Over the past two years, I’ve gotten back into playing Dungeons & Dragons, the famous tabletop fantasy role-​playing game. As a software developer and musician, one of my favorite character classes to play is the bard, a magical and inspiring performer or wordsmith. The list of basic bardic spells includes Vicious Mockery, enchanting verbal barbs that have the power to psychically damage and disadvantage an opponent even if they don’t understand the words. (Can you see why this is so appealing to a coder?)

Mocking has a role to play in software testing as well, in the form of mock objects that simulate parts of a system that are too brittle, too slow, too complicated, or otherwise too finicky to use in reality. They enable discrete unit testing without relying on dependencies external to the code being tested. Mocks are great for databases, web services, or other network resources where the goal is to test what you wrote, not what’s out in the cloud” somewhere.

Speaking of web services and mocking, one of my favorites is the long-​running FOAAS (link has language not safe for work), a surprisingly expansive RESTful insult service. There’s a corresponding Perl client API, of course, but what I was missing was a handy Perl script to call that API from the terminal command line. So I wrote the following over Thanksgiving break, trying to keep it simple while also showing the basics of mocking such an API. It also demonstrates some newer Perl syntax and testing techniques as well as brian d foys modulino concept from Mastering Perl (second edition, 2014) that marries script and module into a self-​contained executable library.

#!/usr/bin/env perl

package Local::CallFOAAS;  # this is a modulino
use Test2::V0;             # enables strict, warnings, utf8

# declare all the new stuff we're using
use feature qw(say state);
use experimental qw(isa postderef signatures);
use Feature::Compat::Try;
use Syntax::Construct qw(non-destructive-substitution);

use WebService::FOAAS ();
use Package::Stash;
use Exception::Class (
    NoMethodException => {
        alias  => 'throw_no_method',
        fields => 'method',
    ServiceException => { alias => 'throw_service' },

my $foaas = Package::Stash->new('WebService::FOAAS');

my $run_as =
    !!$ENV{CPANTEST}       ? 'test'
  : !defined scalar caller ? 'run'
  :                          undef;
__PACKAGE__->$run_as(@ARGV) if defined $run_as;

sub run ( $class, @args ) {
    try { say $class->call_method(@args) }
    catch ($e) {
        die 'No method ', $e->method, "\n"
          if $e isa NoMethodException;
        die 'Service error: ', $e->error, "\n"
          if $e isa ServiceException;
        die "$e\n";

# Utilities

sub methods ($) {
    state @methods = sort map s/^foaas_(.+)/$1/r,
      grep /^foaas_/, $foaas->list_all_symbols('CODE');
    return @methods;

sub call_method ( $class, $method = '', @args ) {
    state %methods = map { $_ => 1 } $class->methods();
    throw_no_method( method => $method )
      unless $methods{$method};
    return do {
        try { $foaas->get_symbol("&$method")->(@args) }
        catch ($e) { throw_service( error => $e ) }

# Testing

sub test ( $class, @ ) {
    state $stash = Package::Stash->new($class);
    state @tests = sort grep /^_test_/,

    for my $test (@tests) {
        subtest $test => sub {
            try { $class->$test() }
            catch ($e) { diag $e }

sub _test_can ($class) {
    state @subs = qw(run call_method methods test);
    can_ok( $class, \@subs, "can do: @subs" );

sub _test_methods ($class) {
    my $mock = mock 'WebService::FOAAS' => ( track => 1 );

    for my $method ( $class->methods() ) {
        $mock->override( $method => 1 );

        ok lives { $class->call_method($method) },
          "$method lives";
        ok scalar $mock->sub_tracking->{$method}->@*,
          "$method called";

sub _test_service_failure ($class) {
    my $mock = mock 'WebService::FOAAS';

    for my $method ( $class->methods() ) {
        $mock->override( $method => sub { die 'mocked' } );

        my $exception =
          dies { $class->call_method($method) };
        isa_ok $exception, ['ServiceException'],
          "$method throws ServiceException on failure";
        like $exception->error, qr/^mocked/,
          "correct error in $method exception";


Let’s walk through the code above.


First, there’s a generic shebang line to indicate that Unix and Linux systems should use the perl executable found in the user’s PATH via the env command. I declare a package name (in the Local:: namespace) so as not to pollute the default main package of other scripts that might want to require this as a module. Then I use the Test2::V0 bundle from Test2::Suite since the embedded testing code uses many of its functions. This also has the side effect of enabling the strict, warnings, and utf8 pragmas, so there’s no need to explicitly use them here.

