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php – Get the first element of an array

Posted by: admin February 22, 2020 Leave a comment


I have an array:

array( 4 => 'apple', 7 => 'orange', 13 => 'plum' )

I would like to get the first element of this array. Expected result: string apple

One requirement: it cannot be done with passing by reference, so array_shift is not a good solution.

How can I do this?

How to&Answers:

Original answer, but costly (O(n)):


In O(1):


Other use cases, etc…

If modifying (in the sense of resetting array pointers) of $array is not a problem, you might use:


This should be theoretically more efficient, if a array “copy” is needed:

array_shift(array_slice($array, 0, 1));

With PHP 5.4+ (but might cause an index error if empty):



As Mike pointed out (the easiest possible way):

$arr = array( 4 => 'apple', 7 => 'orange', 13 => 'plum' )
echo reset($arr); // Echoes "apple"

If you want to get the key: (execute it after reset)

echo key($arr); // Echoes "4"

From PHP’s documentation:

mixed reset ( array &$array );


reset() rewinds array’s internal pointer to the first element and returns the value of the first array element, or FALSE if the array is


$first_value = reset($array); // First element's value
$first_key = key($array); // First element's key


$arr = array( 9 => 'apple', 7 => 'orange', 13 => 'plum' );
echo reset($arr); // echoes 'apple'

If you don’t want to lose the current pointer position, just create an alias for the array.


current($array) can get you the first element of an array, according to the PHP manual.

Every array has an internal pointer to its “current” element, which is initialized to the first element inserted into the array.

So it works until you have re-positioned the array pointer, and otherwise you’ll have to reset the array.


You can get the Nth element with a language construct, “list”:

// First item
list($firstItem) = $yourArray;

// First item from an array that is returned from a function
list($firstItem) = functionThatReturnsArray();

// Second item
list( , $secondItem) = $yourArray;

With the array_keys function you can do the same for keys:

list($firstKey) = array_keys($yourArray);
list(, $secondKey) = array_keys($yourArray);


PHP 5.4+:



PHP 7.3 added two functions for getting the first and the last key of an array directly without modification of the original array and without creating any temporary objects:

Apart from being semantically meaningful, these functions don’t even move the array pointer (as foreach would do).

Having the keys, one can get the values by the keys directly.

Examples (all of them require PHP 7.3+)

Getting the first/last key and value:

$my_array = ['IT', 'rules', 'the', 'world'];

$first_key = array_key_first($my_array);
$first_value = $my_array[$first_key];

$last_key = array_key_last($my_array);
$last_value = $my_array[$last_key];

Getting the first/last value as one-liners, assuming the array cannot be empty:

$first_value = $my_array[ array_key_first($my_array) ];

$last_value = $my_array[ array_key_last($my_array) ];

Getting the first/last value as one-liners, with defaults for empty arrays:

$first_value = empty($my_array) ? 'default' : $my_array[ array_key_first($my_array) ];

$last_value = empty($my_array) ? 'default' : $my_array[ array_key_last($my_array) ];



$array = array( 4 => 'apple', 7 => 'orange', 13 => 'plum' );

Just use:


to get first element or


to get first key.

Or you can unlink the first if you want to remove it.


Some arrays don’t work with functions like list, reset or current. Maybe they’re “faux” arrays – partially implementing ArrayIterator, for example.

If you want to pull the first value regardless of the array, you can short-circuit an iterator:

foreach($array_with_unknown_keys as $value) break;

Your value will then be available in $value and the loop will break after the first iteration. This is more efficient than copying a potentially large array to a function like array_unshift(array_values($arr)).

You can grab the key this way too:

foreach($array_with_unknown_keys as $key=>$value) break;

If you’re calling this from a function, simply return early:

function grab_first($arr) {
    foreach($arr as $value) return $value;


From Laravel’s helpers:

function head($array)
    return reset($array);

The array being passed by value to the function, the reset() affects the internal pointer of a copy of the array, and it doesn’t touch the original
array (note it returns false if the array is empty).

Usage example:

$data = ['foo', 'bar', 'baz'];

current($data); // foo
next($data); // bar
head($data); // foo
next($data); // baz

Also, here is an alternative. It’s very marginally faster, but more interesting. It lets easily change the default value if the array is empty:

function head($array, $default = null)
    foreach ($array as $item) {
        return $item;
    return $default;

For the record, here is another answer of mine, for the array’s last element.


Simply do:



I would do echo current($array) .


$arr = array( 4 => 'apple', 7 => 'orange', 13 => 'plum' );
foreach($arr as $first) break;
echo $first;




$myArray = array (4 => 'apple', 7 => 'orange', 13 => 'plum');
$arrayKeys = array_keys($myArray);

// The first element of your array is:
echo $myArray[$arrayKeys[0]];


Keep this simple! There are lots of correct answers here, but to minimize all the confusion, these two work and reduce a lot of overhead:

key($array) gets the first key of an array
current($array) gets the first value of an array

Regarding the comments below. The following example will output: string(13) "PHP code test"

$array = array
   '1'           => 'PHP code test',  
   'foo'         => 'bar', 5 , 5 => 89009, 
   'case'        => 'Random Stuff: '.rand(100,999),
   'PHP Version' => phpversion(),
   0             => 'ending text here'



$array=array( 4 => 'apple', 7 => 'orange', 13 => 'plum' );

$firstValue = each($array)[1];

This is much more efficient than array_values() because the each() function does not copy the entire array.

