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A tiny REPL for PHP

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A tiny, but robust REPL for PHP.

Flattr this — I'm experimenting using this project to raise funds for a new windsurf board. More info here.


Python has one. Ruby has one. Clojure has one. Now PHP has one too. Boris is PHP's missing REPL (read-eval-print loop), allowing developers to experiment with PHP code in the terminal in an interactive manner. If you make a mistake, it doesn't matter, Boris will report the error and stand to attention for further input.

Everything you enter into Boris is evaluated and the result inspected so you can understand what is happening. State is maintained between inputs, allowing you to gradually build up a solution to a problem.


I'm in the process of transitioning away from PHP to Ruby. I have come to find PHP's lack of a real REPL to be frustrating and was not able to find an existing implementation that was complete. Boris weighs in at a few hundred lines of fairly straightforward code.


1. As a pre-built phar file

Boris is available for download as a Phar archive:

Simply download it and run it.

curl -L -O
chmod +x boris.phar

2. Via packagist

For use with composer.

3. Directly from this repo

This is great if you want to stay really up-to-date. I don't commit unstable code to master, ever.

git clone git://
cd boris

4. Build your own phar

You can also build a PHAR file using Box:

box build

This will create a boris.phar file. Feel free to move it into your bin directory:

chmod +x boris.phar
mv boris.phar /usr/local/bin/boris

Pro Tip

Add boris to your $PATH for easy access.


When Boris starts, you will be at the boris> prompt. PHP code you enter at this prompt is evaluated. If an expression spans multiple lines, Boris will collect the input and then evaluate the expression when it is complete. Press CTRL-C to clear a multi-line input buffer if you make a mistake. The output is dumped with var_dump() by default.

boris> $x = 1;
boris> $y = 2;
boris> "x + y = " . ($x + $y);
string(9) "x + y = 3"
boris> exit;

You can also use CTRL-D to exit the REPL.

Cancelling long-running operations

Long-running operations, such as infinite loops, may be cancelled at any time without quitting the REPL, by using CTRL-C while the operation is running.

boris> for ($i = 0; ; ++$i) {
    *>   if ($i % 2 == 0) printf("Tick\n");
    *>   else             printf("Tock\n");
    *>   sleep(1);
    *> }

Using Boris with your application loaded

You can also use Boris as part of a larger project (e.g. with your application environment loaded).

require_once 'lib/autoload.php';

$boris = new \Boris\Boris('myapp> ');

The constructor parameter is optional and changes the prompt.

If you want to pass local variables straight into Boris (e.g. parts of your application), you can do that too (thanks to @dhotston):

$boris = new \Boris\Boris('myapp> ');
$boris->setLocal(array('appContext' => $appContext));

In the above example, $appContext will be present inside the REPL.

Using start hooks

It is possible to add callbacks to Boris that are executed inside the REPL before it begins looping. Any number of hooks can be added, and they will be executed in order. Any variables set or exported by the hook will become visible from inside the REPL and consequently, to subsequent hooks that are run.

There are two ways to specify hooks: as arbitrary strings of PHP code to evaluate, or as callbacks given as closures. Both approaches allow you access to the scope, though you need to do slightly more work with the callback approach.

// this will simply be evaluated in the REPL scope
// the variables $foo and $bar will be visible inside the REPL
$boris->onStart('$foo = 42; $bar = 2; echo "Hello Boris!\n";');

// this will be passed the REPL and it's scope as arguments
// any changes to the scope can be expressed by invoking the usual
// methods on the REPL
$boris->onStart(function($worker, $scope){
  extract($scope); // we could also just access specific vars by key

  echo '$foo * $bar = ' . ($foo * $bar) . "\n";

  $worker->setLocal('name', 'Chris');

Above we added two hooks. The first just gets passed to eval() and leaves $foo and $bar in scope. The second uses the callback style and reads its variables from the $scope parameter, then sets variables into the REPL with setLocal().

User configuration files

If you have, things you always want to do when Boris starts, such as load useful utility functions, change the prompt or set local variable, you may create a ~/.borisrc file, which will be loaded whenever Boris starts up.

The contents of this file are just arbitrary PHP code. You are not inside the REPL itself in this file, but you have access to $boris, which is the REPL object. Here's an example ~/.borisrc that sets the prompt.


/* File: ~/.borisrc */

$boris->setPrompt('prompty> ');

Boris will also look under your current working directory for this file. If it finds one on both locations, they will both be loaded by default (not that this is customizable at the code level). If you need to execute code in the REPL itself, use hooks as documented above.

Thanks to @filp for this feature!

Customizing the output

After each expression you enter, Boris passes it through an Inspector to get a representation that is useful for debugging. The default is does some nice highlighting of the data types in the value, to make it easier to read at a glance, but you can change this behaviour.

Any object that has an inspect($variable) method may be used for this purpose.

