happy man funny sticking tongue out

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.

I’m busy this week host­ing my par­ents’ first vis­it to Houston, but I didn’t want to let this Tuesday go by with­out link­ing to my talk from last week’s Ephemeral Miniconf. Thanks so much to Thibault Duponchelle for orga­niz­ing such a ter­rif­ic event, to all the oth­er speak­ers for com­ing togeth­er to present, and to every­one who attend­ed for wel­com­ing me.

jack skelington vinyl figure

Ten years ago Rudolf Winestock wrote The Lisp Curse, an essay that attempt[ed] to rec­on­cile the pow­er of the Lisp pro­gram­ming lan­guage with the inabil­i­ty of the Lisp com­mu­ni­ty to repro­duce their pre-AI Winter achievements.”

His con­clu­sion? The pow­er and expres­sive­ness of Lisp have con­spired to keep its devel­op­ers indi­vid­u­al­ly pro­duc­tive, but col­lec­tive­ly unable to orga­nize their work into com­plete, stan­dard­ized, well-​documented, ‑test­ed, and ‑main­tained pack­ages that they could coa­lesce into inter­op­er­a­ble and widely-​adopted solu­tions. Everything from object sys­tems to types to asyn­chro­nous non-​blocking pro­gram­ming and con­cur­ren­cy is up for grabs and has mul­ti­ple com­pet­ing implementations.

These social effects have doomed Lisp to also-​ran sta­tus in an indus­try where employ­ers much pre­fer that work­ers be fun­gi­ble, rather than max­i­mal­ly pro­duc­tive.” Free tool­ing sup­port has lagged; although Emacs can be hacked end­less­ly to do any­thing, there is no out-​of-​the-​box inte­grat­ed devel­op­ment envi­ron­ment or batteries-​included defaults to imme­di­ate­ly ease new pro­gram­mers into their job.

Does this all sound famil­iar to Perl developers?

Perl is renowned for its expres­sive capa­bil­i­ties, enshrined in the TIMTOWTDI (There Is More Than One Way To Do It) design prin­ci­ple. Stories abound of the pro­duc­tiv­i­ty achieved by Perl pro­gram­mers stitch­ing togeth­er mod­ules from CPAN with their own code. Select an object sys­tem (or don’t), maybe throw in an excep­tion han­dler (or don’t), and you too can have a code­base that fel­low devel­op­ers cri­tique for not fol­low­ing their favored tech­niques. Meanwhile, man­agers are strug­gling to fill the rest of the team with new pro­gram­mers look­ing for IDE sup­port and find­ing only a grab-​bag of Vim extensions.

But there’s hope.

Perl has start­ed incor­po­rat­ing fea­tures expect­ed of mod­ern pro­gram­ming lan­guages into its core while mak­ing room for fur­ther exper­i­men­ta­tion via CPAN. The Language Server Protocol (from Microsoft of all places!) has enabled Perl IDE fea­tures in text edi­tors to boost pro­duc­tiv­i­ty for new and expe­ri­enced devel­op­ers alike. And there’s a pilot Request For Comment process for fur­ther improvements.

These efforts point to a future where Perl’s expres­sive strength is mar­ried with sen­si­ble defaults and fea­tures with­out break­ing back­ward com­pat­i­bil­i­ty. Maybe the curse can be overcome.

In February I wrote an arti­cle sur­vey­ing excep­tion han­dling in Perl, rec­om­mend­ing that devel­op­ers use Test::Exception to make sure their code behaves as expect­ed. A com­menter on Reddit sug­gest­ed I check out Test::Fatal as an alter­na­tive. What advan­tages does it hold over Test::Exception?

  • It only exports one func­tion com­pared to Test::Exception’s four: exception, which you can then use with the full suite of reg­u­lar Test::More func­tions as well as oth­er test­ing libraries such as Test::Deep.
  • It does­n’t over­ride the caller func­tion or use Sub::Uplevel to hide your test blocks from the call stack, so if your excep­tion returns a stack trace you’ll get out­put from the test as well as the thing throw­ing the excep­tion. The author con­sid­ers this a fea­ture since Sub::Uplevel is twitchy.”