For more info see http://www.php.net/manual/en/function.each.php


A kludgy way is:

$foo = array( 4 => 'apple', 7 => 'orange', 13 => 'plum' );

function get_first ($foo) {
    foreach ($foo as $k=>$v){
        return $v;

print get_first($foo);


Get first element:


Get last element



Most of these work! BUT for a quick single line (low resource) call:

$array = array( 4 => 'apple', 7 => 'orange', 13 => 'plum' );
echo $array[key($array)];

// key($array) -> will return the first key (which is 4 in this example)

Although this works, and decently well, please also see my additional answer:


I think using array_values would be your best bet here. You could return the value at index zero from the result of that function to get ‘apple’.


This is a little late to the game, but I was presented with a problem where my array contained array elements as children inside it, and thus I couldn’t just get a string representation of the first array element. By using PHP’s current() function, I managed this:

    $original = array(4 => array('one', 'two'), 7 => array('three', 'four'));
    reset($original);  // to reset the internal array pointer...
    $first_element = current($original);  // get the current element...

Thanks to all the current solutions helped me get to this answer, I hope this helps someone sometime!



$first = array_slice($array, 0, 1);  
$val= $first[0];

By default, array_slice does not preserve keys, so we can safely use zero as the index.


Two solutions for you.

Solution 1 – Just use the key. You have not said that you can not use it. 🙂

    // Get the first element of this array.
    $array = array( 4 => 'apple', 7 => 'orange', 13 => 'plum' );

    // Gets the first element by key
    $result = $array[4];

    // Expected result: string apple
    assert('$result === "apple" /* Expected result: string apple. */');

Solution 2 – array_flip() + key()

    // Get first element of this array. Expected result: string apple
    $array = array( 4 => 'apple', 7 => 'orange', 13 => 'plum' );

    // Turn values to keys
    $array = array_flip($array);

    // You might thrown a reset in just to make sure
    // that the array pointer is at the first element.
    // Also, reset returns the first element.
    // reset($myArray);

    // Return the first key
    $firstKey = key($array);

    assert('$firstKey === "apple" /* Expected result: string apple. */');

Solution 3 – array_keys()

echo $array[array_keys($array)[0]];


This is not so simple response in the real world. Suppose that we have these examples of possible responses that you can find in some libraries.

$array1 = array();
$array2 = array(1,2,3,4);
$array3 = array('hello'=>'world', 'foo'=>'bar');
$array4 = null;

var_dump('reset1', reset($array1));
var_dump('reset2', reset($array2));
var_dump('reset3', reset($array3));
var_dump('reset4', reset($array4)); // Warning

var_dump('array_shift1', array_shift($array1));
var_dump('array_shift2', array_shift($array2));
var_dump('array_shift3', array_shift($array3));
var_dump('array_shift4', array_shift($array4)); // Warning

var_dump('each1', each($array1));
var_dump('each2', each($array2));
var_dump('each3', each($array3));
var_dump('each4', each($array4)); // Warning

var_dump('array_values1', array_values($array1)[0]); // Notice
var_dump('array_values2', array_values($array2)[0]);
var_dump('array_values3', array_values($array3)[0]);
var_dump('array_values4', array_values($array4)[0]); // Warning

var_dump('array_slice1', array_slice($array1, 0, 1));
var_dump('array_slice2', array_slice($array2, 0, 1));
var_dump('array_slice3', array_slice($array3, 0, 1));
var_dump('array_slice4', array_slice($array4, 0, 1)); // Warning

list($elm) = $array1; // Notice
list($elm) = $array2;
list($elm) = $array3; // Notice
list($elm) = $array4;

Like you can see, we have several ‘one line’ solutions that work well in some cases, but not in all.

In my opinion, you have should that handler only with arrays.

Now talking about performance, assuming that we have always array, like this:

$elm = empty($array) ? null : ...($array);

...you would use without errors:

array_shift is faster than reset, that is more fast than [count()-1], and these three are faster than array_values and array_slice.


I like the “list” example, but “list” only works on the left-hand-side of an assignment. If we don’t want to assign a variable, we would be forced to make up a temporary name, which at best pollutes our scope and at worst overwrites an existing value:

list($x) = some_array();

The above will overwrite any existing value of $x, and the $x variable will hang around as long as this scope is active (the end of this function/method, or forever if we’re in the top-level). This can be worked around using call_user_func and an anonymous function, but it’s clunky:

var_dump(call_user_func(function($arr) { list($x) = $arr; return $x; },

If we use anonymous functions like this, we can actually get away with reset and array_shift, even though they use pass-by-reference. This is because calling a function will bind its arguments, and these arguments can be passed by reference:

var_dump(call_user_func(function($arr) { return reset($arr); },

However, this is actually overkill, since call_user_func will perform this temporary assignment internally. This lets us treat pass-by-reference functions as if they were pass-by-value, without any warnings or errors:

var_dump(call_user_func('reset', array_values(some_array())));


A small change to what Sarfraz posted is:

$array = array(1, 2, 3, 4, 5);
$output = array_slice($array, 0, 1);
print_r ($output);


I don’t like fiddling with the array’s internal pointer, but it’s also inefficient to build a second array with array_keys() or array_values(), so I usually define this:

function array_first(array $f) {
    foreach ($f as $v) {
        return $v;
    throw new Exception('array was empty');


Try this:

$fruits = array( 4 => 'apple', 7 => 'orange', 13 => 'plum' );
echo reset($fruits)."\n";


No one has suggested using the ArrayIterator class:

$array = array( 4 => 'apple', 7 => 'orange', 13 => 'plum' );
$first_element = (new ArrayIterator($array))->current();
echo $first_element; //'apple'

gets around the by reference stipulation of the OP.