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Accessing private properties from a subclass - PHP

Itís quite probable that you want to see what happens when a private property defined by a parent is retrieved from inside a child class, or if itís possible to access it via an ďaccessorĒ method. Therefore, in the next few lines, Iím going to develop a bunch of practical examples that will help you grasp how to work with private properties in these situations.

  1. Using Subclasses and Accessors with Member Visibility to Protect PHP 5 Class Data
  2. Accessing private properties globally
  3. Accessing private properties from a subclass
  4. Retrieving the values of private properties using accessors
By: Alejandro Gervasio
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June 04, 2008

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As I stated in the prior section, it'd be quite useful to demonstrate what occurs when a specific private property (defined by a parent class) is accessed by one of its subclasses. In recreating this scenario, you'll understand how helpful it is to use private data members within a particular class, especially when it comes to protecting them from unwanted access.

This being said, here are the things that I plan to do in the next few lines: first, I'm going to list the same sample "DataSaver" class that you saw earlier. Then, I'm going to create a trivial subclass from it. And in the end, an instance of this child class will attempt to access the pair of private properties declared by the retaining parent.

Here's the signature of the aforementioned "DataSaver" class:

// define 'DataSaver' class (properties are defined private)

class DataSaver{

private $filePath;

private $data;

public function __construct($data,$filePath){


throw new Exception('Invalid data for being saved to target file.');



throw new Exception('Invalid target file.');





// save data to target file

public function save(){


throw new Exception('Error opening target file.');



throw new Exception('Error writing data to target file.');




// get target file via an accessor

public function getFilePath(){

return $this->filePath;


// get data via an accessor

public function getData(){

return $this->data;



Having listed this sample data saving class, it's time to derive a subclass from it. In this case, I've called it "DataHandler," and its corresponding definition is as follows:

// extends 'DataSaver' class and try to access private properties of the parent

class DataHandler extends DataSaver{

// fetch data from target file

public function fetch(){


throw new Exception('Error reading data from target file.');


return $data;



That was pretty easy to grasp, wasn't it? As you can see, the above "DataHandler" subclass slightly extends the functionality of its respective parent via an additional "fetch()" method. However, the most interesting thing happens when this child class is used to access the private properties declared by the  parent.

The following code snippet demonstrates this particular situation:


// create new instance of 'DataHandler' class

$dataHandler=new DataHandler('This string of data will be saved to a target file!','datafile.txt');

// save data to target file


// fetch data from target file

echo $dataHandler->fetch();

// print value of private properties

echo 'Target file is the following : '.$dataHandler->filePath.'<br />';

echo 'Data for being saved to target file is the following : '.$dataHandler->data;


/* displays the following

Undefined property: DataHandler::$filePath in path/to/file/



catch(Exception $e){

echo $e->getMessage();



I told you that things would be really interesting! As you can see, the above "DataHandler" class can't retrieve the value of the private properties defined by its parent, and it simply assumes that these are not defined. This example demonstrates the high level of protection that any class property will have when it's declared private.

It's clear from the previous example that the private properties of a given class can only be accessed from inside that class in particular, and nothing else. Period.

However, it'd be pretty useful to see if it's possible to use the accessor methods of the previous "DataHandler" class to retrieve the respective values of its private properties. What do you say? Is it possible to achieve this or not?

To answer that intriguing question, you'll have to read the final section of this tutorial, so jump ahead and read the next few lines. I'll be there, waiting for you.

>>> More PHP Articles          >>> More By Alejandro Gervasio

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