The perlcritic tool is often your first defense against awk­ward, hard to read, error-​prone, or uncon­ven­tion­al con­structs in your code,” per its descrip­tion. It’s part of a class of pro­grams his­tor­i­cal­ly known as lin­ters, so-​called because like a clothes dry­er machine’s lint trap, they detect small errors with big effects.” (Another such lin­ter is perltidy, which I’ve ref­er­enced in the past.)

You can use perlcritic at the com­mand line, inte­grat­ed with your edi­tor, as a git pre-​commit hook, or (my pref­er­ence) as part of your author tests. It’s dri­ven by poli­cies, indi­vid­ual mod­ules that check your code against a par­tic­u­lar rec­om­men­da­tion, many of them from Damian Conway’s Perl Best Practices (2005). Those poli­cies, in turn, are enabled by PPI, a library that trans­forms Perl code into doc­u­ments that can be pro­gram­mat­i­cal­ly exam­ined and manip­u­lat­ed much like the Document Object Model (DOM) is used to pro­gram­mat­i­cal­ly access web pages.

perlcritic enables the fol­low­ing poli­cies by default unless you cus­tomize its con­fig­u­ra­tion or install more. These are just the gen­tle” (sever­i­ty lev­el 5) poli­cies, so con­sid­er them the bare min­i­mum in detect­ing bad prac­tices. The full set of includ­ed poli­cies goes much deep­er, ratch­et­ing up the sever­i­ty to stern,” harsh,” cru­el,” and bru­tal.” They’re fur­ther orga­nized accord­ing to themes so that you might selec­tive­ly review your code against issues like secu­ri­ty, main­te­nance, com­plex­i­ty, and bug prevention.

My favorite above is prob­a­bly ProhibitEvilModules. Aside from the col­or­ful name, a devel­op­ment team can use it to steer peo­ple towards an organization’s favored solu­tions rather than dep­re­cat­ed, bug­gy, unsup­port­ed, or inse­cure” ones. By default, it pro­hibits Class::ISA, Pod::Plainer, Shell, and Switch, but you should curate and con­fig­ure a list with­in your team.

Speaking of work­ing with­in a team, although perlcritic is meant to be a vital tool to ensure good prac­tices, it’s no sub­sti­tute for man­u­al peer code review. Those reviews can lead to the cre­ation or adop­tion of new auto­mat­ed poli­cies to save time and set­tle argu­ments, but such work should be done col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly after achiev­ing some kind of con­sen­sus. This is true whether you’re a team of employ­ees work­ing on pro­pri­etary soft­ware or a group of vol­un­teers devel­op­ing open source.

Of course, rea­son­able peo­ple can and do dis­agree over any of the includ­ed poli­cies, but as a rea­son­able per­son, you should have good rea­sons to dis­agree before you either con­fig­ure perlcritic appro­pri­ate­ly or selec­tive­ly and know­ing­ly bend the rules where required. Other CPAN authors have even pro­vid­ed their own addi­tions to perlcritic, so it’s worth search­ing CPAN under Perl::Critic::Policy::” for more exam­ples. In par­tic­u­lar, these community-​inspired poli­cies group a num­ber of rec­om­men­da­tions from Perl devel­op­ers on Internet Relay Chat (IRC).

Personally, although I adhere to my employer’s stan­dard­ized con­fig­u­ra­tion when test­ing and review­ing code, I like to run perlcritic on the bru­tal” set­ting before com­mit­ting my own. What do you pre­fer? Let me know in the com­ments below.


Cover image: Everyone’s a crit­ic — graifit­ti under Mancunian Way in Manchester” by Alex Pepperhill is licensed under CC BY-​ND 2.0