PHP RFC: Callable Prototypes


This RFC proposes an evolution of the callable type, scoped to argument lists. This should allow more detailed declarations of callable type declarations - including their arity, argument types and return type.

Here is one basic comparison between a simple callable and a detailed callable prototype declaration:

// Before
 * @param callable(int, int):int $reducer
function reduce(int $a, int $b, callable $reducer): int {
  return $reducer($a, $b);
// call with bad callback
reduce(1, 2, function($a, $b, $c) {
  return $a + $b + $c;
// >>>
// Warning: Missing argument 3 for {closure}(), called in ...
// Notice: Undefined variable: c in ...
// TypeError: Return value of reduce() must be of the type integer, string returned in ...
// After
function reduce(int $a, int $b, callable(int, int):int $reducer): int {
  return $reducer($a, $b);
// call with bad callback
reduce(1, 2, function($a, $b, $c) {
  return $a + $b + $c;
// >>>
// TypeError: Argument 3 passed to reduce() must be compliant with callable(int, int):int, incompatible callable($a, $b, $c) given...

This concept is also present in other languages, commonly referred as function prototypes, function types.

NOTE: This RFC is not related to “generics”.



Callable types might be particularly useful to write more robust callback based code (functional or not). This includes:

Better Error Messages

The very first example of this RFC already illustrates well why a detailed “Type Error” offers better debuggability when compared to a trail of warnings and notices. In case warnings and notices get converted to exceptions, the scenario gets even less friendly as problems would be revealed one by one.

Safety Before Side Effects

While callable types can offer more debug friendlier messages, there are other factor that could favor earlier failures approach. The objective of a callable type is to know when a callable is safe to execute before executing it. Specifying a more constrained callable type allows a given routine to fail before the next step of some important operation.

This certainly can be achieved without callable types: perhaps using reflection or manual type checking of return values (with “is_<type>()” functions or “instanceof”). But certainly callable types can make this kind of situation less tedious.

Self Documented Code

It's common to see callback based libraries doing their best to declare the callable signatures on doc comments, hoping that the consumers will be able to figure out what to pass around:

 * @param  array                  $array
 * @param  callable($key, $value) $callback
function array_walk(array $array, callable $callback) {
    // ...

With callable types, the codebase simply becomes much closer to “self documented”:

function array_walk(array $array, callable($key, $value) $callback) {
    // ...

Empower Anonymous Functions

Currently the only possible way to formally specify the type information of a callable is by using classes:

// before
interface FooCallback {
    function __invoke(int $left, int $right): int;
function crunch_data(array $data, FooCallback $callback): array {
    $result = [];
    foreach($data as $left => $right) $result[] = $callback($left, $right);
    return $result;
$crunched = crunch_data(
    [1 => 2, 3 => 4],
    new class implements FooCallback {
        function __invoke(int $left, int $right): int { return $left * $right; }

Unfortunately, this solution completely excludes anonymous functions as they can't implement any interface. But with a more specific signature, callable types could work as requirements over the `__invoke` method of callables:

// after
function crunch_data(array $data, callable(int $left, int $right):int $callback): array {
    $result = [];
    foreach($data as $left => $right) $result[] = $callback($left, $right);
    return $result;
$crunched = crunch_data([1 => 2, 3 => 4], function(int $left, int $right): int {
    return $left * $right;

Nested callables

Nested callables can be used with no imposed limit on the nesting level.

function foo(callable(callable(int)) $cb) {
    $cb(function (int $i) {
foo(function (callable(int) $intPrinter) {

There's currently no way to reference callable signature from within itself, meaning there's no way to make recursive signatures like below:

function bar(callable(int $number): callable(int $number): callable(int $number): parent_callable $recursiveCb) { // this wouldn't work currently

To add to that, nested callables can get pretty unreadable quickly, both of these problems would be best solved by a typedef feature of some kind, added to PHP later.

