Request for Comments: Namespace Issues and Greg's Solutions

This RFC discusses issues with the current namespace implementation in PHP, and Greg's proposed solutions


Namespaces are mostly working, but there are a few issues to be resolved. A short list:

1. conflict between namespaced functions and static class methods
2. resolving access to internal classes

Contrary to the doom and gloom on php-internals, there is no technical barrier to implementing namespaces properly. There is, however, a substantial political barrier. The internals developers who are namespace experts do not agree on the priorities for namespaces, and this is the only reason nothing has been committed. I strongly disagree with the contention that namespaces are flawed. One need only use them to see that they work just fine, except for a few rare edge cases.

My interest in this document is simply to point out the only remaining issues and how easy it is to solve them. None of the other solutions proposed (such as re-using → for staticclass→method()) will work. Let's be clear: the solutions for problem #1 I am mentioning here are the only way to solve the problems that will be manageable and safe. The solution I mention for problem #2 is also the only way to safely solve the problem, although it does introduce some extra work to use internal classes.

Conflict between namespaced functions and static class methods

The problem

The first file “foo.php”:

namespace one::step;
function two(){}
namespace one;
class step {
static function two(){}

The second file “main.php”:

include 'foo.php';
// is this class one::step or namespace one::step?

The solutions

There are 4 easy ways to solve this problem

1. use ::: as primary namespace separator
2. use a different separator between namespace name and element such as one::step:::two() or one:::step::two()
3. explicit disambiguation using "use namespace blah::blah;/use class blah::blah;"
include 'foo.php';
use namespace one::step;
// this is now namespace one::step, function two
   If the "use" statement is missing, an E_WARNING should also be thrown to alert the user to the ambiguity
   Note that existing code relying upon "use" statements would work unchanged - the only change needed would be in the case of
   a naming conflict.
4. disallow mixing namespaces and classes with the same name

I prefer #2, but would be happy with #3 or #1.

use ::: as primary namespace separator

1. ambiguity is resolved
1. all existing namespace code must be rewritten with extra : added to all ::
2. ::: is visually similar to :: so this:::example:::with::slight:::error:::is:::hard:::to::see();

use ::: as separator between namespace name and element

1. ambiguity is resolved
2. less chance for visual error (con #2 above)  this::example::with:::slight::error::is::easier:::to::see();
1. requires new paradigm, a separator between namespace and element name, something no other language does.
2. all namespaced code would need to be modified with this difference.
3. ::name would probably need to be changed to :::name for consistency.

explicit disambiguation with "use namespace blah::blah;" or "use class blah::blah;"

1. no changes need be made to existing syntax
2. ambiguity is resolved with a single line of code
3. a clear warning is issued when ambiguity exists
4. execution never halts on ambiguity
1. blah::blah(); would trigger autoload in the ambiguity detection, so code that mixes __autoload() with namespaced functions
   could experience a performance slowdown.

disallow mixing namespaces and classes with the same name

1. no changes need be made to existing syntax
2. ambiguity is resolved by fatal error - very clear.
1. namespaces and classes cannot have the same name, a common practice with Underscored_Class_Names
2. in autoloaded code, the error would almost always be at runtime, making debugging difficult

Resolving access to internal classes

The Problem

Currently, PHP resolves this code as follows:


namespace blah;
function __autoload($class)
    include $class . '.php';
$a = new Exception('hi');

1. if blah::Exception exists, use it 2. if internal class Exception exists, use it 3. try to autoload blah::Exception

Thus, $a will be an object of class “Exception” even if blah::Exception exists in “Exception.php” as it will never be autoloaded. However, if this file were executed:

namespace blah;
class Exception {}
include 'blah.php';

$a would be an object of class “blah::Exception”.

The Solution

The solution is to change the resolution order to:

1. if blah::Exception exists, use it 2. try to autoload blah::Exception 3. if internal class Exception exists, use it

This has the advantage that the above examples will always run the same way, instantiating “blah::Exception.” The only drawback is that for true internal classes, autoload() would still be called, as in the following example.

This will introduce an autoload for RecursiveIteratorIterator and RecursiveDirectoryIterator in this script:


function __autoload($class) {include $class . '.php';}
namespace blah;
include 'autoload.php';
$a = new RecursiveIteratorIterator(new RecursiveDirectoryIterator('.'));

but fortunately it can be easily fixed via a use statement:

namespace blah;
use ::RecursiveIteratorIterator,::RecursiveDirectoryIterator;
include 'autoload.php';
$a = new RecursiveIteratorIterator(new RecursiveDirectoryIterator('.'));

This will be better for 99% of scripts, as evidenced by the ratio of internal vs. userspace classes (see http://marc.info/?l=php-internals&m=122127176407546&w=2 for detail)

Why Stas's proposed solution doesn't work

Stas's proposed solution suggests:

New syntax for static access is introduced: using Name→Member is the same as Name::Member, e.g.:
ClassName->Foo() - static method call
ClassName->$Foo - static property access
ClassName->Foo - class constant access

Although this would in theory solve the ambiguity, it does not solve the ambiguity for all existing code, which as we know uses this syntax:


In fact, this proposal would require every single reference to a static method or class constant to be rewritten as ClassName→Foo(), a major shift in the language. Inertia will prevent PHP developers from doing this, just as it has for all other quick fixes introduced. For example, many PHP projects circumvented the need to rewrite code that relied upon register_globals by simply importing $_GET and $_POST into the global space, introducing a whole new host of security issues that Stefan Esser and others have repeatedly ranted about with good reason.

The only fixes that can solve the problem are fixes that do not force PHP developers to rewrite code. Every proposal below would only require changes to as-yet-unwritten code. Solution #3 would in fact not even require changes to code written based on PHP 5.3alpha2. Solution #1 and #2 would require code based on PHP 5.3alpha2 namespaces to be modified, and Solution #4 may require re-factoring of code if namespaces and classes share the same name.


  • Version 1.1: add new section to explain why ClassName→Blah fails to solve the problem
  • Version 1.1.1: move Classname→Blah to bottom of proposal for reading flow
rfc/namespaceissues.txt · Last modified: 2011/04/06 12:59 (external edit)