Closures: Object extension

  • Date: 2009-01-22
  • Author: Unknown
  • Status: Implemented in PHP 5.4


Efforts were made to go beyond the scope of the original Closures proposal (closures) in order to allow the extension of objects dynamically, take the following example code:

$object->newMethod = function () { return 42; };
var_dump ($object->newMethod ());

With the original proposal, this does not work, since the original proposal retains PHP's notion that member variables and methods live in different “namespaces”.

But, people have argued on internals@ that this is a very desirable feature. Thus, in order to make this possible, a patch for this was proposed. One particular issue with this, however, has sparked quite a bit of a discussion: The issue of what $this inside a closure actually points to.

Take, for example, the following code:

class A {
  private $value = 1;
  public $closure;
  public function getClosure () {
    return function () { return $this->value; };
class B {
  public $value;
  public $closure;
$a = new A;
$b = new B;
$b->value = 2;
$a->closure = $a->getClosure ();
var_dump ($a->closure ());
$b->closure = $a->closure;
var_dump ($b->closure ());
$closure = $a->closure;
var_dump ($closure ());

The question here is: What will the corresponding code output? In the following I will first present different possibilities of how to implement then, then I will show some sample code that demonstrates the differences between those approaches and finally explain what the drawbacks of those approaches are.

Please: Before reading, keep in mind that the definition of “closure” is simply an object then saves the scope that there is at creation time. Since closures come from functional programming (i.e. lambda calculus), the way closures and OOP interact is up to the programming language that combines both. Different programming languages that implement both have different approaches to this topic that are tailored to the specific language.


For PHP 5.3 $this support for Closures was removed because no consensus could be reached how to implement it in a sane fashion. This RFC describes the possible roads that can be taken to implement it in the next PHP version.

Approaches to $this binding

(0) Proposal: Keep as-is, no $this support in closures

In PHP 5.3 $this is not supported in closures - the simplest solution is to ensure HEAD (PHP 6.0) exhibits the same behaviour as 5.3 and make lamdas/closures a purely functional and non-OOP tool.

(A) Original proposal: Bind $this to the object scope at creation (if existing)

The original RFC proposed to bind $this to the object scope at creation. Thus, if a closure is created outside of an object (in global scope or inside a function), no $this is available. If it is created inside an object method, then it will inherit the object scope of that method. The object scope will stay that way for the lifetime of the closure, i.e. no matter what you do with it. Assigning it to a property of a different object will not change that.

(B) Proposal by Marcus: Initially bind $this to creation object scope, re-bind on assignment to object property

Marcus's proposal would make the closure initially inherit the object scope of the method in which it was defined but on assignment to a property of an object, the scope would change:

class Other {
  private $value = 1;
  public function getClosure () { return function () { return $this->value; }; }
$object = new stdClass;
$otherObject = new Other;
$object->method = $otherObject->getClosure();

At this point, $object→method would not be bound to $otherObject but to $object and thus a call would try to access $object→this.

(C) Javascript like behaviour: Don't bind $this at creation but only when called

Javascript implements the following behaviour: The this variables is never bound at creation but only when calling the closure. If the closure is called from outside of class scope, the this variable points to the global object (in browsers that's window) and thus this.member actually accesses the global variable member in JS.

In PHP this would translate to:

$closure = function () { return $this->foo; };
$closure (); // Can't access property of non-object, because $closure does not have object context!
$obj = new stdClass;
$obj->foo = 1;
$obj->closure = $closure;
$obj->closure (); // works
call_user_func (array ($obj, 'closure')); // works
call_user_func ($obj->closure); // WON'T WORK!
$obj->closure->__invoke (); // WON'T WORK!

The last two examples will not work because:

  1. call_user_func($obj→closure): the property $obj→closure is retrieved and passed as a parameter to the call_user_func function. It can then no longer determine whether or not the closure was originally a property of an object or not - let alone which.
  2. $obj→closure→_ _invoke: Here, the engine translates that into the following opcodes: 1) fetch the property “closure” of object $obj and store it in a temporary variable. Then execute _ _invoke of that temporary variable. Also, here, there is no sane possibility for the engine to know whether the closure was originally an object member.

(Unlike Javascript, PHP doesn't have a global object to fall back to. And $GLOBALS is an array…)

(D) Pseudo-Javascript like behaviour: Rebind $this only when called as a method

This would actually be a combination of (A) and (C):

Originally bind the closure to the object where it was created - and thus when called as a simple variable, it would retain the original object context. But when called as a member of another object, $this would be rebound on call time.

Basically, all cases where (C) fails will now “fall back” to the case (A).

