Functions: Function References

It is often useful to refer to a function (or a method) without actually calling it—for example, as an argument for functions like Vec\map.

Note: The following syntax is only supported since HHVM 4.79. For older HHVM versions, see old syntax below.

To refer to a top-level (global) function named foo, you can write:

foo<>; // a reference to global function 'foo'

You can think of it like it’s a function call with empty generics, but the list of arguments has been omitted (the missing parentheses).

The following example stores a function reference in a variable and later calls the function. Note that the type checker keeps track of the function's type and correctly checks all calls.

function foo(string $x): bool { ... }

$x = foo<>;     // $x:(function(string): bool)
$y = $x('bar'); // $y:bool
$_ = $x(-1);    // error!

This syntax supports namespaced names the same way you would refer to them as part of a function call, so the following function references are all equivalent:

$fun = \Foo\Bar\Baz\derp<>;
namespace Foo;
$fun = Bar\Baz\derp<>;
use namespace Foo\Bar\Baz;
$fun = Baz\derp<>;
use function Foo\Bar\Baz\derp;
$fun = derp<>;

Static methods

Similarly, you can refer to a static method bar on a class MyClass by using the familiar method call syntax, without providing the call arguments. Just append type arguments (like <>) to the function call receiver (like MyClass::bar).

MyClass::bar<>; // a reference to static method 'MyClass::bar'
  • Private/protected methods can be referenced using this syntax as long as they are accessible to you in your local scope (the scope where the reference is created). The returned reference can then be called from any scope.
  • Abstract static methods cannot be referenced. Such methods cannot be called, for they have no implementation. Invoking a hypothetical reference to one would also be an error, so we simply don’t allow a reference to be created.
  • In traits and other classes that are not marked final, you cannot use self:: in a reference. This is to avoid ambiguity and confusion around what self actually refers to when the method is called (it depends on the static context of a call, whereas function references can never receive the context information because the target is only resolved once).
  • Also, parent:: is never supported.


If you wish to pass along explicit generic arguments, either as a hint to the type checker, or in the case of a function with reified type parameters when they are required, that is also supported:

i_am_erased<int, _>; // erased generics (note wildcard)
i_am_reified<C<string>>; // a reified generic
  • Keep in mind that generics, if any, still must be provided at the location where the function reference is created, rather than where it is used/invoked.
  • The arity of the type argument list, if it is non-empty (i.e. not <>), must match the declaration, just like for an ordinary function call.
  • The special wildcard specifier _ may be provided in place of any or all erased (non-reified) generic arguments if you want Hack to infer a type automatically based on the type parameter’s constraints. Again this is the same as for ordinary function calls.

Example with erased generics:

function fizz<Ta as num, Tb>(Ta $a, Tb $b): mixed { ... }

$x = fizz<int, string>; // OK
$x(4, 'hello');
$x(-1, false); // error!

$y = fizz<>;
$y(3.14, new C()); // also OK
$y('yo', derp()); // error!

// OK as well
$z = fizz<int, _>;
$z = fizz<_, string>;
$z = fizz<_, _>;

// these all have errors!
fizz<string, _>;
fizz<string, int>;

Example with reified generics:

function buzz<reify T as arraykey>(T $x): mixed { ... }

$w = buzz<int>; // OK
$w("goodbye"); // error!

// these all have errors!


Function references can be cached in APC (the name will be resolved again when they are retrieved) or passed to memoized functions. However, other serialization formats are not supported.

Internally, function/method references are represented using special data types that are intended to be opaque. This means they cannot (or should not) be cast directly to a string or another type, or be accessed in any other way besides calling them.

If you need to determine what a function reference is pointing to, e.g. for use in logging messages, and you know enough about the expected input and output formats, HHVM provides the following helpers (but note they are not well supported and may change):

Be very careful and deliberate when using these, as they are loosely typed but will throw exceptions for bad arguments.

In Meta's WWW repository, prefer using higher level wrappers such as the HackCallable class, or ReflectionFunctionProdUtils outside of intern code.

Old syntax

Before HHVM 4.79, there was no special syntax for function references. However, the built-in functions fun and class_meth can be used for the same purpose. For HHVM versions that support both options, the returned function references are identical, e.g. foo<> is equivalent to fun('foo').

There is also no equivalent syntax for referencing non-static methods. For those, use the built-in functions inst_meth and meth_caller, or use an anonymous function instead:

class C {
  public function foo(): void {}

$obj = new C();
$fun1 = inst_meth($obj, 'foo');
$fun2 = () ==> $obj->foo();
// calling $fun1() is equivalent to calling $fun2()
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