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Using Constants in Classes

In PHP, a constant is a type of variable whose value cannot be changed once it has been set. They're often used to store values that need to stay the same throughout the execution of a script, like a numerical constant (like pi, 3.14159...) or configuration values (like the version of your software).

When we talk about constants in classes, we mean values that are tied to a class, not an instance of the class (which we usually call an "object"). This is similar to a fact that is always true about a certain concept, regardless of the specific instances of it.

Defining a constant

Let's say we have a class called Circle. All circles have something in common: the mathematical constant pi (π). So, we could store pi as a constant in our Circle class:

class Circle {
  public const PI = 3.14159;
  // More code here...

We defined the constant PI using the const keyword. The name of constants is usually written in uppercase letters by convention.

Avoid the define function

Outside of classes, we can use the define() function or const keyword to define a constant. This is not true for classes. Only the const keyword is supported. The define function will cause an error.

Accessing a constant

To use a constant, we refer to it by the class name followed by two colons (::) and the name of the constant. The :: operator is known as the scope resolution operator.

Here's where things get interesting. We don't need to create an instance of the class to access the constant. We can directly type the class name followed by the constant name like so:

echo Circle::PI; // Outputs: 3.14159

Accessing Constants in methods

Accessing a constant inside a class method can be done using the self keyword followed by the scope resolution operator (::) and the constant name. Here's how you could do it:

class Circle {
  const PI = 3.14159;
  public function calculateArea($radius) {
    return self::PI * $radius * $radius;

In this example, we've defined a constant PI and a method calculateArea. Inside calculateArea, we access PI using self::PI.

Now, let's use this method:

$circle = new Circle();
echo $circle->calculateArea(5); // Outputs: 78.53975

In this case, we've created an object $circle from the Circle class, and we've called the method calculateArea, which internally uses the constant PI. The self:: keyword is used to access properties or methods from the same class, including constants.

Why not the $this keyword?

It's important to understand that constants don't require an instance of a class to be accessed. The $this keyword always points to the current instance. Since an instance is not required for a constant, PHP introduces the self keyword to allow constants to be accessed from within the class.

Key Takeaways

  • Constants in a class are associated with the class itself, not instances (objects) of the class.
  • Constants are defined using the const keyword inside the class, and their names are typically in uppercase.
  • Class constants can be accessed directly using the class name, followed by the scope resolution operator (::) and the constant's name, like SomeClass::SOME_CONSTANT.
  • Within the class, constants can be accessed using the self keyword followed by the scope resolution operator (::), like self::SOME_CONSTANT.


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