perlmodstyle - Perl module style guide


   This document attempts to describe the Perl Community's "best practice"
   for writing Perl modules.  It extends the recommendations found in
   perlstyle , which should be considered required reading before reading
   this document.

   While this document is intended to be useful to all module authors, it
   is particularly aimed at authors who wish to publish their modules on

   The focus is on elements of style which are visible to the users of a
   module, rather than those parts which are only seen by the module's
   developers.  However, many of the guidelines presented in this document
   can be extrapolated and applied successfully to a module's internals.

   This document differs from perlnewmod in that it is a style guide
   rather than a tutorial on creating CPAN modules.  It provides a
   checklist against which modules can be compared to determine whether
   they conform to best practice, without necessarily describing in detail
   how to achieve this.

   All the advice contained in this document has been gleaned from
   extensive conversations with experienced CPAN authors and users.  Every
   piece of advice given here is the result of previous mistakes.  This
   information is here to help you avoid the same mistakes and the extra
   work that would inevitably be required to fix them.

   The first section of this document provides an itemized checklist;
   subsequent sections provide a more detailed discussion of the items on
   the list.  The final section, "Common Pitfalls", describes some of the
   most popular mistakes made by CPAN authors.


   For more detail on each item in this checklist, see below.

   Before you start
   *   Don't re-invent the wheel

   *   Patch, extend or subclass an existing module where possible

   *   Do one thing and do it well

   *   Choose an appropriate name

   *   Get feedback before publishing

   The API
   *   API should be understandable by the average programmer

   *   Simple methods for simple tasks

   *   Separate functionality from output

   *   Consistent naming of subroutines or methods

   *   Use named parameters (a hash or hashref) when there are more than
       two parameters

   *   Ensure your module works under "use strict" and "-w"

   *   Stable modules should maintain backwards compatibility

   *   Write documentation in POD

   *   Document purpose, scope and target applications

   *   Document each publically accessible method or subroutine, including
       params and return values

   *   Give examples of use in your documentation

   *   Provide a README file and perhaps also release notes, changelog,

   *   Provide links to further information (URL, email)

   Release considerations
   *   Specify pre-requisites in Makefile.PL or Build.PL

   *   Specify Perl version requirements with "use"

   *   Include tests with your module

   *   Choose a sensible and consistent version numbering scheme (X.YY is
       the common Perl module numbering scheme)

   *   Increment the version number for every change, no matter how small

   *   Package the module using "make dist"

   *   Choose an appropriate license (GPL/Artistic is a good default)


   Try not to launch headlong into developing your module without spending
   some time thinking first.  A little forethought may save you a vast
   amount of effort later on.

   Has it been done before?
   You may not even need to write the module.  Check whether it's already
   been done in Perl, and avoid re-inventing the wheel unless you have a
   good reason.

   Good places to look for pre-existing modules include
   <> and <> and asking on

   If an existing module almost does what you want, consider writing a
   patch, writing a subclass, or otherwise extending the existing module
   rather than rewriting it.

   Do one thing and do it well
   At the risk of stating the obvious, modules are intended to be modular.
   A Perl developer should be able to use modules to put together the
   building blocks of their application.  However, it's important that the
   blocks are the right shape, and that the developer shouldn't have to
   use a big block when all they need is a small one.

   Your module should have a clearly defined scope which is no longer than
   a single sentence.  Can your module be broken down into a family of
   related modules?

   Bad example:

   " provides an implementation of the FOO protocol and the
   related BAR standard."

   Good example:

   " provides an implementation of the FOO protocol.
   implements the related BAR protocol."

   This means that if a developer only needs a module for the BAR
   standard, they should not be forced to install libraries for FOO as

   What's in a name?
   Make sure you choose an appropriate name for your module early on.
   This will help people find and remember your module, and make
   programming with your module more intuitive.

   When naming your module, consider the following:

   *   Be descriptive (i.e. accurately describes the purpose of the

   *   Be consistent with existing modules.

   *   Reflect the functionality of the module, not the implementation.

   *   Avoid starting a new top-level hierarchy, especially if a suitable
       hierarchy already exists under which you could place your module.

   Get feedback before publishing
   If you have never uploaded a module to CPAN before (and even if you
   have), you are strongly encouraged to get feedback on PrePAN
   <>.  PrePAN is a site dedicated to discussing ideas
   for CPAN modules with other Perl developers and is a great resource for
   new (and experienced) Perl developers.

