Shiphp The PHP Developer's Guide

Type Hinting and Return Types in PHP 7

Many developers prefer strongly-typed languages, and critics have often dogged PHP because its weak typing opens users up to errors and vulnerabilities.

While PHP is still a “weakly-typed” language (meaning variables can change types throughout the program’s lifecycle), PHP 7.0 sought to give developers more control over how they specify function inputs and outputs in two ways: type hinting and return types.

Type Hinting in PHP 7

Type hinting is when a function input’s type is specified in the definition of the function’s parameters. That sounds like a mouthful, but it’s really not that hard to grasp in practice once you are familiar with functions in PHP.

Let’s look at a simple function that converts a string to an integer in PHP:

function stringToInteger(string $number) {
  return (int) $number;

$result = stringToInteger("12");


When run, this file will output indicating that our function worked, but what happens when we try to pass in a variable that is not a string? For example, what if we passed in an array like ?

We would get an error like this:

PHP Fatal error:  Uncaught TypeError: Argument 1 passed to stringToInteger() must be of the type string, array given, called in returns.php on line 7 and defined in returns.php:3

That helpful error is telling us that our input for this function should be a string. If you’re using an IDE like PHPStorm, you will even see an error before you run the program, and that could save you serious time and effort debugging.

But because PHP is a weakly typed language and because it tries to convert types on its own, running the function with an integer (or even a boolean) will not throw an error:

// Output: int(12)

// Output: int(1)

This is where PHP gets tricky, and it’s easy to see why critics will say that this is a weakness of the language. Sometimes it’s just too forgiving!

Return Types in PHP 7

Another useful feature for people who like strong typing is PHP’s return type declarations. While type hinting allows you to specify a function’s input variable types, return typing allow you to specify a function’s output variable type. Let’s look at our string to integer converter:

function stringToInteger(string $number): int {
  return (int) $number;

$result = stringToInteger("12");

We’ve added to the function declaration line just before the opening bracket. This will tell other developers and our IDE to expect an integer as a return type from this function. The actual output of the function doesn’t change, but what if we remove the designation from the function? For example:

function stringToInteger(string $number): int {
  return $number;

This function will still return but the return type designation is actually doing the re-casting of our input variable. This is pretty cool because now we’ve got PHP’s type juggling doing work for us.

This could also be useful in a callback because it can allow you to write more concise code:

// Return types in callback
$array = ["12", "1.3", "3"];

$result = array_map(function ($n): int { return $n; }, $array);


/* Output:
array(3) {
  [0] =>
  [1] =>
  [2] =>

You might be replacing readability for brevity in the above example, but that’s a tradeoff that you’ll have to decide to make or not. Either way, it’s good to know what’s possible with return types and type hinting in PHP.




// Type hinting and return types in function

function stringToInteger(string $number): int {
  return $number;

$result = stringToInteger("12");


// Type hinting and return types in callback

$array = ["12", "1.3", "3"];

$result = array_map(function (string $n): int { return $n; }, $array);


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