PHP RFC: Locked Classes


Object properties in PHP are primarily defined in class definitions; however, they can also be added to or removed from individual instances at any time. This RFC proposes an opt-in method for a class definition to disable this behaviour for all instances of that class.

While setting properties which were not declared in a class definition, or unsetting properties which were declared, can be a useful tool, like many of PHP's dynamic features, it also makes certain mistakes easier. For instance, if a class defines a property public $normalise=true;, and a user writes $instance->normalize=false;, a new property will be silently added. Static analysis can highlight this mistake, but the language itself issues no warning.

Changing this behaviour for all objects would be a significant change to the language, with the potential to break a large amount of existing code. However, code written with no intention of using this dynamic behaviour would benefit from a way to switch it off.

While this can be achieved through strategic use of the __set, __get, and __unset magic methods, this is long-winded, hard to optimise, and interferes with other uses of those methods.


A “locked” class is any class whose definition includes the modifier keyword “locked”, regardless of any other modifiers. An instance of a locked class behaves like any other object, except that:

  • Attempting to set a property on the instance which was not declared in the class (or inherited from one of its parent classes) will throw an error, and the instance will not be modified.
  • Attempting to read a property on the instance which was not declared (or inherited) will throw an error, rather than raising a Notice and evaluating to null.
  • Attempting to call unset() on any property of the instance will throw an error, and the instance will not be modified.

Interaction with Magic Methods

The existing “property overloading” magic methods (__set, __get, and __unset) may still be defined on locked classes, and will continue to be called in the same circumstances. Specifically:

  • If the class declares a magic __set method, this will still be called when attempting to set an undefined property instead of the error being thrown.
  • If the class declares a magic __get method, this will still be called when attempting to read an undefined property instead of the error being thrown.
  • If the class declares a magic __unset method, this will be called when attempting to unset any property which is not declared in the class, or is declared private. For properties which are declared and public, this magic method is not called; if the class is declared “locked”, this case will therefore throw an error.

Interaction with Inheritance

The “locked” flag is not applied automatically to sub-classes. Any class may be marked “locked”, regardless of whether it inherits from a locked class or not.

The rationale is that a sub-class can add any number of public properties not listed in the parent definition, or add magic methods; it would therefore be inconsistent to ban it from allowing dynamic properties.

If the author of the class wants to prevent this, the combination “final locked class” can be used to prohibit any child classes, whether locked or not.


For more examples, see the tests included in the draft implementation.

locked class TestClass {
    public $definedProp;
$t = new testClass();
// Defined properties work as normal
$t->definedProp = "OK";
echo $t->definedProp;
// Undefined properties may not be read or written
echo $t->nonExistentProp; # ERROR: Cannot access undefined property $nonExistentProp on locked class TestClass
$t->nonExistentProp = "Not OK"; # ERROR: Cannot write undefined property $nonExistentProp on locked class TestClass

// Existing properties may not be unset
unset($t->definedProp); # ERROR: Cannot unset property $definedProp of locked class TestClass


Newer versions of ECMAScript / JavaScript have similar functionality, under the name "sealed objects". However, the term “sealed class” has an unrelated meaning in languages such as C# and Kotlin, to do with limiting the class's participation in inheritance.

Since the proposed modifier applies to a class, not an instance, it would be confusing to use the keyword “sealed” in this sense, so the synonym “locked” has been chosen instead.

The name “strict” was also considered, but this could mean a variety of things, and might mislead users into thinking other types of “strictness” will apply to the class.

Backward Incompatible Changes

The keyword “locked” will become “semi-reserved”, on the same list as “final” and “abstract”.

No existing code will change behaviour, since the modifier must be explicitly added.

Since it is a new keyword, it will not be possible to “polyfill” this functionality, or declare a “locked class” in code which needs to be compatible with earlier PHP versions.

Proposed PHP Version(s)

Next PHP 7.x

RFC Impact

To Opcache

To be determined: are there any optimisations which interact with the behaviours being changed?

To Reflection

The following additions will be made to expose the new flag via reflection:

  • New constant ReflectionClass::IS_LOCKED to expose the bit flag used for locked classes
  • The return value of ReflectionClass::getModifiers() will have this bit set if the class being reflected is locked
  • Reflection::getModifierNames() will include the string “locked” if this bit is set
  • A new ReflectionClass::isLocked() method will allow directly checking if a class is locked

Unaffected PHP Functionality

Calling unset on a typed property will still succeed, and result in an “undefined property” on next access, unless the class is also marked locked.

Future Scope

Classes defined by extensions could be marked “locked” if it was considered beneficial. This RFC does not propose any such changes.

Proposed Voting Choices

Should “locked classes” as described above be added to PHP 7.x? A 2/3 majority is required.

Patches and Tests

A pull request containing an initial implementation with basic tests is available on github: https://github.com/php/php-src/pull/3931

Reasons for Withdrawal

This RFC was discussed on the Internals list in March 2019. See archive here: https://externals.io/message/104620

While the reasoning behind the feature was welcomed, the general consensus was that it was not quite right in its current form.

Specific concerns raised included:

  • The handling of __set, __get, and __unset on locked classes is unnecessarily complicated. Perhaps these should just be prohibited instead.
  • The restriction on unset() prevents clearing of reference bindings set with $foo->bar =& $baz. One possibility is to reset the property to null, but not remove it from the list of properties on the object.
  • Contrary to both of the above suggestions, there was interest in using locked classes with “lazy-loading”, where properties are deliberately removed to trigger __unset.
  • The extra keyword was considered “ugly” by some. While subjective, this does point to a lack of long-term vision: if nearly all PHP classes should behave this way, requiring the boilerplate on each declaration is cumbersome.
  • If the primary purpose is to prevent accidental use of dynamic properties, the flag would be better set where the object is used (e.g. with a declare() flag) rather than where it is defined. That way, use of third-party objects can be subject to strict checking without modifying shared code; and deliberate “trap doors” can be used to implement tricks that rely on dynamic properties.

The feature proposed in this RFC was deliberately conservative to keep the implementation simple, and bring it to users as soon as possible. However, it may be sensible to revisit the idea in combination with other concepts, such as packages/namespace-scoped declares, and a roadmap for making strictness the default.

rfc/locked-classes.txt · Last modified: 2019/06/04 18:56 by imsop