PHP RFC: Deprecate implicitly nullable parameter types


PHP supports nullable type declarations as of PHP 7.1 with the ?T syntax, and with the T|null syntax as of PHP 8.0 when generalized support for union types was added.

However, it has been possible to use scalar type declarations as of PHP 7.0, the callable type as of PHP 5.4, array as of PHP 5.1, and class types as of PHP 5.0.

As there wasn't a syntax for nullable type declarations at the time, PHP 5.1 enabled using null (and only null) as a default value for typed parameters, making them implicitly nullable.

However, the implicitly nullable semantics are confusing and conflict with other language rules, in particular because such type declarations can be misleading as to what types they actually accept.

Furthermore, this syntax still permits signatures such as:

function foo(T1 $a, T2 $b = null, T3 $c) {}

which appears to suggest an optional parameter before a required one. Even though signatures which contain an optional parameter before a required one were deprecated in PHP 8.0, the case of implicitly nullable types was left alone at that time due to BC concerns. This exclusion caused some bugs in the detection of which signatures should emit the deprecation notice. Indeed, the following signature only emits a deprecation as of PHP 8.1:

function bar(T1 $a, ?T2 $b = null, T3 $c) {}

And the signature that uses the generalized union type signature:

function test(T1 $a, T2|null $b = null, T3 $c) {}

only emits the deprecation notice properly as of PHP 8.3.

It should be noted that the example signatures above were deprecated prior to the introduction of named parameters, which actually allowed calls to such functions in 8.0, but this was corrected in PHP 8.1. [1]

Therefore, as of PHP 8.1, any parameter that has a default value prior to a required one is effectively a required parameter, and will throw an ArgumentCountError exception if the parameter is not provided, be that positionally or via a named argument. In consequence, support for implicitly nullable types already causes confusion about what should be permitted and what should not.

Another issue with implicitly nullable types is in relation to inheritance. It is rather confusing that if a child class has the exact same type signature as the parent, but a different default value, this would cause an LSP violation error to be thrown.

It should be noted, that prior to PHP 7.1 it was actually possible to violate the LSP by changing the default value away from null. This was fixed as part of the introduction of nullable types.

As demonstrated, supporting this “feature” not only causes confusion for userland, but is also a source of bugs and unneeded complexity within the engine which needs to handle its edge cases (e.g. to promote an implicitly nullable intersection type to a DNF type).

Implicitly nullable types were added to work around the limitations of PHP 5's primitive type declaration system; as those limitations do not exist anymore, we propose to deprecate this feature.


Deprecate implicitly nullable types which are written with the following signature:

function foo(T $var = null) {}

by emitting the following deprecation notice at compile time:

Deprecated: Implicitly marking parameter $var as nullable is deprecated, the explicit nullable type must be used instead

And remove support for implicitly nullable types in PHP 9.

Backward Incompatible Changes

Using an implicitly nullable type will emit a deprecation notice.

Impact analysis and migration paths

Out of the top 2000 composer packages 880 use implicitly nullable types. [2] One explanation for such a high usage is that using implicitly nullable types was mandated by Symfony's coding style.

However, there exist a variety of tools to automatically update code to use explicit nullable types from the T $parameter = null syntax to ?T $parameter = null. And Symfony used one of them to migrate their codebase, and change their coding style, in anticipation of this RFC. [3]

Two such tools are PHP-CS-Fixer with the nullable_type_declaration_for_default_null_value fixer, and PHP_CodeSniffer using the SlevomatCodingStandard.TypeHints.NullableTypeForNullDefaultValue sniff from the Slevomat Coding Standard.

It should be noted that it is possible to ignore the commit which fixes these issues from the git blame command since git version 2.23 via the --ignore-rev argument flag or the creation of a .git-blame-ignore-revs file which is passed to the --ignore-revs-file argument flag.

This flag can also be automatically configured using:

git config blame.ignoreRevsFile .git-blame-ignore-revs

One other issue which might be revealed when converting implicitly nullable types to explicit ones without removing the default null value, is that an optional parameter might now exist before a mandatory one. Which will cause a secondary deprecation notice as this was deprecated in PHP 8.0 as previously mentioned.

As the ?T syntax has existed since PHP 7.1, which is 7 years old, the various tools available to fix this issue automatically, and this issue being easily resolved as it requires a single change at the declaration site (instead of potentially infinite call-site changes), we deem this deprecation to be easily handled and fixed.

Code change examples

The following example:

class Foo {
    public function bar(int $x = null, float $y) {
        // ...

should end up looking like:

class Foo {
    public function bar(?int $x, float $y) {
        // ...


Next minor version, PHP 8.4.


As per the voting RFC a yes/no vote with a 2/3 majority is needed for this proposal to be accepted.

Voting started on 2024-02-28 and will end on 2024-03-13.

Accept Deprecate implicitly nullable parameter types RFC?
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alcaeus (alcaeus)  
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ashnazg (ashnazg)  
beberlei (beberlei)  
crell (crell)  
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imsop (imsop)  
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kocsismate (kocsismate)  
nicolasgrekas (nicolasgrekas)  
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saki (saki)  
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thekid (thekid)  
theodorejb (theodorejb)  
timwolla (timwolla)  
weierophinney (weierophinney)  
Final result: 26 0
This poll has been closed.


rfc/deprecate-implicitly-nullable-types.txt · Last modified: 2024/04/11 13:02 by kocsismate