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PHP programming

PHP was a great programming language in web development. It surpasses the VBscript for ASP and Perl for CGI. It is favoured because of the syntax based C and C++. It supports procedural programming paradigm and object-oriented paradigm. A lot of functions resemble C functions such as printf, fprintf, sprintf, fopen, etc. Similarly, it can work directly to the C library such as expat, zlib, libxml2, etc. A lot of great content management systems (CMS) are written in PHP, such as Drupal, WordPress, Joomla, etc.

However, a lot of new programming language emerges and surpassing it.

Taken from

Array is passed by value

Because PHP syntax is very similar to C and C++, it can use “&” reference operator and pass the parameter by reference in a function. But this will be very different from other languages such Python and JavaScript. Python and JavaScript function parameters are passed by value for all primitive data types, such as integer, float, string, and boolean; complex data type like object and array are passed by reference, meaning they are mutable, including Date object in JavaScript.

function change_array($arr) {
    $arr[0] = 100;

function change_object($obj) {
    $obj->value = 100;

function change_many_objects($arr) {
    $arr[0]->value = 100;

function change_object_array($obj) {
    $obj->array[0] = 100;

class MyObj {
    var $value;
    var $array;

function main() {
    $arr = [1, 2, 3];
    $obj = new MyObj();
    $obj->value = 10;


    echo $arr[0], "\n"; // still 1, not changing
    echo $obj->value, "\n"; // changed to 100

    $arr_obj = [ new MyObj(), new MyObj(), new MyObj() ];
    $arr_obj[0]->value = 10;
    echo $arr_obj[0]->value, "\n"; // changed to 100

    $obj_arr = new MyObj();
    $obj_arr->array = [1, 2, 3];
    echo $obj_arr->array[0], "\n"; // changed to 100

    $obj_a = new MyObj();
    $obj_a->value = 10;
    $obj_b = $obj_a;
    $obj_b->value = 20;
    echo $obj_a->value, "\n"; // 20
    echo $obj_b->value, "\n"; // 20

    $obj_c = &$obj_a;
    $obj_c->value = 30;
    echo $obj_a->value, "\n"; // 30
    echo $obj_b->value, "\n"; // 30
    echo $obj_c->value, "\n"; // 30


In the example above, the function change_array() will not modify the array that being passed, this is because it is passed by value. Unless we use the “&” reference operator.

The function change_object() will change the object that being passed.

One of the key-points of PHP 5 OOP that is often mentioned is that “objects are passed by references by default”. This is not completely true. […]

(from PHP manual)

So, basically, the function parameters are passed by value, even though it is an array. But the object will be dealt differently. We can treat it as a pointer, if you are familiar with C++ “new” operator. In C++, “new” operator will create an instance and return a pointer to the instance. If we understand this concept, then this is how it works in PHP (according to what I know).

Consequently, the function change_many_objects() though the argument is for an array, and an array is passed into it, but the function changes the value of the object within the array. This is because the array stores the pointer to the object instances. The function does change the instance is pointed by the “pointers” stored in the array.

In summary, PHP deals array as value, which is different from Python, JavaScript, and even C and C++. However, PHP deals object as pointer, that is why object is mutable when it is passed to a function.

Other limitations

PHP was created before the technology of RESTful API. PHP focuses on the GET and POST, but not like PUT and DELETE. The HTTP methods are server dependent. As a result, the HTTP server such as Apache requires some extra configurations for PHP to work. Unlike Node and Ruby on Rails, Node itself has a HTTP module; Ruby on Rails has WEBrick HTTP server.

Comparing to the language like Python, Node with JavaScript, Ruby, Lua, it lacks of REPL (read-eval-print loop). Interactive shell is different from REPL. With REPL, the function to print the result in the console is omitted. REPL will print the result whenever the function returns value.


About Allen Choong

A cognitive science student, a programmer, a philosopher, a Catholic.

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