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3.4. Function Parameters

Functions can expect, by declaring them in the function definition, an arbitrary number of arguments.

There are two different ways of passing parameters to a function. The first, and more common, is by value. The other is by reference.

3.4.2. Passing Parameters by Reference

Passing by reference allows you to override the normal scoping rules and give a function direct access to a variable. To be passed by reference, the argument must be a variable; you indicate that a particular argument of a function will be passed by reference by preceding the variable name in the parameter list with an ampersand (&). Example 3-5 revisits our doubler( ) function with a slight change.

Example 3-5. Doubler redux

function doubler(&$value) {
  $value = $value << 1;

$a = 3;
echo $a;

Because the function's $value parameter is passed by reference, the actual value of $a, rather than a copy of that value, is modified by the function. Before, we had to return the doubled value, but now we change the caller's variable to be the doubled value.

Here's another place where a function contains side effects: since we passed the variable $a into doubler( ) by reference, the value of $a is at the mercy of the function. In this case, doubler( ) assigns a new value to it.

A parameter that is declared as being passed by reference can only be a variable. Thus, if we included the statement <?= doubler(7); ?> in the previous example, it would issue an error.

Even in cases where your function does affect the given value, you may want a parameter to be passed by reference. When passing by value, PHP must copy the value. Particularly for large strings and objects, this can be an expensive operation. Passing by reference removes the need to copy the value.

3.4.4. Variable Parameters

A function may require a variable number of arguments. For example, the get_preferences( ) example in the previous section might return the preferences for any number of names, rather than for just one. To declare a function with a variable number of arguments, leave out the parameter block entirely.

function get_preferences( ) {
  // some code

PHP provides three functions you can use in the function to retrieve the parameters passed to it. func_get_args( ) returns an array of all parameters provided to the function, func_num_args( ) returns the number of parameters provided to the function, and func_get_arg( ) returns a specific argument from the parameters.

$array = func_get_args( );
$count = func_num_args( );
$value = func_get_arg(argument_number);

In Example 3-6, the count_list( ) function takes in any number of arguments. It loops over those arguments and returns the total of all the values. If no parameters are given, it returns false.

Example 3-6. Argument counter

function count_list( ) {
  if(func_num_args( ) == 0) {
    return false;
  else {
    for($i = 0; $i < func_num_args( ); $i++) {
      $count += func_get_arg($i);
    return $count;

echo count_list(1, 5, 9);

The result of any of these functions cannot directly be used as a parameter to another function. To use the result of one of these functions as a parameter, you must first set a variable to the result of the function, then use that in the function call. The following expression will not work:

foo(func_num_args( ));

Instead, use:

$count = func_num_args( );

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