2011 twenty-four merry days of Perl Feed

All the perls are all lined up

App::perlbrew - 2011-12-08

I can test just what I want

I like to pretend that I can just target the latest stable release of perl and that's that. It's what I run on my computers, after all. Unfortunately, at work, we have two different deployed versions, so I need to support those, too. But that's only two versions, right?

Well, not really. The problem is that I release as much of my code as seems reasonable to the CPAN, and that means I get bug reports from lots of different versions. My least favorite five words? "It doesn't work on 5.8.1." (You may be thinking, "Why 5.8.1 and not 5.6.1?" Well, because if it's 5.6.1, I'll usually send condolences instead of bugfixes.)

So, what do I do when I get that bug report? If it looks like a plausible bug (and not an obvious user error), my next action is almost always to see whether I can reproduce it. If the bug really is just in 5.8.1, and I can't reproduce it in my 5.14.1, or the 5.8.8 readily available on some other box sitting around, I'll have to buck up and install 5.8.1.

The last thing I want, though, is to end up with a zillion perl5.x.y binaries in my path, each partially sharing its library paths, different installs of this or that being alternately shared or not shared between interpreters. It's pretty easy to get that with the right arguments to the Configure program that builds perl – oh, and right. I'd have to run the Configure program, build, test, install, and so on. Some versions would need patches to build on my OS X box. What a drag.

Fortunately, I am free from having to suffer through any of this, because I can use perlbrew from gugod. It manages a bunch of parallel Perl installs. If you're familiar with Ruby's rvm, then you already know what perlbrew is, more or less.

If you don't, here's how you get started – we'll talk about how you use it in a bit, if you're not sure you want to install it, but you can trust me: you do.

  1. install App::perlbrew with your favorite CPAN client (cpan, cpanp, cpanm, ppm, whatever)

  2. run perlbrew init

    This will print out a big friendly message saying what it did, and it will include one key line, something like:

      source ~/perl5/perlbrew/etc/bashrc
  3. add that source line to your ~/.bashrc or .zshrc or whatever

    Now when you open a new shell, it will look for stuff installed into perlbrew-managed Perl environment instead of the global system environment first.

  4. run perlbrew install perl-5.14.2

    Now perlbrew will start doing the first hunk of boring that you're getting to avoid: configuring, building, testing, and installing perl v5.14.2. If it knows that it will have to patch the source to compile (by using Devel-PatchPerl, it will. It will give the perl its entirely self-contained set of @INC libraries, install paths, and so on. No libraries are getting shared with your system perl, and it won't leak the other way, either.

  5. do something fun while it compiles

    Or, if you think it's fun, you can tail the log file – perlbrew will have told you its path – to see how the build is going.

  6. open a new shell (or run that source line in this one)

  7. run perlbrew switch perl-5.14.2 to make it your active perl

  8. run perl -v and rejoice

    (Remember that if you just sourced that file in an existing shell like zsh, you might need to run rehash!)

So, great, you have perl. So what?

Well, go ahead and repeat steps 4 through 8, picking another version. You'll end up with several installed Perl environments, each with its own libraries. Not only that, but you'll have cpanm preinstalled. So, someone told you that your Awesome::Library is busted on 5.8.9?

$ perlbrew switch perl-5.8.9
$ cpanm -v Awesome::Library

...and you'll see the build process occur right there in your own 5.8.9 install.

One warning: trying this out, you may find some versions won't compile for you. Not every version still compiles cleanly with modern libraries and tools. PatchPerl, included with perlbrew should take care of this, but it doesn't handle everything. For example, on Mac OS X 10.7, probably only 5.14.2 will compile. These tend to get addressed eventually, but it won't ever be perfect.

You can install more than one copy of any given perl, too. Maybe you want to have different sets of libraries installed – although really you could just use local::lib for that. Maybe, though, you want the same version with different options. These are all useful:

  perlbrew install perl-5.14.2 -Dusethreads --as threaded-5.14.2

  perlbrew install perl-5.14.2 -DDEBUGGING --as debug-5.14.2

...and you probably want to know that -j works to make and test in parallel:

  perlbrew install -j 5 perl-5.14.2

Take your perl and roll it back

If you really need to make which perl start returning your old global perl or its installed programs – which should probably never happen – you can get perlbrew out of the way with perlbrew off.

Of course, you probably don't need to do this. If you've got perl installed for your system at /usr/bin/perl you can just put that in the shebang lines as needed. You can run /usr/bin/perl $(which cpanm) when you need to install things to the global install, and so on. Almost certainly, though, you'll quickly find that you don't need to muck with it nearly at all.

More likely, you'll start finding that you've got personal scripts that are using the system perl in their shebang, but your library updates are now going to perlbrew. That's easy to fix, and you do some nice simple things this way. For example, you can write this:

use 5.14.1;

use local::lib '/home/rjbs/.perlbrew/lib/safe';


First of all, you've spelled out exactly what version of perl to use, and that won't go away when you install a new version -- it will stay there, working correctly, until you get everything working on 5.16 and (maybe) decide to delete your perl.

Secondly, you've decided to use a local::lib to keep the safe versions of all the libraries you're going to use. Why is it under ~/.perlbrew? Because perlbrew can manage your local::lib compartments, too:

$ perlbrew switch perl-5.14.2
$ perlbrew lib create safe
$ perlbrew switch perl-5.14.2@safe
$ cpanm install Something::Cool

In other words, we:

  1. pick the perl for we want a local::lib

  2. create a local::lib compartment called "safe" for that perl

  3. switch to using it

  4. install Something::Cool into it

There are some limitations, here. We can only have one active compartment at a time and we can't re-use a compartment across two versions (even if we think it will be safe). Still, those are unlikely cases, and the base case is very, very useful.

Doesn't it make your life better?

It's hard to explain how much simpler perlbrew can make testing of Perl code. It's not just testing, either. Obviously, this makes it easier to upgrade your code to a new version without having to go whole hog or have multiple versions installed in a single bin dir. It lets you keep your one stupid-but-vital ancient tool working on 5.6 while the rest of your work is getting done on 5.14.

Finally, even if you only ever use it for one perl, it takes away a bunch of the headache of installing perl and later libraries by doing all the configuration for you and putting everything into directories into which you can write, without sudo or local::lib.

You will not regret using perlbrew.

See Also

Gravatar Image This article contributed by: Ricardo Signes <rjbs@cpan.org>