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String API

This document outlines the design descisions behind the string API. Note that the APIs (and the considerations behind them) are work in progress. These are just ideas.

General considerations

First of all a few general considerations on the design of the string API (and the APIs in general). PHP has a lot of string functions and even more functions accepting strings as various parameters. The API of the String type can not and should not handle all existing functions.

There are several approaches to API design as to which and how many methods should be exposed. On one hand there is the "minimal interface" that tries to cover the most important use cases with the smallest possible API. On the other hand is what Rubyists call the "humane interface", that tries to cover as many use cases as possible with a very large API. For example Ruby's string type has more than 100 methods (not counting countless overloads of those methods).

There is some disagreement about what the better approach it. I personally think it's better to have a smaller (yet convenient) API and this is what I will try to go for in this API design.

Scope of the API

Related to the general considerations above is the scope that the string API should cover: There are many functions that can be clearly classified as string functions, for example strlen and substr. Others also work on strings, but they aren't "string functions" in the narrow sense of the phrase. Examples include htmlspecialchars, preg_match, etc. Those functions do work on strings, but in my eyes those really are separate concerns. Handling HTML is obviously rather important in PHP, but it's not something inherent to the string type.

Drawing the line for what belongs in the API and what doesn't it pretty hard. In particular I find it fairly hard to classify regular expressions. Regexes are very close to string handling and something like $str->match() could be quite handy to use.

Unicode support

For the purpose of this API design I will ignore Unicode support, at least for the time being. The introduction of object APIs for primitives might be a good time to reconsider Unicode support, but this is a very complicated issue that I don't want to deal with at this point.

As such any reference to lengths and indices refers to byte-lengths and byte-offsets.

API overview

string {
    /* Information retrieval methods */

    int length()

    /* Slicing methods */

    string slice(int $offset, int $length = null)
    string replaceSlice(string $replacement, int $offset, int $length = null)

    /* Search methods */

    int|false indexOf(string $string, int $offset = 0)
    int|false lastIndexOf(string $string, int $offset = null)
    bool contains(string $string)
    bool startsWith(string $string)
    bool endsWith(string $string)
    int count(string $string, int $offset = 0, int $length = null)

    /* Unclassified */

    string[] chunk(int $chunkLength = 1)
    string repeat(int $times)

Shared functionality

The following defines a number of functions providing functionality that is shared between several of the methods. These functions are NOT part of the public API. An implementation is NOT required to make use of them, they exist merely to remove repetition from the specification.

int _prepareOffset(int $offset)

Let $realOffset = $offset >= 0 ? $offset : $offset + $this->length().

If $offset < 0 or $offset > $this->length() throw InvalidArgumentException.

Return $realOffset.


  • The error condition for this function may be reformulated as: Throws InvalidArgumentException if $offset > $this->length() or $offset < -$this->length().

int _prepareLength(int $realOffset, int|null $length)

If $length === null return $this->length() - $realOffset.

Let $realLength = $length >= 0 ? $length : $this->length() + $length - $realOffset.

If $realLength < 0 or $realOffset + $realLength > $this->length() throw InvalidArgumentException.

Return $realLength.

Individual methods

Note on terminology: The string that the method will be called on will be referred to as the "main string" in the following to distinguish it from any strings passed to the methods.

Information retrieval methods

int length()

Return the length in bytes of the main string. The length does not include the terminating NUL byte.

Slicing methods

string slice(int $offset, int $length = null)

Let $realOffset = _prepareOffset($offset) and $realLength = _prepareLength($realOffset, $length).

Return the substring starting at $realOffset and having length $realLength.


  • This method corresponds to substr.
  • The method is more strict regarding the $offset and $length parameters. If you called strpos with an (effective) offset smaller than 0, then 0 was assumed. If $offset + $length exceeded the main string length, it would clip at the string length. The slice() method on the other hand will throw an exception in these cases. Incorrect parameters are algorithmic mistakes and should not be silently ignored.
  • Taking substr($str, strlen($str)) returned false, whereas $str->slice($str->length()) will return the empty string. The old behavior seems like a bug.
  • An alternative name for this method would be subString(). I chose slice() because it works analogeous to the array slice() method.

string replaceSlice(string $replacement, int $offset, $length = null)

Let $realOffset = _prepareOffset($offset) and $realLength = _prepareLength($realOffset, $length).

Return a new string, which is the main string with the substring starting at $realOffset and having length $realLength replaced by $replacement.


  • This method corresponds to substr_replace.
  • I considered also having a method deleteSlice(), but this seems to be a rather rare case, so replaceSlice("", ...) should be sufficient.
  • Apart from this the notes from slice() apply.

Search methods

The following methods are used to find occurances of some string in the main string. The following applies to all methods in this category:

An occurance of str in the main string this_str is an index pos such that pos >= 0 and pos <= this_str->length() - str->length() and memcmp(this_str + pos, str, str->length()) == 0. In particular, note that the empty string "" occurs at every index of the main string.

int|false indexOf(string $string, int $offset = 0)

Let $realOffset = _prepareOffset($offset).

Return the index $pos of the first occurance of $string in the main string, such that $pos >= $realOffset. If no such occurance exists return false.


