MageTalk Episode 219 – Creating Healthy Daily Habits

How do you create better habits? How do you do more creative work? Does your day have a predictable structure and are you trying to optimize that for productivity or for happiness? Kalen and Phillip dive into more meta topics of productivity and focus.

Also, we talk about TikTok.

Yeah, the content is pretty varied but what do you expect? It’s MageTalk. Recorded from a Youtube Live on July 13, 2020.

Listen now!

PHP Internals News: Episode 65: Null safe operator

PHP Internals News: Episode 65: Null safe operator

In this episode of "PHP Internals News" I chat with Dan Ackroyd (Twitter, GitHub) about the Null Safe Operator RFC.

The RSS feed for this podcast is, you can download this episode's MP3 file, and it's available on Spotify and iTunes. There is a dedicated website:


Derick Rethans 0:18

Hi, I'm Derick, and this is PHP internals news, a weekly podcast dedicated to demystifying the development of the PHP language. This is Episode 65. Today I'm talking with Dan Ackroyd about an RFC that he's been working on together with Ilija Tovilo. Hello, Dan, would you please introduce yourself?

Dan Ackroyd 0:37

Hi Derick, my name is Daniel, I'm the maintainer of the imagick extension, and I occasionally help other people with RFCs.

Derick Rethans 0:45

And in this case, you helped out Ilija with the null safe operator RFC.

Dan Ackroyd 0:50

It's an idea that's been raised on internals before but has never had a very strong RFC written for it. Ilija did the technical implementation, and I helped him write the words for the RFC to persuade other people that it was a good idea.

Derick Rethans 1:04

Ilija declined to be talking to me.

Dan Ackroyd 1:06

He sounds very wise.

Derick Rethans 1:08

Let's have a chat about this RFC. What is the null safe operator?

Dan Ackroyd 1:13

Imagine you've got a variable that's either going to be an object or it could be null. The variable is an object, you're going to want to call a method on it, which obviously if it's null, then you can't call a method on it, because it gives an error. Instead, what the null safe operator allows you to do is to handle those two different cases in a single line, rather than having to wrap everything with if statements to handle the possibility that it's just null. The way it does this is through a thing called short circuiting, so instead of evaluating whole expression. As soon as use the null safe operator, and when the left hand side of the operator is null, everything can get short circuited, or just evaluates to null instead.

Derick Rethans 1:53

So it is a way of being able to call a methods. A null variable that can also represent an object and then not crash out with a fatal error

Dan Ackroyd 2:02

That's what you want is, if the variable is null, it does nothing. If a variable was the object, it calls method. This one of the cases where there's only two sensible things to do, having to write code to handle the two individual cases all the time just gets a bit tedious to write the same code all the time.

Derick Rethans 2:20

Especially when you have lots of nested calls I suppose.

Dan Ackroyd 2:25

That's right. It doesn't happen too often with code, but sometimes when you're using somebody else's API, where you're getting structured data back like in an in a tree, it's quite possible that you have the first object that might be null, it's not null, it's going to point to another object, and the object could be null so and so so down the tree of the structure of the data. It gets quite tedious, just wrapping each of those possible null variables with a if not null.

Derick Rethans 2:55

The RFC as an interesting example of showing that as well. Is this the main problem that this syntax or this feature is going to solve?

Dan Ackroyd 3:03

That's main thing, I think there's two different ways of looking at it. One is less code to write, which is a thing that people complain about in PHP sometimes it being slightly more verbose than other languages. The thing for me is that it's makes the code much easier to reason about. If you've got a block of code that's like the example in the RFC text. If you want to figure out what that code's doing you have to go through it line by line and figure out: is this code doing something very boring of just checking null, or is it doing something slightly more interesting and, like maybe slipping in a default value, somewhere in the middle, or other possible things. Compare the code from the RFC, to the equivalent version using the null safe operator, it's a lot easier to read for me. And you can just look at it. Just see at a glance, there's nothing interesting in this code going on. All is doing is handling cases where some of the values may be null, because otherwise you can just look at the right hand side of the chain of operators, see that it's either going to be returning null, or the thing on the right hand side. So for me, it makes code a lot easier to reason about something. I really appreciate in new features that languages acquire.

Derick Rethans 4:17

From what I can see it reduces the mental overhead quite a bit. As you say, the full expression is either going to be the null, or the return type of the last method that you call.

Dan Ackroyd 4:29

There's nothing of value in between. So all of that extra words is wasted effort both writing it, and reading it.

Derick Rethans 4:37

Okay, you mentioned short circuiting already, which is a word I stumble over and had to practice a few times. What is short circuiting?

Dan Ackroyd 4:45

Very simple way of explaining it is this is similar to an electronic circuit when it's short circuited the rest of the circuit stops operating. It just the signal stop just returns back to earth. The null safe short circuiting, it means that when a null is encountered the rest of the chain of the code is short circuited and just isn't executed at all.

Derick Rethans 5:08

Okay, what you're saying is that if you have a variable containing an object or working objects, you call a method that returns a null. And then, because it's null it won't call the next method on there any more.

