Reference — What does this symbol mean in PHP? [Answered]

In this post we’ll understand the references to symbols in PHP.

Incrementing / Decrementing Operators

++ increment operator

-- decrement operator

Example    Name              Effect
---------------------------------------------------------------------
++$a       Pre-increment     Increments $a by one, then returns $a.
$a++       Post-increment    Returns $a, then increments $a by one.
--$a       Pre-decrement     Decrements $a by one, then returns $a.
$a--       Post-decrement    Returns $a, then decrements $a by one.

These can go before or after the variable.

If put before the variable, the increment/decrement operation is done to the variable first then the result is returned. If put after the variable, the variable is first returned, then the increment/decrement operation is done.

For example:

$apples = 10;
for ($i = 0; $i < 10; ++$i) {
    echo 'I have ' . $apples-- . " apples. I just ate one.\n";
}

In the case above ++$i is used, since it is faster. $i++ would have the same results.

Pre-increment is a little bit faster because it really increments the variable and after that ‘returns’ the result. Post-increment creates a special variable, copies there the value of the first variable and only after the first variable is used, replaces its value with second’s.

However, you must use $apples--, since first, you want to display the current number of apples, and then you want to subtract one from it.

You can also increment letters in PHP:

$i = "a";
while ($i < "c") {
    echo $i++;
}

Once z is reached aa is next, and so on.

Note that character variables can be incremented but not decremented and even so only plain ASCII characters (a-z and A-Z) are supported.

Bitwise Operator

What is a bit? A bit is a representation of 1 or 0. Basically OFF(0) and ON(1)

What is a byte? A byte is made up of 8 bits and the highest value of a byte is 255, which would mean every bit is set. We will look at why a byte’s maximum value is 255.

-------------------------------------------
|      1 Byte ( 8 bits )                  |
-------------------------------------------
|Place Value | 128| 64| 32| 16| 8| 4| 2| 1|     
-------------------------------------------

This representation of 1 Byte

1 + 2 + 4 + 8 + 16 + 32 + 64 + 128 = 255 (1 Byte)

A few examples for better understanding

The “AND” operator: &

$a =  9;
$b = 10;
echo $a & $b;

This would output the number 8. Why? Well let’s see using our table example.

-------------------------------------------
|      1 Byte ( 8 bits )                  |
-------------------------------------------
|Place Value | 128| 64| 32| 16| 8| 4| 2| 1|     
-------------------------------------------
|      $a    |   0|  0|  0|  0| 1| 0| 0| 1|    
-------------------------------------------
|      $b    |   0|  0|  0|  0| 1| 0| 1| 0|
------------------------------------------- 
|      &     |   0|  0|  0|  0| 1| 0| 0| 0|
------------------------------------------- 

So you can see from the table the only bit they share together is the 8 bit.

Second example

$a =  36;
$b = 103;
echo $a & $b; // This would output the number 36.
$a = 00100100
$b = 01100111

The two shared bits are 32 and 4, which when added together return 36.

The “Or” operator: |

$a =  9;
$b = 10;
echo $a | $b;

This would output the number 11. Why?

-------------------------------------------
|      1 Byte ( 8 bits )                  |
-------------------------------------------
|Place Value | 128| 64| 32| 16| 8| 4| 2| 1|     
-------------------------------------------
|      $a    |   0|  0|  0|  0| 1| 0| 0| 1|    
-------------------------------------------
|      $b    |   0|  0|  0|  0| 1| 0| 1| 0|
------------------------------------------- 
|      |     |   0|  0|  0|  0| 1| 0| 1| 1|
-------------------------------------------

You will notice that we have 3 bits set, in the 8, 2, and 1 columns. Add those up: 8+2+1=11.

<=> Spaceship Operator

Added in PHP 7

The spaceship operator <=> is the latest comparison operator added in PHP 7. It is a non-associative binary operator with the same precedence as equality operators (==!====!==). This operator allows for simpler three-way comparison between left-hand and right-hand operands.

The operator results in an integer expression of:

  • 0 when both operands are equal
  • Less than 0 when the left-hand operand is less than the right-hand operand
  • Greater than 0 when the left-hand operand is greater than the right-hand operand

e.g.

