[php] Are PHP Variables passed by value or by reference?

Are PHP variables passed by value or by reference?

This question is related to php variables pass-by-reference pass-by-value

The answer is


PHP variables are assigned by value, passed to functions by value and when containing/representing objects are passed by reference. You can force variables to pass by reference using an '&'.

Assigned by value/reference example:

$var1 = "test";
$var2 = $var1;
$var2 = "new test";
$var3 = &$var2;
$var3 = "final test";

print ("var1: $var1, var2: $var2, var3: $var3);

output:

var1: test, var2: final test, var3: final test

Passed by value/reference example:

$var1 = "foo";
$var2 = "bar";

changeThem($var1, $var2);

print "var1: $var1, var2: $var2";

function changeThem($var1, &$var2){
    $var1 = "FOO";
    $var2 = "BAR";
}

output:

var1: foo, var2 BAR

Object variables passed by reference example:

class Foo{
    public $var1;

    function __construct(){
        $this->var1 = "foo";
    }

    public function printFoo(){
        print $this->var1;
    }
}


$foo = new Foo();

changeFoo($foo);

$foo->printFoo();

function changeFoo($foo){
    $foo->var1 = "FOO";
}

output:

FOO

(The last example could be better probably.)


In PHP, by default, objects are passed as reference to a new object.

See this example:

class X {
  var $abc = 10; 
}

class Y {

  var $abc = 20; 
  function changeValue($obj)
  {
   $obj->abc = 30;
  }
}

$x = new X();
$y = new Y();

echo $x->abc; //outputs 10
$y->changeValue($x);
echo $x->abc; //outputs 30

Now see this:

class X {
  var $abc = 10; 
}

class Y {

  var $abc = 20; 
  function changeValue($obj)
  {
    $obj = new Y();
  }
}

$x = new X();
$y = new Y();

echo $x->abc; //outputs 10
$y->changeValue($x);
echo $x->abc; //outputs 10 not 20 same as java does.

Now see this:

class X {
  var $abc = 10; 
}

class Y {

  var $abc = 20; 
  function changeValue(&$obj)
  {
    $obj = new Y();
  }
}

$x = new X();
$y = new Y();

echo $x->abc; //outputs 10
$y->changeValue($x);
echo $x->abc; //outputs 20 not possible in java.

I hope you can understand this.


Objects are passed by reference in PHP 5 and by value in PHP 4. Variables are passed by value by default!

Read here: http://www.webeks.net/programming/php/ampersand-operator-used-for-assigning-reference.html


http://www.php.net/manual/en/migration5.oop.php

In PHP 5 there is a new Object Model. PHP's handling of objects has been completely rewritten, allowing for better performance and more features. In previous versions of PHP, objects were handled like primitive types (for instance integers and strings). The drawback of this method was that semantically the whole object was copied when a variable was assigned, or passed as a parameter to a method. In the new approach, objects are referenced by handle, and not by value (one can think of a handle as an object's identifier).


Variables containing primitive types are passed by value in PHP5. Variables containing objects are passed by reference. There's quite an interesting article from Linux Journal from 2006 which mentions this and other OO differences between 4 and 5.

http://www.linuxjournal.com/article/9170


Use this for functions when you wish to simply alter the original variable and return it again to the same variable name with its new value assigned.

function add(&$var){ // The & is before the argument $var
   $var++;
}
$a = 1;
$b = 10;
add($a);
echo "a is $a,";
add($b);
echo " a is $a, and b is $b"; // Note: $a and $b are NOT referenced

You can pass a variable to a function by reference. This function will be able to modify the original variable.

You can define the passage by reference in the function definition:

<?php
function changeValue(&$var)
{
    $var++;
}

$result=5;
changeValue($result);

echo $result; // $result is 6 here
?>

You can do it either way.

Put an '&' symbol in front and the variable you are passing becomes one and the same as its origin i.e. you can pass by reference, rather than make a copy of it.

so

    $fred = 5;
    $larry = & $fred;
    $larry = 8;
    echo $fred;//this will output 8, as larry and fred are now the same reference.

Depends on the version, 4 is by value, 5 is by reference.


It seems a lot of people get confused by the way objects are passed to functions and what passing by reference means. Object are still passed by value, it's just the value that is passed in PHP5 is a reference handle. As proof:

<?php
class Holder {
    private $value;

    public function __construct($value) {
        $this->value = $value;
    }

    public function getValue() {
        return $this->value;
    }
}

function swap($x, $y) {
    $tmp = $x;
    $x = $y;
    $y = $tmp;
}

$a = new Holder('a');
$b = new Holder('b');
swap($a, $b);

echo $a->getValue() . ", " . $b->getValue() . "\n";

Outputs:

a, b

To pass by reference means we can modify the variables that are seen by the caller, which clearly the code above does not do. We need to change the swap function to:

