Trying to make sense of $stack[count($stack)] = &$tree;

Posted on 2008-10-20
Last Modified: 2012-05-05
I'm trying to roll an XML file into a PHP array using Expat Parser, and I'm relatively new to PHP.  I came across the following code:  /xml_set_element_handler.  (The sample code is about 1/3 the way down the page, author: "rubentrancoso at gmail dot com".)

I'm struggling with the last line of code in the following code block:

$file = "flow/flow.xml";
$depth = 0;
$tree = array();
$tree['name'] = "root";
$stack[count($stack)] = &$tree;

1) As I understand it, count returns the number of elements in the array, but there are no elements in the array, because $stack was just declared.  Right?
2) What's up with &$tree?  

(I have also attached the full sample of the code.)  

$file = "flow/flow.xml";

$depth = 0;

$tree = array();

$tree['name'] = "root";

$stack[count($stack)] = &$tree;

function startElement($parser, $name, $attrs) {

   global $depth;

   global $stack;

   global $tree;


   $element = array();

   $element['name'] = $name;

   foreach ($attrs as $key => $value) {

        //echo $key."=".$value;



   $last = &$stack[count($stack)-1];

   $last[count($last)-1] = &$element;

   $stack[count($stack)] = &$element;



function endElement($parser, $name) {

   global $depth;

   global $stack;




$xml_parser = xml_parser_create();

xml_set_element_handler($xml_parser, "startElement", "endElement");

if (!($fp = fopen($file, "r"))) {

   die("could not open XML input");


while ($data = fread($fp, 4096)) {

   if (!xml_parse($xml_parser, $data, feof($fp))) {

       die(sprintf("XML error: %s at line %d",






$tree = $stack[0][0];

echo "<pre>";


echo "</pre>";


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Question by:jdana
  • 2
  • 2
LVL 15

Expert Comment

ID: 22758179
stack[count($stack)] is the same as

$stack[] =

it simply says that the following value will be appended to the end of the array.

&$tree is a reference pointer per say. That means that whatever changes are made to the value in $stack[count($stack)] are replicated automatically to the original $tree value.

If I set this

$a = 5;
$b = &$a;

$b = 0;

now both $b and $a = zero. What happens to $b also happens to $a automatically.

Author Comment

ID: 22758813
Does $b = &$a; set $b equal to $a BY REFERENCE as opposed to BY VALUE?
LVL 15

Accepted Solution

MMDeveloper earned 250 total points
ID: 22758924
you are correct.

Author Closing Comment

ID: 31507826

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