Complete operator list

As this book aims to be a complete guide to PHP, it would not be right not to list the entire selection of operators in the language, so here goes: Arithmetic Operators

$a + $b


Sum of $a and $b

$a - $b


Difference between $a and $b

$a * $b


$a multiplied by $b

$a / $b


$a divided by $b

$a % $b


Remainder of $a divided by $b

If you have not used modulus since school, here's a quick refresher. To calculate $a % $b, you first perform $a / $b and then return the remainder. For example, if $a were 10 and $b were 3, $b would go into $a 3 whole times (making nine) with a remainder of 1. Therefore, 10 % 3 is 1. Assignment operators

$a = $b


Sets $a to equal $b

$a =& $b


Set $a to reference $b

The difference between a standard assignment and references is explained in detail later - for now, you just need to know that a normal variable holds its own value, whereas a reference takes its value from another variable. Bitwise operators

$a & $b


Bits set in $a and $b are set

$a | $b


Bits set in $a or $b are set

$a ^ $b


Bits set in $a or $b, but not both, are set



Bits set in $a are not set, and vice versa

$a << $b

Shift left

Shift the bits of $a to the left by $b steps. This is equivalent, but faster, to multiplication. Each step counts as "multiply by two"

$a >> $b

Shift right

Shift the bits of $a to the right by $b steps

Bitwise operators aren't used very often, and even then only by more advanced PHP programmers. They manipulate the binary digits of numbers, which is generally a lot more control than many programmers need.

The number eight, for example, is represented in eight-bit binary as 00001000. In a shift left, <<, all the bits literally get shifted one place to the left, giving 00010000, which is equal to sixteen. Eight shifted left by four gives 10000000, which is equal to 128 - the same number you would have gotten by multiplying eight by two four times in a row. That is, 8 x 2 is 16, 16 x 2 is 32, 32 x 2 is 64, and 64 x 2 is 128.

The & (bitwise and) operator compares all the bits in operand one against all the bits on operand two, then returns a result with all the joint bits set. Here's an example, given 52 & 28, we have the eight-bit binary numbers 00110100 (52) and 00011100 (28). PHP creates a result of 00000000, then proceeds to compare each digit in both numbers - whenever it finds a 1 in both values, it puts a one into the result in the same place. Here is how that looks:

001 1 0 1 00 (52)
1 1 1 00 (28)
1 0 1 00 (20)

Therefore, 52 & 28 gives 20. As you can imagine, the usefulness of bitwise operators is quite limited, however it is best that you know them and not use them than stumble across them some day in someone else's code and not know what they do.

Perhaps the most common bitwise operator is |, which compares bits in operand one against those in operand two, and returns a result with all the bits set in either of them. For example:

00 11 0 1 00 (52) 11 0 1 000 1 (209) 1111 010 1 (245)

The reason the | (bitwise or) operator is so useful is because it allows you to combine many options together. For example, the flock() function for locking files takes a constant as its second parameter that describes how you want to lock the file. If you pass LOCK_EX you lock the file exclusively, if you pass LOCK_SH you lock the file in shared mode, and if you pass LOCK_NB you enable "non-blocking" mode, which stops PHP from waiting if no lock is available.

However, what you want an exclusive lock and not have PHP wait if no lock is available? This is where the bitwise OR operator comes in: you can pass LOCK_EX | LOCK_NB, and PHP combines the two into one parameter that does both. Comparison operators

All comparison operators return either true or false, and so are suitable for use in conditions.

$a == $b


True if $a is equal to $b

$a === $b


True if $a is equal to $b, and of the same type

$a != $b

Not equal

True if $a is not equal to $b

$a <> $b

Not equal

True if $a is not equal to $b

$a !== $b

Not identical

True if $a is not equal to $b or if they are not of the same type

$a < $b

Less than

True if $a is less than $b

$a > $b

Greater than

True if $a is greater than $b

$a <= $b

Less than or equal

True if $a is less than or equal to $b

$a >= $b

Greater than or equal

True if $a is greater than or equal to $b

On the whole, PHP programmers prefer != to <>, despite them doing the same thing. This bias is down to the fact that much of PHP's syntax is based on C, which uses != exclusively.

The === (identical) operator is used very rarely in comparison to == (equality), but it can be useful on occasion. To make sure you are clear, two variables are only identical if they hold the same value and if they are the same type. Here's a code example to make the point clear:

    print 12 == 12;
    print 12 === 12;
    print "12" == 12;
    print "12" === 12;

When you run that script using the interactive mode of the CLI SAPI, you will find PHP outputs a 1 for the first three lines, and nothing for the last one. As mentioned already, PHP outputs a 1 for "true", which means that the statements 12 equals 12, 12 is identical to 12, and "12" equals 12 are all true. However, nothing is output for the fourth line, which means that PHP considers the statement "12" is identical to 12 to be false, which is expected - although "12" and 12 are the same value, they are not the same type; the former is a string, and the latter is a number. Incrementing and decrementing operators



Increments $a by one, then returns $a



Returns $a, then increments $a by one



Decrements $a by one, then returns $a



Returns $a, then decrements by one

As you can see, the incrementing and decrementing operators can be placed either before or after a variable, and, confusingly enough, the effect is different depending on where the operator is placed! Here's a code example:

    $foo = 5;
    $bar = $foo++;
    print "Foo is $foo\n";
    print "Bar is $bar\n";

That will output the following:

Foo is 6
Bar is 5

The reason behind this is because ++, when placed after a variable, is the post-increment operator, which immediately returns the original value of the variable before incrementing it. In line two of our script, the value of $foo (5) is returned and stored in $bar, then $foo is incremented by one. If we had put the ++ before $foo rather than after it, $foo would have been incremented then returned, which would have made both $foo and $bar 6. Logical operators

$a and $b


True if both $a and $b are true

$a && $b


True if both $a and $b are true

$a or $b


True if either $a or $b is true

$a || $b


True if either $a or $b is true

$a xor $b


True if either $a or $b is true, but not both



True if $a is not true

As you can see, there are two operators for logical AND and two for logical OR - this is to facilitate operator precedence in more complicated expressions. Generally speaking && and || are used, however one common exception involves the die() function - more on that soon.

Note that PHP uses conditional statement short-circuiting, which is a fancy way of saying "if you write code that says A or B must be true and PHP finds A to be true, it will not bother evaluating B because the condition is already satisfied". You can use OR very successfully with function calls so that PHP will attempt to run the first function, and, if that function returns false, PHP will run the second function.


Want to learn PHP 7?

Hacking with PHP has been fully updated for PHP 7, and is now available as a downloadable PDF. Get over 1200 pages of hands-on PHP learning today!

If this was helpful, please take a moment to tell others about Hacking with PHP by tweeting about it!

Next chapter: The Ternary Operator >>

Previous chapter: Comparison operators

Jump to:


Home: Table of Contents

Copyright ©2015 Paul Hudson. Follow me: @twostraws.