<?php
function swap(&$x, &$y) {
    $tmp = $x;
    $x = $y;
    $y = $tmp;
}

$a = new Holder('a');
$b = new Holder('b');
swap($a, $b);

echo $a->getValue() . ", " . $b->getValue() . "\n";

Outputs:

b, a

in order to pass by reference.


class Holder
{
    private $value;

    public function __construct( $value )
    {
        $this->value = $value;
    }

    public function getValue()
    {
        return $this->value;
    }

    public function setValue( $value )
    {
        return $this->value = $value;
    }
}

class Swap
{       
    public function SwapObjects( Holder $x, Holder $y )
    {
        $tmp = $x;

        $x = $y;

        $y = $tmp;
    }

    public function SwapValues( Holder $x, Holder $y )
    {
        $tmp = $x->getValue();

        $x->setValue($y->getValue());

        $y->setValue($tmp);
    }
}


$a1 = new Holder('a');

$b1 = new Holder('b');



$a2 = new Holder('a');

$b2 = new Holder('b');


Swap::SwapValues($a1, $b1);

Swap::SwapObjects($a2, $b2);



echo 'SwapValues: ' . $a2->getValue() . ", " . $b2->getValue() . "<br>";

echo 'SwapObjects: ' . $a1->getValue() . ", " . $b1->getValue() . "<br>";

Attributes are still modifiable when not passed by reference so beware.

Output:

SwapObjects: b, a SwapValues: a, b


For anyone who comes across this in the future, I want to share this gem from the PHP docs, posted by an anonymous user:

There seems to be some confusion here. The distinction between pointers and references is not particularly helpful. The behavior in some of the "comprehensive" examples already posted can be explained in simpler unifying terms. Hayley's code, for example, is doing EXACTLY what you should expect it should. (Using >= 5.3)

First principle: A pointer stores a memory address to access an object. Any time an object is assigned, a pointer is generated. (I haven't delved TOO deeply into the Zend engine yet, but as far as I can see, this applies)

2nd principle, and source of the most confusion: Passing a variable to a function is done by default as a value pass, ie, you are working with a copy. "But objects are passed by reference!" A common misconception both here and in the Java world. I never said a copy OF WHAT. The default passing is done by value. Always. WHAT is being copied and passed, however, is the pointer. When using the "->", you will of course be accessing the same internals as the original variable in the caller function. Just using "=" will only play with copies.

3rd principle: "&" automatically and permanently sets another variable name/pointer to the same memory address as something else until you decouple them. It is correct to use the term "alias" here. Think of it as joining two pointers at the hip until forcibly separated with "unset()". This functionality exists both in the same scope and when an argument is passed to a function. Often the passed argument is called a "reference," due to certain distinctions between "passing by value" and "passing by reference" that were clearer in C and C++.

Just remember: pointers to objects, not objects themselves, are passed to functions. These pointers are COPIES of the original unless you use "&" in your parameter list to actually pass the originals. Only when you dig into the internals of an object will the originals change.

And here's the example they provide:

<?php

//The two are meant to be the same
$a = "Clark Kent"; //a==Clark Kent
$b = &$a; //The two will now share the same fate.

$b="Superman"; // $a=="Superman" too.
echo $a;
echo $a="Clark Kent"; // $b=="Clark Kent" too.
unset($b); // $b divorced from $a
$b="Bizarro";
echo $a; // $a=="Clark Kent" still, since $b is a free agent pointer now.

//The two are NOT meant to be the same.
$c="King";
$d="Pretender to the Throne";
echo $c."\n"; // $c=="King"
echo $d."\n"; // $d=="Pretender to the Throne"
swapByValue($c, $d);
echo $c."\n"; // $c=="King"
echo $d."\n"; // $d=="Pretender to the Throne"
swapByRef($c, $d);
echo $c."\n"; // $c=="Pretender to the Throne"
echo $d."\n"; // $d=="King"

function swapByValue($x, $y){
$temp=$x;
$x=$y;
$y=$temp;
//All this beautiful work will disappear
//because it was done on COPIES of pointers.
//The originals pointers still point as they did.
}

function swapByRef(&$x, &$y){
$temp=$x;
$x=$y;
$y=$temp;
//Note the parameter list: now we switched 'em REAL good.
}

?>

I wrote an extensive, detailed blog post on this subject for JavaScript, but I believe it applies equally well to PHP, C++, and any other language where people seem to be confused about pass by value vs. pass by reference.

Clearly, PHP, like C++, is a language that does support pass by reference. By default, objects are passed by value. When working with variables that store objects, it helps to see those variables as pointers (because that is fundamentally what they are, at the assembly level). If you pass a pointer by value, you can still "trace" the pointer and modify the properties of the object being pointed to. What you cannot do is have it point to a different object. Only if you explicitly declare a parameter as being passed by reference will you be able to do that.


Actually both methods are valid but it depends upon your requirement. Passing values by reference often makes your script slow. So it's better to pass variables by value considering time of execution. Also the code flow is more consistent when you pass variables by value.


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