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Request #62519 Find out about a function's call context
Submitted: 2012-07-10 04:10 UTC Modified: 2012-07-12 01:51 UTC
From: awilliams at linkme dot com dot au Assigned:
Status: Open Package: Unknown/Other Function
PHP Version: Irrelevant OS: any
Private report: No CVE-ID: None
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From: awilliams at linkme dot com dot au
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 [2012-07-10 04:10 UTC] awilliams at linkme dot com dot au
I would like to be able to tell if a function was called from a context that is expecting a return value or not.  Additionally what type is expected.
 eg('hello');                // called not expecting a return value
 echo eg('hello').' world';  // called expecting a string

function eg($s)
  if(return){  // suggested overloading of the return keyword to report the function context.
    return ($s);
    echo $s;



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 [2012-07-10 14:01 UTC]
PHP is a dynamically typed language. It can't in the general case know what type is expected. Simple example if f1() + f2(). Here int, float and array would be viable return types.

Whether the return value is used or not is known to the engine and also exposed to internal functions.

But I don't think that it makes sense to expose it to userland functions. Functions shouldn't behave different based on whether the return value is used or not.
 [2012-07-11 11:31 UTC] awilliams at linkme dot com dot au
I would like to present a more concrete example of why I think this would be an elegant solution to a coding dilemma I have.

I wrote a couple of functions to generate html for <select> mark-up from mySql tables and php arrays.
Some times I want to call them directly and I want then to output the html, other times I want to use them in string expressions, in which case I want them to return the html.

As it stands I would have to do this using different function names, which looks messy.

To implement this I have two choices, maintain two separate functions doing almost the same thing.  That is never best practice.  Sooner or later you forget to do a change to both of them.

Declare the string returning function and call it from the string printing version.  This is wasteful of stack and call time resources, I try not to code like that.

I am left looking at this thinking it would be a really elegant solution if the function its self could tell what context it was called in and either echo or return the output as required.

I agree that it’s a somewhat unconventional suggestion.  I wouldn't expect it of 'C'.  I write in PHP because many things are simpler an more flexible here, and this would definitely add a new form of flexibility that I have a use for.

Thank you and that's my last word on it.
 [2012-07-12 01:51 UTC]
You could pass an additional parameter to the function 

  function ($foo, $return) {
     if ($return) {
         return $foo;
     } else {
         echo $foo;

Many people would say that changing the behavior of a function from it's use case is bad.

I'm also not sure we can implement this without adding overhead to *all* function calls, which we won't like to do.
 [2012-10-26 19:11 UTC] j_holland at hotmail dot com
The reason to expose the calling context is so that the function can confirm it's correct:
    function calculate_something($args){
      if (get_calling_context() == "VOID") {
        print "ERROR: must be called in non-void context!";
      return do_expensive_calculation($args);
This might be unnecessary in your own code but it's VERY useful when writing libraries. Perl has this function (wantarray) and I use it whenever I write libraries.

Yes, this function can be misused, but so can most functions.

Overloading the return keyword is a terrible way to implement this. Make it a clearly named function, like get_calling_context.

Finally, it would probably be sufficient to simply return void/non-void context, but more specific context is known:
  print function();    // the RV will be evaluated as a string
  $a = 3 + function(); // the RV will be treated as a number
  if (function()));    // the RV will be treated as a Boolean
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