Passing by Reference

You can pass a variable by reference to a function so the function can modify the variable. The syntax is as follows:

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

$a=5;
foo($a);
// $a is 6 here
?>

Note: There is no reference sign on a function call - only on function definitions. Function definitions alone are enough to correctly pass the argument by reference. As of PHP 5.3.0, you will get a warning saying that "call-time pass-by-reference" is deprecated when you use & in foo(&$a);. And as of PHP 5.4.0, call-time pass-by-reference was removed, so using it will raise a fatal error.

The following things can be passed by reference:

  • Variables, i.e. foo($a)
  • New statements, i.e. foo(new foobar())
  • References returned from functions, i.e.:

    <?php
    function foo(&$var)
    {
        
    $var++;
    }
    function &
    bar()
    {
        
    $a 5;
        return 
    $a;
    }
    foo(bar());
    ?>
    See more about returning by reference.

No other expressions should be passed by reference, as the result is undefined. For example, the following examples of passing by reference are invalid:

<?php
function foo(&$var)
{
    
$var++;
}
function 
bar() // Note the missing &
{
    
$a 5;
    return 
$a;
}
foo(bar()); // Produces fatal error since PHP 5.0.5

foo($a 5); // Expression, not variable
foo(5); // Produces fatal error
?>
These requirements are for PHP 4.0.4 and later.

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User Contributed Notes 6 notes

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6
diabolos @t gmail dot com
1 year ago
<?php

/*

  This function internally swaps the contents between
  two simple variables using 'passing by reference'.

  Some programming languages have such a swap function
  built in, but PHP seems to lack such a function.  So,
  one was created to fill the need.  It only handles
  simple, single variables, not arrays, but it is
  still a very handy tool to have.

  No value is actually returned by this function, but
  the contents of the indicated variables will be
  exchanged (swapped) after the call.
*/

// ------------------------------------------
// Demo call of the swap(...) function below.

 
$a = 123.456;
 
$b = 'abcDEF';
 
 print
"<pre>Define:\na = $a\nb = '$b'</pre>";
 
swap($a,$b);
 print
"<pre>After swap(a,b):\na = '$a'\nb = $b</pre>";

// -------------------------------

  
function swap (&$arg1, &$arg2)
{

// Swap contents of indicated variables.
  
$w=$arg1;   $arg1=$arg2;   $arg2=$w;
}

?>
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2
pillepop2003 at yahoo dot de
9 years ago
PHP has a strange behavior when passing a part of an array by reference, that does not yet exist.

<?php
   
function func(&$a)
    {
       
// void();
   
}
   
   
$a['one'] =1;
   
func($a['two']);
?>   

var_dump($a) returns

    array(2) {
        ["one"]=>
        int(1)
        ["two"]=>
        NULL
    }

...which seems to be not intentional!
up
1
obscvresovl at NOSPAM dot hotmail dot com
9 years ago
Just a simple note...

<?php

$num
= 1;

function
blah(&$var)
{
   
$var++;
}

blah($num);

echo
$num; #2

?>

<?php

$num
= 1;

function
blah()
{
   
$var =& $GLOBALS["num"];
   
$var++;
}

blah();

echo
$num; #2

?>

Both codes do the same thing! The second code "explains" how passage of parameters by reference works.
up
0
phpnet at holodyn dot com
23 days ago
The notes indicate that a function variable reference will receive a deprecated warning in the 5.3 series, however when calling the function via call_user_func the operation aborts without fatal error.

This is not a "bug" since it is not likely worth resolving, however should be noted in this documentation.
up
0
fdelizy at unfreeze dot net
7 years ago
Some have noticed that reference parameters can not be assigned a default value. It's actually wrong, they can be assigned a value as the other variables, but can't have a "default reference value", for instance this code won't compile :

<?php
function use_reference( $someParam, &$param =& $POST )
{
 ...
}
?>

But this one will work :

<?php
function use_reference( $someParam, &$param = null )
?>

So here is a workaround to have a default value for reference parameters :

<?php
$array1
= array ( 'test', 'test2' );

function
AddTo( $key, $val, &$array = null)
{
    if (
$array == null )
    {
     
$array =& $_POST;
    }

   
$array[ $key ] = $val ;
}

AddTo( "indirect test", "test", $array1 );
AddTo( "indirect POST test", "test" );

echo
"Array 1 " ;
print_r ( $array1);

echo
"_POST ";
print_r( $_POST );

?>

And this scripts output is :

Array 1 Array
(
    [0] => test
    [1] => test2
    [indirect test] => test
)
_POST Array
(
    [indirect POST test] => test
)

Of course that means you can only assign default reference to globals or super globals variables.

Have fun
up
0
Sergio Santana: ssantana at tlaloc dot imta dot mx
9 years ago
Sometimes we need functions for building or modifying arrays whose elements are to be references to other variables (arrays or objects for instance). In this example, I wrote two functions 'tst' and 'tst1' that perform this task. Note how the functions are written, and how they are used.

<?php
function tst(&$arr, $r) {
 
// The argument '$arr' is declared to be passed by reference,
  // but '$r' is not;
  // however, in the function's body, we use a reference to
  // the '$r' argument
 
 
array_push($arr, &$r);
 
// Alternatively, this also could be $arr[] = &$r (in this case)
}
 
$arr0 = array();          // an empty array
$arr1 = array(1,2,3);   // the array to be referenced in $arr0

// Note how we call the function:
tst($arr0, &$arr1); // We are passing a reference to '$arr1' in the call !

print_r($arr0); // Contains just the reference to $arr1

array_push($arr0, 5); // we add another element to $arr0
array_push($arr1, 18); // we add another element to $arr1 as well

print_r($arr1); 
print_r($arr0); // Changes in $arr1 are reflected in $arr0

// -----------------------------------------
// A simpler way to do this:

function tst1(&$arr, &$r) {
 
// Both arguments '$arr' and '$r" are declared to be passed by
  // reference,
  // again, in the function's body, we use a reference to
  // the '$r' argument
 
 
array_push($arr, &$r);
 
// Alternatively, this also could be $arr[] = &$r (in this case)
}

 
$arr0 = array();          // an empty array
$arr1 = array(1,2,3);   // the array to be referenced in $arr0

// Note how we call the function:
tst1($arr0, $arr1); // 'tst1' understands '$r' is a reference to '$arr1'

echo "-------- 2nd. alternative ------------ <br>\n";

print_r($arr0); // Contains just the reference to $arr1

array_push($arr0, 5); // we add another element to $arr0
array_push($arr1, 18);

print_r($arr1); 
print_r($arr0); // Changes in $arr1 are reflected in $arr0

// This outputs:
// X-Powered-By: PHP/4.1.2
// Content-type: text/html
//
// Array
// (
//     [0] => Array
//         (
//             [0] => 1
//             [1] => 2
//             [2] => 3
//         )
//
// )
// Array
// (
//     [0] => 1
//     [1] => 2
//     [2] => 3
//     [3] => 18
// )
// Array
// (
//     [0] => Array
//         (
//             [0] => 1
//             [1] => 2
//             [2] => 3
//             [3] => 18
//         )
//
//     [1] => 5
// )
// -------- 2nd. alternative ------------
// Array
// (
//     [0] => Array
//         (
//             [0] => 1
//             [1] => 2
//             [2] => 3
//         )
//
// )
// Array
// (
//     [0] => 1
//     [1] => 2
//     [2] => 3
//     [3] => 18
// )
// Array
// (
//     [0] => Array
//         (
//             [0] => 1
//             [1] => 2
//             [2] => 3
//             [3] => 18
//         )
//
//     [1] => 5
// )
?>

In both cases we get the same result.

I hope this is somehow useful

Sergio.
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