Persist user-generated content and settings with Elgg’s generic storage API.


Creating an object

To create an object in your code, you need to instantiate an ElggObject. Setting data is simply a matter of adding instance variables or properties. The built-in properties are:

  • ``guid`` The entity’s GUID; set automatically
  • ``owner_guid`` The owning user’s GUID
  • ``site_guid`` The owning site’s GUID. This is set automatically when an instance of ElggObject gets created)
  • ``subtype`` A single-word arbitrary string that defines what kind of object it is, for example blog
  • ``access_id`` An integer representing the access level of the object
  • ``title`` The title of the object
  • ``description`` The description of the object

The object subtype is a special property. This is an arbitrary string that describes what the object is. For example, if you were writing a blog plugin, your subtype string might be blog. It’s a good idea to make this unique, so that other plugins don’t accidentally try and use the same subtype. For the purposes of this document, let’s assume we’re building a simple forum. Therefore, the subtype will be forum:

$object = new ElggObject();
$object->subtype = "forum";
$object->access_id = 2;

access_id is another important property. If you don’t set this, your object will be private, and only the creator user will be able to see it. Elgg defines constants for the special values of access_id:

  • ACCESS_PRIVATE Only the owner can see it
  • ACCESS_FRIENDS Only the owner and his/her friends can see it
  • ACCESS_LOGGED_IN Any logged in user can see it
  • ACCESS_PUBLIC Even visitors not logged in can see it

Saving the object will automatically populate the $object->guid property if successful. If you change any more base properties, you can call $object->save() again, and it will update the database for you.

You can set metadata on an object just like a standard property. Let’s say we want to set the SKU of a product:

$object->SKU = 62784;

If you assign an array, all the values will be set for that metadata. This is how, for example, you set tags.

Metadata cannot be persisted to the database until the entity has been saved, but for convenience, ElggEntity can cache it internally and save it when saving the entity.

Loading an object


$entity = get_entity($guid);
if (!$entity) {
    // The entity does not exist or you're not allowed to access it.

But what if you don’t know the GUID? There are several options.

By user, subtype or site

If you know the user ID you want to get objects for, or the subtype, or the site, you have several options. The easiest is probably to call the procedural function elgg_get_entities:

$entities = elgg_get_entities(array(
    'type' => $entity_type,
    'subtype' => $subtype,
    'owner_guid' => $owner_guid,

This will return an array of ElggEntity objects that you can iterate through. elgg_get_entities paginates by default, with a limit of 10; and offset 0.

You can leave out owner_guid to get all objects and leave out subtype or type to get objects of all types/subtypes.

If you already have an ElggUser – e.g. elgg_get_logged_in_user_entity, which always has the current user’s object when you’re logged in – you can simply use:

$objects = $user->getObjects($subtype, $limit, $offset)

But what about getting objects with a particular piece of metadata?

By metadata

The function elgg_get_entities_from_metadata allows fetching entities with metadata in a variety of ways.

By annotation

The function elgg_get_entities_from_annotations allows fetching entities with metadata in a variety of ways.


As of Elgg 1.10 the default behaviour of elgg_get_entities_from_annotations was brought inline with the rest of the elgg_get_entities* functions.

Pre Elgg 1.10 the sorting of the entities was based on the latest addition of an annotation (in $options your could add $options[‘order_by’] = ‘maxtime ASC’ or $options[‘order_by’] = ‘maxtime DESC’. As of Elgg 1.10 this was changed to the creation time of the entity, just like the rest of the elgg_get_entities* functions. To get the old behaviour back add the following to your $options:

$options['selects'] = array('MAX(n_table.time_created) AS maxtime');
$options['group_by'] = 'n_table.entity_guid';
$options['order_by'] = 'maxtime ASC'


$options['order_by'] = 'maxtime DESC'

Displaying entities

In order for entities to be displayed in listing functions you need to provide a view for the entity in the views system.

To display an entity, create a view EntityType/subtype where EntityType is one of the following:

object: for entities derived from ElggObject user: for entities derived from ElggUser site: for entities derived from ElggSite group: for entities derived from ElggGroup

A default view for all entities has already been created, this is called EntityType/default.

Entity Icons

Entity icons can be saved from uploaded files, existing local files, or existing ElggFile objects. These methods save all sizes of icons defined in the system.

$object = new ElggObject();
$object->title = 'Example entity';
$object->description = 'An example object with an icon.';

// from an uploaded file

// from a local file

// from a saved ElggFile object
$file = get_entity(123);
if ($file instanceof ElggFile) {

The following sizes exist by default:
  • master - 550px at longer edge (not upscaled)
  • large - 200px at longer edge (not upscaled)
  • medium - 100px square
  • small - 40px square
  • tiny - 25px square
  • topbar - 16px square

Use elgg_get_icon_sizes() to get all possible icon sizes for a specific entity type and subtype. The function triggers the entity:icon:sizes hook.

To check if an icon is set, use $object->hasIcon($size).

You can retrieve the URL of the generated icon with``ElggEntity::getIconURL($params)`` method. This method accepts a $params argument as an array that specifies the size, type, and provide additional context for the hook to determine the icon to serve. The method triggers the entity:icon:url hook.

Use elgg_view_entity_icon($entity, $size, $vars) to render an icon. This will scan the following locations for a view and include the first match to .

  1. views/$viewtype/icon/$type/$subtype.php
  2. views/$viewtype/icon/$type/default.php
  3. views/$viewtype/icon/default.php


Type of view, e.g. 'default' or 'json'.
Type of entity, e.g. 'group' or 'user'.
Entity subtype, e.g. 'blog' or 'page'.