Comparison of the approaches

The following example code will highlight the differences between the two approaches:

class MyClass {
  private $a = 1;
  public function getClosure () {
     $closure = function () {
          return $this->a;
     var_dump ($closure ()); // [0]
     return $closure;
$obj1 = new MyClass;
$obj2 = new stdClass;
$obj2->a = 2;
$closure = $obj1->getClosure ();
var_dump ($closure ()); // [1]
$obj2->closure = $closure; // [*]
var_dump ($obj2->closure ()); // [2]
var_dump (call_user_func ($obj2->closure)); // [3]
var_dump (call_user_func (array ($obj2, 'closure'))); // [4]
var_dump ($obj2->closure->__invoke ()); // [5]
$closure = $obj2->closure;
var_dump ($closure ()); // [6]

I have highlighted the different output places with square braces (i.e. [1], [2], etc.). I have also highlighted the line in which Marcus's proposal (B) will cause a rebind of the closure. The following table shows how the different approaches will react:

  | 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6
0 | # | # | - | # | - | # | #
A | 1 | 1 | - | 1 | - | 1 | 1
B | 1 | 1 | 2 | 2 | 2 | 2 | 2
C | # | # | 2 | # | 2 | # | #
D | 1 | 1 | 2 | 1 | 2 | 1 | 1

The columns represent the output of the highlighted lines, the rows represent the different approaches (A: original approach, B: Marcus's approach, C: Javascript-like, D: A + C hybrid). The following legend illustrates outcome:

1: $obj1 is the $this variable of the closure.
2: $obj2 is the $this variable of the closure.
-: (Original approach): "Call to undefined method"; we could make anything happen there if we wanted... (see below)
#: (JS-like approach): "Unable to access property of a non-object" because $this is not defined.

Discussion, further proposals

Proposal D

Proposal D (pseudo-JS-like) is clearly not viable, since it would be extremely confusing to have $object→closure () bind to $obj2 but $object→closure→_ _invoke to $obj1. And it is even more confusing to put a closure into an object property, then call it (binds to the object of which it is the property) and much later store it again into a normal variable and then it binds again to the original object where there is now no more reference in the corresponding code. Clearly, this is not desirable.

Proposal C

Proposal C (Javascript-like) behaviour would be consistent in itself, but has the major drawback that closures can't directly access the $this object of classes where they were defined in and can not access private members of that object anymore either (even if a reference to the object is passed in as a lexical variable) due to the fact that class scope doesn't match. Take for example the following code:

class MyClass {
  private $mapping = array (...);
  public function doSomething ($data) {
    return array_map (function ($element) {
      return isset($this->mapping[$element]) ? $this->mapping[$element] : $element;
    }, $data);

Since the closure is called from array_map outside of any object context (since that is added call-time only in JS), the above code would not be possible, which could be quite inconvenient. You would have to store the closure as an object method and then wrap that in another closure in order to have access to $this (that's what the JS folks do) - or you could pass $object = $this as a lexical variable into the closure.

Also, the lack of support for calling _ _invoke without removing object context may be undesirable.

Proposal B

Proposal B (Marcus's proposal) has a very big drawback: It does magic on simple assignment. Usually, when you have an assignment operation in PHP, nothing tremendous happens. A value gets copied etc. but no magic happens. Now, take for example the following piece of code:

// somewhere $closure came from another object
$obj->closure = $closure; // MAGIC happens on this assignment, scope gets re-bound
$closure = $obj->closure; // Now, $closure is definitely bound to $obj instead of the original.

This behaviour is EXTREMELY hard to detect since assignments happen all over the place. Usually, people rely on the fact that

$b = $a;
$a = $b; 

will *not* change the value of $a. Of course, this may already be broken with _ _get and _ _set but that does not necessarily mean it is a good idea that should be done by the engine itself!

Also: It is a common use-case that people store callbacks in object properties, take the following example code:

interface Some_Filter {
  public function accept ($value);
class Closure_Filter implements Some_Filter {
  private $closure;
  public function __construct (Closure $closure) {
    $this->closure = $closure;
  public function accept ($value) {
    return call_user_func ($this->closure, $value);
class Foo {
  private $min, $max;
  public function bar () {
    $filter = new Closure_Filter (function ($value) {
      return $value >= $this->min && $value <= $this->max;
    $data = $something->doSomethingElse ($filter, $data);

I believe the code to be a realistic (albeit simplified) example of a real-world use case and not something completely contrived. The problem is, however: With this proposal, the closure's $this will be rebound to the Closure_Filter class object and not the original $this which the author intended to.

