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(PHP 4 >= 4.2.0, PHP 5)

debug_zval_dumpDumps a string representation of an internal zend value to output


void debug_zval_dump ( mixed $variable )

Dumps a string representation of an internal zend value to output.



The variable being evaluated.




Example #1 debug_zval_dump() example

'Hello World';
$var2 '';

$var2 =& $var1;



&string(11) "Hello World" refcount(3)

Note: Beware the refcount

The refcount value returned by this function is non-obvious in certain circumstances. For example, a developer might expect the above example to indicate a refcount of 2. The third reference is created when actually calling debug_zval_dump().

This behavior is further compounded when a variable is not passed to debug_zval_dump() by reference. To illustrate, consider a slightly modified version of the above example:

'Hello World';
$var2 '';

$var2 =& $var1;

debug_zval_dump($var1); // not passed by reference, this time


string(11) "Hello World" refcount(1)

Why refcount(1)? Because a copy of $var1 is being made, when the function is called.

This function becomes even more confusing when a variable with a refcount of 1 is passed (by copy/value):

'Hello World';



string(11) "Hello World" refcount(2)

A refcount of 2, here, is extremely non-obvious. Especially considering the above examples. So what's happening?

When a variable has a single reference (as did $var1 before it was used as an argument to debug_zval_dump()), PHP's engine optimizes the manner in which it is passed to a function. Internally, PHP treats $var1 like a reference (in that the refcount is increased for the scope of this function), with the caveat that if the passed reference happens to be written to, a copy is made, but only at the moment of writing. This is known as "copy on write."

So, if debug_zval_dump() happened to write to its sole parameter (and it doesn't), then a copy would be made. Until then, the parameter remains a reference, causing the refcount to be incremented to 2 for the scope of the function call.


  • debug_zval_dump
  • doubleval
  • empty
  • floatval
  • gettype
  • get_defined_vars
  • get_resource_type
  • import_request_variables
  • intval
  • isset
  • is_array
  • is_bool
  • is_callable
  • is_double
  • is_float
  • is_int
  • is_integer
  • is_long
  • is_null
  • is_numeric
  • is_object
  • is_real
  • is_resource
  • is_scalar
  • is_string
  • print_r
  • serialize
  • settype
  • strval
  • unserialize
  • unset
  • var_dump
  • var_export
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