  • This method corresponds to strpos.
  • Many languages choose to return -1 in case the string was not found. In absence of type restrictions, I see no pertinent reason for doing so and stick with the usual false return value. Further the indexOf() method for arrays can not return -1 as it is a valid array key. Returning false here ensures both methods can stay consistent.
  • This function could accept a length additionally to the offset. It seems like most languages leave this off though. Probably because the only purpose of the offset here is to allow looping through all occurances of a string.
  • Other names for this method are index and find. I think indexOf describes the function best.

int|false lastIndexOf(string $string, int $offset = null)

If $offset === null let $realOffset = $this->length(). Otherwise let $realOffset = _prepareOffset($offset).

Return the index $pos of the last occurance of $string in the main string, such that $pos <= $realOffset. If no such occurance exists return false.


  • This function corresponds to strrpos.
  • The meaning of the $offset parameter differs from the strrpos function. It now always specified the last valid starting position for the occurance. With strrpos it specified the first valid position for a positive offset and the last for a negative offset. This behavior is confusing, inconsistent with what other languages do and makes it somewhat unintuitive to loop through all occurances of a string (in reverse order).
  • Different languages assign a different meaning to the offset. Some use the condition $pos <= $offset, for others $pos + $string->length() - 1 <= $offset. In words, some languages use $offset as the limit for the first character of the occurance, while others use it as the limit for the last character. I think both behaviors are equally sound. The choice of $pos <= $offset here is mainly because this is what strrpos was using.
  • Apart from this, the notes from indexOf() apply.

bool contains(string $string)

Return true if $string occurs in the main string, false otherwise.

bool startsWith(string $string)

Return true if $string occurs at position 0 in the main string, false otherwise.

bool endsWith(string $string)

Return true if $string occurs at position $this->length() - $string->length() in the main string, false otherwise.


  • The contains, startsWith and endsWith methods are rather simple, but occur often in practical usage and are as such included.
  • Every string contains, starts with and ends with the empty string.

int count(string $string, int $offset = 0, int $length = null)

Let $realOffset = _prepareOffset($offset) and $realLength = _prepareLength($realOffset, $length).

Return the number of non-overlapping occurances of $string in the main string.


  • This function corresponds to substr_count.
  • The function allows the empty string as the search string, just like it is allowed in indexOf() etc. Counting with the empty string will always return $realLength + 1 occurances. (One for every offset and an additional one at the end of the string.)


string replace(array(string $from => string $to) $replacements, int $limit = PHP_INT_MAX)

In the following "from-strings" refers to the keys of the $replacements array.

If one of the from-strings is identical to "" throw an InvalidArgumentException.

Let $pos = 0 and $num = 0.

Loop: Find the first occurance $p of one of the from-strings with $p >= $pos. If there are no such occurances, go to Done. If more than one from-string occurs at one position, give precedence to the longest string. Replace the occurance of the from-string $from at this position with the corresponding to-string $to = $replacements[$from].

Set $num = $num + 1 and $pos = $p + $to->length() - $from->length().

If $num < $limit go to Loop, otherwise continue to Done.

Done: Return the resulting string (with the replacements performed).

string replace(string $from, string $to, int $limit = PHP_INT_MAX)

Return $this->replace(array($from => $to), $limit).


  • This method corresponds to the str_replace and strtr functions.
  • The behavior with multiple replacements matches that of strtr rather than str_replace: Namely all replacements happen in one pass and parts that have already been replaced are not considered again. str_replace on the other hand will simply go through the list of replacements one-by-one and always apply them to the full string. This means that parts changed by previous replacements can be replaced again by later ones. The reason why the strtr behavior was chosen, is that it both appears more useful and is hard to implement in userland code (and impossible to implement with good performance). The str_replace behavior on the other hand is trivial to implement as a loop of ->replace() calls.
  • The strtr character translation behavior is not specially provided, as it is not that commonly needed and you can just use ->replace(["a" => "b", "c" => "d"]) instead. A generic solution with arbitrary character lists is ->replace(array_combine($fromChars->chunk(), $toChars->chunk())).
  • I was not entirely sure whether the replace($from, $to, $limit) overload is necessary (I'm not a fan of such overloads in general), as you can easily write replace([$from => $to], $limit) and the => even looks rather nice in the context. However, as a single replace is likely the most common use case, I decided to include this overload.
  • Currently the empty string is not allowed as the from string of a replacement. This matches the behavior of str_replace and strtr. preg_replace on the other hand allows empty-string replacements with the following behavior: If an empty-string replace occured, then another empty-string replacement cannot occur at the same position (this prevents an infinite loop). With this behavior "xyz"->replace("", "_") would result in "_x_y_z_". Currently the empty string is not supported, because it would require explicit handling in the algorithm (and as such is somewhat inconsistent). However, it would be not unreasonable to support this behavior.
  • An empty array is a valid input (in which case no replacements occur).

string[] split(string $separator = null, int $limit = PHP_INT_MAX)


  • Option to drop empty splits?
  • Default WS split?
  • General option for multichar split?

string[] chunk(int $chunkLength = 1)

If $chunkLength <= 0 throw an InvalidArgumentException.

Split the main string into chunks of length $chunkLength and return them as an array. If the length of the main string is not divisible by the chunk length, then the last chunk has length $this->length() % $chunkLength.


  • This function corresponds to str_split.
  • It is perfectly valid to have a chunk length that is longer than the main string.
  • Chunking an empty string results in an empty array.
  • The name chunk() was chosen, because split() seems more appropriate for the explode equivalent. Furthermore the corresponding array functionality is also named chunk().

string repeat(int $times)

If $times < 0 throw an InvalidArgumentException.

Return the main string repeated $times times. If $times is zero, return the empty string.


  • This function corresponds to str_repeat.