Using === for safety and sanity

How often do you use identical comparison (===) as opposed to the regular (equals) one (==)?

Like the defensive 'value' == $variable check (rather than having the operands the other way around), it’s an easily implementable safeguard against slipups, as this Reddit thread notes.

In short, in situations like these:

var_dump(md5('240610708') == md5('QNKCDZO'));
var_dump(md5('aabg7XSs') == md5('aabC9RqS'));
var_dump(sha1('aaroZmOk') == sha1('aaK1STfY'));
var_dump(sha1('aaO8zKZF') == sha1('aa3OFF9m'));
var_dump('0010e2' == '1e3');
var_dump('0x1234Ab' == '1193131');
var_dump('0xABCdef' == '     0xABCdef');

All the dumps will yield true in the most recent version of stable PHP and HHVM. Interestingly, the last line yields false in PHP 5.2 and lower, while in the most recent builds of PHP 7, the last two are false. Why is that?

Let’s leave aside the fact that we should use strcmp and hash_equals for string and hash comparisons and play around with regular operators…

It turns out numeric comparison takes priority over string comparisons in PHP. In other words, if a string can be interpreted as a number, it will be. The manual clearly states:

If you compare a number with a string or the comparison involves numerical strings, then each string is converted to a number and the comparison performed numerically.

The hashes (both md5 and sha1 pairs) are giving true because they start with 0eX (where X is any string of numbers), which translates 0 * 10^X when looked at as a number. As any number multiplied by zero is zero, the comparison yields true.

But what’s up with the rest? The fifth case, '0010e2' == '1e3' says true, but that can’t be right - can it? Let’s see.

When coercing into a number, PHP first strips the leading zeros, so 0010e2 becomes 10e2. We said above what e means. Thus, we have:

10e2 == 1e3
10 * 10^2 == 1 * 10^3
1000 == 1000

OK, so what about the last two?

0x1234Ab is actually a numeric string, albeit a hexadecimal one. In fact, simply converting the number into decimal produces 1193131. But… why does the newer PHP7 say this is false?

Similarly, there’s '0xABCdef' == ' 0xABCdef'.

Obviously, these two strings are not equal when compared as strings, but as numbers, the whitespace is stripped, making them equal. Still, why does PHP7 again say the comparison’s result is false? In fact, the only PHP version saying this is false is either one that is very old, or very new, as evident here.

Interestingly, if we strip the whitespace out manually, super-old versions of PHP do say the strings are equal, while new PHP still seems to compare types as well.

So what gives? Did they add type checking into comparison operators in PHP7? Obviously not, as this does not happen with non-hex numbers.


Edit: thanks to @TomB, a relatively unknown RFC was identified as the culprit.

The hex support in strings removal was actually an RFC that passed:

Whoa, thanks for the heads up! Totally missed that one in all the RFC recaps. Kind of an important BC change if you ask me…

I will use == during prototyping sometimes, but I’ll go back and harden it at a later point.

Does that usually work out for you? There’s no way I’d be willing to do that, that sounds way too tedious.

On the rare occasion I do it. I usually go straight to ===

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