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PHP Generators

Generators are useful when you need to generate a large collection to later iterate over. They're a simpler alternative to creating a class that implements an Iterator, which is often overkill.
For example, consider the below function.

function randomNumbers(int $length)
 $array = [];

 for ($i = 0; $i < $length; $i++) {
 $array[] = mt_rand(1, 10);

 return $array;

All this function does is generates an array that's filled with random numbers. To use it, we might do randomNumbers(10), which will give us an array of 10 random numbers. What if we want to generate one million random numbers? randomNumbers(1000000) will do that for us, but at a cost of memory. One million integers stored in an array uses approximately 33 megabytes of memory.

$startMemory = memory_get_usage();
$randomNumbers = randomNumbers(1000000);
echo memory_get_usage() - $startMemory, ' bytes';

This is due to the entire one million random numbers being generated and returned at once, rather than one at a time. Generators are an easy way to solve this issue.

A yield statement is similar to a return statement, except that instead of stopping execution of the function and returning, yield instead returns a Generator object and pauses execution of the generator function.

Here is an example of the range function, written as a generator:

function gen_one_to_three() {
 for ($i = 1; $i <= 3; $i++) {
 // Note that $i is preserved between yields.
 yield $i;

You can see that this function returns a Generator object by inspecting the output of var_dump:

 # Outputs:
 class Generator (0) {

Yielding Values

The Generator object can then be iterated over like an array.

foreach (gen_one_to_three() as $value) {
 echo "$value\n";



Yielding Values with Keys

In addition to yielding values, you can also yield key/value pairs.
function gen_one_to_three() {
 $keys = ["first", "second", "third"];
 for ($i = 1; $i <= 3; $i++) {
 // Note that $i is preserved between yields.
 yield $keys[$i - 1] => $i;
foreach (gen_one_to_three() as $key => $value) {
 echo "$key: $value\n";


first: 1
second: 2
third: 3

Reading a large file with a generator

One common use case for generators is reading a file from disk and iterating over its contents. Below is a class that allows you to iterate over a CSV file. The memory usage for this script is very predictable, and will not fluctuate depending on the size of the CSV file.

class CsvReader
 protected $file;
 public function __construct($filePath) {
 $this->file = fopen($filePath, 'r');
 public function rows()
 while (!feof($this->file)) {
 $row = fgetcsv($this->file, 4096);

 yield $row;

$csv = new CsvReader('/path/to/huge/csv/file.csv');
foreach ($csv->rows() as $row) {
 // Do something with the CSV row.


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