Dan Ackroyd 5:20

Yes, it won't execute the rest of the chain of everything after a short circuit, takes place.

Derick Rethans 5:27

The RFC describes multiple way of short circuiting in, to be more precise, it's talks about three different kinds of short circuiting. Which ones are these and which ones have been looked at?

Dan Ackroyd 5:37

$obj = null; $obj?->foo(bar())->baz();

There's apparently three different ways to do short circuiting. And the way this has been implemented in PHP is the full short circuiting. One of the alternative ways was short circuiting for neither method arguments, nor chained method calls. Imagine you've got some code that is object method call foo. And inside foo there's a function called bar and then after the method call to foo, there's a another method call to baz. First way that some other languages have is short circuiting when basically no short circuiting. So, both the function call would be called, and also then the method call baz, would also be called. And this option is quite bad for both those two details, having the function call happen when the result of that function call is just gonna be thrown away is pretty surprising. It just doesn't seem that sensible option to me, and even worse than that, the chaining of the method call as is pretty terrible. It means that the first method call to foo could never return null, because the, there's no short circuiting happening. Each step then need to artificially put short circuiting after the method call to foo, which is a huge surprise to me. This option of not short circuiting either method, arguments, or chained method calls seems quite bad.

Derick Rethans 7:04

If one of the methods set wouldn't have been called normally because the objects being called is null, and the arguments to that function are, could be functions that could provide side effects right. You don't know what's the bar function call is going to do here for example.

Dan Ackroyd 7:18

It just makes the whole code very difficult to reason about and quite dangerous to use short circuiting in those languages.

Derick Rethans 7:25

It's almost equivalent that if you have a logical OR operation right. If the first thing is through evaluates to true and you do the OR the thing behind the OR it's never going to be executed, it's a similar thing here and I suppose, except the opposite.

Dan Ackroyd 7:40

It's very similar in that people are used to how short circuiting works in OR statements. And for me, similar sort of short circuiting behaviour needs to happen for null safe operator as well for it to be not surprising to everybody.

Derick Rethans 7:55

This is the first option short circuiting never for neither method arguments, for chained methods calls. What was the second one?

Dan Ackroyd 8:02

So the second one is to short circuit for method arguments but not for chaining method calls. This scenario, the call to bar wouldn't take place, but the call to the subsequent method call of baz would still take place. This is slightly less bad, but still, in my opinion, not as good as for short circuiting, again because even if the method call foo should never return null, cause the null propagates through the chain in the expression, then have to artificially use a another null safe operator to avoid having a can't call methods on parent.

Derick Rethans 8:41

And then the third one, which is the short circuiting for both method arguments and chained method calls.

Dan Ackroyd 8:47

That's the option has been implemented in PHP. This is the one that is most sensible, in my opinion. Soon as the short circuit occurs, everything in the rest of the chain of operators that applies to that objects, get short circuited. To me is the one that is least surprising and the one that everyone's going to expect for it to work in that way.

Derick Rethans 9:08

So I've actually I have a question looking at the code that you've prepared here where it says: object, question mark, arrow, foo, which is the syntax. We didn't mention the syntax yet. So it is object, question mark, arrow, foo. And the question mark being the addition here. Would it make sense that after foo, instead of using just the article baz to use question mark baz. It'd be a reason why you want to do that?

Dan Ackroyd 9:33

There are only for languages that don't do full short circuiting. For the languages that don't do full short circuiting and the null makes its way through to then have baz called on it, you have to use another null safe operator in there, just to avoid another error condition happening.

Derick Rethans 9:51

Very well. Which other languages, actually have full short circuiting?

Dan Ackroyd 9:55

So the languages that have full short circuiting are C sharp, JavaScript, Swift, and TypeScript, and the languages that don't have for short circuiting are Kotlin, Ruby, Dart, and hack. I'm not an expert on those languages but having a quick look around the internet, it does seem to be that people who try to use null safe operator in the languages that don't implement full short circuiting are not enjoying the experience so much. To me it appears to be a mistake in those languages. I don't know exactly why they made that choice to imagine that is more a technical hurdle, rather than a deliberate choice of this is the better way. It does appear that implementing the full short circuiting is quite significantly more difficult than doing the other option, other types of short circuiting, just because the amount of stuff that needs to be skipped to the full short circuiting, so you've got to imagine that they thought it was going to be an acceptable trade off between technical difficulty and implementation. The, I think that's probably going to be useful enough. To me it just doesn't seem to be that great of a trade off.

Derick Rethans 11:07

Short circuit circuiting happens when you use the null safe operator. So the null safe operator that syntax is question mark arrow. You mentioned that there is a chain of operators, what kind of operators are part of this chain or what is this chain specifically?

