Automatic Anti-Pattern Corrections for PHP

During my computer science studies at the Vorarlberg University of Applied Sciences I wrote my bachelor thesis about “Automatic Anti-Pattern Corrections for PHP”. As a fan of the open source philosophy, I want to share my work with others. I invite everyone to contribute to the great lex-pass project and this approach to better PHP software. Please share your thought and ideas on this with me and others by leaving a comment or sending me a message.

The thesis is written in german but at least there is an english abstract.


Since the first release of the programming language PHP, PHP has been rapidly developed. As a result to these huge improvements, many of the features from PHP 4 have been rewritten or replaced in PHP 5. For instance exception handling, abstract classes and interfaces have been introduced. Additionally, objects are not getting copied (call-by-value) every time they are assigned to another variable or used as function parameters, but assigned as reference (call-by-reference). As a result, many old and bad constructs remain in already existing applications. This leads to several issues.

That is why many companies struggle especially with security and performance problems. Manual refactoring of existing source code is time-consuming and a reason why a lot of companies abandon such improvements.

The open-source initiative of Facebook led to the tool lex-pass which is already capable of some very basic refactoring transformations. It is using the abstract syntax tree (AST) to transform PHP into corrected code according to predefined rules.

This bachelor thesis detects several anti-patterns and implements some basic transformations. As a result, these anti-patterns are automatically corrected with lex-pass. Then the implemented transformations are explained in detail and some further possible corrections are discussed. For demonstration purposes, some well known open-source projects are being tested and corrected with the written transformations.

As a conclusion the advantages and disadvantages of automatic corrections are explained and the usefulness and limitations of such automatic transformations are illustrated.

Download “Automatic Anti-Pattern Corrections for PHP” bachelor thesis

I would like to thank the people from Mayflower GmbH for their great support and Daniel Corson from Facebook for his contribution to my work.