   You should also try to get feedback from people who are already
   familiar with the module's application domain and the CPAN naming
   system.  Authors of similar modules, or modules with similar names, may
   be a good place to start, as are community sites like Perl Monks


   Considerations for module design and coding:

   To OO or not to OO?
   Your module may be object oriented (OO) or not, or it may have both
   kinds of interfaces available.  There are pros and cons of each
   technique, which should be considered when you design your API.

   In Perl Best Practices (copyright 2004, Published by O'Reilly Media,
   Inc.), Damian Conway provides a list of criteria to use when deciding
   if OO is the right fit for your problem:

   *   The system being designed is large, or is likely to become large.

   *   The data can be aggregated into obvious structures, especially if
       there's a large amount of data in each aggregate.

   *   The various types of data aggregate form a natural hierarchy that
       facilitates the use of inheritance and polymorphism.

   *   You have a piece of data on which many different operations are

   *   You need to perform the same general operations on related types of
       data, but with slight variations depending on the specific type of
       data the operations are applied to.

   *   It's likely you'll have to add new data types later.

   *   The typical interactions between pieces of data are best
       represented by operators.

   *   The implementation of individual components of the system is likely
       to change over time.

   *   The system design is already object-oriented.

   *   Large numbers of other programmers will be using your code modules.

   Think carefully about whether OO is appropriate for your module.
   Gratuitous object orientation results in complex APIs which are
   difficult for the average module user to understand or use.

   Designing your API
   Your interfaces should be understandable by an average Perl programmer.
   The following guidelines may help you judge whether your API is
   sufficiently straightforward:

   Write simple routines to do simple things.
       It's better to have numerous simple routines than a few monolithic
       ones.  If your routine changes its behaviour significantly based on
       its arguments, it's a sign that you should have two (or more)
       separate routines.

   Separate functionality from output.
       Return your results in the most generic form possible and allow the
       user to choose how to use them.  The most generic form possible is
       usually a Perl data structure which can then be used to generate a
       text report, HTML, XML, a database query, or whatever else your
       users require.

       If your routine iterates through some kind of list (such as a list
       of files, or records in a database) you may consider providing a
       callback so that users can manipulate each element of the list in
       turn.  File::Find provides an example of this with its
       "find(\&wanted, $dir)" syntax.

   Provide sensible shortcuts and defaults.
       Don't require every module user to jump through the same hoops to
       achieve a simple result.  You can always include optional
       parameters or routines for more complex or non-standard behaviour.
       If most of your users have to type a few almost identical lines of
       code when they start using your module, it's a sign that you should
       have made that behaviour a default.  Another good indicator that
       you should use defaults is if most of your users call your routines
       with the same arguments.

   Naming conventions
       Your naming should be consistent.  For instance, it's better to




       This applies equally to method names, parameter names, and anything
       else which is visible to the user (and most things that aren't!)

   Parameter passing
       Use named parameters.  It's easier to use a hash like this:

                   name => "wibble",
                   type => "text",
                   size => 1024,

       ... than to have a long list of unnamed parameters like this:

           $obj->do_something("wibble", "text", 1024);

       While the list of arguments might work fine for one, two or even
       three arguments, any more arguments become hard for the module user
       to remember, and hard for the module author to manage.  If you want
       to add a new parameter you will have to add it to the end of the
       list for backward compatibility, and this will probably make your
       list order unintuitive.  Also, if many elements may be undefined
       you may see the following unattractive method calls:

           $obj->do_something(undef, undef, undef, undef, undef, 1024);

       Provide sensible defaults for parameters which have them.  Don't
       make your users specify parameters which will almost always be the

       The issue of whether to pass the arguments in a hash or a hashref
       is largely a matter of personal style.

       The use of hash keys starting with a hyphen ("-name") or entirely
       in upper case ("NAME") is a relic of older versions of Perl in
       which ordinary lower case strings were not handled correctly by the
       "=>" operator.  While some modules retain uppercase or hyphenated
       argument keys for historical reasons or as a matter of personal
       style, most new modules should use simple lower case keys.
       Whatever you choose, be consistent!

