ZF4 Blog

Functional programming with Monads in PHP

I've recently started to seriously learn Scala (so we might get some articles about that in this blog.) The prime motivator is that that I've long held the belief that functional programming holds some lessons for us PHP devs that we are failing to learn. Scala, being a cross between an Object Oriented language and a pure Functional language, also provides a vehicle for learning these concepts that provides a relatively easy ride for poor PHPers like me!

Very early on in my learning I came across the Monad and decided it would be cool to implement one in PHP, mainly as a way of learning what they are and how they work. You can find the product of that at Packagist

So what is a Monad?

A Monad has three things (according to my understanding of it):

  • a value (which may be no value at all, a simple type, an object or a function)
  • a method of getting its value, often referred to as return()
  • a way of binding (or using) the value into some function, often referred to as bind(), the return value of which is another Monad, often but not always of the same type as the donor Monad.

In PHP, some of this clashes with reserved words, so the basic Monadic interface can be defined as

interface Monadic {

And there is a rule for Monads:

  • a Monad is immutable

It transpires that using this simple interface and obeying the one rule can lead to a powerful programming tool. Take this function to flatten the value (i.e. return the native PHP type contained inside a collection (Monad\Collection):

     * Return value of Monad as a base type.
     * If value === \Closure, will evaluate the function and return it's value
     * If value === Monadic, will recurse
     * @return mixed
    public function flatten()
        $ret = [];
        foreach ($this->value as $key => $value)
            $ret[$key] = Match::on($value)
                ->Closure(function($v){return $v();})
                ->Monad_Monadic(function($v){return $v->flatten();})
        return $ret;

This uses a monadic Match method (Monad\Match) as an all powerful functional case statement:

Match::on() : Static factory method to set the value that we want to match against. Returns a Match object

->Closure(): tries to match the value as being a Closure function. Returns a Match object

->Monad_Monadic: tries to match the value as being a Monad\Monadic implementing object. Returns a Match object

->any(): will match against anything, bit like the default clause in a switch statement. Returns a Match object

->flatten: return the value being harboured by the Monad as a PHP Native or non Monadic class. Another way to get the value();

The Closure and Monad_Monadic methods are virtual methods made available through the use of the PHP magic __call() method. Basically, you can match against anything!

To write the above in straight PHP would give something like this:

public function flatten()
    $ret = [];
    foreach ($this->value as $key => $value) {
        if (is_object($value) && $value instanceof Monad\Monadic) {
            $thisVal = $value->flatten();
        } elseif(is_callable($value) {
            $thisVal = $value();
        } else {
            $thisVal = $value;

        $ret[$key] = $thisVal;

    return $ret;

Now, I know which I prefer for simple readability!

You can find out more about the Monads in the documentation for the library: