous version installed. The composer.lock file will be updated to reflect these changes.

You can also update one or more specific libraries by running:

  • composer update vendor/package vendor2/package2


This tutorial covered the essentials for getting started with Composer on Ubuntu 16.04. Composer is a powerful tool every PHP developer should have in their utility belt.

Beyond providing an easy and reliable way for managing project dependencies, it also establishes a new de facto standard for sharing and discovering PHP packages created by the community.