Dan Ackroyd 11:21

So the null safe operator will by, and short circuit, a chain of operators, and it will consider any operators that look inside or appear in side and object to be part of a chain, and operators that don't look inside an object to be not part of that chain. So the ones that appear inside an object are property access, so arrow, null safe property access. So, question mark arrow. Static property access, double colon. Method call, null safe method call, static method call, and array access also. Other operators that don't look inside the object would be things like string concatenation or math operators, because they're operating on values rather than directly like pairing inside the object to either read a property or do mythical, they aren't part of the chain. They'll still be applied, and they will be part of the chain that gets short circuited

Derick Rethans 12:17

Which specific chain is used as an argument in a method called as part of another, what sort of happens here?

Dan Ackroyd 12:27

This is at the limit of my understanding, but the chains don't combine or anything crazy like that. It's only in the object type operators here inside the objects that might be null. That will continue a chain on a chain of operators is then used as a argument to another method call or function call. That's the end of that chain, and they'd be two separate chains, so for me there's no surprising behaviour around the result of a non safe operator being used as an argument to another function call, or another method call, which might have a separate null safe operator on the outside, those two things are independent. They don't affect each other.

Derick Rethans 13:09

Yeah, I think that seems like a logical way of approaching this. Otherwise, I expect that the implementation will be quite a bit trickier as well.

Dan Ackroyd 13:17

This is actually something I consider quite deeply when people come up with RFCs is, how would I explain this to a junior developer. If the answer is: I would struggle to explain this to a junior developer. That probably means that, one I don't understand the idea well enough myself, or possibly that the idea is just a bit too complicated for it to be used safely in projects. I mean, there's a difference between stuff being possible to use safely. And we've got things in PHP that are possible to use safely but aren't always going to be used safely, like eval and other questions which can be used quite dangerously, and the general rule for a junior developer would be: You're not allowed to use eval in your code, you need to have a deep understanding of how it can be abused by people. But something for like the null safe operator. It's got to work in a way that's got to be safe for everyone to use without having a really deep understanding of what the details are of its implementation.

Derick Rethans 14:14

That makes a lot of sense yes. The RFC talks about a few possibilities that are not possible to do with a null safe operators. What are these things it talks about?

Dan Ackroyd 14:25

Until right before the RFC went for a vote. There was, as part of the RFC there was quite a bit more complexity. And it was possible to use null safe in the write context. So you could do something like null safe operator bar equals foo, effectively assigning the string foo something that might or might not be null. I only learnt this recently. You can also foreach over an array into the property of an object, which I've never seen before in my 20 odd years writing PHP. It would be possible to use the null safe operator in there. And you'd be foreaching over an array into either a variable or into null, which is not a variable. The RFC was trying to handle this case, these cases are generally referred to as write contexts, as opposed to just read contexts where the value is being read. The RFC has a lot of work went into supporting the null safe operator in these write contexts. But luckily, somebody pointed out that this was just generally a rubbish idea, and hugely complex. It has a problem that you just fundamentally can't assign a variable or a value to a possibly non existent container. It just doesn't make any sense. So, a couple of days before it went to a vote, Ilija just asked the question, why don't we just restrict it to read contexts. That's where the value of the RFC is, making it easier to write code that's either going to read a value or call a method on something that might or might not be null. All of this stuff around write context was just added complexity that doesn't really deliver that much value. It's nothing to do with the using null safe operator in write context was removed from the RFC, which made it a whole lot simpler. It made it a lot less likely that people would like to code that doesn't do what they expected.

Derick Rethans 16:17

I also think it would be a lot less likely to have been accepted in that case, as it stands the vote for this feature was overwhelmingly in favour. Did you think it was going to be so widely accepted or did you think the vote was going to be closer?

Dan Ackroyd 16:31

So I thought it was gonna be a lot closer. There are quite a few conversations on the internet, where people raise a point that one I don't fully agree with it was a valid point to make. They were concerned that people use null safe operator in places were having null, rather than an object might represent an error. And if people are just using the null safe operator to effectively paper over this error in their code, then it would make figuring out where the null came from, and what error had occurred to cause it to be there. I think the answer to that is this feature isn't appropriate use in those scenarios. If a variable being null, instead of an object represents an error in your code, then you shouldn't be using this null safe operator to skip over that error condition. You need to not use it and watch a bit more code that explicitly defines, or checks that error, handles it more appropriately, rather than just blindly using this feature, without thinking if they pick your use case.

Derick Rethans 17:30

Or of course thrown exception, which is what traditionally is done for this kind of error situations right?

Dan Ackroyd 17:35

be a thing so it shouldn't be null, but there's very small chance it is, but only is in situations where you're not aware and throwing an exception so you can error out, and then debug it is the correct thing to do, rather than just silently have errors in your application.

Derick Rethans 17:50

Would you have anything else that to the null safe operator?

Dan Ackroyd 17:52

Not really. Except say it's quite interesting that quite a few of the new features for PHP eight are, don't technically allow anything new to be done, there just remove quite a bit of boilerplate. For me, it'll be interesting to see the reaction to that from the community because this is something people have criticized PHP for for quite a long time, they're being very verbose language, particularly compared to TypeScript, where a lot of very basic creating objects can be done in very few lines of code. So between the null safe operator, and the object property promotion, that's for some projects, which use a lot of value types, or data from other services where you don't have control over how it's structured, I think these two features are going to remove a lot of boilerplate code. So I think this might improve people's experience of PHP quite dramatically.

