PHP RFC: Object keys in arrays


The enumerations proposal implements enums as special objects. This has many advantages, and one significant limitation: Objects currently cannot be used as array keys.

To pick up the running Suits example, writing this kind of code is currently not possible:

enum Suit {
    case Hearts;
    case Diamonds;
    case Clubs;
    case Spades;
$counts = [
    Suit::Hearts => 0,
    Suit::Diamonds => 0,
    Suit::Clubs => 0,
    Suit::Spades => 0,
foreach ($cards as $card) {

The enumerations RFC suggests to instead use either WeakMap or SplObjectStorage. Both of them work in this case (due to the specifics of enums), and the former has a saner API. However, it is not possible to construct an array literal using either, limiting the places where they can be used. More importantly, both of these are specialized structures, and as such not supported by any array-based functions (including the entire array_* portion of the standard library.)

This RFC proposes to address this issue by allowing the use of object keys (and thus enum keys) inside array. This change will also make it simpler to support other key kinds in the future, for example if PHP were to switch to arbitrary-precision integers.


This RFC allows the use of object keys inside arrays:

$obj1 = new stdClass;
$obj2 = new stdClass;
$array = [];
$array[$obj1] = 1;
$array[$obj2] = 2;
var_dump($array[$obj1]); // int(1)
var_dump($array[$obj2]); // int(2)

Object keys are compared by object identity. That is, $array[$obj1] and $array[$obj2] refer to the same array element if and only if $obj1 === $obj2.

While an extension to support custom object hashing and comparison overloads may be possible in the future, it is very much out of scope of this proposal. SplObjectStorage can be used to specify a custom hash function.

Impact on standard library functions

For most standard library functions the behavior of object keys is straightforward. E.g. array_keys() still returns all the keys, but they can now also be objects. The following lists some cases where there is some non-trivial behavior to consider:

  • extract(): Ignore object keys. Alternatively we could try to convert them to strings, which would most likely throw.
  • var_dump() etc: How should object keys get represented?
  • serialize(): The serialization format can easily deal with object keys. However, keys are currently not counted for back references. To preserve proper identity for object keys, while retaining backwards compatibility with the existing format, we need to count object keys only for back references.
  • ...

Backward Incompatible Changes

The primary backwards compatibility impact is that arbitrary arrays can now have object keys, which might invalidate assumptions of existing code:

function accepts_array(array $array) {
    foreach ($array as $key => $value) {
        // Previously code was guaranteed that $key is either int or string here.
        // Now it can also be an object.

It should be noted that Traversables could already yield non-string, non-integer keys beforehand and as such more generic code already needs to handle them gracefully. However, code dealing specifically with arrays could have reasonably assumed keys to only be strings or integers.

Implementation Impact

Hashtable entries are currently represented using the following structure:

typedef struct _Bucket {
    zval val; // u2 = next index
    zend_ulong h;
    zend_string *key;
} Bucket;

To implement this proposal, the structure would change to:

typedef struct _Bucket {
    zval val; // u2 = next index
    zval key; // u2 = hash
} Bucket;

The size of this structure remains the same on 64-bit systems (on legacy 32-bit systems it is 8 bytes larger).

The stored hash value is reduced to 32-bits in order to fit into u2 space. As hash indices are already limited to 32-bits, this is not problematic.

The key zval may have type IS_LONG, IS_STRING or IS_OBJECT. During bucket lookups, object keys can be mostly treated the same way as integer keys, because comparison of objects only requires comparison of the object pointers. The hash value for object keys is the object pointer shifted right by the minimum object alignment. The hash is computed by zend_hash_obj_key().

A number of new hash APIs for working with object keys is added:

ZEND_API zval* ZEND_FASTCALL zend_hash_obj_key_add(HashTable *ht, zend_object *obj_key, zval *val);
ZEND_API zval* ZEND_FASTCALL zend_hash_obj_key_add_new(HashTable *ht, zend_object *obj_key, zval *val);
ZEND_API zval* ZEND_FASTCALL zend_hash_obj_key_update(HashTable *ht, zend_object *obj_key, zval *val);
ZEND_API zend_result ZEND_FASTCALL zend_hash_obj_key_del(HashTable *ht, zend_object *obj_key);
ZEND_API zval* ZEND_FASTCALL zend_hash_obj_key_find(const HashTable *ht, zend_object *obj_key);

However, the majority of internal code will never use these APIs directly. They only need to be used when working with object keys specifically.