1 <=> 1; // 0
1 <=> 2; // -1
2 <=> 1; // 1

A good practical application of using this operator would be in comparison type callbacks that are expected to return a zero, negative, or positive integer based on a three-way comparison between two values. The comparison function passed to usort is one such example.

Before PHP 7 you would write…

$arr = [4,2,1,3];

usort($arr, function ($a, $b) {
    if ($a < $b) {
        return -1;
    } elseif ($a > $b) {
        return 1;
    } else {
        return 0;
    }
});

Since PHP 7 you can write…

$arr = [4,2,1,3];

usort($arr, function ($a, $b) {
    return $a <=> $b;
    // return $b <=> $a; // for reversing order
});

_ Alias for gettext()

The underscore character ‘_’ as in _() is an alias to the gettext() function.

Understanding the operators/symbols using this table.

SyntaxNameDescription
x == yEqualitytrue if x and y have the same key/value pairs
x != yInequalitytrue if x is not equal to y
x === yIdentitytrue if x and y have the same key/value pairs
in the same order and of the same types
x !== yNon-identitytrue if x is not identical to y
x <=> ySpaceship0 if x is equal to y, greater than 0 if x > y, less than 0 if x < y
++xPre-incrementIncrements x by one, then returns x
x++Post-incrementReturns x, then increments x by one
--xPre-decrementDecrements x by one, then returns x
x--Post-decrementReturns x, then decrements x by one
x and yAndtrue if both x and y are true. If x=6, y=3 then
(x < 10 and y > 1) returns true
x && yAndtrue if both x and y are true. If x=6, y=3 then
(x < 10 && y > 1) returns true
x or yOrtrue if any of x or y are true. If x=6, y=3 then
(x < 10 or y > 10) returns true
x || yOrtrue if any of x or y are true. If x=6, y=3 then
(x < 3 || y > 1) returns true
a . bConcatenationConcatenate two strings: “Hi” . “Ha”

Magic constants: Although these are not just symbols but important part of this token family. There are eight magical constants that change depending on where they are used.

__LINE__: The current line number of the file.

__FILE__: The full path and filename of the file. If used inside an include, the name of the included file is returned. Since PHP 4.0.2, __FILE__ always contains an absolute path with symlinks resolved whereas in older versions it contained relative path under some circumstances.

__DIR__: The directory of the file. If used inside an include, the directory of the included file is returned. This is equivalent to dirname(__FILE__). This directory name does not have a trailing slash unless it is the root directory. (Added in PHP 5.3.0.)

__FUNCTION__: The function name. (Added in PHP 4.3.0) As of PHP 5 this constant returns the function name as it was declared (case-sensitive). In PHP 4 its value is always lowercased.

__CLASS__: The class name. (Added in PHP 4.3.0) As of PHP 5 this constant returns the class name as it was declared (case-sensitive). In PHP 4 its value is always lowercased. The class name includes the namespace it was declared in (e.g. Foo\Bar). Note that as of PHP 5.4 __CLASS__ works also in traits. When used in a trait method, __CLASS__ is the name of the class the trait is used in.

__TRAIT__: The trait name. (Added in PHP 5.4.0) As of PHP 5.4 this constant returns the trait as it was declared (case-sensitive). The trait name includes the namespace it was declared in (e.g. Foo\Bar).

__METHOD__: The class method name. (Added in PHP 5.0.0) The method name is returned as it was declared (case-sensitive).

__NAMESPACE__: The name of the current namespace (case-sensitive). This constant is defined in compile-time (Added in PHP 5.3.0).

Type Operators

instanceof is used to determine whether a PHP variable is an instantiated object of a certain class.

<?php
class mclass { }
class sclass { }
$a = new mclass;
var_dump($a instanceof mclass);
var_dump($a instanceof sclass);

The above example will output:

bool(true)
bool(false)

Reason: Above Example $a is a object of the mclass so use only a mclass data not instance of with the sclass

Example with inheritance

<?php 
class pclass { } 
class childclass extends pclass { } 
$a = new childclass; 
var_dump($a instanceof childclass); 
var_dump($a instanceof pclass);

The above example will output:

bool(true)
bool(true)

Example with Clone

<?php 
class cloneable { } 
$a = new cloneable;
$b = clone $a; 
var_dump($a instanceof cloneable); 
var_dump($b instanceof cloneable);

The above example will output:

bool(true)
bool(true)

An overview of operators in PHP:


Logical Operators:

  • $a && $b : TRUE if both $a and $b are TRUE.
  • $a || $b : TRUE if either $a or $b is TRUE.
  • $a xor $b : TRUE if either $a or $b is TRUE, but not both.
  • ! $a : TRUE if $a is not TRUE.
  • $a and $b : TRUE if both $a and $b are TRUE.
  • $a or $b : TRUE if either $a or $b is TRUE.

Comparison operators:

  • $a == $b : TRUE if $a is equal to $b after type juggling.
  • $a === $b : TRUE if $a is equal to $b, and they are of the same type.
  • $a != $b : TRUE if $a is not equal to $b after type juggling.
  • $a <> $b : TRUE if $a is not equal to $b after type juggling.
  • $a !== $b : TRUE if $a is not equal to $b, or they are not of the same type.
  • $a < $b : TRUE if $a is strictly less than $b.
  • $a > $b : TRUE if $a is strictly greater than $b.
  • $a <= $b : TRUE if $a is less than or equal to $b.
  • $a >= $b : TRUE if $a is greater than or equal to $b.
  • $a <=> $b : An integer less than, equal to, or greater than zero when $a is respectively less than, equal to, or greater than $b. Available as of PHP 7.
  • $a ? $b : $c : if $a return $b else return $c (ternary operator)
  • $a ?? $c : Same as $a ? $a : $c (null coalescing operator – requires PHP>=7)

Arithmetic Operators:

  • -$a : Opposite of $a.
  • $a + $b : Sum of $a and $b.
  • $a – $b : Difference of $a and $b.
  • $a * $b : Product of $a and $b.
  • $a / $b : Quotient of $a and $b.
  • $a % $b : Remainder of $a divided by $b.
  • $a ** $b : Result of raising $a to the $b’th power (introduced in PHP 5.6)

Incrementing/Decrementing Operators:

  • ++$a : Increments $a by one, then returns $a.
  • $a++ : Returns $a, then increments $a by one.
  • –$a : Decrements $a by one, then returns $a.
  • $a– : Returns $a, then decrements $a by one.

Bitwise Operators:

  • $a & $b : Bits that are set in both $a and $b are set.
  • $a | $b : Bits that are set in either $a or $b are set.
  • $a ^ $b : Bits that are set in $a or $b but not both are set.
  • ~ $a : Bits that are set in $a are not set, and vice versa.
  • $a << $b : Shift the bits of $a $b steps to the left (each step means “multiply by two”)
  • $a >> $b : Shift the bits of $a $b steps to the right (each step means “divide by two”)

String Operators:

  • $a . $b : Concatenation of $a and $b.

Array Operators:

  • $a + $b : Union of $a and $b.
  • $a == $b : TRUE if $a and $b have the same key/value pairs.
  • $a === $b : TRUE if $a and $b have the same key/value pairs in the same order and of the same types.
  • $a != $b : TRUE if $a is not equal to $b.
  • $a <> $b : TRUE if $a is not equal to $b.
  • $a !== $b : TRUE if $a is not identical to $b.

Assignment Operators:

  • $a = $b : The value of $b is assigned to $a
  • $a += $b : Same as $a = $a + $b
  • $a -= $b : Same as $a = $a – $b
  • *$a = $b : Same as $a = $a * $b
  • $a /= $b : Same as $a = $a / $b
  • $a %= $b : Same as $a = $a % $b
  • **$a = $b : Same as $a = $a ** $b
  • $a .= $b : Same as $a = $a . $b
  • $a &= $b : Same as $a = $a & $b
  • $a |= $b : Same as $a = $a | $b
  • $a ^= $b : Same as $a = $a ^ $b
  • $a <<= $b : Same as $a = $a << $b
  • $a >>= $b : Same as $a = $a >> $b
  • $a ??= $b : The value of $b is assigned to $a if $a is null or not defined (null coalescing assignment operator – requires PHP>=7.4)

Hope you learned something from this post.

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