Method Overloading in PHP5

Although with release of PHP5 we finaly got some long awaited OOP features, sometimes I really miss overloading capability which exists in languages like Java. I am talking about something like this:

class Overloading_Test
  public void hello()
    System.out.println("Hello Anonymous");

  public void hello(String name)
    System.out.println("Hello " + name);

  public void hello(String firstName, String lastName)
    System.out.println("Hello " + firstName + " " + lastName);

This way you can call either hello with no arguments at all, or with one or two arguments, and proper method would always be called. Unfortunately, if you try something like this in PHP, it would give you fatal error, because basically, methods cannot be redeclared, since support for overloading is not part of core language like in Java.

However, there is still a way to achieve this Java like overloading functionality by using “magic” methods that are described in PHP Manual. Although it is not clear from manual how could you achieve exact functionality like in Java, I played a little bit with __call function, and get interesting workaround.


class Overloading_Test
  function __call($method_name, $arguments)
    //list of supported methods
    //only 'hello' for this test
    $accepted_methods = array("hello");

    //in case of unexistant method we trigger fatal error
    if(!in_array($method_name, $accepted_methods))
      trigger_error("Method <strong>$method_name</strong> doesn't exist", E_USER_ERROR);

    //we inspect number of arguments
    if(count($arguments) == 0)
    elseif(count($arguments) == 1)
    elseif(count($arguments) == 2)
      $this->hello3($arguments[0], $arguments[1]);
      return false;

  function hello1()
    echo "Hello Anonymous<br>";

  function hello2($name)
    echo "Hello $name<br>";

  function hello3($first_name, $last_name)
    echo "Hello $first_name, $last_name<br>";

$ot = new Overloading_Test();
$ot->hello("John", "Smith");
//this one will produce fatal error

If you run this code, you will get something like:

Hello Anonymous
Hello John
Hello John, Smith

So, what is going on here? Whenever we call some undeclared method (which is the case with ‘hello’ method here), magic method __call is called, and two arguments (method name and arguments) are passed to it. For this simple test, we only support overloading of ‘hello’ method, so in case you try any other, we trigger fatal error.

What’s going on further is, we simple check number of argumens passed (by counting $arguments array), and call proper method. For the sake of clarity, I only used simple overloading based on number of arguments, but you could also check for argument type (ie string, integer etc.) and call proper method.

So, as you see, method overloading in PHP5 is not as elegant as in Java, but you can still make it. For more information about ‘magic’ fucntions (there are quite a few for member overloading as well), please visit PHP Manual.


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