(Why Test2 instead of Test::More and its derivatives and add-​ons? Both are maintained by the same author, who recommends the former. I’m seeing more and more modules using it, so I thought this would be a great opportunity to learn.)

I then declare all the new-​ish Perl features I’d like to use that need to be explicitly enabled so as not to sacrifice backward compatibility with older versions of Perl 5. As of this writing, some of these features (the isa class instance operator, named argument subroutine signatures, and try/​catch exception handling syntax) are considered experimental, with the latter enabled in older versions of Perl via the Feature::Compat::Try module. The friendlier postfix dereferencing syntax was mainlined in Perl version 5.24, but versions 5.20 and 5.22 still need it experimental. Finally, I use Syntax::Construct to announce the /r flag for non-​destructive regular expression text substitutions introduced in version 5.14.

Next, I bring in the aforementioned FOAAS Perl API without importing any of its functions, Package::Stash to make metaprogramming easier, and a couple of exception classes so that the command line function and other consumers might better tell what caused a failure. In preparation for the methods below dynamically discovering what functions are provided by WebService::FOAAS, I gather up its symbol table (or stash) into the $foaas variable.

The next block determines how, if at all, I’m going to run the code as a script. If the CPANTEST environment variable is set, I’ll call the test class method sub, but if there’s no subroutine calling me I’ll execute the run class method. Either will receive the command line arguments from @ARGV. If neither of these conditions is true, do nothing; the rest of the code is method declarations.

Modulino methods, metaprogramming, and exceptions

The first of these is the run method. It’s a thin wrapper around the call_method class method detailed below, either outputting its result or dieing with an appropriate error depending on the class of exception thrown. Although I chose not to write tests for this output, future tests might call this method and catch these rethrown exceptions to match against them. The messages end with a \n newline character so die knows not to append the current script line number.

Next is a utility method called methods that uses Package::Stash’s list_all_symbols to retrieve the names of all named CODE blocks (i.e., subs) from WebService::FOAAS’s symbol table. Reading from right to left, these are then filtered with grep to only find those beginning in foaas_ and then transformed with map to remove that prefix. The list is then sorted and stored in a state variable and returned so it need not be initialized again.

(As an aside, although perlcritic sternly warns against it I’ve chosen the expression forms of grep and map here over their block forms for simplicity’s sake. It’s OK to bend the rules if you have a good reason.)

sub call_method is where the real action takes place. Its parameters are the class that called it, the name of a FOAAS $method (defaulted to the empty string), and an array of optional arguments in @args. I build a hash or associative array from the earlier methods method which I then use to see if the passed method name is one I know about. If not, I throw a NoMethodException using the throw_no_method alias function created when I used Exception::Class at the beginning. Using a function instead of NoMethodException->throw() means that it’s checked at compile time rather than runtime, catching typos.

I get the subroutine (denoted by a & sigil) named by $method from the $foaas stash and pass it any further received arguments from @args. If that WebService::FOAAS subroutine throws an exception it’ll be caught and re-​thrown as a ServiceException; otherwise call_method returns the result. It’s up to the caller to determine what, if anything, to do with that result or any thrown exceptions.

Testing the modulino with mocks

This is where I start using those Test2::Suite tools I mentioned at the beginning. The test class method starts by building a filtered list of all subs beginning with _test_ in the current class, much like methods did above with WebService::FOAAS. I then loop through that list of subs, running each as a subtest containing a class method with any exceptions reported as diagnostics.

The rest of the modulino is subtest methods, starting with a simple _test_can sanity check for the public methods in the class. Following that is _test_methods, which starts by mocking the WebService::FOAAS package and telling Test2::Mock I want to track any added, overridden, or set subs. I then loop through all the method names returned by the methods class method, overrideing each one to return a simple true value. I then test passing those names to call_method and use the hash reference returned by sub_tracking to check that the overridden sub was called. This seems a lot simpler than the Test::Builder-based mocking libraries I’ve tried like Test::MockModule and Test::MockObject.

_test_service_failure acts in much the same way, checking that call_method correctly throws ServiceExceptions if the wrapped WebService::FOAAS function dies. The main difference is that the mocked WebService::FOAAS subs are now overridden with a code reference (sub { die 'mocked' }), which call_method uses to populate the rethrown ServiceExceptions error field.

Wrapping up

With luck, this article has given you some ideas, whether it’s in making scripts (perhaps legacy code) testable to improve them, or writing better unit tests that mock dependencies, or delving a little into metaprogramming so you can dynamically support and test new features of said dependencies. I hope you haven’t come away too offended, at least. Let me know in the comments what you think.

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