Disadvantages of ORM

Disadvantages of ORM
ORM has attracted a lot of attention in the last years. So let’s get a bit deeper into it.

The biggest advantage of ORM is also the biggest disadvantage: queries are generated automatically

  • queries can’t be optimized
  • queries select more data than needed, things get slower, more latency
    (some ORMs fetch all datasets of all relations of an object even though only 1 attribute is read)
  • compiling queries from ORM code is slow (ORM compiler written in PHP)
  • SQL is more powerful than ORM query languages
  • database abstraction forbids vendor specific optimizations


Other problems coming up with ORM

  • compiling ORM logic from phpDoc instructions or XML files is slow, but can be cached
  • ORM validates relations and field names outside the database, but can’t keep relations consistent
  • ORM libraries are often used in projects without making a benchmark before
  • ORM libraries are often used because the documentation of the library says it is very fast
  • ORM libraries are often used by default without checking the project’s needs
  • database abstraction is often required but changing the database never happens
  • databases are not object oriented
  • ORM violates the basic database performance principle: you get the best performance when your data is stored in the same structure it gets read

General coding problems with ORM

  • having objects instead of SQL, programmers tend to write joins directly in PHP
  • ORM code can be much longer than normal code with PHP and SQL
    (increase of complexity, error rates and maintenance efforts)
  • how to handle null values? (assign null => isset gives false)
  • people often document PHP code but not the database schemas
    (e.g. empty comments in MySQL fields and tables, docs not up-to-date)
  • new versions of ORM libraries often forbid reusing older ORM code
  • slow code is often wrapped with caching, so you always serve old data

Where can ORM be good?

  • avoid building SQL strings for simple insert, update, delete
  • using ORM with magic getters/setters in PHP
  • allow models to inherit attributes and methods from other models
  • separate models from views and controllers
  • centralize validation rules, save or delete methods to one class per entity
  • handle escaping and serialization of values automatically

Performance in numbers?
e.g. Doctrine 2, watch slide 50 and 54: Doctrine is >3 times slower than raw PHP on 20 inserts, imagine what happens with 20000 … real numbers are much slower, see slide 47, here the authors only benchmarked flush() instead of the whole code

Coming soon: How to write a really small and fast O/R-mapper with PHP