Derick Rethans 18:40

That ties back into this sort of idea that Larry Garfield has with his object ergonomics, right, especially with the data values that the document was referring to mostly.

Dan Ackroyd 18:50


Derick Rethans 18:51

I've another question for you, the last one. Which is: What's your favourite new feature in PHP eight?

Dan Ackroyd 18:56

Generally the improvements to the type systems are going to cheat by giving two answers. Union types. This will actually be really nice for the imagick extension just because a huge number of the methods in there, accept either string or an imagick pixel object which represents colour internally to the imagick library. Have been able to have correct types on all the methods that currently don't have the right, don't have the correct type information, will be very, very nice. Doesn't make anything new possible. It just makes it easier to reason about the code, so it's easier for tools like PHP Stan to have the correct type of information available rather than having to look elsewhere for the correct type information. Again the mixed types, is very small improvements to the type system in PHP, but it's another piece that helps complete the puzzle of the pulling out the type system to make it be closer to being a complete a type system that can be used everywhere, rather than having to have magic happening in the language.

Derick Rethans 20:02

It also will result in more descriptive code right because all the information that you as well as PHP Stan need to have to understand what this is saying or what I was talking about. It's all right there in the code now.

Dan Ackroyd 20:15

Yeah, and having the information about what code's doing in the code, rather than in people's heads, makes it easier for compilers, and static analysers to do their jobs.

Derick Rethans 20:26

Thank you, Dan for taking the time this afternoon to talk to me about the null safe operator.

Dan Ackroyd 20:31

No worries Derick, very nice to talk to you as always.

Derick Rethans 20:35

Thanks for listening to this instalment of PHP internals news, the weekly podcast dedicated to demystifying the development of the PHP language. I maintain a Patreon account for supporters of this podcast, as well as the Xdebug debugging tool. You can sign up for Patreon at If you have comments or suggestions, feel free to email them to Thank you for listening, and I'll see you next week.

Test Driven Development, Event-Driven Design, and Concise Code

In this Episode

Eric, John, and Oscar chat and review the July 2020 issue, Warp Driven Development

Topics Covered

  • Getting started with Test-Driven development and testing legacy code.
  • Bears near Oscar’s house.
  • What is Event-Driven Design?
  • Making your presentations better – wether they’re conference talks or office meetings.
  • Solutions for last month’s loot-drop problem.
  • Should you ever remove curly brackets?
  • Using tokens to work with sensitive information.
  • Twig and front end templating in PHP.

The post Test Driven Development, Event-Driven Design, and Concise Code appeared first on php[architect].

PHP Internals News: Episode 64: More About Attributes

PHP Internals News: Episode 64: More About Attributes

In this episode of "PHP Internals News" I chat with Benjamin Eberlei (Twitter, GitHub, Website) about a few RFCs related to Attributes.

The RSS feed for this podcast is, you can download this episode's MP3 file, and it's available on Spotify and iTunes. There is a dedicated website:


Derick Rethans 0:17

Hi, I'm Derick, and this is PHP internals news, a weekly podcast dedicated to demystifying the development of the PHP language. This is Episode 64. Today I'm talking with Benjamin Eberlei, about a bunch of RFCs related to Attributes. Hello Benjamin, how are you this morning?

Benjamin Eberlei 0:36

I'm fine. I'm very well actually yeah. The weather's great.

Derick Rethans 0:39

I can see that behind you. Of course, if you listen to this podcast, you can't see the bright sun behind Benjamin, or behind me, by the way. In any case, we don't want to talk about the weather today, we want to talk about a bunch of RFCs related to attributes. We'll start with one of the RFCs that Benjamin proposed or actually, one of them that he has proposed and one of them that he's put into discussion. The first one is called attribute amendments.

Benjamin Eberlei 1:05


Derick Rethans 1:06

What is attribute amendments about?

Benjamin Eberlei 1:08

So the initial attributes RFC, and we talked about this a few months ago was accepted, and there were a few things that we didn't add because it was already a very large RFC, and the feature itself was already quite big. Seems to be that there's more sort of an appetite to go step by step and put additional things, in additional RFCs. So we had for, for I think about three or four different topics that we wanted to talk about, and maybe amend to the original RFC. And this was sort of a grouping of all those four things that I wanted to propose and change and Martin my co author of the RFC and I worked on them and proposed them.

Derick Rethans 1:55

What are the four things that your new RFC was proposing?

Benjamin Eberlei 1:59

Yes, so the first one was renaming Attribute class. So, the class that is used to mark an attribute from PHP attributes to just attribute. I guess we go into detail in a few seconds but I just list them. The second one is an alternative syntax to group attributes and you're safe a little bit on the characters to type and allowed to group them. And the third was a way to validate which declarations, an attribute is allowed to be set on, and the force was a way to configure if an attribute is allowed to be declared once or multiple times on one declaration.

