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Variadic Functions

Variadic functions in PHP (and in programming in general) are functions that can take an unlimited number of arguments. But why would we want to use a variadic function? Let's look at an example.

The problem

If we were to implement a sum() function without using variadic arguments, we might do it by defining a specific number of parameters. Here's an example where the function is limited to only two arguments:

function sum($a, $b) {
  return $a + $b;
echo sum(1, 2); // outputs 3

In this example, sum() takes exactly two arguments, adds them together, and returns the result.

However, this function is very limited. What if you want to add together three numbers, four, or more? You can't do it with this function because it only accepts exactly two arguments.

One solution would be to use an array like so:

function sum($numbers) {
  $total = 0;
  foreach ($numbers as $number) {
    $total += $number;
  return $total;
echo sum(array(1, 2, 3, 4)); // outputs 10

In this example, sum() takes an array of numbers, adds them together, and returns the result. This is more flexible than the previous example because you can pass any number of numbers by putting them into an array. However, it's a bit more cumbersome to use because you always have to wrap the numbers in an array, even if you're only adding together two numbers.

Variadic functions in PHP give you the best of both worlds: they're flexible enough to handle any number of arguments, and they're easy to use because you don't have to wrap the arguments in an array.

Creating a variadic function

In PHP, you can create a variadic function by using the ... characters before the argument name. This tells PHP that the function can accept more than one argument. Here's a simple example:

function sum(...$numbers) {
  $total = 0;
  foreach ($numbers as $number) {
    $total += $number;
  return $total;
echo sum(1, 2, 3, 4); // outputs 10

In this example, sum() is a variadic function that takes any number of numbers, adds them together, and returns the total. The ...$numbers in the function definition tells PHP that sum() can take any number of arguments and that those arguments should be put into the $numbers array.

So when you call sum(1, 2, 3, 4), PHP takes the 1, 2, 3, and 4 and puts them into the $numbers array. Then, it adds them together and returns the result.

Variadic functions can be very handy when you're not sure how many arguments you'll need to pass to a function or if the number of arguments might change. It's a flexible way to handle input in your PHP functions.

Did you know?

The ... operator doesn't have an official name. Some developers refer to it as the "splat" or "spread" operator.

Using normal parameters

In some cases, you may want to use a combination of normal parameters and variadic arguments. You can certainly define a variadic function with normal parameters too. Here is an example:

function greetAndListFruits($greeting, ...$fruits) {
  echo $greeting . ", here are your fruits: ";
  foreach ($fruits as $fruit) {
    echo $fruit . ", ";
// Outputs: Hello, here are your fruits: Apple, Banana, Cherry,
greetAndListFruits("Hello", "Apple", "Banana", "Cherry");

In this function, $greeting is a normal parameter, and $fruits is a variadic parameter.

When we call greetAndListFruits("Hello", "Apple", "Banana", "Cherry"), PHP takes the first argument ("Hello") and assigns it to the $greeting parameter. The remaining arguments are bundled up into the $fruits array.

The function then outputs a greeting and a list of the fruits you passed in.

Important to Remember

Remember that the variadic parameter has to be the last parameter in the function definition. If you try to add another parameter after ...$fruits, PHP will give you an error.

Though they are highly flexible, variadic functions should be used judiciously and where they make the most sense, as excessive usage could potentially lead to confusing code.

Key takeaways

  • Variadic functions are functions that can take an arbitrary number of arguments. They provide flexibility in coding when the exact number of function parameters is uncertain.
  • Variadic functions are defined using the ... token before the parameter's name (e.g., ...$numbers). The arguments passed are bundled into an array.
  • Variadic functions can be used whenever there's a need for a function to handle a flexible number of arguments. They're convenient because you don't need to wrap arguments in an array.
  • Variadic functions can be combined with regular parameters. However, the variadic parameter must always be the last one in the function declaration.


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