Using PhpStorm, Docker and Xdebug 3 on PHP 8.1 by@pascallandau

Using PhpStorm, Docker and Xdebug 3 on PHP 8.1

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Pascal Landau

Technical Director at ABOUT YOU - mostly into Software Engineering in PHP and Data Engineering with Google BigQuery

A guide to debugging everything in PhpStorm (IDE, Browser [fpm], cli and workers)

In this tutorial, we will set up our local dockerized PHP development environment to be used by PhpStorm and Xdebug. We will also ensure that we can run PHPUnit tests from the command line as well as from PhpStorm. There is also a Youtube video to guide you through the full process

All code samples are publicly available in my Docker PHP Tutorial repository on github. You find the branch for this tutorial at part-4-2-phpstorm-docker-xdebug-3-php-8-1-in-2022. This tutorial was previously published on my personal blog at PhpStorm, Docker and Xdebug 3 on PHP 8.1 in 2022.


This article is an update of Setting up PhpStorm with Xdebug for local development on Docker but will also cover the "remaining cases" of debugging php-fpm and php worker processes.

We will still rely on an always-running docker setup that we connect to via an SSH Configuration instead of using the built-in docker-compose capabilities as I feel it's closer to what we do in CI / production. However, we will not use SSH keys any longer but simply authenticate via password.

This reduces complexity and removes any pesky warnings regarding "SSH keys being exposed in a repository".

Install Tools

Install composer

Composer is installed by pulling the official composer docker image and simply "copying" the composer executable over to the base php image. In addition, composer needs the extensions mbstring and phar

# File: .docker/images/php/base/Dockerfile

FROM composer:${COMPOSER_VERSION} as composer
FROM alpine:${ALPINE_VERSION} as base

# ...

RUN apk add --update --no-cache  \
        php-mbstring~=${TARGET_PHP_VERSION} \
        php-phar~=${TARGET_PHP_VERSION} \

# ...

COPY --from=composer /usr/bin/composer /usr/local/bin/composer

Because we want our build to be deterministic, we "pin" the composer version by adding a COMPOSER_VERSION variable to the .docker/.env file


and using it in .docker/docker-compose/docker-compose-php-base.yml:


Install Xdebug

Install the extension via apk (only for the local target):

# File: .docker/images/php/base/Dockerfile

FROM base as local

RUN apk add --no-cache --update \
        php-xdebug~=${TARGET_PHP_VERSION} \
    # ensure that xdebug is not enabled by default
    && rm -f /etc/php8/conf.d/00_xdebug.ini

We also don't want to enable xdebug immediately but only when we need it (due to the decrease in performance when the extension is enabled), hence we remove the default config file and disable the extension in the application .ini file

# File: .docker/images/php/base/conf.d/zz-app-local.ini

; Note:
; Remove the comment ; to enable debugging

See Fix Xdebug on PhpStorm when run from a Docker container for an explanation of the xdebug.client_host=host.docker.internal setting (previously called xdebug.remote_host in xdebug < 3). This will still work out of the box for Docker Desktop, but for Linux users we need to add the host-gateway magic reference to all PHP containers (we can't add it to the php base image because this is a runtime setting):

      - host.docker.internal:host-gateway

Finally, we need to add the environment variable PHP_IDE_CONFIG to all PHP containers. The variable is defined as PHP_IDE_CONFIG=serverName=dofroscra, where "dofroscra" is the name of the server that we will configure later for debugging. Because we need the same value in multiple places, the variable is configured in .docker/.env:


And then added in .docker/docker-compose/docker-compose.local.yml




Install PHPUnit

PHPUnit will be installed via composer but will not be "baked into the image" for local development. Thus, we must run composer require in the container. To make this more convenient a make target for running arbitrary composer commands is added in .make/

.PHONY: composer
composer: ## Run composer commands. Specify the command e.g. via ARGS="install"

This allows me to run make composer ARGS="install" from the host system to execute composer install in the container. In consequence, composer will use the PHP version and extensions of the application container to install the dependencies, yet I will still see the installed files locally because the codebase is configured as a volume for the container.

Before installing phpunit, we must add the required extensions dom and xml to the container

# File: .docker/images/php/base/Dockerfile

# ...

RUN apk add --update --no-cache  \
        php-dom~=${TARGET_PHP_VERSION} \
        php-xml~=${TARGET_PHP_VERSION} \

as well as rebuild and restart the docker setup via

make docker-build
make docker-down
make docker-up

Now we can add phpunit via

make composer ARGS='require "phpunit/phpunit"'

which will create a composer.json file and setup up the vendor/ directory:

$ make composer ARGS='require "phpunit/phpunit"'
Using version ^9.5 for phpunit/phpunit
./composer.json has been created
Running composer update phpunit/phpunit
Loading composer repositories with package information
Updating dependencies

I have also added

  • a minimal phpunit.xml config file
  • a test case at tests/SomeTest.php
  • and a new Makefile for "anything related to qa" at .make/
##@ [Application: QA]

.PHONY: test
test: ## Run the test suite
  $(EXECUTE_IN_WORKER_CONTAINER) vendor/bin/phpunit -c phpunit.xml

So I can run tests simply via make test

$ make test
ENV=local TAG=latest DOCKER_NAMESPACE=dofroscra APP_USER_NAME=application APP_GROUP_NAME=application docker-compose -p dofroscra_local --env-file ./.docker/.env -f ./.docker/docker-compose/docker-compose.yml -f ./.docker/docker-compose/docker-compose.local.yml exec -T --user application php-worker vendor/bin/phpunit
PHPUnit 9.5.13 by Sebastian Bergmann and contributors.

.                                                                   1 / 1 (100%)

Time: 00:00.324, Memory: 4.00 MB

OK (1 test, 1 assertion)

Install SSH

We will execute commands from PhpStorm via ssh in the application container. As mentioned, we won't use a key file for authentication but will instead simply use a password that is configured via the APP_SSH_PASSWORD variable in .docker/.env and passed to the image in .docker/docker-compose/docker-compose.local.yml. In addition, we map port 2222 from the host system to port 22 of the application container and make sure that the codebase is shared as a volume between host and container

      - "${APPLICATION_SSH_HOST_PORT:-2222}:22"

The container already contains openssh and sets the password

FROM ${BASE_IMAGE} as base

FROM base as local

RUN apk add --no-cache --update \

RUN echo "$APP_USER_NAME:$APP_SSH_PASSWORD" | chpasswd 2>&1

# Required to start sshd, otherwise the container will error out on startup with the message
# "sshd: no hostkeys available -- exiting."
# @see 
RUN ssh-keygen -A

# we use SSH deployment configuration in PhpStorm for local development

CMD ["/usr/sbin/sshd", "-D"]

Setup PhpStorm

We will configure a remote PHP interpreter that uses an SSH connection to run commands in the application container. Before, we have been using an SFTP Deployment configuration , which was kinda confusing ("What is SFTP doing here?"), so we will use an SSH Configuration instead and configure the path mappings in the Cli Interpreter interface

SSH Configuration

At File | Settings | Tools | SSH Configurations create a new SSH Configuration named "Docker PHP Tutorial" with the following settings

  • Host:

  • Port: see APPLICATION_SSH_HOST_PORT in .docker/docker-compose/docker-compose.local.yml

  • User name: see APP_USER_NAME in .make/.env

  • Authentication type: Password

  • Password: see APP_SSH_PASSWORD in .docker/.env


PHP Interpreter

At File | Settings | PHP add a new PHP CLI interpreter that uses the new SSH Configuration


In addition, we define the path to the xdebug extension because it is disabled by default but PhpStorm can enable it automatically if required. You can find the path in the application container via

root:/var/www/app# php -i | grep extension_dir
extension_dir => /usr/lib/php8/modules => /usr/lib/php8/modules
root:/var/www/app# ll /usr/lib/php8/modules | grep xdebug
-rwxr-xr-x    1 root     root        303936 Jan  9 00:21

We still need to Fix Xdebug on PhpStorm when run from a Docker container by adding a custom PHP option for xdebug.client_host=host.docker.internal. That's the same value we use in .docker/images/php/base/conf.d/zz-app-local.ini.


In the interpreter overview we must now configure the path mappings so that PhpStorm knows "which local file belongs to which remote one". The remote folder is defined in .docker/.env via



Afterward we can set a breakpoint e.g. in setup.php and start debugging:


The screenshot shows that PhpStorm adds the Xdebug extension that we defined previously.


phpunit is configured via File | Settings | PHP | Test Frameworks. First, we select the interpreter that we just added


Then, we add the paths to the composer autoload script and the phpunit.xml configuration file.