Derick Rethans 2:45

Okay, so let's start with the first one which is renaming the class to Attribute.

Benjamin Eberlei 2:51

Yeah, so in the initial RFC, there was already a lot of discussion about how should this attribute class be caught. Around that time that PhpToken RFC was also accepted, and so I sort of chose this out of a compromise to use PhpAttribute, because it is guaranteed to be a unique name that nobody would ever have used before. There's also, there was also a lot of talk about putting an RFC, to vote, about namespacing in PHP, so namespacing internal classes and everything. So I wanted to keep this open at the at the time and not make it a contentious decision. After the Attributes RFC was accepted, then namespace policy RFC, I think it was called something like that, was rejected, so it was clear that the core contributors didn't want a PHP namespace and internal classes to be namespaced, which means that the global namespace is the PHP namespace. And then there was an immediate discussion if we should rename at PhpAttribute to Attribute, because the prefix actually doesn't make any sense to have there. So the question was, should we introduce this BC break potentially, because it's much more likely that somewhere out there has a class Attribute in the global namespace. And I think the discussion, also one, one person mentioned that they have it in their open source project. Suppose sort of the the yeah should we rename it and introduce this potential BC break to, to users that they can't use the class Attribute and the global namespace anymore.

Derick Rethans 4:25

So that bit passed?

Benjamin Eberlei 4:26

That bit passed with a large margin so everybody agreed that we should rename it to Attribute. I guess consistent with the decision that the PHP namespace is the global namespace. It's sort of documented in a way. Everybody knows that we have the namespace feature for over 10 years now in PHP or oma, yeah exactly 10 years I guess. So by now, userland code is mostly namespaced I guess, and we can be a bit more aggressive about claiming symbols in the global namespace.

Derick Rethans 4:54

Second one is grouping, or group statements in attributes, what's that?

Benjamin Eberlei 4:59

The original syntax for the RFC, for attributes uses ... the ... we had this before. Remember? I can't spell, I don't know the HTML opening and closing signs.

Derick Rethans 5:15

The lesser than and greater than signs.

Benjamin Eberlei 5:17

Two lesser than signs and then two greater than signs, for the opening and closing of attributes. And this is quite verbose. So if you have multiple attributes on one declaration, it could be nice to allow to use the opening and closing brackets only once, and then have multiple attributes declared; so that was about the grouping. There was a sentence in there that should there be an RFC that sort of changes the syntax and that would become obsolete. It was also the most contentious vote of all the four because it almost did not pass but it closely passed.

Derick Rethans 5:56

32-14 Yeah, yeah. So the group statements also made it in. You can now separate the arguments by comma. The third one is validate attribute target declarations.

Benjamin Eberlei 6:07

That one makes a lot of sense to have from the beginning. What is does is, whenever you create a new attribute, you can configure that this attribute can only be used for example on a class declaration, or only on a method and function declaration, only on a property declaration. And so there are different targets, what we call them, where an attribute can be put on. This is something that will be required from the beginning. So, if you start using attributes, they will only work on certain declarations. Let's say we are configuring routes. So, the mapping of URL to controllers using attributes in a controller can only ever be a function, or a method. So it makes sense to require that the route attribute is only allowed on the function and the method. This should be a good improvement. Another example would be if you use attributes for ORM. So database configuration, then you would declare properties of classes to be columns in a database table, but it would never makes sense to declare the column attribute on a method, or on a class, or something like this. So it would be nice if the validation fails, or the usage of the attribute fails on these other declarations.

Derick Rethans 7:25

When is this target checked?

Benjamin Eberlei 7:27

The target checks are only done, I started referring to this as deferred validation, so that the validation is deferred to the last possible point in the usage of attributes. Which is, you call the method newInstance(), so give me an instance of this attribute on the ReflectionAttribute class. This has been a point of discussion because it's quite late, it will not fail at compile time, for example, even though it potentially could. The idea to do this at this late point is: we cannot always guarantee that an attribute is actually available when the code is compiled. For example if you use attributes of PHP extensions, the extension might be disabled. And also, you might have different attributes of different libraries on the same declaration. If we would validate them early it could potentially lead to problems. Well, sort of one usage of one attribute of one library breaks others. We decided to make this validation as late as possible from the language perspective. I already see that potentially static analysis tools like Psalm, PHP Stan and IDEs will probably put it in your face very early that you're using the attribute on the wrong declaration. And I guess I don't know static analysis tools in PHP have gotten extremely good and more and more people are starting to use them. And I really like the sort of approach that the language at some point can't be too strict. And then the static analysis tools, essentially, introduce an optional build step that people can decide to use where the validation is happening earlier.

Derick Rethans 9:06

Where do you define what the targets for an attribute are?

