Are PHP Variables passed by value or by reference?


Question

Are PHP variables passed by value or by reference?

1
219
5/25/2014 1:52:44 AM

Accepted Answer

It's by value according to the PHP Documentation.

By default, function arguments are passed by value (so that if the value of the argument within the function is changed, it does not get changed outside of the function). To allow a function to modify its arguments, they must be passed by reference.

To have an argument to a function always passed by reference, prepend an ampersand (&) to the argument name in the function definition.

<?php
function add_some_extra(&$string)
{
    $string .= 'and something extra.';
}

$str = 'This is a string, ';
add_some_extra($str);
echo $str;    // outputs 'This is a string, and something extra.'
?>
280
7/5/2016 10:56:14 AM

It seems a lot of people get confused by the way objects are passed to functions and what pass by reference means. Object variables are still passed by value, its 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.


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