Christoph Hochstrasser

Closure Object Binding in PHP 5.4

Closure Object Binding is one of the features that I’m looking forward to in PHP 5.4. We will take a brief look at the long way it took to be implemented and look into practical examples on how to improve libraries.

For the people who read PHP’s NEWS file, it’s no surprise — but for all who don’t here’s is probably one of the biggest features of PHP 5.4: Closure Object Support is back. For me it’s something I missed the most, when Closures were introduced in PHP 5.3. So I’m very happy, that’s finally here (or back).

I’m going to tell you about the rocky road which closure object binding support had and show you some simple use cases for it.

A Rocky Road

The Object Binding support for Closures had a very hard way, until it finally landed. I remember that it was present in some alpha releases of PHP 5.3, but when 5.3 was released it disappeared.

After some digging, I found out it was excluded from the release because the behaviour of the Object Binding was kind of unspecified. Thank god, this RFC came along and got the problems for an implementation out of the way.

It was sadly missed. Closures are a great way for letting others supply their own behaviour for aspects of your library. For example let the User supply a request handler as Closure, as used by many Microframeworks. But without Object Binding, you can’t give a Closure a Context. For example, how do you access your Microframework’s application instance, from within the Closure? Yes you could use the use keyword to import it from a variable to a closure:


use Silex\Application;

$app = new Application;

$app->get('/', function() use ($app) {
    $request = $app['request'];

    // do something with the request object

Yeah, that kind of works, but if you’ve more than one request handler you have to import the $app variable every single time you define a closure. This sucks.

Now with Closure object binding, the Silex Framework could bind all closures, passed as request handlers, to the application instance. This can be achieved by using the closure’s bindTo method. Take this example:


$closure = function() {
    echo $this->foo;

$context = new \StdClass;
$context->foo = "Hello World";

// rebinds the closure to the $context object
$boundClosure = $closure->bindTo($context);
// outputs "Hello World"

The bindTo method returns a new closure instance, in which the $this is bound to the passed object.

If Silex would implement this, the request handler could be rewritten as follows:


$app->get('/', function() {
    $request = $this['request'];

    // do something with the request object

This is much better. No more use-ing of the $app every time we want to attach a request handler.

A Simple Use Case

It came to my mind, that this would be perfect for Templating engines. For example, Zend_View has to isolate the assigned template properties from its own properties by subclassing and marking them as private. With Closure Object Binding this could now be achieved by simply including the template script in a closure!

I’ve written a small prototype which is available as this Gist. This implements a quite small templating class, which takes a context object and binds it to the template as $this, via closure binding.

The template is able to access the context’s properties and methods then as its own properties and methods — but none of the template engine’s properties and methods are exposed to the template.

Consider the following example:

// heisdead.phtml
He is dead <?= $this->name ?>.

// test.php

$template = new \CHH\Template(__DIR__.'/heisdead.phtml');

$context = (object) array(
    'name' => 'Jim'

echo $template->render($context);
// Outputs "He is dead Jim."

Though, for now this doesn’t buy us anything. What’s with Helper Methods?

Helper Methods could then be provided by a default context implementation. The user then would assign additional properties to this context.

Take this example of a (rather inflexible) context with a helper method:


namespace CHH;

class DefaultContext
    function formatDate($date, $format = 'Y/m/d H:i')
        $dateTime = new \DateTime($date);
        return $dateTime->format($format);

Our previous example could then be written as:

// heisdead.phtml
He is dead <?= $this->name ?>. He died at
<?= $this->formatDate($this->dateTimeOfDeath); ?>.

// test.php
$context = new \CHH\DefaultContext;
$context->name = 'Jim';
$context->dateTimeOfDeath = '2011-10-26 12:00:00';

echo $template->render($context);
// Outputs "He is dead Jim. He died at 2011/10/26 12:00.

This default context, could then also have some kind of plugin loader to allow extending the context with additional helper methods (think Zend_Loader_PluginBroker of the upcoming ZF2).


Closure object support makes injecting behaviour into classes much more elegant — as they can give you a access to the classes’ properties. It can also simplify templating engines alot, by putting the template inside the closure.

Further Reading