Benjamin Eberlei 9:10

This was also a lot of discussion. We picked the most simple approach; the Attribute class gets one new argument: flags, and it is a bit mask, and by default, an attribute is allowed to be declared on all declarations; classes, methods, properties, and so on. You can restrict the flags, the bitmask, to only those targets that you want to allow. So you would, let's say you have the route attribute we talked about before, you specify this as an attribute by putting an attribute at the class declaration. And then you pass it the additional flags and say only allowed using the bitmask for function method. I think it's just one constant, you use a constant to declare it's only allowed on a method or a function declaration.

Derick Rethans 9:59

Can you for example set it a target is both valid for a method and a property?

Benjamin Eberlei 10:02

You can, because it's a bit mask you can just use the OR operator to combine them, and allow them to be declared on both.

Derick Rethans 10:10

It's also passed, so this is also part of PHP eight. And then the last one is the validate attribute repeatability

Benjamin Eberlei 10:20

Repeatability essentially means you're allowed to use an attribute once, or multiple times on the same declaration. Coming back to the routing example, if you're having route attribute, then you could say this is allowed multiple times on the same function, because maybe different URLs lead to the same controller. But if you have a column property for example, you could argue, maybe it doesn't make sense that you define a column twice on the same property so it's mapped to two columns or something. So you could restrict that it's only allowed to be used once. This is also validated again deferred, so only when newInstance() called, it would throw an exception if it's sort of the second or third usage of an attribute but it's only allowed to be there once.

Derick Rethans 11:06

What's the default?

Benjamin Eberlei 11:07

The default is that the attributes are not allowed to be repeatable and you would, again using the flag arguments to the attribute class, put the bit mask in there that it's allowed to be repeatable.

Derick Rethans 11:21

Is there anything else in that RFC.

Benjamin Eberlei 11:23


Derick Rethans 11:25

The second one was actually something that came out of the first one that she did. The original RFC already mentioned that she could for example have attributes called deprecated, or JIT, or no JIT. I suppose this RFC fleshes out the deprecated attribute a little bit more?

Benjamin Eberlei 11:40

Idea was to introduce an attribute "deprecated", which you can put on different kinds of declarations, which would essentially, replace the usage of trigger_error(), where you would say, e_user_deprecated and then say for example: this method is deprecated use another one instead. Benefit of having an attribute versus using trigger_error() is that static analysis tools have an easier way of finding them. It's both a way to make it more human readable because attributes are declarative, it's easy to see them and spot them. And also machine readable. Both developer and machine could easily see that this method, or this class is deprecated, and stop using it, or using the alternative instead. The way it was done at the moment, or until now, mostly you're using a PHP doc block @deprecated in there. Please understand that. You can also read it as human, of course, the problem is that it has no really no runtime effect. That means during development for example, you couldn't see that you're accidentally using deprecated methods and collect this information, or even on production for example, because it's only in a doc block. And with an attribute, it would be possible to have this information at runtime to collect it, aggregate this information so that you see, it's been deprecated code is being used, and also make it human readable and for the IDEs and everything.

Derick Rethans 13:12

When I looked at this RFC, it was under discussion, are you intending to bring this up for a vote, before 8.0 because you don't have a lot of time now?

Benjamin Eberlei 13:19

I'm not. The reason is that first, you say, I'm running out of time, and I'm a bit stressed at the moment. Anyways, and even then, there are two points that I wanted to tackle it first. I mentioned that you can use the deprecated attribute on methods and functions which is something people are using now. One thing that I saw would be a huge benefit which is not possible at the moment is to be deprecating the use of classes, vacating the use of properties and constants. This is something you cannot hook into at runtime at the moment. So you cannot really trigger it. Essentially has led to a lot of hacks specifically from the Symfony community because they are very very good about deprecations. So they are, they have a very very thorough deprecation process, and they have come up with a few workarounds to make it possible to trigger this kind of things that would like to make this a much better supported case from the language. The problem there is that it touches the error handling of PHP and the usage of the error handler for deprecation triggers is a contentious problem, because it triggers global error handlers as by this side effects, sometimes effects on the performance because it logs to a file. There was a lot of questions if we can improve this in some way or another, and I haven't found a good way for this yet and I hope to work on this for a month.

Derick Rethans 14:47

Maybe 8.1 then. The third RFC that goes into attributes, is the shorter attribute syntax RFC. What's wrong with the original syntax, where you have lesser than, lesser than, attribute greater than, greater than?

