What Is the Null Coalescing Operator in PHP?

Find out what the null coalescing operator (??) is in PHP and how it works

Introduced in PHP 7, the null coalescing operator (??) has the following syntax:

// PHP 7+
leftExpr ?? rightExpr;

Which means that leftExpr is returned when leftExpr exists and is NOT null; otherwise it returns rightExpr. For example, all the following statements are equivalent:

// PHP 7+
// using the null coalescing operator
$x ?? $y;
// using the ternary operator
isset($x) ? $x : $y;
// using if/else
if (isset($x)) {
    return $x;
} else {
    return $y;

Please note that the null coalescing operator only evaluates to the right-hand side operand if the left-hand side operand is null or not set. This means that all other falsy values return the left-hand side operand.

The coalescing can also be chained (i.e. it returns the first defined/non-null value it encounters), for example:

$x ?? $y ?? $z ?? 'empty'; // output: 'empty'

In case there's no defined value in the coalescing chain, a "Notice: Undefined variable: ..." message is shown.

Starting with PHP 7.4, you can also use the null coalescing assignment operator ((??=)).

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