Variance and Signature Validation

Variance is supported and adheres to LSP. This means that whenever function of type F is expected, any function that takes equal or more general input than F and gives equal or narrower output than F, can be considered of type F. Classes in argument/return type of a callable type declarations are a subject to variance, primitives are not.


class A {}
class B extends A {}
function foo(callable(A) $cb) { }
function bar(callable(B) $cb) { }
foo(function (A $a) {}); // there's no variance in this case, A can be substituted by A
foo(function (B $b) {}); // Uncaught TypeError: Argument 1 passed to foo() must be compliant with callable(A), incompatible callable(B $b) given
bar(function (A $a) {}); // callable(A) > callable(B) - we can substitute callable(B) with callable(A) because the latter has a wider input than the latter

The same rules apply to return type of a callable:

function bar(callable() $cb) { }
bar(function (): A { return new A; }); // it is valid to pass a function with declared return type as a parameter of `callable(..)`
function foo(callable(): A $cb) { }
foo(function (): A { return new A; }); // A == A
foo(function (): B { return new B; }); // B < A this closure will return narrower type than what is expected by "foo", which means it can be a substitute for callable(): A

A function that takes less arguments than what is expected is also considered contravariant:

function foo(callable($a, $b) $cb) { }
foo(function($a) { }); // callable($a) > callable($a, $b)

Optional parameters count just like any other parameters if they are typed:

function foo(callable() $cb) { }
foo(function (A $a = null) { }); // TypeError
// even though technically callable($a = null) could be called without arguments (as foo() expects) it would lead to type error later on if used as callable().
// Because PHP doesn't prohibit you from passing extra arguments which function doesn't really expect nor take.
// That means that foo() could call $cb and pass anything as a first argument and if it would be something that is not an instance of A the call would fail.
// Hence "function (A $a = null) {}" has a prototype of callable(A $a) (it doesn't matter if the argument is optional or not)
// And callable(A $a) < callable(), so the call to foo() will fail here

Otherwise they can pass type check boundaries even if they are not defined in the callable type:

function foo(callable() $cb) { }
foo(function ($a = 123) { }); // valid as it won't have a problem explained above

The same goes for variadics as they are a special kind of optional parameters.

When callable type is nested (when you have callable(callable(A))) variance has to be inversed with each nesting level. So if we have callable(A) > callable(B) then callable(callable(A)) < callable(callable(B)).

References in callables

Reference parameters are supported: no variance is applied to the fact whether parameter is referential or not.


function foo(callable(&$byref) $cb) { }
foo(function (&$bar) { }); // valid
foo(function ($bar) { }); // TypeError: Argument 1 passed to foo() must be compliant with callable(&$byref), incompatible callable($bar) given
function bar(callable($byval) $cb) { }
bar(function (&$bar) { }); // TypeError: Argument 1 passed to bar() must be compliant with callable($byval), incompatible callable(&$bar) given

Functions returning a reference are compatible with functions returning a value for caller, hence both are interchangeable:

function foo(callable(): A $cb) { }
foo(function (): A { return new A; });
foo(function &(): A { static $a; $a = $a ?: new A; return $a; }); // both would pass the boundaries of a type check

There's no way to declare that you expect a callable that returns reference due to syntax limitations.

Parameters with default values

It's not possible to declare default value of a parameter in a callable prototype. Because currently PHP doesn't consider parameter's default values in signature validation (their invariance is not enforced in overridden methods in classes).

Syntax Choices

The proposed syntax is similar to what we have on interfaces and abstract methods, and will look meaningful to anyone who already knows how to declare a PHP interface. There are only two minor distinctions:

While declaring a callable type, it's possible to omit the argument names from argument lists when a given argument has type information. The argument names can be valuable, but there are cases they represent unnecessary verbosity. Hence why they can be omitted:

// the declarations below are synonyms:
function foo(callable(string $string_a, string $string_b):string $callback) {}
function foo(callable(string, string):string $callback) {}

It's already common to see analogous syntax inside doc comments even though there are no regnant conventions:

 * Foo function 
 * @arg string                   $action
 * @arg callable(Logger $logger) $callback
function foo($action, callable $callback) {
  // ...

Why Not?

One might say that function prototypes “does not fit the PHP loosely typed model”. This might be true to part of the community, at some extent. Anyway, it's possible to affirm that PHP already supports function prototypes - but their potential is currently “confined” inside interfaces and abstract class definitions:

interface FooInterface {
    function foo(A $a, B $b): C; // this is a function prototype, part of an interface
abstract class Foo {
    function bar(A $a, B $b): C; // this is a function prototype too

Why Not Add Callable Types Through Interfaces

During off list discussions, it was proposed to add callable types to PHP by hacking the interface system:

interface FooCallback extends Callable {
    function __invoke(int $i, string $str, FooClass $foo) : ReturnType;

The RFC authors rejected the idea because of the many design problems this would cause. For example, the following situation would completely break anonymous functions support:

interface FooCallback extends Callable {
    function someExtraMethod();
    function __invoke(int $i, string $str, FooClass $foo) : ReturnType;

In order to amend this design issue, we would have to add many weird checks to PHP interfaces just to accommodate something that conceptually (at least for PHP) doesn't pertain to interfaces:

  1. interfaces extending Closure (or abstract classes implementing any interface extending closure) would have to be forbidden to declare constants or any extra method other than invoke.
  2. interfaces extending any interface that extends Closure (or abstract classes that...) would need the same checks as above.
  3. in case an interface has only invoke all rules to determine compatibility would change.