Icon methods support passing an icon type if an entity has more than one icon. For example, a user might have an avatar and a cover photo icon. You would pass 'cover_photo' as the icon type:

$object->setIconFromUploadedFile('uploaded_photo', 'cover_photo');

        'size' => 'medium',
        'type' => 'cover_photo'

Note that custom icon types (e.g. cover photos) do not have preset sizes and coordinates. Use entity:<icon_type>:url hook to configure them.

By default icons will be stored in /icons/<icon_type>/<size>.jpg relative to entity’s directory on filestore. To provide an alternative location, use the entity:<icon_type>:file hook.

Adding, reading and deleting annotations

Annotations could be used, for example, to track ratings. To annotate an entity you can use the object’s annotate() method. For example, to give a blog post a rating of 5, you could use:

$blog_post->annotate('rating', 5);

To retrieve the ratings on the blog post, use $blogpost->getAnnotations('rating') and if you want to delete an annotation, you can operate on the ElggAnnotation class, eg $annotation->delete().

Retrieving a single annotation can be done with get_annotation() if you have the annotation’s ID. If you delete an ElggEntity of any kind, all its metadata, annotations, and relationships will be automatically deleted as well.

Extending ElggEntity

If you derive from one of the Elgg core classes, you’ll need to tell Elgg how to properly instantiate the new type of object so that get_entity() et al. will return the appropriate PHP class. For example, if I customize ElggGroup in a class called “Committee”, I need to make Elgg aware of the new mapping. Following is an example class extension:

// Class source
class Committee extends ElggGroup {

    protected function initializeAttributes() {
        $this->attributes['subtype'] = 'committee';

    // more customizations here

function committee_init() {

    register_entity_type('group', 'committee');

    // Tell Elgg that group subtype "committee" should be loaded using the Committee class
    // If you ever change the name of the class, use update_subtype() to change it
    add_subtype('group', 'committee', 'Committee');

register_elgg_event_handler('init', 'system', 'committee_init');

Now if you invoke get_entity() with the GUID of a committee object, you’ll get back an object of type Committee.

This template was extracted from the definition of ElggFile.

Advanced features

Entity URLs

Entity urls are provided by the getURL() interface and provide the Elgg framework with a common way of directing users to the appropriate display handler for any given object.

For example, a profile page in the case of users.

The url is set using the elgg\_register\_entity\_url\_handler() function. The function you register must return the appropriate url for the given type - this itself can be an address set up by a page handler.

The default handler is to use the default export interface.

Entity loading performance

elgg_get_entities has a couple options that can sometimes be useful to improve performance.

  • preload_owners: If the entities fetched will be displayed in a list with the owner information, you can set this option to true to efficiently load the owner users of the fetched entities.
  • preload_containers: If the entities fetched will be displayed in a list using info from their containers, you can set this option to true to efficiently load them.
  • distinct: When Elgg fetches entities using an SQL query, Elgg must be sure that each entity row appears only once in the result set. By default it includes a DISTINCT modifier on the GUID column to enforce this, but some queries naturally return unique entities. Setting the distinct option to false will remove this modifier, and rely on the query to enforce its own uniqueness.

The internals of Elgg entity queries is a complex subject and it’s recommended to seek help on the Elgg Community site before using the distinct option.

Pre-1.8 Notes

update_subtype(): This function is new in 1.8. In prior versions, you would need to edit the database by hand if you updated the class name associated with a given subtype.

elgg_register_entity_url_handler(): This function is new in 1.8. It deprecates register_entity_url_handler(), which you should use if developing for a pre-1.8 version of Elgg.

elgg_get_entities_from_metadata(): This function is new in 1.8. It deprecates get_entities_from_metadata(), which you should use if developing for a pre-1.8 version of Elgg.

Custom database functionality

It is strongly recommended to use entities wherever possible. However, Elgg supports custom SQL queries using the database API.

Example: Run SQL script on plugin activation

This example shows how you can populate your database on plugin activation.


if (!elgg_get_plugin_setting('database_version', 'my_plugin') {
    run_sql_script(__DIR__ . '/sql/activate.sql');
    elgg_set_plugin_setting('database_version', 1, 'my_plugin');


-- Create some table
CREATE TABLE prefix_custom_table(
    name VARCHAR(32),
    description VARCHAR(32),
    PRIMARY KEY (id)

-- Insert initial values for table
INSERT INTO prefix_custom_table (name, description)
VALUES ('Peter', 'Some guy'), ('Lisa', 'Some girl');

Note that Elgg execute statements through PHPs built-in functions and have limited support for comments. I.e. only single line comments are supported and must be prefixed by “– ” or “# ”. A comment must start at the very beginning of a line.



This section need some attention and will contain outdated information

The default Elgg system log is a simple way of recording what happens within an Elgg system. It’s viewable and searchable directly from the administration panel.

System log storage

A system log row is stored whenever an event concerning an object whose class implements the Loggable interface is triggered. ElggEntity and ElggExtender implement Loggable, so a system log row is created whenever an event is performed on all objects, users, groups, sites, metadata and annotations.

Common events include:

  • create
  • update
  • delete
  • login

Creating your own system log

There are some reasons why you might want to create your own system log. For example, you might need to store a full copy of entities when they are updated or deleted, for auditing purposes. You might also need to notify an administrator when certain types of events occur.

To do this, you can create a function that listens to all events for all types of object:


Your function can then be defined as:

function your_function_name($object, $event) {
   if ($object instanceof Loggable) {

You can then use the extra methods defined by Loggable to extract the information you need.