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Oracle Database Tips by Donald Burleson


PHP Functions

As with the case of every proper programming language, PHP can be used to create custom functions and provides a wealth of built-in functions. This section both demonstrates how to build custom functions and describes very useful ones that are used later.

Function declaration is very simple as shown below:

function <function name> ($arg1,$arg2,$arg3)
{ statement block; }

The following is an example of a simple function:

Example 8

function make_bold($str) {
$a="This is a string.";
echo "Make bold:".make_bold($a)."\n".
     "Original string:".$a."\n";

When executed, this function displays the following:

$ ./example8.php
Make bold:<B>This is a string.</B>
Original string:This is a string.

The return statement in the function above terminates the execution of the function and returns the value to the program.  Functions in PHP use the "call by value" method, instead of "call by reference". What does this mean?  The arguments passed to a function are copies of the actual variables, and changing the argument in the function does not change the variable itself. 

Variable $a in the above example is used as an argument to the make_bold function, but is not changed in any way by the assignment in the function. As is seen from the result, the value of the variable $a remains the same before and after the execution of the function.

The following is the above example in modified form:

Example 8a:

function make_bold(&$str) {
$a="This is a string.";
echo "Make bold:".make_bold($a)."\n".
     "Original string:".$a."\n";

The only difference is the ampersand character (&) in front of the function argument; the $str variable. The ampersand means that the argument is passed "by reference" or that the argument passed to the function is the actual variable and not a cloned copy. Modifying the function argument within the function actually modifies the original variable passed for the argument substitution. So, executing the script above gives a slightly different result:

$ ./example8a.php
Make bold:<B>This is a string.</B>
Original string:<B>This is a string.</B>

As seen in the result, the value of the variable $a is changed to include the HTML "bold" tags. A function does not need to include the return statement. The function requires a return statement only if it needs to return a value to the main program, though, this not strictly true. Values can be communicated to and from the function using global variables, but it is a practice to be used with great caution.

In fact, as any programming manual reveals, global variables are "evil".  More on this topic is explained in the section regarding the variable scope. For now, this section focuses on the global function properties.

The next thing to mention when speaking about functions is recursion; a function can call itself. This is usually illustrated using the factorial function as an example:

Example 9:

function factorial($n) {
   if ($n>0) return($n*factorial($n-1));
   else return(1);
echo "Factorial($a)=".factorial($a)."\n";

Execution of this example gives the predictable result seen earlier in the section regarding the loops:

$ ./example9.php


In the expression return($n*factorial($n-1)), the function calls itself. This is called recursion. Recursion cannot be infinite and must have a terminating condition. In the case of the factorial function, the terminating condition is the "else return(1)". This condition terminates the recursion when the argument becomes less than or equal to zero. Recursion is convenient for some processes, but because of the changing contents, it imposes an additional burden upon the interpreter. In fact, a well written loop is almost always faster then a recursion.

Another useful fact to mention is that a function can contain HTML code as is visible from the following example. This example is slightly more complex than has been presented so far:

Example 10:

  <title>Example 10</title>
    function factorial($n) {
       if ($n>0) return($n*factorial($n-1));
       else return(1);
    function get_number() {
    global $isused;

  <form action=<?=$_SERVER['PHP_SELF']?> method="post">
      <h2>Computing Factorial</h2>
    <input type="text" name="number" size="10"
       value= <?php
                  if (isset($_POST['number'])) 
                      echo $_POST['number'];
                  else  echo "0";
    <input type="submit" name="submit">
        if (isset($_POST['number'])) {
        else {

    if ($isused): ?>

    <b>Factorial:<? =factorial($n) ?>
  </center><?php endif; ?>

When this example is executed, the output looks like the following:

Here is a mixture of HTML and PHP, a form, strange declarations ("global"), strange functions("strlen") and strange variables ($_SERVER['PHP_SELF]) and $_POST['number']).

What does this all mean? Starting with the declaration "global", one finds that variables defined in functions are called local variables and usually are not visible outside scope of the function. To make them globally visible, variables are declared as "global". In other words, global variables are just synonyms for the same variable from the main program. In the example, the variable $isused is global. If the submit function is pressed, the form is used (or initialized) and its variables can then be used.

This event is monitored by the variable $isused. Global variables should be used sparingly since they are difficult to debug because of inadvertent conflicts with other variables.  Global variables are normally used exactly as in the above example as status variables or indicator variables. Speaking of global variables, the authors of PHP provide a myriad of predefined ones. The full list can be located at the following address:

All of these variables are associative arrays (hashes).

$_SERVER['PHP_SELF'] points to the currently executing file. $_POST['number']  contains the value of the field called 'number' from the HTML form which transmits values by POST method. Each field in the form has associated a corresponding variable in the $_POST array, or if the form is using the GET method, in the $_GET array. Below is the full list of predefined variables copied from the web site above.

See code depot for complete scripts

This is an excerpt from the book Easy Oracle PHP.  You can get it for more than 30% by buying it directly from the publisher and get instant HTML-DB scripts from the code depot:

Easy Oracle PHP
Create Dynamic Web Pages with Oracle Data

Includes online HTML-DB code depot

Buy it now for 30% off - Only $19.95

HTML-DB support:

For HTML-DB development support just call to gat an Oracle Certified professional for all HTML-DB development projects.



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