PhpStorm will now execute tests using the PHP interpreter in the application container



First of all, if you haven't already please also take a look at the official xdebug documentation. Derick is doing a great job at explaining xdebug in detail including some helpful videos like Xdebug 3: Xdebug with Docker and PhpStorm in 5 minutes

Debug code executed via PhpStorm

This should already work out of the box. Simply set a break point, right-click on a file and choose "Debug '...'"


Debug code executed via php-fpm, cli or from a worker

For code that is executed "directly" by a container without PhpStorm, we first need to enable xdebug in the container by removing the ; in front of the extension in /etc/php8/conf.d/zz-app-local.ini

; Note:
; Remove the comment ; to enable debugging

To make this a little more convenient, we use dedicated make recipes for those actions in .make/

.PHONY: execute-in-container
execute-in-container: ## Execute a command in a container. E.g. via "make execute-in-container DOCKER_SERVICE_NAME=php-fpm COMMAND="echo 'hello'"
    @$(if $(DOCKER_SERVICE_NAME),,$(error DOCKER_SERVICE_NAME is undefined))
    @$(if $(COMMAND),,$(error COMMAND is undefined))

.PHONY: enable-xdebug
enable-xdebug: ## Enable xdebug in the given container specified by "DOCKER_SERVICE_NAME". E.g. "make enable-xdebug DOCKER_SERVICE_NAME=php-fpm"
    "$(MAKE)" execute-in-container APP_USER_NAME="root" DOCKER_SERVICE_NAME=$(DOCKER_SERVICE_NAME) COMMAND="sed -i 's/.*zend_extension=xdebug/zend_extension=xdebug/' '/etc/php8/conf.d/zz-app-local.ini'"

.PHONY: disable-xdebug
disable-xdebug: ## Disable xdebug in the given container specified by "DOCKER_SERVICE_NAME". E.g. "make enable-xdebug DOCKER_SERVICE_NAME=php-fpm"
    "$(MAKE)" execute-in-container APP_USER_NAME="root" DOCKER_SERVICE_NAME=$(DOCKER_SERVICE_NAME) COMMAND="sed -i 's/.*zend_extension=xdebug/;zend_extension=xdebug/' '/etc/php8/conf.d/zz-app-local.ini'"

To capture incoming requests, we need to make PhpStorm listen for PHP Debug connections via Run | Start Listening for PHP Debug Connections.


The corresponding ports are configured at File | Settings | PHP | Debug. In Xdebug < 3 the default port was 9000 and in Xdebug 3 it is 9003


Finally, we need to add a server via File | Settings | PHP | Servers


The name of the server must match the value of the serverName key in the environment variable PHP_IDE_CONFIG that we configured previously as serverName=dofroscra.


For php-fpm we must restart the php-fpm process without restarting the container after we have activated xdebug via

kill -USR2 1

Since this is a pain to remember, we add a make target in .make/

# @see
.PHONY: restart-php-fpm
restart-php-fpm: ## Restart the php-fpm service
    "$(MAKE)" execute-in-container DOCKER_SERVICE_NAME=$(DOCKER_SERVICE_NAME_PHP_FPM) COMMAND="kill -USR2 1"

So we can now simply run

make enable-xdebug DOCKER_SERVICE_NAME=php-fpm
make restart-php-fpm

Setting a breakpoint in public/index.php and opening in a browser or via curl will halt the execution as expected.



Instead of triggering a PHP script via HTTP request, we can also run CLI scripts - think of the make setup-db target for instance. To debug such invocations, we need to follow the same steps as before:

  • enable the xdebug extension in the application container
  • "Listening for PHP Debug Connections" from PhpStorm

Running the following make targets will trigger a breakpoint in setup.php:

make enable-xdebug DOCKER_SERVICE_NAME=application
make setup-db

And finally the same thing for long-running PHP processes (aka workers). Just as before:

  • enable the xdebug extension in the php-worker container
  • "Listening for PHP Debug Connections" from PhpStorm
  • restart the php workers

Running the following make targets will trigger a breakpoint in worker.php:

make enable-xdebug DOCKER_SERVICE_NAME=php-worker
make restart-workers


Wrapping up

Congratulations, you made it! If some things are not completely clear by now, don't hesitate to leave a comment. Apart from that, you should now have a fully configured development setup that works with PhpStorm as your IDE.

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Pascal Landau HackerNoon profile picture
by Pascal Landau @pascallandau.Technical Director at ABOUT YOU - mostly into Software Engineering in PHP and Data Engineering with Google BigQuery
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