PHP RFC: Consistent type errors for internal functions


For user-defined functions, passing a parameter of illegal type results in a TypeError. For internal functions, the behavior depends on multiple factors, but the default is to throw a warning and return null. This RFC proposes to consistently generate TypeError exceptions for all invalid parameter types, regardless of whether the function is user-defined or extension-defined.

First, a detailed description of the current behavior is in order. For user functions parameters of invalid type always result in a TypeError, regardless of strict_types option:

function foo(int $bar) {}
foo("not an int");
// TypeError: Argument 1 passed to foo() must be of the type int, string given

Of course, strict_types changes what values are considered compatible with a certain type, but it does not modify the error reporting mechanism. For internal functions, the baseline behavior is to throw a warning and return null instead:

var_dump(strlen(new stdClass));
// Warning: strlen() expects parameter 1 to be string, object given

The null return value is only a convention followed by most functions. There are also about 150 functions that will return false instead. However, if strict_types is enabled, a TypeError is generated instead, consistent with user-defined functions:

var_dump(strlen(new stdClass));
// TypeError: strlen() expects parameter 1 to be string, object given

Additionally, some functions opt-in to always generate a TypeError, regardless of strict_types setting. This is the case for all constructors, because they do not have a meaningful way of returning a null value. Other functions, such as random_int, or the entirety of the sodium extension, also opt-in to throwing. Newly introduced methods will often do so in order to consistently throw exceptions for all their error conditions.

Finally, the manner in which the error is reported depends on which mechanism detected the violation. The above description applies to the zend_parse_parameters/ZEND_PARSE_PARAMETERS APIs typically used by internal functions. However, functions can additionally specify argument information (which is made available through reflection). If the argument information specifies types, then violation of those will always result in a TypeError.

This can lead to peculiar situations where the error behavior will depend on which argument is invalid:

var_dump(DateTime::createFromFormat(new stdClass, "foobar"));
// Warning: DateTime::createFromFormat() expects parameter 1 to be string, object given
// bool(false)
var_dump(DateTime::createFromFormat("foobar", "foobar", new stdClass));
// TypeError: Argument 3 passed to DateTime::createFromFormat() must be an instance of DateTimeZone or null, instance of stdClass given

In the former case the type mismatch is detected by zend_parse_parameters and results in a warning and false, in the latter case the type mismatch is detected by argument information and results in a TypeError. All for the same function.


The current situation results in a number of problems: From the above description one of those problems is that the error behavior varies based on many factors, and the only reliable way to find out how a particular argument of a particular function will behave is to actually try it. However, there are also two further issues beyond the inconsistency itself:

First, the fact that zend_parse_parameters and types in argument information behave differently means that we cannot add typed argument information to existing functions, as it would change a warning into a TypeError under some circumstances. Having typed argument information is valuable, because it is available through reflection, and because it is used by inheritance checks (if we don't specify types for methods, then child classes won't be able to do so either).

We regularly have to decline pull requests that add argument type information, because it would constitute a BC break. If we change zend_parse_parameters to always generate a TypeError (and make one BC break at that point), we can freely add type information in the future.

Second, in the absence of an exception, functions still need to return a value on failure. For parameter parsing errors, this will usually be null and sometimes false. Because many functions don't have a failure condition apart from invalid parameter types, this means that their return type needs to be expanded just for this case. For example the return type of strlen() right now would have to be ?int rather than int.

This once again prevents us from annotating functions with reflectable return type information, as we do not want to encode this legacy behavior in the function signature.


Make the internal parameter parsing APIs always generate a TypeError if parameter parsing fails. It should be noted that this also includes ArgumentCountError (a child of TypeError) for cases where too few/many arguments were passed.

Functions that manually handle parameters, because they have more complex requirements, should preferably also be switched to always generate TypeError.

Backward Incompatible Changes

A TypeError will be thrown instead of a warning if incorrectly typed parameters are passed to a function, which is a backwards incompatible change.

As a rare exception, this BC break will probably hit php-src harder than actual users of PHP: While it should be very unusual, even for legacy code, to call functions with completely invalid parameters, php-src contains many tests that check zpp failures for different functions, all of which will have to be updated or removed. Despite the recent variation test purge, there are still about 1500 such tests.


Voting opened 2019-02-19 and closes 2019-03-05. A 2/3 majority is required to pass.

Make zpp failures always throw TypeError?
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Final result: 50 2
This poll has been closed.
rfc/consistent_type_errors.txt · Last modified: 2019/03/11 10:36 by nikic