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Token Reference


CiviCRM tokens enable one to generate personalized emails, reminders, print documents. etc.

When working with tokens as a developer, there are two major tasks:

  • Composing a message by evaluating a token expression (Hello {contact.first_name}! How do you like {}?).
  • Defining a token and its content.

For each task, there are a couple available patterns, and we'll explore them in more depth below. But first, it helps to put the functionality in context.

The Custom Case Token Step-by-step guide shows how to implement a custom token about Cases.


Token functionality originated in CiviMail, which focuses on writing and delivering newsletters to large constituencies. In its original form, the design placed heavy weight on:

  • Performance: Divide mail-composition into batches and split the batches among parallel workers. Moreover, when processing each batch, improve efficiency by minimizing the #SQL queries - i.e. fetch all records in a batch at once, and only fetch columns which are actually used.
  • Security: Do not trust email authors with a fully programmable language.
  • Contact Records: The main data for mail-merge came from contact records. Other data (contribution, event, participant, membership, etc) were not applicable.
  • Adaptive Text/HTML: Email messages often have two renditions, text/plain and text/html. Some tokens, such as {domain.address}, may present different formatting in each medium. Other tokens, such as {action.unsubscribe}, can even present a different user-experience.

Over time, the token functionality evolved:

  • Add optional support for more powerful templates with conditions and loops (Smarty). (In the case of CiviMail, this was still disabled by default as a security consideration, but in other use-cases it might be enabled by default.)
  • Add a hook for custom tokens.
  • Expand to other applications, such as individual mailings, print letters, receipts for contributions, and scheduled reminders.


Token Description
{} Name of this domain (organization/site/deployment)
{domain.address} Meta-token with the full-formed mailing address of this domain (organization/site/deployment))
{contact.first_name} The contact's first_name
{contact.display_name} The contact's display_name
{} The name of the mailing

For more examples of tokens and token replacement, see User Guide: Common workflows: Tokens and mail merge.

Composing messages


For most of its history, CiviMail used a helper class, CRM_Utils_Token, with a number of static helper functions. As the more kinds of tokens were created for more use-cases, the technique was duplicated and adapted, leading to an idiom which looks a bit like this:

$subject = $template->subject;
$body_html = $template->body_html;
$body_text = $template->body_text;

$subject = CRM_Utils_Token::replaceFooTokens($subject, $fooData... $encodingOptions...);
$subject = CRM_Utils_Token::replaceBarTokens($subject, $barData... $encodingOptions...);
$subject = CRM_Utils_Token::replaceHookTokens($subject, $encodingOptions...);
if (smarty enabled) $subject = $smarty->display("string:$subject");

$body_html = CRM_Utils_Token::replaceFooTokens($body_html, $fooData... $encodingOptions...);
$body_html = CRM_Utils_Token::replaceBarTokens($body_html, $barData... $encodingOptions...);
$body_html = CRM_Utils_Token::replaceHookTokens($body_html, $encodingOptions...);
if (smarty enabled) $body_html = $smarty->display("string:$body_html");

$body_text = CRM_Utils_Token::replaceFooTokens($body_text, $fooData... $encodingOptions...);
$body_text = CRM_Utils_Token::replaceBarTokens($body_text, $barData... $encodingOptions...);
$body_text = CRM_Utils_Token::replaceHookTokens($body_text, $encodingOptions...);
if (smarty enabled) $body_text = $smarty->display("string:$body_text");

Some of the key functions of this system are:

  • CRM_Utils_Token::getTokens - Retrieves an array of tokens contained in the given string e.g. HTML of an email
  • CRM_Utils_Token::getRequiredTokens - What are the minimum required tokens for CiviMail
  • CRM_Utils_Token::requiredTokens - Check that the required tokens are there
  • CRM_Utils_Token::&replace<type>Tokens - Replaces x type of Tokens where x is User, Contact, Action, Resubscribe etc
  • CRM_Utils_Token::get<type>TokenReplacement - Format and escape for use in Smarty the found content for Tokens for x type. This is usually called within CRM_Utils_Token::&replace<type>Tokens

However, this idiom has a few problems:

  • Token substitution is performed iteratively and not atomicly. To ensure secure and consistent handling of tokens, one has to be quite careful with the selection/ordering/encoding of each call to replace<Type>Tokens().
  • Token substitution is not standardized. To make any general improvement to the token language or process, one must work through disparate functions and use-cases.
  • Encoding issues (regarding HTML and Smarty) are handled by each function separately, leading to inconsistencies.

