The unset($args[0]) PHP Pattern

Suppose you are working on a system, and want to allow users to use so-called hooks to hook into the system and change it’s behavior. Think of it as wordpress’ filter/action kind-of-thing. This is in a way, something similar to events in javascript, and the purpose is basically the same: you want to do, or let others do something when something else happens, and potentially change the way the system works, or extend its functionality.

Implementing this kind of feature is surprisingly simple. All you need is a way to let people subscribe to your hooks, and a way to call all subscribed members for a certain hook at some point. The implementation details are not really our concern right now, but what happens when you call each subscribed member.

In order for hooks to be useful, you need to be able to pass relevant information to the subscribed members at call time. For example, in Javascript, native events get passed an event object that contains all sorts of useful information. The way you pass this information to the subscribed members will depend on your implementation of the subscribe method you use.

One pattern I’ve noticed working with drupal is unset($args[0]).

Drupal uses a hook system that allows developers to hook into the system simply by following some function naming conventions. The drupal specifics are not important right now. What is important is the way drupal calls its hooks: it uses a function called module_invoke_all.

The module_invoke_all function, in its definition, takes a single argument: the name of the hook. We already mentioned the importance that being able to pass information to the subscribed member has, so why is it that the drupal function to invoke hooks takes only the name of the hook as argument? How do you pass the relevant information?

PHP, just like other programming languages allows you to pass more arguments to a function that its formal parameters. The way you access the extra arguments passed to the function varies depending on the language. In php all arguments passed to a function are kept in the $args array.

Lets say you call module_invoke_all as follows:

module_invoke_all(‘my_hook’, ‘something cool’, ‘something interesting’);

Inside the function, the $args array will have 3 members, one for each argument passed to it. So, if you want to pass those values, minus the hook name to the subscribed members, all you need to do is get rid of that, and pass the resulting array to the subscribed members. That is why unset($args[0]) does.

I’m not sure this is the best way to do it, but it is certainly interesting. If you want to read the full code for the module_invoke_all function, just check out the drupal documentation on it (!