Create GitHub files automatically with Dist::Zilla

I use Dist::Zilla to release my code to CPAN. I really like it as with a single command I can build, package and ship a distribution. But most of my code lives on GitHub. In fact, a quick check shows that I have 90 repos, but only 13 distributions on CPAN. So only 14% of my code makes it to CPAN.

Traditionally Dist::Zilla makes a distinction between your code and the files needed for CPAN and PAUSE to work, (like package metadata, a readme etc). The basic use case goes like this: you write your class files, scripts and unit tests, and when you tell Dist::Zilla to release the distribution, it generates all of the extra files, creates a tarball and uploads it to PAUSE. The problem is though, some of those additional files would be nice to have in my GitHub repos too. I don’t want to write another, or spend time copying the license file into the repo if Dist::ZIlla can already generate one. To solve this issue I use two Dist::Zilla plugins from Ryan Thompson.


To use the code in this article, you’ll need to install Dist::Zilla and the two plugin modules described below. You can do that with cpan:

$ cpan Dist::Zilla \
  Dist::Zilla::Plugin::ReadmeAnyFromPod  \

If you’re installing Dist::Zilla consider using cpanminus instead, with no tests for a much faster install:

$ cpanm --notest Dist::Zilla \ 
  Dist::Zilla::Plugin::ReadmeAnyFromPod \

Creating a readme automatically

Ryan’s module Dist::Zilla::Plugin::ReadmeAnyFromPod can generate a readme automatically, in any common format. It uses the Pod text from the main modules in the distribution. I use it to create my GitHub readme files in Pod, by adding the following text to my dist.ini.

type = pod 
filename = README.pod
location = root

If I build the distribution with Dist::Zilla, it will generate a new readme for me, including the author, copyright and version information in addition to the documentation already in the main module.

$ dzil build && dzil clean

This line instructs Dist::Zilla to build the distribution, which generates the new README.pod and then clean up the build files that it generated, leaving a clean working directory.

Adding a license

I use another module from Ryan, Dist::Zilla::Plugin::CopyFilesFromBuild to copy the software license from the Dist::Zilla build into my project directory:

copy = LICENSE
exclude_filename = LICENSE

This will copy the license out of the build directory into the root project directory. The exclude_filename clause is there so that during the next build, Dist::Zilla does not include the generated license in the working directory of files. Running this in the same way as before, I can generate whatever license text I want for my distribution (the type of license is specified in the dist.ini).

$ dzil build && dzil clean

Helping others

Dist::Zilla is great, but if you don’t have it, installing a distribution from GitHub can really suck. Recently a friend was trying to deploy some code of mine to his Macbook with a vanilla Perl install. I didn’t want to upload the code to CPAN and wait for PAUSE to index it. Installing Dist::Zilla on the his machine was not a great option either: Dist::Zilla is a beast. According to Devel::Modlist, Dist::Zilla has 178 non-core dependencies (including indirectly-used modules). That’s the price you pay for automation and modularity - Dist::Zilla is working hard so us module authors don’t have to. But for someone who barely knows Perl, installing Dist::Zilla in a virgin environment can be a nightmare.

To get around this issue, I used Dist::Zilla::Plugin::CopyFilesFromBuild again to copy the Makefile.PL and cpanfile into the project directory. My friend then cloned the directory with Git and used cpanminus to install it. Easy! It worked so well, I’m going to include a Makefile and cpanfile in my GitHub repos from now on.

A sample Dist::Zilla config

Here’s a dist.ini from a repo of mine that uses the code in this article. As certain directives are required in order, it can be useful to see the entire context:

name    = Settlers-Game
author  = David Farrell 
license = FreeBSD
copyright_holder = David Farrell
copyright_year   = 2015
version = 0.06

copy = cpanfile
copy = LICENSE
copy = Makefile.PL
exclude_filename = cpanfile
exclude_filename = LICENSE
exclude_filename = Makefile.PL
type = pod
filename = README.pod
location = root

To use this config with Dist::Zilla you’ll need some additional plugins:

$ cpan Dist::Zilla::Plugin::Clean \
  Dist::Zilla::Plugin::GithubMeta \
  Dist::Zilla::Plugin::ChangelogFromGit \


Ok it’s not all gravy. The copy file method has one downside: it overwrites the copied files every time they’re generated. This isn’t an issue for me; the commit diff only shows the changed lines, but some people may not like it.

For more information on Dist::Zilla, check out the official documentation. For a completely different approach to releasing code to CPAN, you may likeModule::Release. Oh and if you find yourself in a new development environment, needing to install dependencies for a local module, David Golden has a useful post that includes five different ways to do it.


David Farrell

David is the founder and editor of An organizer of the New York Perl Meetup, he works as a technology consultant in New York City.

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