Benjamin Eberlei 15:03

The name implies, the verbosity is a problem, I would agree. So writing, writing the symbols lesser than or greater than twice, yeah, takes up at least four symbols. There's one problem with shorter attribute syntax would be nice. Problem I guess is that this syntax is sort of a unicorn. We do refer to HHVM as one language or Hack, in that case one language that uses it. Whatever the Hack has essentially no adoption and is not very widespread in usage, and since they have parted ways with PHP. They also have a pass to removing the syntax and they, I think plan to change the syntax to use the @ symbol instead of the lesser and greater. So one problem would be that we were like, language wise, we would be a unicorn by using a syntax that nobody else is using this also I guess a problem. And then there are some, some problems that focusing on future RFCs. Something that I don't see myself really advocating or wanting, is allowing to nest attributes, so one attribute can reference another attribute, so that you have a sort of an object graph of attributes stuck together. This is necessary if you want to configure, if you want to use attributes to use very detailed configuration. Not sure if it makes sense at some point. There's this trade off where you should go to XML, YAML, or JSON configuration instead off attribute based configuration. To confusion with potential future usages of PHP and existing usages, so: generics. PHP would ever get generics, in some way, it would use the lesser and greater than symbols, but only once. I cleared up with Nikita before that there's no conflict between so that that would not be a problem. However, if we had the symbol used, they would be near each other. So attributes would come first and then there would be the function declaration using generics and types. These symbols would be very near each other so it might introduce some confusion when reading the code. Then there's obviously the existing usage of this shift up operators so if you're doing shift operations with bits, then they are using exactly the same symbol, the lesser than, greater than symbol twice, to initiate this or declare this operation.

Derick Rethans 16:18

I realized there's a few issues with the pointy pointy attribute pointy pointy, to give it a funnier name.

Benjamin Eberlei 17:34

Pointy pointy is good.

Derick Rethans 17:41

I don't think I've come up with a name for a specific spaceship that looks like this yet, but there were a few other proposals. The original RFC already had the @:, which was rejected in that RFC. There was another proposal made that uses the @@ syntax to do attributes. It this something used by all the languages.

Benjamin Eberlei 18:01

Syntax was the most discussed thing about attributes, so everybody sort of agreed that we need them or they we benefit. Nobody could agree on the syntax. So there were tons of discussion everywhere about how ugly the pointy pointy syntax is, and because we're using the @ symbol and the doc blocks already you by we couldn't use the @ symbol for attributes themselves, so there are lots of discussions running in circles. Just using the @ symbol once it's just not possible because we have the error suppression operator. Then a lot of people always suggest okay let's get rid of that, because it's anyways it's bad practice to use it

Derick Rethans 18:38

It's a bad practice but sometimes it's necessary to use it.

Benjamin Eberlei 18:41

So there are some APIs in the core that cannot be used without them. For example, unlink, mkdir, fopen. Because of race conditions you have to use the symbol there in many cases. Even if we would deprecate and remove that sort of syntax we would still somehow need it in a way for these functions. So I'm not seeing that we will ever remove them, and even then it will take two cycles of major versions, so it doesn't make sense. That one is out. The pointy syntax was something that Dmitri proposed many years before and people were sort of in favour of it, so I didn't change it for the initial RFC. We looked a lot at different syntaxes but none of them were nice and didn't break BC. And then when the vote started some core contributors proposed that maybe we can do slight BC breaks in the way we have existing symbols and one proposal was to use @@, which means we are using the @ symbol twice. This is actually allowed in PHP at the moment, we consider breaking this not a big problem because you can just use it once and it has the same effect. Problem would only be going through the code and finding all @@ usages which we assumed are zero anyways.

Derick Rethans 19:57

Is there any other language that uses @@?

Benjamin Eberlei 19:59

A few other languages use just to @, like many other, like many people propose PHP should also do, which I explained I guess is impossible. It's only proposed because it's looking close enough to @, and so it wouldn't be a huge difference and sort of familiar in that way.

Derick Rethans 20:18

There was another alternative syntax proposed which is #[ attribute ]. Where does this come from?

Benjamin Eberlei 20:25

So the @@ syntax is different to the pointy the syntax that doesn't have a closing symbol, it only has the starting symbols. Nikita and Sara both said that would be fine as a BC break and Sara is the release master for PHP eight, so she has a lot of pull on these kinds of things. Nikita as well. So, they said it's okay to have small BC breaks, we did look at other syntaxes. I saw that, which I liked before already but couldn't use because would be BC break, was the yeah hash, and then square brackets, opening and there's a closing square bracket close. This is used in Rust. It is a small BC break in PHP because the hash is used as a one line comment. It's not used that much any more, by people to use comments because coding styles discourage the use of it. I use it myself sometimes, like, specifically in one time shell scripts and stuff it's nice to use it, to use the hash as a comment. And the change, would there be that if you have a hash, followed by any other symbol than an opening square bracket, it would still be a comment. If the first symbol is square bracket opening, then it would be parsed as an attribute instead.

Derick Rethans 21:42

So this is something you say that rust uses?

Benjamin Eberlei 21:43


Derick Rethans 21:44

Because they're pretty much three alternatives now, we have the original pointy pointy one, which I still think is the best name for it, @@ operator, and then the hash square brackets operator. With three alternatives it's difficult to do our normal voting which is, how would you two thirds majority, but with three variants that is a tricky thing. As a second time ever, I think we use STV to pick our preferred candidate. Well this is STV kind of thing.

Benjamin Eberlei 22:11

You need to help me with the abbreviation any ways resolving it.

Derick Rethans 22:14

Single transferable vote.