   Strictness and warnings
   Your module should run successfully under the strict pragma and should
   run without generating any warnings.  Your module should also handle
   taint-checking where appropriate, though this can cause difficulties in
   many cases.

   Backwards compatibility
   Modules which are "stable" should not break backwards compatibility
   without at least a long transition phase and a major change in version

   Error handling and messages
   When your module encounters an error it should do one or more of:

   *   Return an undefined value.

   *   set $Module::errstr or similar ("errstr" is a common name used by
       DBI and other popular modules; if you choose something else, be
       sure to document it clearly).

   *   "warn()" or "carp()" a message to STDERR.

   *   "croak()" only when your module absolutely cannot figure out what
       to do.  ("croak()" is a better version of "die()" for use within
       modules, which reports its errors from the perspective of the
       caller.  See Carp for details of "croak()", "carp()" and other
       useful routines.)

   *   As an alternative to the above, you may prefer to throw exceptions
       using the Error module.

   Configurable error handling can be very useful to your users.  Consider
   offering a choice of levels for warning and debug messages, an option
   to send messages to a separate file, a way to specify an error-handling
   routine, or other such features.  Be sure to default all these options
   to the commonest use.


   Your module should include documentation aimed at Perl developers.  You
   should use Perl's "plain old documentation" (POD) for your general
   technical documentation, though you may wish to write additional
   documentation (white papers, tutorials, etc) in some other format.  You
   need to cover the following subjects:

   *   A synopsis of the common uses of the module

   *   The purpose, scope and target applications of your module

   *   Use of each publically accessible method or subroutine, including
       parameters and return values

   *   Examples of use

   *   Sources of further information

   *   A contact email address for the author/maintainer

   The level of detail in Perl module documentation generally goes from
   less detailed to more detailed.  Your SYNOPSIS section should contain a
   minimal example of use (perhaps as little as one line of code; skip the
   unusual use cases or anything not needed by most users); the
   DESCRIPTION should describe your module in broad terms, generally in
   just a few paragraphs; more detail of the module's routines or methods,
   lengthy code examples, or other in-depth material should be given in
   subsequent sections.

   Ideally, someone who's slightly familiar with your module should be
   able to refresh their memory without hitting "page down".  As your
   reader continues through the document, they should receive a
   progressively greater amount of knowledge.

   The recommended order of sections in Perl module documentation is:

   *   NAME



   *   One or more sections or subsections giving greater detail of
       available methods and routines and any other relevant information.

   *   BUGS/CAVEATS/etc

   *   AUTHOR

   *   SEE ALSO


   Keep your documentation near the code it documents ("inline"
   documentation).  Include POD for a given method right above that
   method's subroutine.  This makes it easier to keep the documentation up
   to date, and avoids having to document each piece of code twice (once
   in POD and once in comments).

   README, INSTALL, release notes, changelogs
   Your module should also include a README file describing the module and
   giving pointers to further information (website, author email).

   An INSTALL file should be included, and should contain simple
   installation instructions.  When using ExtUtils::MakeMaker this will
   usually be:

   perl Makefile.PL
   make test
   make install

   When using Module::Build, this will usually be:

   perl Build.PL
   perl Build
   perl Build test
   perl Build install

   Release notes or changelogs should be produced for each release of your
   software describing user-visible changes to your module, in terms
   relevant to the user.

   Unless you have good reasons for using some other format (for example,
   a format used within your company), the convention is to name your
   changelog file "Changes", and to follow the simple format described in


   Version numbering
   Version numbers should indicate at least major and minor releases, and
   possibly sub-minor releases.  A major release is one in which most of
   the functionality has changed, or in which major new functionality is
   added.  A minor release is one in which a small amount of functionality
   has been added or changed.  Sub-minor version numbers are usually used
   for changes which do not affect functionality, such as documentation

   The most common CPAN version numbering scheme looks like this:

       1.00, 1.10, 1.11, 1.20, 1.30, 1.31, 1.32

   A correct CPAN version number is a floating point number with at least
   2 digits after the decimal.  You can test whether it conforms to CPAN
   by using

       perl -MExtUtils::MakeMaker -le 'print MM->parse_version(shift)' \

   If you want to release a 'beta' or 'alpha' version of a module but
   don't want to list it as most recent use an '_' after the
   regular version number followed by at least 2 digits, eg. 1.20_01.  If
   you do this, the following idiom is recommended:

     our $VERSION = "1.12_01"; # so CPAN distribution will have
                               # right filename
     our $XS_VERSION = $VERSION; # only needed if you have XS code
     $VERSION = eval $VERSION; # so "use Module 0.002" won't warn on
                               # underscore

   With that trick MakeMaker will only read the first line and thus read
   the underscore, while the perl interpreter will evaluate the $VERSION
   and convert the string into a number.  Later operations that treat
   $VERSION as a number will then be able to do so without provoking a
   warning about $VERSION not being a number.

   Never release anything (even a one-word documentation patch) without
   incrementing the number.  Even a one-word documentation patch should
   result in a change in version at the sub-minor level.

   Once picked, it is important to stick to your version scheme, without
   reducing the number of digits.  This is because "downstream" packagers,
   such as the FreeBSD ports system, interpret the version numbers in
   various ways.  If you change the number of digits in your version
   scheme, you can confuse these systems so they get the versions of your
   module out of order, which is obviously bad.

   Module authors should carefully consider whether to rely on other
   modules, and which modules to rely on.

   Most importantly, choose modules which are as stable as possible.  In
   order of preference:

   *   Core Perl modules

   *   Stable CPAN modules

   *   Unstable CPAN modules

   *   Modules not available from CPAN

   Specify version requirements for other Perl modules in the pre-
   requisites in your Makefile.PL or Build.PL.

   Be sure to specify Perl version requirements both in Makefile.PL or
   Build.PL and with "require 5.6.1" or similar.  See the section on "use
   VERSION" of "require" in perlfunc for details.

   All modules should be tested before distribution (using "make
   disttest"), and the tests should also be available to people installing
   the modules (using "make test").  For Module::Build you would use the
   "make test" equivalent "perl Build test".

   The importance of these tests is proportional to the alleged stability
   of a module.  A module which purports to be stable or which hopes to
   achieve wide use should adhere to as strict a testing regime as

   Useful modules to help you write tests (with minimum impact on your
   development process or your time) include Test::Simple, Carp::Assert
   and Test::Inline.  For more sophisticated test suites there are
   Test::More and Test::MockObject.

   Modules should be packaged using one of the standard packaging tools.
   Currently you have the choice between ExtUtils::MakeMaker and the more
   platform independent Module::Build, allowing modules to be installed in
   a consistent manner.  When using ExtUtils::MakeMaker, you can use "make
   dist" to create your package.  Tools exist to help you to build your
   module in a MakeMaker-friendly style.  These include
   ExtUtils::ModuleMaker and h2xs.  See also perlnewmod.

   Make sure that your module has a license, and that the full text of it
   is included in the distribution (unless it's a common one and the terms
   of the license don't require you to include it).

   If you don't know what license to use, dual licensing under the GPL and
   Artistic licenses (the same as Perl itself) is a good idea.  See
   perlgpl and perlartistic.


   Reinventing the wheel
   There are certain application spaces which are already very, very well
   served by CPAN.  One example is templating systems, another is date and
   time modules, and there are many more.  While it is a rite of passage
   to write your own version of these things, please consider carefully
   whether the Perl world really needs you to publish it.

   Trying to do too much
   Your module will be part of a developer's toolkit.  It will not, in
   itself, form the entire toolkit.  It's tempting to add extra features
   until your code is a monolithic system rather than a set of modular
   building blocks.

   Inappropriate documentation
   Don't fall into the trap of writing for the wrong audience.  Your
   primary audience is a reasonably experienced developer with at least a
   moderate understanding of your module's application domain, who's just
   downloaded your module and wants to start using it as quickly as

   Tutorials, end-user documentation, research papers, FAQs etc are not
   appropriate in a module's main documentation.  If you really want to
   write these, include them as sub-documents such as
   "My::Module::Tutorial" or "My::Module::FAQ" and provide a link in the
   SEE ALSO section of the main documentation.


       General Perl style guide

       How to create a new module

       POD documentation

       Verifies your POD's correctness

   Packaging Tools
       ExtUtils::MakeMaker, Module::Build

   Testing tools
       Test::Simple, Test::Inline, Carp::Assert, Test::More,
       Perl Authors Upload Server.  Contains links to information for
       module authors.

   Any good book on software engineering


   Kirrily "Skud" Robert <>


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