What is the difference between public, private, and protected? – Dev

The best answers to the question “What is the difference between public, private, and protected?” in the category Dev.

QUESTION:

When and why should I use public, private, and protected functions and variables inside a class? What is the difference between them?

Examples:

// Public
public $variable;
public function doSomething() {
  // ...
}

// Private
private $variable;
private function doSomething() {
  // ...
}

// Protected
protected $variable;
protected function doSomething() {
  // ...
}

ANSWER:

dd

Public:

When you declare a method (function) or a property (variable) as public, those methods and properties can be accessed by:

  • The same class that declared it.
  • The classes that inherit the above declared class.
  • Any foreign elements outside this class can also access those things.

Example:

<?php

class GrandPa
{
    public $name="Mark Henry";  // A public variable
}

class Daddy extends GrandPa // Inherited class
{
    function displayGrandPaName()
    {
        return $this->name; // The public variable will be available to the inherited class
    }

}

// Inherited class Daddy wants to know Grandpas Name
$daddy = new Daddy;
echo $daddy->displayGrandPaName(); // Prints 'Mark Henry'

// Public variables can also be accessed outside of the class!
$outsiderWantstoKnowGrandpasName = new GrandPa;
echo $outsiderWantstoKnowGrandpasName->name; // Prints 'Mark Henry'

Protected:

When you declare a method (function) or a property (variable) as protected, those methods and properties can be accessed by

  • The same class that declared it.
  • The classes that inherit the above declared class.

Outsider members cannot access those variables. “Outsiders” in the sense that they are not object instances of the declared class itself.

Example:

<?php

class GrandPa
{
    protected $name="Mark Henry";
}

class Daddy extends GrandPa
{
    function displayGrandPaName()
    {
        return $this->name;
    }

}

$daddy = new Daddy;
echo $daddy->displayGrandPaName(); // Prints 'Mark Henry'

$outsiderWantstoKnowGrandpasName = new GrandPa;
echo $outsiderWantstoKnowGrandpasName->name; // Results in a Fatal Error

The exact error will be this:

PHP Fatal error: Cannot access protected property GrandPa::$name


Private:

When you declare a method (function) or a property (variable) as private, those methods and properties can be accessed by:

  • The same class that declared it.

Outsider members cannot access those variables. Outsiders in the sense that they are not object instances of the declared class itself and even the classes that inherit the declared class.

Example:

<?php

class GrandPa
{
    private $name="Mark Henry";
}

class Daddy extends GrandPa
{
    function displayGrandPaName()
    {
        return $this->name;
    }

}

$daddy = new Daddy;
echo $daddy->displayGrandPaName(); // Results in a Notice 

$outsiderWantstoKnowGrandpasName = new GrandPa;
echo $outsiderWantstoKnowGrandpasName->name; // Results in a Fatal Error

The exact error messages will be:

Notice: Undefined property: Daddy::$name
Fatal error: Cannot access private property GrandPa::$name


Dissecting the Grandpa Class using Reflection

This subject is not really out of scope, and I’m adding it here just to prove that reflection is really powerful. As I had stated in the above three examples, protected and private members (properties and methods) cannot be accessed outside of the class.

However, with reflection you can do the extra-ordinary by even accessing protected and private members outside of the class!

Well, what is reflection?

Reflection adds the ability to reverse-engineer classes, interfaces,
functions, methods and extensions. Additionally, they offers ways to
retrieve doc comments for functions, classes and methods.

Preamble

We have a class named Grandpas and say we have three properties. For easy understanding, consider there are three grandpas with names:

  • Mark Henry
  • John Clash
  • Will Jones

Let us make them (assign modifiers) public, protected and private respectively. You know very well that protected and private members cannot be accessed outside the class. Now let’s contradict the statement using reflection.

