Making A Collection With Magic Methods in PHP

A lot of PHP frameworks have something called “collections” (though, I’m sure some of them use a different term). Basically, these are special classes whose sole purpose is to hold a bunch of the same type of objects within it. They usually provide some extra functions for working with those objects and also a bit of data protection by making the contained objects themselves private or otherwise unavailable. A lot of this intrinsic functionality is provided by using magic methods.

I’m not going to cover every single bit of functionality that one might include in a respectable object collection class, but I would like to go over some neat tricks that you can pull off using magic methods.

First, A Concept

Lets start with the basics:

Seriously, that’s all you actually need. Of course, since our only member variable is private, there’s not a whole lot of usage we can get out of this currently. There’s a lot of different ways you can populate the $container variable, so lets just assume that you already have a way of doing that. We’re going to focus more on providing a useful way to access the contents of the collection from outside the class.

OK, Let’s Get A Magic Method

For this excercise, we’re going to assume that the $container variable is a key-value pair array and will create a __get() magic method to access it:

Now you can access the contents of the container by simply using $characterContainer->steve. The __get() function is invoked whenever any access to a private or even non-existent variable occurs. Since $container is private, it’s not accessible and the __get() function is invoked instead, which just returns the object inside the container with the key specified. This current setup isn’t very robust, and will cause errors if you attempt to access a key that doesn’t exist within the $container variable.

How About Something Moderately Useful?

As you may have already guessed you can use the __set() function in almost the exact same fashion to store something in the $collection variable. But that’s super boring, so we’re going to do something a little different.

Wait, what? If we’re assuming that the $collection variable is full of objects, how can we attempt to invoke it like a function? All we need to do is provide an __invoke() method on our container objects:

Now, if we use $characterCollection->steve = "dead"; the collection class will find the proper variable in the $collection array, and then invoke it with whatever is after the equals sign. The __invoke() magic method is called whenever an object is attempted to be used like a function, which causes our contained object’s $status member variable to be set to the value supplied from the __get() call.

While this does make the assumption that our contained classes posses the __invoke() magic method, it also defers actual setting logic to the contained class itself. We could have any number of different kinds of classes all performing different and specific setting logic without having to modify the container class itself.


Obviously, the examples shown here are overly simplistic, but they should provide a few ideas on how to make some interesting interactions between classes using magic methods. Don’t forget that there are also lots of ways to ensure that contained objects possess the functions you need via hierarchies, interface implementations, and traits.

One thought on “Making A Collection With Magic Methods in PHP

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: