PHP RFC: Treat namespaced names as single token


PHP currently treats namespaced names like Foo\Bar as a sequence of identifiers and namespace separator tokens. This RFC proposes to treat namespaced names as a single token, and as such allow reserved keywords to appear inside them.

There are two motivations: The first is to reduce the backwards compatibility impact of new reserved keyword additions in future versions of PHP. To give a specific example, PHP 7.4 added the fn keyword as part of arrow function support. This broke my iter library, because it was using fn as part of a namespace name. However, this breakage was entirely unnecessary! Here is a typical usage example:

// In the library:
namespace iter\fn;
function operator($operator, $operand = null) { ... }
// In the using code:
use iter\fn;
iter\map(fn\operator('*', 2), $nums);

As you can see, both references of fn are part of a namespaced name: iter\fn and fn\operator. Under this proposal, these are considered perfectly legal names, and the backwards compatibility break would not have occurred.

Additionally, treating namespaced names as a single token avoids certain syntactical ambiguities. For example, the shorter attribute syntax has the following ambiguity:

function test(@@A \ B $param) {}
// Can be interpreted as:
function test(
) {}
// Or:
function test(
   \B $param
) {}

This RFC resolves this by making the first variant a syntax error, and requiring you to write whichever interpretation was intended. This proposal is a prerequisite for the implementation of the “shorter attribute syntax” in PHP 8.


PHP distinguishes four kinds of namespaced names:

  • Unqualified names like Foo, which coincide with identifiers.
  • Qualified names like Foo\Bar.
  • Fully qualified names like \Foo.
  • Namespace-relative names like namespace\Foo.

Each of these kinds will be represented by a distinct token:

// Before: T_STRING
// After:  T_STRING
// Rule:   {LABEL}
// Rule:   {LABEL}("\\"{LABEL})+
// Rule:   ("\\"{LABEL})+
// Rule:   "namespace"("\\"{LABEL})+

Individual namespace segments may contain reserved keywords:

// This is interpreted as T_LIST (i.e., as a reserved keyword):
// All of the following are interpreted as legal namespaced names:

Whitespace is not permitted between namespace separators. If it occurs, the namespace separator will be parsed as T_NS_SEPARATOR, which will subsequently lead to a parse error. It is not possible to allow whitespace, because namespaced names commonly occur next to keywords:

class Foo implements \Bar {}

If we permitted whitespace, implements \Bar would end up being interpreted as a namespaced name. It should be noted that while this change has the potential to break some code, it also prevents programming mistakes I have seen in the wild:

// This would have previously been interpreted as a namespace-relative name,
// which is an obscure PHP feature that few people know about. Now it will
// result in a parse error.
namespace \Foo;
// This would have previously been interpreted as $foo = Foo\call($bar),
// now it will result in a parse error.
$foo = Foo // <- Missing semicolon

In the interest of consistency, the namespace declaration will accept any name, including isolated reserved keywords:

namespace iter\fn; // Legal
namespace fn;      // Legal

This is to avoid a discrepancy where defining symbols like iter\fn\operator is allowed, but fn\operator is not. The only restriction is that the namespace name cannot start with a namespace segment:

namespace namespace;   // Illegal
namespace namespace\x; // Illegal

This avoids introducing an ambiguity with namespace-relative names.

Backward Incompatible Changes

Existing code using whitespace (or comments) between namespace separators of namespaced names will now produce a parse error. An analysis of the top 2000 composer packages has found five occurrences of this issue:

    \ RuntimeException
    \ RuntimeException
    Peast \Syntax\Node\Expression
    Peast \Syntax\Node\Expression
    Peast \Syntax\Node\Expression

As such, the practical impact is very limited, and any issues are trivial to fix. On the other hand, this change will reduce the backwards-compatibility impact from any future keyword additions.

Additionally tooling based on token_get_all() will need to be adjusted to handle the new T_NAME_* tokens. In practice, this will be the main negative impact of this proposal.


Voting started 2020-07-17 and ends 2020-07-31. A 2/3 majority is required.

Treat namespaced names as a single token?
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Final result: 38 4
This poll has been closed.

Future Scope

An earlier version of this RFC also relaxed various reserved keyword restrictions for class, function and constant declarations. Because these have to deal with more perceived ambiguities, I have dropped them from this proposal. Reserved keyword restrictions can always be lifted later on, while the change in this RFC contains a backwards-compatibility break that is best done in PHP 8.0.

rfc/namespaced_names_as_token.txt · Last modified: 2020/07/31 12:54 by nikic