The code

<?php

class GrandPas   // The Grandfather's class
{
    public     $name1 = 'Mark Henry';  // This grandpa is mapped to a public modifier
    protected  $name2 = 'John Clash';  // This grandpa is mapped to a protected  modifier
    private    $name3 = 'Will Jones';  // This grandpa is mapped to a private modifier
}


# Scenario 1: without reflection
$granpaWithoutReflection = new GrandPas;

# Normal looping to print all the members of this class
echo "#Scenario 1: Without reflection<br>";
echo "Printing members the usual way.. (without reflection)<br>";
foreach($granpaWithoutReflection as $k=>$v)
{
    echo "The name of grandpa is $v and he resides in the variable $k<br>";
}

echo "<br>";

#Scenario 2: Using reflection

$granpa = new ReflectionClass('GrandPas'); // Pass the Grandpas class as the input for the Reflection class
$granpaNames=$granpa->getDefaultProperties(); // Gets all the properties of the Grandpas class (Even though it is a protected or private)


echo "#Scenario 2: With reflection<br>";
echo "Printing members the 'reflect' way..<br>";

foreach($granpaNames as $k=>$v)
{
    echo "The name of grandpa is $v and he resides in the variable $k<br>";
}

Output:

#Scenario 1: Without reflection
Printing members the usual way.. (Without reflection)
The name of grandpa is Mark Henry and he resides in the variable name1

#Scenario 2: With reflection
Printing members the 'reflect' way..
The name of grandpa is Mark Henry and he resides in the variable name1
The name of grandpa is John Clash and he resides in the variable name2
The name of grandpa is Will Jones and he resides in the variable name3

Common Misconceptions:

Please do not confuse with the below example. As you can still see, the private and protected members cannot be accessed outside of the class without using reflection

<?php

class GrandPas   // The Grandfather's class
{
    public     $name1 = 'Mark Henry';  // This grandpa is mapped to a public modifier
    protected  $name2 = 'John Clash';  // This grandpa is mapped to a protected modifier
    private    $name3 = 'Will Jones';  // This grandpa is mapped to a private modifier
}

$granpaWithoutReflections = new GrandPas;
print_r($granpaWithoutReflections);

Output:

GrandPas Object
(
    [name1] => Mark Henry
    [name2:protected] => John Clash
    [name3:GrandPas:private] => Will Jones
)

Debugging functions

print_r, var_export and var_dump are debugger functions. They present information about a variable in a human-readable form. These three functions will reveal the protected and private properties of objects with PHP 5. Static class members will not be shown.


More resources:

  • The PHP Manual – OOP Properties
  • The PHP Manual – OOP Visibility
  • Techflirt.com – Visibility in PHP Classes
  • Jordizle.com – Public, Private, Protected in PHP 5

ANSWER:

You use:

  • public scope to make that property/method available from anywhere, other classes and instances of the object.

  • private scope when you want your property/method to be visible in its own class only.

  • protected scope when you want to make your property/method visible in all classes that extend current class including the parent class.

If you don’t use any visibility modifier, the property / method will be public.

More: (For comprehensive information)

  • PHP Manual – Visibility

ANSWER:

private – can be accessed from WITHIN the class only

protected – can be accessed from WITHIN the class and INHERITING classes

public – can be accessed from code OUTSIDE the class as well

This applies to functions as well as variables.

ANSWER:

It is typically considered good practice to default to the lowest visibility required as this promotes data encapsulation and good interface design. When considering member variable and method visibility think about the role the member plays in the interaction with other objects.

If you “code to an interface rather than implementation” then it’s usually pretty straightforward to make visibility decisions. In general, variables should be private or protected unless you have a good reason to expose them. Use public accessors (getters/setters) instead to limit and regulate access to a class’s internals.

To use a car as an analogy, things like speed, gear, and direction would be private instance variables. You don’t want the driver to directly manipulate things like air/fuel ratio. Instead, you expose a limited number of actions as public methods. The interface to a car might include methods such as accelerate(), deccelerate()/brake(), setGear(), turnLeft(), turnRight(), etc.

The driver doesn’t know nor should he care how these actions are implemented by the car’s internals, and exposing that functionality could be dangerous to the driver and others on the road. Hence the good practice of designing a public interface and encapsulating the data behind that interface.

This approach also allows you to alter and improve the implementation of the public methods in your class without breaking the interface’s contract with client code. For example, you could improve the accelerate() method to be more fuel efficient, yet the usage of that method would remain the same; client code would require no changes but still reap the benefits of your efficiency improvement.

Edit: Since it seems you are still in the midst of learning object oriented concepts (which are much more difficult to master than any language’s syntax), I highly recommend picking up a copy of PHP Objects, Patterns, and Practice by Matt Zandstra. This is the book that first taught me how to use OOP effectively, rather than just teaching me the syntax. I had learned the syntax years beforehand, but that was useless without understanding the “why” of OOP.