Returning multiple values from PHP functions

Posted on 19th February, 2011 at 20:15

We are learning some basic PHP programming at school this semester. An exercise required to use functions and display data with possible error reporting on that data. I had a validation function to check my form, but I needed to return more than true or false to make the error reporting work properly. I needed to get the amount of errors and the description of each error.

PHP as is doesn’t support returning multiple values in functions, but you can “fake” it with arrays and a function called list.

Lets make a simple function which should return multiple values using an array:


function multiple_returns()
    return array(1, 2, "three");

The greatest effect from this is that we can return anything in the array, even other arrays. So we can make a highly complicated function to return any kind of stuff one should need. But how can we map them to proper variables so we can use them without any hassle? We use the list function to map the array values to single variables the simple way:


list($one, $two, $three) = multiple_returns();

list takes in an array and puts the array values to each variable in the list. lists require arrays with numerical keys (0, 1, 2, and so on) to work properly. If you need to skip an array item just insert an empty parameter to the function as like list( $one, , $three ).

Now we have some variables so we can just echo them to see how it works.


echo $one . ', ' . $two . ', ' . $three . '.';

This should result in 1, 2, three or similar being written on the page.

This method might not be needed that often, but it is quite useful. Of course you don’t have to use the list function to play with the function return values. You could do a bit more complicated foreach loop to work with the values too.

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