How to build a base module

When working on large Perl projects, a base module is a nice way to setup a standard set of imported routines for the other modules in the project. With a base module you can configure a logger, turn on pragmas and import any other useful routines. Instead of typing:

use warnings;
use strict;
use Data::Dumper 'Dumper';
use Log::Log4perl 'get_logger';
...

and so on, you can type:

use MyBase;

This saves typing all those boilerplate use statements at the top of every module in the project, and it establishes a consistent base so that all modules all start by operating under the same pragmas and so on. And it also provides a central location to configure application paths and other global compile-time essentials.

Building your own base module

I’ll write an example base module called MyBase.pm to show you how I do it. There are three basic cases I need to be able to export: pragmas, symbols defined in the MyBase namespace and symbols from other namespaces. In Perl a symbol is usually a reference to a variable or a subroutine. This is my starting code:

package MyBase;

sub import {}

1;

In Perl the import subroutine is important: it’s called every time the module is imported via use, so that will be my trigger for importing the pragmas and code I want from the base module.

Handling pragmas

Take a look at the Modern::Perl source. The import subroutine just calls import on the pragmas it wants to import. Clever and easy!

package MyBase;
use v5.10.0;
use warnings;
use strict;

sub import {
  warnings->import;
  strict->import;
  feature->import(':5.10');
}

1;

Now any module that includes use MyBase; will get warnings, strict and all of the Perl 5.10 features imported (e.g. say, state and so on).

Handling foreign symbols

By foreign symbols I mean subroutines and variables declared in other modules, like Data::Dumper::Dumper. That’s a subroutine that’s always handy to have available:

package MyBase;
use v5.10.0;
use warnings;
use strict;
use Data::Dumper;

sub import {
  warnings->import;
  strict->import;
  feature->import(':5.10');

  # get the importing package name
  my $caller = caller(0);

  do {
    no strict 'refs';
    *{"$caller\:\:Dumper"}  = *{"Data\:\:Dumper\:\:Dumper"};
  };
}

1;

Here I’ve added use Data::Dumper; to import the module. Later within import() I save the calling package name in $caller, and then within a do block I copy the Dumper subroutine from Data::Dumper into the caller’s namespace. I escape the semicolons in the package reference because some versions of Perl might need that, but I can’t remember which ones - modern Perls don’t. If you find the symbol table copying syntax confusing, chapters 7 & 8 of Mastering Perl has an in-depth explanation of how it works.

Handling local symbols

There are many types of local symbols that might be useful to export: global config hashrefs (maybe one for dev and another for production), accessors for singletons like loggers and queues and so on. My application uses Log::Log4perl, so I’ll export a subroutine to get the logger:

package MyBase;
use v5.10.0;
use warnings;
use strict;
use Data::Dumper;
use Log::Log4perl;

BEGIN {
  my $default_conf = q(
    log4perl.logger.Root           = DEBUG, Root
    log4perl.appender.Root         = Log::Log4perl::Appender::Screen
    log4perl.appender.Root.stderr  = 1
    log4perl.appender.Root.utf8    = 1
    log4perl.appender.Root.layout  = PatternLayout
    log4perl.appender.Root.layout.ConversionPattern = %C %m%n
  );
  Log::Log4perl->init(\$default_conf);
}

sub logger { Log::Log4perl->get_logger('Root') }

sub import {
  warnings->import;
  strict->import;
  feature->import(':5.10');

  # get the importing package name
  my $caller = caller(0);

  do {
    no strict 'refs';
    *{"$caller\:\:Dumper"}  = *{"Data\:\:Dumper\:\:Dumper"};
    *{"$caller\:\:logger"}  = *{"MyBase\:\:logger"};
  };
}

1;

I’ve imported the Log::Log4perl module, and initialized it within a BEGIN block (so it happens at compile time). I’ve added a new subroutine, logger which is later copied into the symbol table of caller within the import sub. Now any module which uses MyBase can simply call logger to get the Log4perl object.

One thing to consider when adding functionality like this is to do the initialization outside of import if possible. That’s because the module code is loaded once, but import is called every time MyBase is used. So keep the code inside import to the minimum required - you don’t want to initialize Log4perl over and over!

Scalars are easy too, here’s how I might export the project version:

${"$caller\:\:VERSION"}  = *{"MyBase\:\:VERSION"};

Notice that the first character of that line has changed from an asterisk (for typeglob) to a dollar sign (for scalar).

Enable stack traces

Perl has pretty helpful error messages, but I like to see stack traces to figure out what caused an exception. This is easy to add to a base module using the confess subroutine from the Carp module:

package MyBase;
use v5.10.0;
use warnings;
use strict;
use Data::Dumper;
use Log::Log4perl;
use Carp 'confess';

BEGIN {
  $SIG{'__DIE__'} = sub { confess(@_) };
  my $default_conf = q(
    log4perl.logger.Root           = DEBUG, Root
    log4perl.appender.Root         = Log::Log4perl::Appender::Screen
    log4perl.appender.Root.stderr  = 1
    log4perl.appender.Root.utf8    = 1
    log4perl.appender.Root.layout  = PatternLayout
    log4perl.appender.Root.layout.ConversionPattern = %C %m%n
  );
  Log::Log4perl->init(\$default_conf);
}

sub logger { Log::Log4perl->get_logger('Root') }

sub import {
  warnings->import;
  strict->import;
  feature->import(':5.10');

  # get the importing package name
  my $caller = caller(0);

  do {
    no strict 'refs';
    *{"$caller\:\:Dumper"}  = *{"Data\:\:Dumper\:\:Dumper"};
    *{"$caller\:\:logger"}  = *{"MyBase\:\:logger"};
  };
}

1;

I’ve added a line to import the Carp module, and within the BEGIN block I install a signal handler for the pseudo-signal __DIE__. This will be called any time the application throws an exception. The handler is an anonymous subroutine which calls confess on the exception. This prints a stack trace and exits.

Consider using Import::Base

I’m not sure my code handles all edge cases. It works for my needs, but if you’re sharing the project code, consider using Import::Base which can do all of this for you. Here’s what my base module looks like, re-written to use Import::Base:

package MyBase;
use base 'Import::Base';
use v5.10.0;
use warnings;
use strict;
use Data::Dumper;
use Log::Log4perl;
use Carp 'confess';

BEGIN {
  $SIG{'__DIE__'} = sub { confess(@_) };
  my $default_conf = q(
    log4perl.logger.Root           = DEBUG, Root
    log4perl.appender.Root         = Log::Log4perl::Appender::Screen
    log4perl.appender.Root.stderr  = 1
    log4perl.appender.Root.utf8    = 1
    log4perl.appender.Root.layout  = PatternLayout
    log4perl.appender.Root.layout.ConversionPattern = %C %m%n
  );
  Log::Log4perl->init(\$default_conf);
}

sub logger { Log::Log4perl->get_logger('Root') }

our @IMPORT_MODULES = (
  'warnings',
  'strict',
  'feature' => [':5.10'],
  'Data::Dumper' => ['Dumper'],
  'MyBase',
);

our @EXPORT = ( 'logger' );

1;

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David Farrell

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

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