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Unwrapping the Package(::Stash)

Package::Stash - 2011-12-07

A symbol table in perl (also known as a stash, short for "symbol table hash") is the place where perl stores variables and functions associated with a package. our $Foo = "a", sub foo { }, and @Child::ISA = ('Parent') are all examples of storing values into package variables: the first two into whatever the current package happens to be and the third into a different package ('Child' in this case).

When the package whose symbol table we are manipulating is known at compile time, these operations are easy and straightforward. Unfortunately, this isn't always possible. Take modules which export functions for instance: the package that is requesting functions to be imported isn't known when the exporting package is compiled, and it's not even likely that there will be only one. Consider a typical import function for a simple module which exports a few functions (ignoring for now the fact that something this simple should likely just use Exporter instead):


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sub import {
    shift;
    my %to_export = map { $_ => 1 } @_;
    my $caller = caller;
    no strict 'refs';
    *{ $caller . '::foo' } = \&foo
        if $to_export{foo};
    *{ $caller . '::bar' } = \&bar
        if $to_export{bar};
}

 

Symbolic references? Typeglobs¹? We can rewrite this in a way that is strict-safe:


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sub import {
    shift;
    my %to_export = map { $_ => 1 } @_;
    my $stash = \%::;
    for my $part (split /::/, scalar caller) {
        $stash = \%{ *{ $stash->{$part . '::'} } };
    }
    *{ $stash->{foo} = do { local *ANON } } = \&foo
        if $to_export{foo};
    *{ $stash->{bar} = do { local *ANON } } = \&bar
        if $to_export{bar};
}

 

but... wow. Replacing symbolic references with even scarier typeglob magic isn't really a win; there are reasons that most people just do no strict 'refs' and get on with it (not least because bugs in the perl core prevented this version from working before 5.14). It only gets worse if you want to do other things, like set a default base class if none exists (since superclasses are stored in the @ISA package variable).

As you may have guessed from that last example, these are issues that Moose has had to deal with a lot of, in order for its introspection capabilities to be able to find existing methods and superclasses. Initially, this was contained in Class::MOP::Package, but it was eventually split into its own distribution called Package::Stash so that people who don't use Moose can avoid the hairy mess that is dynamic stash manipulation.

Using Package::Stash, our import method can be rewritten like this:


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sub import {
    shift;
    my %to_export = map { $_ => 1 } @_;
    my $stash = Package::Stash->new(scalar caller);
    $stash->add_symbol('&foo' => \&foo)
        if $to_export{foo};
    $stash->add_symbol('&bar' => \&bar)
        if $to_export{bar};
}

 

This has the benefit of not requiring any thinking about (or even knowledge of) typeglobs and the storage representation of stashes², and makes these sorts of operations much more readable. For instance, doing something like setting a default version for a package can be done by $stash->add_symbol('$VERSION' => 0.01) unless $stash->has_symbol('$VERSION'), which makes it very clear what is going on.

So next time you think of reaching for no strict 'refs', consider using Package::Stash instead. It's much more readable and maintainable than direct stash access, it's very well tested (being used by Moose, namespace::clean, and Class::Load, each of which do different bits of crazy symbol table manipulation, and each of which are very widely used), and it deals with a lot of weird bugs and edge cases in different versions of the core that you really don't want to have to think about (trust me!).

Footnotes

  1. No, I'm not going to go into typeglobs here - for the purposes of this entry, you can think of them as "magic", or look them up in perldoc perldata if you're especially curious.

  2. For instance, does the output of perl -e'package Foo; sub bar () { 1 }; use constant BAR => 1; use Data::Dumper; warn Dumper(\%Foo::)' surprise you?

See Also

Gravatar Image This article contributed by: Jesse Luehrs <doy@cpan.org>