$boris->setInspector(new BlinkInspector());

Boris comes with three alternatives out of the box:

  • \Boris\ColoredInspector, which does data-type highlighting and is the default
  • \Boris\DumpInspector, which uses a simple, but effective var_dump()
  • \Boris\ExportInspector, which uses var_export()

Note that you can change this from inside the REPL too:

boris> $this->setInspector(new \Boris\ExportInspector());
boris> "Test";
-> 'Test'

To further customize object output within \Boris\ColoredInspector, you may subclass and override the objectVars($value) method:

class MyInspector extends \Boris\ColoredInspector {
    public function objectVars($value) {
        if ($value instanceof User) {
            return array('user_id' => $value->getUserId());

        return parent::objectVars($value);

This overrides the default behavior of simply calling get_object_vars() on the object, allowing you to display properties that may be otherwise obfuscated behind magic methods or property visibility.

Boris doesn't display exceptions or errors when running in my app?

Boris honours your environment. If your application has error handlers installed, they will mask the error. Likewise, if an exception handler is installed, you won't see a backtrace (unless your exception handler displays it).

Since Boris is much more useful when you can see errors in the console, the best thing to do is to disable any exception/error handlers when your application is running inside of Boris.

What about PHP's interactive mode?

PHP's interactive mode does not print the result of evaluating expressions and more importantly, it exits if you type something that produces a fatal error, such as invoking a function/method that does not exist, or an uncaught exception. Boris is designed to be robust, like other REPLs, so you can experiment with things that you know may error, without losing everything.

Architecture Overview

This section of the README only applies to those curious enough to read the code. Boris is quite different to other PHP REPLs, because it deals with fatal errors (not Exceptions, fatal errors) in a special way.

Boris will only work on POSIX systems (Linux and Mac OS). This is primarily because it depends on the ability to fork, but also because it plays with signals a lot too.

Boris is made up of two parts:

  1. A REPL worker process, which receives expressions to evaluate and print
  2. A readline client, which simply takes your input, sends it to the worker and then loops

If all errors in PHP were exceptions, building a REPL would be simple. This is not the case, however. Some PHP errors are truly fatal and cannot be caught. In order to prevent such fatal errors from killing the REPL, the worker looks something like this:

for(;;) {
  $input = accept_some_input();
  if (fork_child()) {
  } else { // inside child

The child is forked with all current variables and resources. It evaluates the input then kills the parent, then the loop continues inside the child, waiting for the next input.

While the child is evaluating the input, the parent waits. The parent is expecting the worst—that the child will die abnormally—at which point the parent continues waiting for input and does not terminate. The state remains unchanged.

After each expression is evaluated, the worker reports back to the main process with a status code of 0 (keep running) or 1 (terminate).

The main process (readline) of Boris is much more straightforward. It takes your input, performs a (very) shallow parse on it, in order to decide if it needs to wait for further input, or evaluate the input (one statement at a time) it has received. If the worker reports back with a status code of 1, the process terminates, otherwise the next iteration of the loop is entered.

Will it work with...?

Boris depends on the following PHP features:

  • PHP >= 5.3
  • The Readline functions
  • The PCNTL functions
  • The POSIX functions

There's no chance it can work on Windows, due to the dependency on POSIX features (the code is almost entirely dependant on POSIX).

Copyright & Licensing

Boris is written and maintained by Chris Corbyn (@d11wtq). You can use the code as you see fit. See the LICENSE file for details.

Help me get a new windsurfing board

If you use Boris, and you want to show your appreciation for the hard work that goes into making it, you might like to donate towards something I do for fun in my spare time—windsurfing! I recently took up the sport and have a good set of beginner equipment I use, but I'm preparing to move onto a more advanced board to learn some more advanced techniques, like planing and carve gybing.

Windsurfing equipment is quite expensive, though I'll be honest, I can afford to pay for most of the gear myself. However it would be awesome if the open source work I do could in some way contribute towards my "away from the computer" fun.

Tabou Rocket

Of course, in return for any hugely gratefully received donations, I will make a commitment to improve Boris. Now that things have largely stablized with the code base, that will initially come in the form of a rewrite that aims to satisfy some of the feature requests currently outstanding, like intelligent tab-completion, a pluggable API and the ability to use Boris over a network connection/socket. The primary focus will be on improving the communication layer between the user interface of Boris (readline) and the REPL backend itself.

The board I'm looking to get is the one pictured above. It's a Tabou Rocket, which is a very good board and retails at just under AUD $2300 in Australia.

If you'd like to help get me out and sailing that nice-looking piece of equipment, in return for improving Boris, you can send a few bucks my way by Flattring me.

Flattr this

You basically just add some funds to your Flattr account, then Flattr this project and anything else you want to distribute those funds over. I receive whatever share of funds you gave me at the end of the month.

Hey, by the way, you rock!

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