Benjamin Eberlei 22:16

STV is a process where you can vote on multiple options, and still make sure that the majority wins, or that the most preferred one wins. Ensure that it has a majority across the voters. The way it works is that everybody puts up that their preferences. There are many different options, in our case three, everybody puts their preference, I want this one first, this one second, is one third. And then the votes are made in a way where we look at the primary votes, who gave whom the primary vote. And then the option that has the least votes gets discarded. All those people that pick the least one, they have a second preference, and we look at the second preference of these voters and transfer, sort of change, the votes, their originally, but discarded option to the options that are still available. Now, somebody has the majority, they win if they don't, we discard another option and it goes on and on. With just three options, it's a transfer of a vote would essentially only happen once, because once one is discarded, one of the two other ones, not must have because it can be a tie, but probably has a majority, yeah.

Derick Rethans 23:34

In this case, when we're looking at votes , when were counted them, it actually was obvious that no transferring of votes was actually necessary because the @@ won outright, and had quorum. In the end it up ended up being a pointless exercise, but it's a good way of picking among three different options. Which one won?

Benjamin Eberlei 23:53

The @@ syntax won over the Rust Rusty attributes, and the pointy, pointy pointy attributes. One was clearly chosen as a winner, I think, but 54%, 56% in the first vote already. However, one thing that came up in the sort of aftermath of the discussion is that the grammar of this new syntax is actually not completely fine parse any language like PHP or any other programming languages to have defined the grammar and then the grammars inputs to a parser generator, as required some hacks to get around the possibility of using namespaces relative name step basis afterwards. This is something where Nikita satisfaction not allowed. In the way PHP builds its grammar, without any further changes @@ is actually going to be rejected as a syntax. However, Nikita independently worked on sort of change in the tokensets of PHP, that would provide a workaround, or not a workaround. It's actually a fix for the problem. If this new way of declaring tokens for namespaces would be used in PHP eight, then it's also possible to use the @@ syntax for attributes. If we don't change it, then the @@ syntax is actually not going to make it.

Derick Rethans 25:18

In my own personal opinion, I think, @@ is a terrible outcome of voters is going to be so does that mean I should vote against Nikita's namespace names as token RFC or not? I mean it's a bit unfair.

Benjamin Eberlei 25:30

I will vote for it. The premise of Nikita's RFC, and he worked on it before the @@ problem became apparent, so he did not only work on it to fix this problem. The problem he's trying to fix is that parts of namespace could use potentially keywords that we introduce as keywords in the future. An example is the word enum, and people are talking about adding enums to PHP for years. He had also one use case where one of his own PHP libraries broke by the introduction of the FN keyword for PHP 7.4, the short closure syntax. Essentially, it would help if some part of a namespace would contain a word that becomes a keyword in the future, that it wouldn't break the complete namespace. Because at the moment, the namespace. In this case is burned. You can't even use it anywhere in the namespace. The key word, which I guess it's a problem. But this reason I am actually for this proposal that Nikita has, even though I agree with you. I was actually a proponent of the Rusty attribute syntax, so I would have preferred to have that very much myself.

Derick Rethans 26:40

I hope to talk to Nikita about what this namespace token thing is exactly about in a bit more detail in a future episode. Feature freeze is next week, August 4th. Are you excited about what PHP eight is going to be all about?

Benjamin Eberlei 26:54

It's been a lot of last minute, things that have been added that to look really, really great. I can't remember PHP seven any more that closely, but I remember that it was the case with PHP seven as well. So anonymous classes was added quite late. Essentially PHP seven initially was just about the performance and then there was a lot of additional nice stuff added, very late, and made it a from a future perspective, very nice release, and it seems, it could be the same for PHP eight. Match syntax, attributes, then potentially the named parameters, which at the time of our speaking is still an open vote but looks very very promising.

Derick Rethans 27:36

And then of course we have union types as well, and potentially benefits of the JIT right?

Benjamin Eberlei 27:40

Union types this already accepted for so long I forgot about it.

Derick Rethans 27:45

Alpha versions of PHP eight zero are already out, so if you want to play with these features you can already, and please do. And if you find bugs, don't assume it's you doing something wrong, instead file a bug report at Thank you, Benjamin, for talking to me about more attributes, this morning.

Benjamin Eberlei 28:03

Thank you very much for having me.

Derick Rethans 28:06

Thanks for listening to this instalment of PHP internals news, the weekly podcast dedicated to demystifying the development of the PHP language. I maintain a Patreon account for supporters of this podcast, as well as the Xdebug debugging tool. You can sign up for Patreon at If you have comments or suggestions, feel free to email them to Thank you for listening, and I'll see you next week.

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Interview with Edward Barnard

In this Episode

Edward Barnard returns to talk with Eric van Johnson and John Congdon about writing columns for the magazine and more.

  • How he got started programming with CRAY supercomputers and then web development first with PERL and then PHP.
  • Rescuing his first article submission from the spam bin.
  • The inspiration and focus for his latest column, Sustainable PHP.
  • Who’s going to agile conferences.
  • His first book, The Fizz Buzz Fix, about how to think like a computer and pass coding interviews.
  • Experiences adding tests to legacy applications.

The post Interview with Edward Barnard appeared first on php[architect].