How to work with references between content objects

References are a way to maintain links between content that remain valid even if one or both of the linked items are moved or renamed.

Under the hood, Dexterity’s reference system uses five.intid, a Zope 2 integration layer for zope.intid, to give each content item a unique integer id. These are the basis for relationships maintained with the zc.relationship package, which in turn is accessed via an API provided by z3c.relationfield, integrated into Zope 2 with For most purposes, you need only to worry about the z3c.relationfield API, which provides methods for finding source and target objects for references and searching the relationship catalog.

References are most commonly used in form fields with a selection or content browser widget. Dexterity comes with a standard widget in plone.formwidget.contenttree configured for the RelationList and RelationChoice fields from z3c.relationfield.

To illustrate the use of references, we will allow the user to create a link between a Session and its Presenter. Since Dexterity already ships with and installs plone.formwidget.contenttree and z3c.relationfield, we do not need to add any further setup code, and we can use the field directly in


from z3c.relationfield.schema import RelationChoice
from plone.formwidget.contenttree import ObjPathSourceBinder

from example.conference.presenter import IPresenter

class ISession(form.Schema):
    """A conference session. Sessions are managed inside Programs.

    presenter = RelationChoice(


Remeber that needs to be installed to use any RelationChoice or RelationList field.

To allow multiple items to be selected, we could have used a RelationList like:

relatedItems = RelationList(
    title=u"Related Items",

The ObjPathSourceBinder class is an IContextSourceBinder that returns a vocabulary with content objects as values, object titles as term titles and object paths as tokens.

You can pass keyword arguments to the constructor for ObjPathSourceBinder() to restrict the selectable objects. Here, we demand that the object must provide the IPresenter interface. The syntax is the same as that used in a catalog search, except that only simple values and lists are allowed (e.g. you can’t use a dict to specify a range or values for a field index).

If you want to restrict the folders and other content shown in the content browser, you can pass a dictionary with catalog search parameters (and here, any valid catalog query will do) as the first non-keyword argument (navigation_tree_query) to the ObjPathSourceBinder() constructor.

You can also create the fields in an XML schema, however you have to provide a pre-baked source instance. If you are happy with not restricting folders shown, you can use some that plone.formwidget.contenttree makes for you. For example:

<field name="links" type="">
    <title>Related Items</title>
    <value_type type="">


The pre-baked source binders were added in plone.formwidget.contenttree 1.0.7, which ships with Plone 4.3.2+.

If you want to use a different widget, you can use the same source (or a custom source that has content objects as values) with something like the autocomplete widget. The following line added to the interface will make the presenter selection similar to the organizer selection widget we showed in the previous section:

from plone.autoform import directives
directives.widget('presenter', AutocompleteFieldWidget)

Once the user has created some relationships, the value stored in the relation field is a RelationValue object. This provides various attributes, including:

  • from_object, the object from which the relationship is made;
  • to_object, the object to which the relationship is made;
  • from_id and to_id, the integer ids of the source and target;
  • from_path and to_path, the path of the source and target.

The isBroken() method can be used to determine if the relationship is broken. This normally happens if the target object is deleted.

To display the relationship on our form, we can either use a display widget on a display view, or use this API to find the object and display it. We’ll do the latter in templates/

<div tal:condition="context/presenter">
    <label i18n:translate="presenter">Presenter:</label>
    <span tal:content="context/presenter/to_object/Title | nothing" />

Back references

To retrieve back-reference (all objects pointing to particular object using specified attribute) you can’t simply use from_object or from_path, because source object is stored in the relation without acquisition wrappers. You should use from_id and helper method, which search the object in the IntId catalog:

from Acquisition import aq_inner
from zope.component import getUtility
from zope.intid.interfaces import IIntIds
from import checkPermission
from zc.relation.interfaces import ICatalog

def back_references(source_object, attribute_name):
    Return back references from source object on specified attribute_name
    catalog = getUtility(ICatalog)
    intids = getUtility(IIntIds)
    result = []
    for rel in catalog.findRelations(
        obj = intids.queryObject(rel.from_id)
        if obj is not None and checkPermission('zope2.View', obj):
    return result

Please note, this method does not check effective and expiration date or content language.

Original issue: