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Roy Ronalds
Roy Ronalds

Posted on • Updated on

Destructuring in php?

I work on javascript/typescript on a constant basis, and php on an infrequent basis (on my legacy php app

When I switch back to php after a long time of using javascript or typescript, I really miss the clean code that you can write by using destructuring.

Now, I talked a bit in another post about short circuit evaluation in js vs php as a way to make code terser and with much less boilerplate, but what about destructuring in php?

Destructuring in js

First, let's glance at destructuring in js:

const {a, b, c,} = {a:'Apple', b:'Banana', c:'Cantalope', d:'Durian'}
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...not only is destructuring smooth, it also allows for the powerful spread syntax. I can't tell you the number of times that I have had some complex code block in javascript that was simplified by converting it to use destructuring, or perhaps avoiding an undefined property that destructuring handles smoothly, like:
property may be undefined

// The dreaded chain of && to avoid undefined properties
if(api && && &&{
 const username = || 'unknown' // finally do something
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another approach using the optional chaining operator from typescript:

const username = api?.data?.user?.name || 'Unknown user'
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But here's another option, using destructuring:

const { data={} } = api
const { user={} } = data
const { name='Unknown' } = user
console.log(name) // Unknown

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Destructuring in php

Sadly, php only supports a very limited bit of destructuring, specifically, when destructuring arrays, by using list() destructuring or [] destructuring.

[$a, $b, $c] = ['apple', 'banana', 'cantaloupe'];
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[,,,$d,$e] = ['apple', 'banana', 'cantaloupe', 'durian', 'eggplant'];
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Thankfully, you are also allowed to destructure named keys from associative arrays:

$fruit = [
// Have to set the $fruit var because for some reason php doesn't like it when you try to directly destructure from the  associative array you just created.
['d'=>$d, 'e'=>e] = $fruit;
echo $d; // Durian now
echo $e; // Eggplant
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So as long as you are dealing with an array or an associative array you can do some destructuring.

Destructuring php objects

It's somewhat possible to destructure a php object by transforming it into an array.

$api = {
  data: {
    user: {
      name: 'George Washington'
}; // A nested data object
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To destructure this you generally have to turn it into an array first, and deal with the proposition of turning it's nested properties into arrays as well. This may be a diminishing return on effort.

What about ...spreading values?

More modern versions of php, at least 8+, support spread/splat operators on arrays in weird ways, having supported spread operators on function arguments since way back in php 5.6.

Spread on arrays in php:

$fruit = ['apple', 'banana', 'canteloupe', 'durian'];
[$a, ...$rest] = $fruit;
var_dump($rest); // ['banana', 'canteloupe', 'durian']
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For whatever reason, you have to assign to a variable before you can then destructure that variable. Immediately destructuring a variable that you are just assigning causes a php error that says:
PHP Fatal error: Spread operator is not supported in assignments in php shell code on line 1

So the spread operator exists, and it works, you just can't use destructuring immediately upon assignment in php.

The takeaway

Still, there is a lot of potential for destructuring as a way to clean up and simplify code.

Top comments (2)

cvladan profile image

I don't think [$a, ...$rest] = $fruit; works.

Actually, I'm pretty sure it doesn't work, as I've just spent ages applying latest PHP versions and no – it doesn't work, at least for me.

robrecord profile image
Rob Record

Thanks Roy! This was helpful.