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Monday, June 02, 2008

JavaScript prototype behaviour with PHP

One cool thing of JavaScript prototype model, is that you can change dynamically one or more method updating automatically every instance of that constructor.
Even if classic inheritance and OO Programmers hate this feature, it could be really useful in some case.
Another interesting thing, is that thanks to injected scope, you can share a prototype or use one of its defined methods, with every kind of instance.

PHP is (still) dynamically limited

The concept of injected scope, is absolutely extraneous to PHP developers.
Even with a massive usage of Reflection API, it is not possible to use a method of class A with another class B, even if this method contains common usable tasks for both classes.
At the same time, it is not possible to use a function as property, because it is not recognized as function, if called directly, and it cannot contain a $this referer, thanks to engine limitation.

The light comes from PECL

The official repository for PHP extensions, contains a truly interesting one that is able to modify runtime a class and every derived instance.
This extension is absolutely experimental, but right now usable in some version of PHP 5.
Its name is runkit, that with another one, called classkit, let us use PHP in a "more psychedelic way" :D

The prototype behaviour with PHP

Using a couple of technique, such an SPL interface, and runkit extension, I have been able to write and successfully execute a code like this one:


// basic class
class Demo {
public static $prototype;

// prototype assignment, with optional methods
Demo::$prototype = new prototype(
'set_name' => array('$name', '$this->name = $name;'),
'get_name' => array('return $this->name;')

// a generic instance
$demo = new Demo();
$demo->set_name('Andrea Giammarchi');
echo $demo->get_name(); // Andrea Giammarchi

// add more prototypes
Demo::$prototype->set_age = array('$age', '$this->age = $age;');
Demo::$prototype->get_info = array('return $this->name." is ".$this->age." years old";');

echo '
', $demo->get_info();
// Andrea Giammarchi is 30 years old


In few words, I have been able to define a list of methods, to assign as prototype, to use them, and finally add more, usable with pre defined instance without problems.

Shared method emulations

What is possible to do, at this point, is to share one or more method between two classes, and without problems.
It is even possible to assign directly an entire prototype to another one, using the prototype constructor:


// same stuff of precedent example

class Constructor {

public static $prototype;

// please note that this constructor
// uses method not defined, yet :)
public function __construct($name, $age){


Constructor::$prototype = new prototype('Constructor', Demo::$prototype);

$me = new Constructor('Andrea', 30);
echo $me->get_info();
// Andrea is 30 years old


Of course, another class could simply initialise its public static prototype, and then add, if necessary, only one method:


class Name {
public static $prototype;
Name::$prototype = new prototype('Name');
Name::$prototype->set_name = Demo::$prototype->set_name;

$me = new Name;
$me->set_name('Andrea Giammarchi');
echo $me->name;
// Andrea Giammarchi


The class prototype and its limit

To successfully test above example codes, I have used my prototype class, that as I said, requires usage of SPL and runkit extension as well.

The shared method emulation, is artificial, because of runkit call that will create a new function, with same arguments and body, for each prototoype. Anyway, the usage is, in my opinion, simple as comfortable and without error possibilities, except for == or === operator that will return in every case false (so the trick is to compare the imploded version of both prototypes, if is the identical string, those are the same prototype)

if(implode('',Demo::$prototype->set_name) === implode('',Name::$prototype->set_name))

The main limit of this class is created by runkit extension, that does not let me use every kind of method name, and fails for example if I write setName instead of set_name.

In another PHP version, the, it lets me use every kind of name, but crash when I try to modify one method, or to remove them using unset(ClassName::$prototype->methodName);

For these reason, you can get this class as example, but you know, right now, that with SPL and some cool PECL extension, PHP limits are truly less evident than ever.

Have fun :)


Stan Lemon said...

Very nice post. Keep in mind, though, most of the PHP world resides in a shared-hosting environment with little access to their installations. Developers like you and I may be able to install runkit, but we're the exception to the rule.

Ultimately... PHP wasn't designed to behave this way, though it can be fun to play with. :)

Do you have any insight on the performance of PHP+runkit? I doubt it's realistic for high-traffic production environments, but maybe I'm wrong?

Andrea Giammarchi said...

PHP wasn't designed to behave this way, though it can be fun to play with. :)
Hi Stan, if you look at runkit extension possibilities, you can even imagine an entirely JS to PHP converter / pseudo-compiler, as Rhino is for Java world.

With Rhino, the JavaScript expressiveness and simplicity wins over a massive usage of invokes, that are everywhere in translated code.

Java is, against PHP, pseudo compiled, and it makes Rhino usage a feature, instead of a problem, even if performances are slower than pure Java without reflection and thousands of invokes.

At the same time, runkit is young but it is the new classkit extension, and since I believe that APC will make the difference, I am pretty much sure that in one or two years we will be able to use PHP as Javascript and vice-versa ... and honestly, i cannot wait :D

Andrea Giammarchi said...

P.S. I've not tested performances, but in my opinion it does not matter now, because runkit is still too experimental and loads of problems :)