Instead, a new zkey family of hash functions and macros is added, which allows working with hash table keys in a more generic manner. zkey functions accept a zval key, which must be of type IS_LONG, IS_STRING or IS_OBJECT.

The following new functions are added:

ZEND_API zval* ZEND_FASTCALL zend_hash_zkey_add_or_update(HashTable *ht, zval *key, zval *val, uint32_t flag);
ZEND_API zval* ZEND_FASTCALL zend_hash_zkey_update(HashTable *ht, zval *key, zval *val);
ZEND_API zval* ZEND_FASTCALL zend_hash_zkey_add(HashTable *ht, zval *key, zval *val);
ZEND_API zval* ZEND_FASTCALL zend_hash_zkey_add_new(HashTable *ht, zval *key, zval *val);
ZEND_API zend_result ZEND_FASTCALL zend_hash_zkey_del(HashTable *ht, zval *key);
ZEND_API zval* ZEND_FASTCALL zend_hash_zkey_find(const HashTable *ht, zval *key);
static zend_always_inline zend_bool zend_hash_zkey_exists(const HashTable *ht, zval *key);
// This is a low-level API that requires the hash value in u2 to be initialized.
static zend_always_inline zval *_zend_hash_zkey_append(HashTable *ht, zval *key, zval *zv);

Similarly, ZKEY variants of ZEND_HASH_FOREACH macros are introduced:

// etc.

The existing ZEND_HASH_FOREACH_KEY macro family is removed, as it encodes the assumption that keys can only be integers or strings.

The ZEND_HASH_FOREACH_NUM_KEY macro family is changed to assert that the key is of type IS_LONG.

The ZEND_HASH_FOREACH_STR_KEY macro family is changed to use a NULL key for non-string keys (rather than integer keys specifically).

This allows replacing hashtable iteration code that currently assumes specific key types with generic code. For example, this typical pattern:

zval *val;
zend_ulong h;
zend_string *key;
ZEND_HASH_FOREACH_KEY_VAL(input_ht, h, str, val) {
    zval new_val;
    transform_val(&new_val, val);
    if (str) {
        zend_hash_add_new(output_ht, str, &new_val);
    } else {
        zend_hash_index_add_new(output_ht, h, &new_val);

Can be replaced by:

zval *key, *val;
ZEND_HASH_FOREACH_ZKEY_VAL(input_ht, key, val) {
    zval new_val;
    transform_val(&new_val, val);
    zend_hash_zkey_add_new(output_ht, key, &new_val);

As the key is only passed through to a new array in this case, using the new APIs makes the code more straightforward. Of course, code that does something meaningful with the key will need to figure out how to handle object keys properly in a given situation.

The new macros can be polyfilled for older PHP versions, which is also why this introduces new macros rather than modifying existing ones.

The zend_hash_get_current_key(_ex) function is removed. Instead, one of the following two functions can be used (where the former already exists on older PHP versions, while the latter is more efficient):

/* This function populates `key` with a copy of the key, or a null zval if exhausted. */
ZEND_API void  ZEND_FASTCALL zend_hash_get_current_key_zval_ex(const HashTable *ht, zval *key, HashPosition *pos);
/* This function returns the key zval directly, or NULL if exhausted. */
ZEND_API zval* ZEND_FASTCALL zend_hash_get_current_zkey(const HashTable *ht, HashPosition *pos); 

The zend_hash_get_current_key_type(_ex) function and the HASH_KEY_IS_LONG, HASH_KEY_IS_STRING and HASH_KEY_NON_EXISTENT constants are also removed, and should be replaced by taking the type of the key zval.



rfc/object_keys_in_arrays.txt · Last modified: 2021/01/11 14:22 by nikic