Replacing annotations with PHP attributes - with Rector

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Recently I was updating a Symfony application to version 6.3 and working my way through all deprecations. One of them was the move to native PHP attributes (introduced in PHP8) instead of annotations supported by the Doctrine Annotations library.

Doing this manually would cost quite a few tedious hours. Luckily, it's 2023 and static analysis tools have been getting better and better, at least in the PHP ecosystem.

Rector - automated refactoring

Rector is a tool for automated refactoring of PHP code. It can handle a wide variety of changes on a language level and also supports upgrades for some of the more popular frameworks.

For example, having Rector replace all annotations with PHP8 attributes was as simple as this:

  1. Install Rector
composer require rector/rector --dev
  1. Create a configuration file called rector.php


use Rector\Config\RectorConfig;
use Rector\CodeQuality\Rector\Class_\InlineConstructorDefaultToPropertyRector;
use Rector\Php80\Rector\Class_\AnnotationToAttributeRector;
use Rector\Php80\ValueObject\AnnotationToAttribute;

return static function (RectorConfig $rectorConfig): void {
    // Paths for Rector to act upon
        __DIR__ . '/config',
        __DIR__ . '/public',
        __DIR__ . '/src',
        __DIR__ . '/tests',

    // Additional configuration (Rector rules) go here
  1. Use the provided sets by Symfony & Doctrine to automatically refactor all @Route and @ORM annotations to attributes.
$rectorConfig->ruleWithConfiguration(AnnotationToAttributeRector::class, [
    new AnnotationToAttribute(\Symfony\Bridge\Doctrine\Validator\Constraints\UniqueEntity::class),
    new AnnotationToAttribute(\Ibericode\Vat\Bundle\Validator\Constraints\VatNumber::class),
  1. Preview the suggested changes by running Rector with the --dry-run option.
vendor/bin/rector process --dry-run
  1. Apply the changes.
vendor/bin/rector process

That's all there is to it. Several tedious hours of work saved by a tool that just works and can be configured within minutes. So good!

Rector also comes with a thing called set lists which automatically configure multiple rules for you. This can come in really handy if you want to upgrade to a new PHP level and use new language features.


There are hundreds of available Rector rules available. My guess is that if you're refactoring something on a language or framework level, Rector has you covered.

Kudos to the Rector authors for building such a great tool!