Also, another question arises here: If you have the following code:

$x = 4;
$obj1->closure = function () use ($x) { ... };
$obj2->closure = $obj1->closure; // [*]
$obj1->closure ();

If the closure object itself is changed in the assignment [*], the last call to $obj1→closure() will actually be bound to $obj2! The only possible solution would be to silently clone the closure at the point of the assignment in order to leave the original one intact and only change the $this of the new one. However, this implies implicit cloning of the closure at the assignment. PHP does not currently do this! It is extremely counter-intuitive if Closures semi-behave like PHP4 objects instead of PHP5 objects.

Proposal A

This proposal is self-consistent (as is proposal C) but has a major drawback: The proposal does not include the possibility to dynamically extend objects by closure methods. One could of course augment the behaviour to allow $object→method() without rebinding $this at all (which is btw. Python's behaviour), however, lots of people with Javascript background would find the lack of possibility to reference call the assigned object with $this at all disappointing.

Modified proposal A, Roadmap

In order to satisfy the need for

  1. a consistent approach (leaves only A and C)
  2. direct inheritance of $this if used inside a method and passed to array_map for example
  3. rebinding $this in order to dynamically extend objects

the following is proposed:


The original behaviour, i.e. proposal A, is the basis for this proposal. Thus, no automatic rebinding of $this is used.

Calling methods

Additionally, it is now possible to call closure methods directly, i.e.:

$obj->method = function () { ... };
$obj->method ();

The following resolution order is chosen:

  1. Try to find the method in the method table and call it directly.
  2. Try to find a property in the property table with the name and if it is a closure, call the closure.
  3. Use call - Do not use get

NOTE This appears to be the conensus on this issue as far as I can see on-list. If this should be not the case, please correct this section.

Rebinding of $this

Automatic rebinding of $this is problematic, if approach A is to be augmented (i.e. approaches B and D). Thus, there is no automatic rebinding of $this but rather manual rebinding using methods of closures:

$obj->method1 = Closure::bind ($obj, function () { });
$obj->method2 = $otherClosure->bindTo ($obj);

Closure::bind ($obj, $closure) is basically a convenience wrapper for $closure→bindTo ($obj).

$closure→bindTo() does the following: It clones the closure and returns a new closure which is bound to the new object. The cloning occurs with the following semantics:

  • $this will be chaned anyway, so ignore it in the clone.
  • Create a new hash table for the static variables (which internally also contain the lexical variables) and copy the variables over. References remain references (which will *not* be severed) and copies remain copies.

Warnings on direct-method calls

When calling a closure directly but the bound object is *not* the object for which the closure is called, then a warning should be shown (but the closure should NOT be rebound dynamically):

// $obj is not $this
$obj->method1 = function () { ... };
$obj->method1 (); // WARNING: Closure called as method but bound object differs from containing object.
$obj->method2 = Closure::bind ($obj, function () { ... });
$obj->method2 (); // No warning, objects match
// inside a class
$this->method = function () { ... };
$this->method (); // No warning, objects match

However (due to the impossibility to detect that it is a method-like call and due to the fact that it could be deliberate), the following will not cause any warnings:

// $obj != $this
$obj->method = function () { ... };
$obj->method->__invoke ();
call_user_func ($obj->method);
$m = $obj->method;
$m ();

But the following will again:

// $obj != $this
$obj->method = function () { ... };
call_user_func (array ($obj, 'method'));

Private / protected member access

It should be decided whether the closure methods which are assigned to the object should inherit the class scope of that object and thus can access the private and protected members of that object.


  1. Always use the class scope of closure creation time
  2. Always use the class scope of the object that bindTo() is called for
  3. Always use the class scope of the function that calls bindTo()
  4. Add a parameter to bindTo() to specify this.
  5. Add some syntax to the closure definition to specify this.
  6. Always use a dummy class scope so only public properties are accessible.

This is still to be discussed.

Closure cloning

Since bindTo() allows to clone closures anyway now, it would be silly to leave the clone handler of closures disabled. Thus, clone $closure should do the same as $closure→bindTo ($originalObject).

Object cloning

When an object containing closure methods is cloned, the closure methods should not be automatically rebound but rather should the object have to do it itself in the __clone method. With this behaviour, the user has the control over whether to rebind the closures on cloning or not.

This may still be subject to discussion.

Status as of August 10 2010

In April 2010 was committed a subset of modified proposal A.

Calling methods

An implementation of this feature has not been commited. One cannot call closures stored in properties as if they were methods.

This patch (with tests) implements support for this feature.

The following two graphs explain which combinations are allowed of staticness of method calls, properties where the closures are stored and the closures themselves, as implemented in the patch (green means “allowed with no error”, yellow means “E_STRICT error”, orange means “E_WARNING error” and red means “fatal error”).

