I'm using Entity API, Form API and Entity Reference Autocomplete in Drupal. I have a relationship between two types, clubs and courses, each club can have many courses so basically the table course contains a column called goclid which references the club id number like so:

// hook_schema()

$schema['course'] = array(
    // other fields...
'goclid' => array(
    'description' => 'Reference to the club',
    'type' => 'int',
    'unsigned' => TRUE,
    'not null' => TRUE,

// ... a few lines later...
'foreign key' => array(
  'related_club' => array( // join alias
    'table' => 'club',
    'columns' => array('goclid' => 'id'),
// etc.

Then I include a field like so in the course form:

$form['goclid'] = array(
    '#title' => t('Reference to the club'),
    '#type' => 'entityreference',
    '#era_entity_type' => 'club',
    '#default_value' => isset($course->goclid) ? $course->goclid : '',
    '#required' => FALSE,

Now, the autocomplete gives suggestions only when I type an id number, and then populates the field value with the label (name of the golf club). What I want is exactly the opposite: I want to get suggestions by typing the name of the club, and then when I choose one, the form field should be populated with the id number of that object.

Why is Entity Reference Autocomplete behaving in an unexpected way? What can I do to obtain the desired behaviour?

EDIT: to understand the solution look not only at the answer but also at the comments that I left below the answer; the answer itself only explains how to get the suggestions working but does not explain how to build and save the entity object in your submit function.

1 Answer 1


I think you might have not specified the "label" column in the entity definition. That goes within the 'entity keys' array, like the 'id' key.

$entity_info = array(
  'entity keys' array(
    'id' => 'primary key column...',
    'label' =>  'column holding the label'

Otherwise entityreference will not know which column to use for searching in the DB. That still makes it possible to show the label (as you're experiencing) after you reference the entity, because 'label' key is not mandatory, and you may have specified a "label callback" instead, which the Entity API will use when entity_label() is called to get the label of a specific entity.

If adding the 'label' column and flushing all caches doesn't solve your problem, I think I'd need the entity definition to be able to help!

  • Thank you Salvador, this helps a lot, as you say I had specified a label callback so the auto-suggestion was showing the labels but I did not include label in the entity keys array and that's way it wasn't searching by label. Now my last problem is that the database field which contains the foreign key is an integer but Entity Reference Autocomplete populates the field with something like club label (id), is there a "canonical" way to get only the id from $form_state?
    – mastazi
    Jul 23, 2015 at 23:20
  • Actually, I have tested further and found out that $form_state['values']['goclid'] is always being populated with 1, regardless of the id of the referenced entity selected by the user. So I made some more research and found your article: codeenigma.com/community/blog/… which basically says to get the value from $form_state['values']['entity_id'], however for some reason I get undefined when I try to access it within the submit handler of the form. Any idea about why it is undefined?
    – mastazi
    Jul 24, 2015 at 0:23
  • update: the correct way of getting the id is in this case $form_state['values']['goclid']['entity_id'] i.e. I was missing the field name goclid as array key.
    – mastazi
    Aug 2, 2015 at 9:56
  • Also, to allow the module to do the validation (check if the referenced entity exists) you have to wait until after the object is built (e.g. after using entity_ui_form_submit_build_entity()) and only at that point you can modify the value before saving, such as $course->club_id = $form_state['values']['goclid']['entity_id'];, this way the value saved will be only the numerical id as expected.
    – mastazi
    Aug 2, 2015 at 10:00

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