The obvious conclusion is that extending the behavior of `callable` should not require deep changes (or any change at all) on the current interface system. The fact that objects can become callables by having an `__invoke` method is just a detail.

As a side note, any comparison with callable types and interfaces on this RFC is for didactic purpose.

When To Use Return Types On Callable Types

It should be noted that, while perfectly valid, adding return types to callable types may not be as useful as it seems at a first sight. Perhaps this bit is only valuable if the returned value of the callback is really going to be used by the receiver, otherwise the recommendation is to simply skip it.

It's also notable that some types like 'void' should never be used as a callable return type. They simply impose unnecessary restrictions to callables in any imaginable use case. E.g:

function foo(callable($a, $b):void $callback) {


There are no BC-breaking changes in Reflection.

Here are the changes needed for reflection:

`ReflectionParameter::getType()` can now return instance of `ReflectionCallableType` which extends `ReflectionType`:

class ReflectionCallableType extends ReflectionType
     * Tells whether it's just a `callable` hint or if it has a prototype `callable(something): something`
    public function hasPrototype(): bool;
     * Returns a number of parameters required by a callable prototype
    public function getArity(): bool;
     * Returns an array of ReflectionCallableParameter instances
    public function getParameters(): array;
     * Tells whether the prototype has return type defined
    public function hasReturnType(): bool;
     * Returns return type of the callable prototype
    public function getReturnType(): ReflectionType;
     * Tells whether $value has compatible callable prototype. This is the easiest way
     * to implement runtime-error-free compatibility checks at this point...
     * Later we could implement it in the form of `instanceof`
    public function isA($value);
class ReflectionCallableParameter
     * Tells whether this callable parameter has a type
    public function hasType(): bool;
     * Returns a type of this callable parameter
    public function getType(): ReflectionType;
     * Tells whether callable parameter is named or not (e.g. callable(Foo $foo) vs callable(Foo))
    public function hasName(): bool;
     * Returns name of the callable parameter
    public function getName(): string;
     * Whether this is by-val or by-ref parameter
    public function isPassedByReference(): bool;
     * Whether this is a variadic parameter
    public function isVariadic(): bool;

Backward Incompatible Changes

The proposal has no BC breaks.

Proposed PHP Version(s)

The proposal targets PHP 7.1.

RFC Impact


The performance difference between argument lists with “complex callables” vs “simple callables” is negligible.

To Opcache

Currently, the patch works with opcache. Any possible further break should be easily fixable anyway.

Unaffected PHP Functionality

The current callable implementation should not have any of it's behaviors altered and will still be available. The RFC merely augments how callable can be declared.

Future Scope

Named Callable Types

Named callable types were deliberately left out the current proposal. The rationale behind this decision is that most callable types are very transient, so the proposed inlined syntax will solve 90% of the use cases.

Another reason is that depending on how the Union Types RFC is designed it might include named types and, naturally, named callable types would be supported. This bit could be added through another RFC, and probably should, because if typedefs are to appear in PHP they should work not only for callable types but for all other types as well.

The following could also be an option for a dedicated named callable type syntax if union types (or any other RFC introducing type aliasing) gets rejected:

callable NodeComparator(Node $left, Node $right): bool;
function filter_nodes(array $nodes, NodeComparator $predictor) {
  // ...
function sort_nodes(array $nodes, NodeComparator $predictor) {
  // ...

Besides that, even with named callable types support, inlined callable types could be a way to keep the type unexposed from public API while PHP lacks first class packages.


This RFC requires a 2/3 majority to pass. Vote started on May 23, 2016, ends June 6, 2016.

Accept callable prototypes?
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Final result: 18 19
This poll has been closed.

Patches and Tests

The work in progress of the implementation can be found at https://github.com/php/php-src/pull/1633

The patch can be tested through https://3v4l.org

Known Issues


There is a known syntax conflict with callable types that omit argument names, as in:

function func(callable(int) $callback) {
// syntax error, unexpected T_INT_CAST in {file} on line 1

The following pull request would fix these argument list edge cases https://github.com/php/php-src/pull/1667


rfc/callable-types.txt · Last modified: 2017/09/22 13:28 by