Other issues:

  1. Do we really want to make closures-as-methods have priority over __call/__callStatic? On one hand, there's no way to otherwise allow closures-as-methods in classes that implement these magic methods, on the other one, this breaks BC and makes the magic methods even more inefficient – we have to check if there is a method and a property with that name.
  2. Properties are not case-sensitive, hence calling closures-as-methods is case-sensitive (contrary to calling regular methods).
  3. What to do with properties with no visibility? Ignore them (and let fall back to __call/__callStatic) or raise error (the implementation in the patch raises an error).
  4. What to do with properties used as methods that are not closures? Ignore them or raise an error (the implementation raises an error).
  5. Should we throw an exception when calling a closure-as-instance method that's stored as a static method? Usually, accessing a static property in a non static context raises an E_STRICT, but I think may very well be very useful, because we can swap instance method implementations on a class basis instead of only an instance basis.

Note that, contrary to what the proposal says, this will not work at all (fatal error, not warning):

// $obj is not $this
$obj->method1 = function () { ... };
//this is a method call, we need an instance or a static closure!
$obj->method1 (); //PHP Fatal error:  Non-static closure called as method but not bound to any object
//only if the closure is actually bound to some other object (as opposed to not be bound at all), will we get_
// WARNING: Closure called as method but bound object differs from containing object.

Private/protected members (scope)

The currently implemented handling of scope for class closures is:

  1. They initially inherit the (calling) scope of the class they were created in.
  2. After that, always use the class scope of the object that bindTo() is called for (option 2)
  3. If there's any bound instance, the called scope is set to the class of it, otherwise it's the same as the calling scope.

The implementation of option #2 has serious drawbacks. Consider the following code:

class foo {
	private $field = "foo";
	function getClosure() {
		return function () {
			echo $this->field, "\n";
class subFoo extends foo {}
$f = new subFoo();
$g = new subFoo();
$c = $f->getClosure();
$c(); //foo
$c = $c->bindTo($g); //or even $c->bindTo($f)
$c(); //fails

Since it's always taking the class of the bound object as scope, this means we have no way to keep the original scope of the closure without binding an instance of exactly the same class. It's against the basic principles of OOP to have something that works when passed A, but not when passed a subclass of A.

There's always another problem. The current implementation allows changing the scope of a static closure, but only by attempting to bind it with am object of the desired class. This has two problems: it requires an instance for a solely static operation and it may even not be possible to generate objects of the desired class (e.g. it's abstract).

Therefore, I propose an implementation (patch here) of option #4: “Add a parameter to bindTo() to specify this.” This option is the most versatile and the implementation in the patch has very little magic – it only changes the scope of the closure if it's requested, otherwise it keeps the previous scope. The order of the current arguments of Closure::bind was also changed so that its implementation could be unified to that of Closure::bindTo using zend_parse_method_parameters. The prototype is this:

Closure Closure::bind(Closure $old, object $to [, mixed $scope = "static" ] )

If the last argument is not given, or if “static” is specified, the current scope (or lack thereof) is preserved, with one exception noted below.

The patch preserves these invariants:

  1. A static closure, being scoped or not, cannot have any bound instance.
  2. A non static closure has a bound instance iif it is scoped.

To preserve these invariants, there are these additional rules:

  1. If a non static closure is given a scope (or it already has a scope, but the scope parameter is not specified) and a NULL instance, it's made static.
  2. If a static closure is given an instance, the instance is ignored and an E_WARNING notice is emitted.
  3. If a non static non scoped (and therefore non bound) instance is given no scope and a non NULL instance, it's given a dummy scope (currently the “Closure” scope). This is the only case where the previous scope, or lack thereof, is changed by the rebinding process. This is necessary because it's not legal to have $this with a NULL scope.


class A {
	private $x;
	public function __construct($v) {
		$this->x = $v;
	public function getIncrementor() {
		return function() { return ++$this->x; };
class B extends A {
	private $x;
	public function __construct($v) {
		$this->x = $v*2;
$a = new A(0);
$b = new B(10);
$ca = $a->getIncrementor();
var_dump($ca()); //int(1)
echo "Testing with scope given as object", "\n";
$cb = $ca->bindTo($b, $b);
$cb2 = Closure::bind($ca, $b, $b);
var_dump($cb()); //int(21)
var_dump($cb2()); //int(22)
echo "Testing with scope as string", "\n";
$cb = $ca->bindTo($b, 'B');
$cb2 = Closure::bind($ca, $b, 'B');
var_dump($cb()); //int(23)
var_dump($cb2()); //int(24)
$cb = $ca->bindTo($b, NULL);
var_dump($cb()); //Fatal error: Cannot access private property B::$x
rfc/closures/object-extension.txt · Last modified: 2013/10/29 18:38 by nikic