To ease port­ing, Test::Fatal also includes two func­tions, dies_ok and lives_ok, replac­ing Test::Exception’s func­tions of the same names. dies_ok does not pro­vide the excep­tion thrown, though, so if you’re test­ing that you’ll need to use exception along with a TAP-emit­ting func­tion like is() or like().

And that’s it! Either is a valid choice; it comes down to whether you pre­fer one approach over anoth­er. Test::Exception is also includ­ed as part of Test::Mosts require­ments, so if you’re using the lat­ter to reduce boil­er­plate you’ll be get­ting the former.


I’d be remiss if I did­n’t also men­tion Test2::Tools::Exception, which is the pre­ferred way to test excep­tions using the Test2 frame­work. If you’re using Test2, ignore all the above and go straight to Test2::Tools::Exception.

Failure is a uni­ver­sal truth of com­put­ers. Files fail to open, web pages fail to load, pro­grams fail to install, mes­sages fail to arrive. As a devel­op­er you have no choice but to work in a seem­ing­ly hos­tile envi­ron­ment in which bugs and errors lurk around every corner.

Hopefully you find and fix the bugs dur­ing devel­op­ment and test­ing, but even with all bugs squashed excep­tion­al con­di­tions can occur. It’s your job as a Perl devel­op­er to use the tools avail­able to you to han­dle these excep­tions. Here are a few of them.

eval, die and $EVAL_ERROR ([email protected]) (updated)

Perl has a prim­i­tive but effec­tive mech­a­nism for run­ning code that may fail called eval. It runs either a string or block of Perl code, trap­ping any errors so that the enclos­ing pro­gram does­n’t crash. It’s your job then to ignore or han­dle the error; eval will return undef (or an emp­ty list in list con­text) and set the mag­ic vari­able [email protected] to the error string. (You can spell that $EVAL_ERROR if you use the English mod­ule, which you prob­a­bly should to allow for more read­able code.) Here’s a con­trived example:

use English;

eval { $foo / 0; 1 }
  or warn "tried to divide by zero: $EVAL_ERROR";

(Why the 1 at the end of the block? It forces the eval to return true if it suc­ceeds; the or con­di­tion is exe­cut­ed if it returns false.)

What if you want to pur­pose­ful­ly cause an excep­tion, so that an enclos­ing eval (pos­si­bly sev­er­al lay­ers up) can han­dle it? You use die:

use English;

eval { process_file('foo.txt'); 1 }
  or warn "couldn't process file: $EVAL_ERROR";

sub process_file {
    my $file = shift;
    open my $fh, '<', $file
      or die "couldn't read $file: $OS_ERROR";

    ... # do something with $fh

It’s worth repeat­ing that as a state­ment: You use excep­tions so that enclos­ing code can decide how to han­dle the error. Contrast this with sim­ply han­dling a func­tion’s return val­ue at the time it’s exe­cut­ed: except in the sim­plest of scripts, that part of the code like­ly has no idea what the error means to the rest of the appli­ca­tion or how to best han­dle the problem.


Since many of Perl’s built-​in func­tions (like open) return false or oth­er val­ues on fail­ure, it can be tedious and error-​prone to make sure that all of them report prob­lems as excep­tions. Enter autodie, which will help­ful­ly replace the func­tions you choose with equiv­a­lents that throw excep­tions. Introduced in Perl 5.10.1, it only affects the enclos­ing code block, and even goes so far as to set $EVAL_ERROR to an object that can be queried for more detail. Here’s an example:

use English;
use autodie; # defaults to everything but system and exec

eval { open my $fh, '<', 'foo.txt'; 1 } or do {
    if ($EVAL_ERROR
      and $EVAL_ERROR->isa('autodie::exception') {
        warn 'Error from open'
          if $EVAL_ERROR->matches('open');
        warn 'I/O error'
          if $EVAL_ERROR->matches(':io');
    elsif ($EVAL_ERROR) {
        warn "Something else went wrong: $EVAL_ERROR";

try and catch

If you’re famil­iar with oth­er pro­gram­ming lan­guages, you’re prob­a­bly look­ing for syn­tax like try and catch for your excep­tion needs. The good news is that it’s com­ing in Perl 5.34 thanks to the ever-​productive Paul LeoNerd” Evans; the bet­ter news is that you can use it today with his Feature::Compat::Try mod­ule, itself a dis­til­la­tion of his pop­u­lar Syntax::Keyword::Try. Here’s an example:

use English;
use autodie;
use Feature::Compat::Try;

sub foo {
    try {
        return 'success!';
    catch ($exception) {
        return "failure: $exception"
          if not $exception->isa('autodie::exception');

        return 'failed in ' . $exception->function
          . ' line '        . $exception->line
          . ' called with '
          . join ', ', @{$exception->args};

Note that autodie and Feature::Compat::Try are com­ple­men­tary and can be used togeth­er; also note that unlike an eval block, you can return from the enclos­ing func­tion in a try block.

