Classes: Constructors

A constructor is a specially named instance method that is used to initialize the instance immediately after it has been created. A constructor is called by the new operator. For example:

class Point {
  private static int $pointCount = 0; // static property with initializer
  private float $x; // instance property
  private float $y; // instance property

  public function __construct(num $x = 0, num $y = 0) { // instance method
    $this->x = (float)$x; // access instance property
    $this->y = (float)$y; // access instance property
    ++Point::$pointCount; // include new Point in Point count

  public function __toString(): string { // instance method
    return '('.$this->x.','.$this->y.')';
  // ...

function main(): void {
  $p1 = new Point(2.3);
  /* HH_FIXME[4067] implicit __toString() is now deprecated */
  echo "\$p1 is $p1\n";
$p1 is (2.3,0)

A constructor has the name __construct. As such, a class can have only one constructor. (Hack does not support method overloading.)

When new Point causes the constructor to be called, the argument 2.3 maps to the parameter $x, and the default value 0 is mapped to the parameter $y. The constructor body is then executed, which results in the instance properties being initialized and the Point count being incremented. Note that a constructor may call any private method in its class, but no public methods.

A constructor does not require a return type, but if one is included, it must be void.

Consider the following example in which one of the constructor parameter declarations contains a visibility modifier:

class C {
  private int $pr1;
  public int $pr2;

  public function __construct(int $p1, private int $p2, int $p3) {
    $this->pr1 = $p1;
    $this->pr2 = $p3;

The second parameter contains the visibility modifier private, which causes a corresponding private property called $p2 to be added to the class, and which is initialized automatically by the value of the second argument passed in. This simply provides a programming shortcut by having the implementation declare and initialize such properties. However, this approach violates data hiding by admitting publicly in the constructor's calling interface the name and type of a private data member.

Can we use this approach with the Point class? No, not as we've designed it. Our private properties have type float, so any arithmetic coordinate value can be represented, yet we've declared the parameters to the constructor to have type num, so either integer or floating-point values can be passed in. Specifically, the type of the private members is not the same as their corresponding parameters! Using the following short-hand notation:

public function __construct(private num $x = 0, private num $y = 0) { ... }

this results in both private properties having type num instead of float, and that we don't want!

While it is often the case that there is a one-for-one correspondence between a constructor's parameters and the class's private properties, this need not be so. In fact, that's one reason to use data hiding. For example, an alternate way of representing a point is to use Polar Coordinates; that is, using an angle and a distance from the origin. Don't advertise/promise the internal representation of an object in its constructor argument list!