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5.5. Creating a Dynamic Variable Name

5.5.3. Discussion

The previous example prints 103. Because $animal = 'turtles', $$animal is $turtles, which equals 103.

Using curly braces, you can construct more complicated expressions that indicate variable names:

$stooges = array('Moe','Larry','Curly');
$stooge_moe = 'Moses Horwitz';
$stooge_larry = 'Louis Feinberg';
$stooge_curly = 'Jerome Horwitz';

foreach ($stooges as $s) {
  print "$s's real name was ${'stooge_'.strtolower($s)}.\n";
Moe's real name was Moses Horwitz.
Larry's real name was Louis Feinberg.
Curly's real name was Jerome Horwitz.

PHP evaluates the expression between the curly braces and uses it as a variable name. That expression can even have function calls in it, such as strtolower( ).

Variable variables are also useful when iterating through similarly named variables. Say you are querying a database table that has fields named title_1, title_2, etc. If you want to check if a title matches any of those values, the easiest way is to loop through them like this:

for ($i = 1; $i <= $n; $i++) {
    $t = "title_$i";
    if ($title == $$t) { /* match */ }

Of course, it would be more straightforward to store these values in an array, but if you are maintaining old code that uses this technique (and you can't change it), variable variables are helpful.

The curly brace syntax is also necessary in resolving ambiguity about array elements. The variable variable $$donkeys[12] could have two meanings. The first is "take what's in the 12th element of the $donkeys array and use that as a variable name." Write this as: ${$donkeys[12]}. The second is, "use what's in the scalar $donkeys as an array name and look in the 12th element of that array." Write this as: ${$donkeys}[12].

5.5.4. See Also for documentation on variable variables.

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