The under­ly­ing Syntax::Keyword::Try mod­ule has even more options like a finally block and a cou­ple exper­i­men­tal fea­tures. I now pre­fer it to oth­er mod­ules that imple­ment try/​catch syn­tax like Try::Tiny and TryCatch (even though we use Try::Tiny at work). If all you need is the basic syn­tax above, using Feature::Compat::Try will get you used to the seman­tics that are com­ing in the next ver­sion of Perl.

Other exception modules (updated)

autodie is nice, and some oth­er mod­ules and frame­works imple­ment their own excep­tion class­es, but what if you want some help defin­ing your own? After all, an error string can only con­vey so much infor­ma­tion, may be dif­fi­cult to parse, and may need to change as busi­ness require­ments change.

Although CPAN has the pop­u­lar Exception::Class mod­ule, its author Dave Rolsky rec­om­mends that you use Throwable if you’re using Moose or Moo. If you’re rolling your own objects, use Throwable::Error.

Using Throwable could­n’t be simpler:

package Foo;

use Moo;
with 'Throwable';

has message => (is => 'ro');

... # later...

package main; 
Foo->throw( {message => 'something went wrong'} );

And it comes with Throwable::Error, which you can sub­class to get sev­er­al use­ful methods:

package Local::My::Error;
use parent 'Throwable::Error';

... # later...

package main;
use Feature::Compat::Try;

try {
    Local::My::Error->throw('something bad');
catch ($exception) {
    warn $exception->stack_trace->as_string;

(That stack_trace attribute comes cour­tesy of the StackTrace::Auto role com­posed into Throwable::Error. Moo and Moose users should sim­ply com­pose it into their class­es to get it.)

Testing exceptions with Test::Exception

Inevitably bugs will creep in to your code, and auto­mat­ed tests are one of the main weapons in a devel­op­er’s arse­nal against them. Use Test::Exception when writ­ing tests against code that emits excep­tions to see whether it behaves as expected:

use English;
use Test::More;
use Test::Exception;


throws_ok(sub { $foo->method(42) }, qr/error 42/,
  'method throws an error when it gets 42');
throws_ok(sub { $foo->method(57) }, 'My::Exception::Class',
  'method throws the right exception class');

dies_ok(sub { $bar->method() }, 'method died, no params');

lives_and(sub { is($baz->method(17), 17) },
  'method ran without exception, returned right value'); 

throws_ok(sub { $qux->process('nonexistent_file.txt') },
  'autodie::exception', # hey look, it's autodie again
  'got an autodie exception',
my $exception = $EVAL_ERROR;
    skip 'no autodie exception thrown', 1
      unless $exception
      and $exception->isa('autodie::exception');
      'was a socket error:' . $exception->errno);


Note that Test::Exceptions func­tions don’t mess with $EVAL_ERROR, so you’re free to check its val­ue right after you call it.

Documenting errors and exceptions

If I can leave you with one mes­sage, it’s this: Please doc­u­ment every error and excep­tion your code pro­duces, prefer­ably in a place and lan­guage that the end-​user can under­stand. The DIAGNOSTICS sec­tion of your doc­u­men­ta­tion (you are writ­ing doc­u­men­ta­tion, right, not just code com­ments?) is a great can­di­date. You can mod­el this sec­tion after the perldiag man­u­al page, which goes into great detail about many of the error mes­sages gen­er­at­ed by Perl itself.

(A pre­vi­ous ver­sion of this arti­cle did not note that one should make sure a suc­cess­ful eval returns true, and incor­rect­ly stat­ed that Class::Exception and Throwable were dep­re­cat­ed due to a bug in the MetaCPAN web site. Thanks to Dan Book for the corrections.)