Built In Types: Shape

A shape is a lightweight type with named fields. It's similar to structs or records in other programming languages.

$my_point = shape('x' => -3, 'y' => 6, 'visible' => true);

Shape Values

A shape is created with the shape keyword, with a series of field names and values.

$server = shape('name' => 'db-01', 'age' => 365);

$empty = shape();

Shape fields are accessed with array indexing syntax, similar to dict. Note that field names must be string literals.

// OK.
$n = $server['name'];

// Not OK (type error).
$field = 'name';
$n = $server[$field];

Shapes are copy-on-write.

$s1 = shape('name' => 'db-01', 'age' => 365);
$s2 = $s1;

$s2['age'] = 42;
// $s1['age'] is still 365.

A shape can be constructed incrementally. The type checker will infer a different type after each assignment.

// $s has type shape().
$s = shape();

// $s now has type shape('name' => string).
$s['name'] = 'db-01';

// $s now has type shape('name' => string, 'age' => int).
$s['age'] = 365;

Shapes have the same runtime representation as darray, although this is considered an implementation detail. This representation means that shape order is observable.

$s1 = shape('name' => 'db-01', 'age' => 365);
$s2 = shape('age' => 365, 'name' => 'db-01');

$s1 === $s2; // false

Shape Types

Shape type declarations use a similar syntax to values.

function takes_server(shape('name' => string, 'age' => int) $s): void {
  // ...

Unlike classes, declaring a shape type is optional. You can start using shapes without defining any types.

function uses_shape_internally(): void {
  $server = shape('name' => 'db-01', 'age' => 365);

For large shapes, it is often convenient to define a type alias. This is useful because it promotes code re-use and when the same type is being used, and provides a descriptive name for the type.

type Server = shape('name' => string, 'age' => int);

// Equivalent to the previous takes_server function.
function takes_server(Server $s): void {
  // ...

Any shape value that has all of the required fields (and no undefined fields - unless the shape permits them) is considered a value of type Server; the type is not specified when creating the value.

function takes_server(Server $s): void {

function test(): void {
  $args = shape('name' => 'hello', 'age' => 10);
  takes_server($args); // no error

  $args = shape('name' => null, 'age' => 10);
  takes_server($args); // type error: field type mismatch

  $args = shape('name' => 'hello', 'age' => 10, 'error' => true);
  takes_server($args); // type error: extra field

Since shapes are copy-on-write, updates can change the type.

// $s has type shape('name' => string, 'age' => int).
$s = shape('name' => 'db-01', 'age' => 365);

// $s now has type shape('name' => string, 'age' => string).
$s['age'] = '1 year';

Two shapes have the same type if they have the same fields and types. This makes shapes convenient to create, but can cause surprises. This is called 'structural subtyping'.

type Server = shape('name' => string, 'age' => int);
type Pet = shape('name' => string, 'age' => int);

function takes_server(Server $_): void {}

function takes_pet(Pet $p): void {
  // No error here.

Open and Closed Shapes

Normally, the type checker will enforce that you provide exactly the fields specified. This is called a 'closed shape'.

function takes_named(shape('name' => string) $_): void {}

function demo(): void {
  takes_named(shape('name' => 'db-01', 'age' => 365)); // type error

Shape types may include ... to indicate that additional fields are permitted. This is called an 'open shape'.

function takes_named(shape('name' => string, ...) $_): void {}

// OK.
function demo(): void {
  takes_named(shape('name' => 'db-01', 'age' => 365));

To access the additional fields in an open shape, you can use Shapes::idx.

function takes_named(shape('name' => string, ...) $n): void {
  // The value in the shape, or null if field is absent.
  $nullable_age = Shapes::idx($n, 'age');

  // The value in the shape, or 0 if field is absent.
  $age_with_default = Shapes::idx($n, 'age', 0);

Optional Fields

A shape type may declare fields as optional.

function takes_server(shape('name' => string, ?'age' => int) $s): void {
  $age = Shapes::idx($s, 'age', 0);

function example_usage(): void {
  takes_server(shape('name' => 'db-01', 'age' => 365));
  takes_server(shape('name' => 'db-02'));

takes_server takes a closed shape, so any additional fields will be an error. The age field is optional though.

Optional fields can be tricky to reason about, so your code may be clearer with nullable fields or open shapes.

function takes_server2(shape('name' => string, 'age' => ?int) $s): void {
  $age = $s['age'] ?? 0;

function takes_server3(shape('name' => string, ...) $s): void {
  $age = Shapes::idx($s, 'age', 0) as int;

Type Enforcement

HHVM will check that arguments are shapes, but it will not deeply check fields.

// This produces a typehint violation at runtime.
function returns_int_instead(): shape('x' => int) {
  return 1;

// No runtime error.
function returns_wrong_shape(): shape('x' => int) {
  return shape('y' => 1);

Converting Shapes

Converting shapes to containers is strongly discouraged, however is necessary, this can be done with Shapes::toDict().

On older versions of HHVM, Shapes can also be converted to darrays with Shapes::toArray(); this should be avoided in new code, as darrays are currently an alias for the dict type, and will be removed from the language.


Some limitations of shapes include only being able to index it using literal expressions (you can't index on a shape using a variable or dynamically formed string, for example), or to provide run-time typechecking, because it is actually just a dict at runtime (or darray on older versions).

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