[php] What does double question mark (??) operator mean in PHP

I was diving into Symfony framework (version 4) code and found this piece of code:

$env = $_SERVER['APP_ENV'] ?? 'dev';

I'm not sure what this actually does but I imagine that it expands to something like:

$env = $_SERVER['APP_ENV'] != null ? $_SERVER['APP_ENV'] : 'dev';

Or maybe:

$env = isset($_SERVER['APP_ENV']) ? $_SERVER['APP_ENV'] : 'dev';

Does someone have any precision about the subject?


To all the people who marked my question as negative because there's already a similar question (PHP ternary operator vs null coalescing operator):

It is true that both questions are very similar. However it is hard for everybody to imagine that the "??" is called the coalescing operator.

Otherwise I could easy find it on the official documentation:


However, for someone who didn't know that this feature was added in php 7 it's more likely to type:

"php ?? operator" or "php double question mark operator"

And here is why my question has an added value.

This question is related to php operator-keyword

The answer is

It's the "null coalescing operator", added in php 7.0. The definition of how it works is:

It returns its first operand if it exists and is not NULL; otherwise it returns its second operand.

So it's actually just isset() in a handy operator.

Those two are equivalent1:

$foo = $bar ?? 'something';
$foo = isset($bar) ? $bar : 'something';

Documentation: http://php.net/manual/en/language.operators.comparison.php#language.operators.comparison.coalesce

In the list of new PHP7 features: http://php.net/manual/en/migration70.new-features.php#migration70.new-features.null-coalesce-op

And original RFC https://wiki.php.net/rfc/isset_ternary

EDIT: As this answer gets a lot of views, little clarification:

1There is a difference: In case of ??, the first expression is evaluated only once, as opposed to ? :, where the expression is first evaluated in the condition section, then the second time in the "answer" section.

$x = $y ?? 'dev'

is short hand for x = y if y is set, otherwise x = 'dev'

There is also

$x = $y =="SOMETHING" ? 10 : 20

meaning if y equals 'SOMETHING' then x = 10, otherwise x = 20

$myVar = $someVar ?? 42;

Is equivalent to :

$myVar = isset($someVar) ? $someVar : 42;

For constants, the behaviour is the same when using a constant that already exists :

define("FOO", "bar");
define("BAR", null);

$MyVar = FOO ?? "42";
$MyVar2 = BAR ?? "42";

echo $MyVar . PHP_EOL;  // bar
echo $MyVar2 . PHP_EOL; // 42

However, for constants that don't exist, this is different :

$MyVar3 = IDONTEXIST ?? "42"; // Raises a warning
echo $MyVar3 . PHP_EOL;       // IDONTEXIST

Warning: Use of undefined constant IDONTEXIST - assumed 'IDONTEXIST' (this will throw an Error in a future version of PHP)

Php will convert the non-existing constant to a string.

You can use constant("ConstantName") that returns the value of the constant or null if the constant doesn't exist, but it will still raise a warning. You can prepended the function with the error control operator @ to ignore the warning message :

$myVar = @constant("IDONTEXIST") ?? "42"; // No warning displayed anymore
echo $myVar . PHP_EOL; // 42