Generics: Some Basics

Certain types (classes, interfaces, and traits) and their methods can be parameterized; that is, their declarations can have one or more placeholder names—called type parameters---that are associated with types via type arguments when a class is instantiated, or a method is called. A type or method having such placeholder names is called a generic type or generic method, respectively. Top-level functions can also be parameterized giving rise to generic functions.

Generics allow programmers to write a class or method with the ability to be parameterized to any set of types, all while preserving type safety.

Consider the following example in which Stack is a generic class having one type parameter, T:

class StackUnderflowException extends \Exception {}

class Stack<T> {
  private vec<T> $stack;
  private int $stackPtr;

  public function __construct() {
    $this->stackPtr = 0;
    $this->stack = vec[];

  public function push(T $value): void {
    $this->stack[] = $value;

  public function pop(): T {
    if ($this->stackPtr > 0) {
      return $this->stack[$this->stackPtr];
    } else {
      throw new StackUnderflowException();

As shown, the type parameter T is used in the declaration of the instance property $stack, as the parameter type of the instance method push, and as the return type of the instance method pop. Note that although push and pop use the type parameter, they are not themselves generic methods.


function useIntStack(
): void {
  echo 'pop => '.$stInt->pop()."\n";
  //  $stInt->push(10.5); // rejected as not being type-safe

The line commented-out, attempts to call push with a non-int argument. This is rejected, because $stInt is a stack of int.

The arity of a generic type or method is the number of type parameters declared for that type or method. As such, class Stack has arity 1.

Here is an example of a generic function, swap, having one type parameter, T:

function swap<T>(inout T $i1, inout T $i2): void {
  $temp = $i1;
  $i1 = $i2;
  $i2 = $temp;

function main(): void {
  $v1 = -10;
  $v2 = 123;
  echo "\$v1 = ".$v1.", \$v2 = ".$v2."\n";
  swap(inout $v1, inout $v2);
  echo "\$v1 = ".$v1.", \$v2 = ".$v2."\n";

  $v3 = "red";
  $v4 = "purple";
  echo "\$v3 = ".$v3.", \$v4 = ".$v4."\n";
  swap(inout $v3, inout $v4);
  echo "\$v3 = ".$v3.", \$v4 = ".$v4."\n";
$v1 = -10, $v2 = 123
$v1 = 123, $v2 = -10
$v3 = red, $v4 = purple
$v3 = purple, $v4 = red

The function swaps the two arguments passed to it. In the case of the call with two int arguments, int is inferred as the type corresponding to the type parameter T. In the case of the call with two string arguments, string is inferred as the type corresponding to the type parameter T.

Type parameters are discussed further in type parameters.