If called from within a function, the return() statement immediately ends execution of the current function, and returns its argument as the value of the function call. return() will also end the execution of an eval() statement or script file.
If called from the global scope, then execution of the current script file is ended. If the current script file was include()ed or require()ed, then control is passed back to the calling file. Furthermore, if the current script file was include()ed, then the value given to return() will be returned as the value of the include() call. If return() is called from within the main script file, then script execution ends. If the current script file was named by the auto_prepend_file or auto_append_file configuration options in php.ini, then that script file's execution is ended.
For more information, see Returning values.
Note: Note that since return() is a language construct and not a function, the parentheses surrounding its arguments are not required. It is common to leave them out, and you actually should do so as PHP has less work to do in this case.
Note: You should never use parentheses around your return variable when returning by reference, as this will not work. You can only return variables by reference, not the result of a statement. If you use return ($a); then you're not returning a variable, but the result of the expression ($a) (which is, of course, the value of $a).