Consequently, this pattern is not recommend for new code.

TokenProcessor (v4.7+)

CiviCRM v4.7 introduced Civi\Token\TokenProcessor, which provides a more flexible way to define and process tokens. It preserves the performance, batching, and security virtues of CRM_Utils_Token and also:

  • Allows more contextual information -- enabling tokens for more entities.
  • Loosens the coupling between token-consumers and token-providers.
  • Loosens the coupling between token-content and template-language.

Originally, TokenProcessor was introduced to support extensible, contextual tokens in Scheduled Reminders (CRM-13244). However, you can also use TokenProcessor for CiviMail by installing FlexMailer, and you can use it for developing new logic.

The basic process in the new subsystem is

  • Whenever an application's controller (e.g. for CiviMail or PDFs or scheduled reminders) needs to compose a message, it instantiates Civi\Token\TokenProcessor.
  • The controller passes some information to TokenProcessor – namely, the $context and the list of $rows.
  • The TokenProcessor fires an event (civi.token.eval). Other modules respond with the actual token content.
  • For each of the rows, the controller requests a rendered blob of text.
$tokenProcessor = new TokenProcessor(\Civi::dispatcher(), [
  'controller' => __CLASS__,
  'smarty' => FALSE,

// Fill the processor with a batch of data.
$tokenProcessor->addMessage('body_text', 'Hello {contact.display_name}!', 'text/plain');
$tokenProcessor->addRow()->context('contactId', 123);
$tokenProcessor->addRow()->context('contactId', 456);

// Lookup/compose any tokens which are referenced in the message.
// e.g. SELECT id, display_name FROM civicrm_contact WHERE id IN (...contextual contact ids...);

// Display mail-merge data.
foreach ($tokenProcessor->getRows() as $row) {
  echo $row->render('body_text');

Defining tokens


The oldest and most broadly supported way to define a new token is to use hook_civicrm_tokens and hook_civicrm_tokenValues. These hooks have been included with CiviCRM for a number of years, and they work with a range of mailing use-cases.

However, these hooks have some limitations:

  • Encoding (HTML-vs-text) is ambiguous.
  • Contextual data (adding information about the particular use-case/context) is not supported.
  • All tokens have to be fully rendered for all recipients. One cannot skip unused tokens.

Token Events (v4.7+)

If a use-case builds on the newer TokenProcessor (above), then an additional API is available for defining tokens. This API resolves the limitations above.

TokenProcessor emits two events which allow you to define new tokens. Consider this example which defines {profile.viewUrl} and {profile.viewLink}:

function example_civicrm_container($container) {
  $container->addResource(new \Symfony\Component\Config\Resource\FileResource(__FILE__));
    ['civi.token.list', 'example_register_tokens']
    ['civi.token.eval', 'example_evaluate_tokens']

function example_register_tokens(\Civi\Token\Event\TokenRegisterEvent $e) {
    ->register('viewUrl', ts('Profile View URL'))
    ->register('viewLink', ts('Profile View Link'));

function example_evaluate_tokens(\Civi\Token\Event\TokenValueEvent $e) {
  foreach ($e->getRows() as $row) {
    /** @var TokenRow $row */
    $row->tokens('profile', 'viewUrl', '' . $row->context['contactId']);
    $row->tokens('profile', 'viewLink', ts("<a href='%1'>Open Profile</a>", array(
      1 => $row->tokens['profile']['viewUrl'],

Some notes on the the above:

  • $row->context['...'] returns contextual data, regardless of whether you declared it at the row level or the processor level.
  • To update a row's data, use the context() and tokens() methods. To read a row's data, use the $context and $tokens properties. These interfaces support several notations, which are described in the TokenRow class.
  • You have control over the loop. You can do individual data-lookups in the loop (for simplicity) – or you can also do prefetches and batched lookups (for performance).
  • To avoid unnecessary computation, you can get a list of tokens which are actually required by this mailing. Call $e->getTokenProcessor()->getMessageTokens().
  • In this example, we defined tokens in HTML format, and we rely on a default behavior that auto-converts between HTML and text (as needed). However, we could explicitly define HTML and plain-text variants by calling $row->format() and $row->tokens() again.
  • The class \Civi\Token\AbstractTokenSubscriber provides a more structured/opinionated way to handle these events.
  • For background on the event dispatcher (e.g. listeners vs subscribers), see Symfony Documentation

The main limitation of this technique is that it only works with TokenProcessor. At time of writing, this is used for Scheduled Reminders and FlexMailer.

See also