Spiffy - Spiffy Perl Interface Framework For You


Spiffy - Spiffy Perl Interface Framework For You


    package Keen;
    use Spiffy '-Base';
    field 'mirth';
    const mood => ':-)';

    sub happy {
        if ($self->mood eq ':-(') {
            print "Cheer up!";


``Spiffy'' is a framework and methodology for doing object oriented (OO) programming in Perl. Spiffy combines the best parts of Exporter.pm, base.pm, mixin.pm and SUPER.pm into one magic foundation class. It attempts to fix all the nits and warts of traditional Perl OO, in a clean, straightforward and (perhaps someday) standard way.

Spiffy borrows ideas from other OO languages like Python, Ruby, Java and Perl 6. It also adds a few tricks of its own.

If you take a look on CPAN, there are a ton of OO related modules. When starting a new project, you need to pick the set of modules that makes most sense, and then you need to use those modules in each of your classes. Spiffy, on the other hand, has everything you'll probably need in one module, and you only need to use it once in one of your classes. If you make Spiffy.pm the base class of the basest class in your project, Spiffy will automatically pass all of its magic to all of your subclasses. You may eventually forget that you're even using it!

The most striking difference between Spiffy and other Perl object oriented base classes, is that it has the ability to export functions. If you create a subclass of Spiffy, all the functions that Spiffy exports will automatically be exported by your subclass, in addition to any more functions that you want to export. And if someone creates a subclass of your subclass, all of those functions will be exported automatically, and so on. Think of it as ``Inherited Exportation'', and it uses the familiar Exporter.pm specification syntax.

To use Spiffy or any subclass of Spiffy as a base class of your class, you specify the -base argument to the use command.

    use MySpiffyBaseModule '-base';

You can also use the traditional use base 'MySpiffyBaseModule'; syntax and everything will work exactly the same. The only caveat is that Spiffy.pm must already be loaded. That's because Spiffy rewires base.pm on the fly to do all the Spiffy magics.

Spiffy has support for Ruby-like mixins with Perl6-like roles. Just like base you can use either of the following invocations:

    use MySpiffyBaseModule '-mixin';
    use mixin 'MySpiffyBaseModule';

To limit the methods that get mixed in, use roles. (Hint: they work just like an Exporter list):

    use MySpiffyBaseModule -mixin => qw(:basics x y !foo);

In object oriented Perl almost every subroutine is a method. Each method gets the object passed to it as its first argument. That means practically every subroutine starts with the line:

     my $self = shift;

Spiffy provides a simple, optional filter mechanism to insert that line for you, resulting in cleaner code. If you figure an average method has 10 lines of code, that's 10% of your code! To turn this option on, you just use the -Base option instead of the -base option, or add the -selfless option. If source filtering makes you queazy, don't use the feature. I personally find it addictive in my quest for writing squeaky clean, maintainable code.

A useful feature of Spiffy is that it exports two functions: field and const that can be used to declare the attributes of your class, and automatically generate accessor methods for them. The only difference between the two functions is that const attributes can not be modified; thus the accessor is much faster.

One interesting aspect of OO programming is when a method calls the same method from a parent class. This is generally known as calling a super method. Perl's facility for doing this is butt ugly:

    sub cleanup {
        my $self = shift;

Spiffy makes it, er, super easy to call super methods. You just use the super function. You don't need to pass it any arguments because it automatically passes them on for you. Here's the same function with Spiffy:

    sub cleanup {

Spiffy has an interesting function that it can export called spiffy_constructor. This function will generate a shortcut function that will call the class's ``new'' constructor. It is smart enough to know which class to use. All the arguments you pass to the generated function, get passed on to each invocation of the constructor. In addition, all the arguments you passed in the use statement for that class also get passed to the constructor. The io() function of IO::All is a good example of using spiffy_constructor.

Spiffy has a special method for parsing arguments called parse_arguments, that it also uses for parsing its own arguments. You declare which arguments are boolean (singletons) and which ones are paired, with two special methods called boolean_arguments and paired_arguments. Parse arguments pulls out the booleans and pairs and returns them in an anonymous hash, followed by a list of the unmatched arguments.

Finally, Spiffy can export a few debugging functions WWW, XXX, YYY and ZZZ. Each of them produces a YAML dump of its arguments. WWW warns the output, XXX dies with the output, YYY prints the output, and ZZZ confesses the output. If YAML doesn't suit your needs, you can switch all the dumps to Data::Dumper format with the -dumper option.

That's Spiffy!


Spiffy implements a completely new idea in Perl. Modules that act both as object oriented classes and that also export functions. But it takes the concept of Exporter.pm one step further; it walks the entire @ISA path of a class and honors the export specifications of each module. Since Spiffy calls on the Exporter module to do this, you can use all the fancy interface features that Exporter has, including tags and negation.

Spiffy considers all the arguments that don't begin with a dash to comprise the export specification.

    package Vehicle;
    use Spiffy '-base';
    our $SERIAL_NUMBER = 0;
    our @EXPORT = qw($SERIAL_NUMBER);
    our @EXPORT_BASE = qw(tire horn);
    package Bicycle;
    use Vehicle '-base', '!field';

In this case, Bicycle-isa('Vehicle')> and also all the things that Vehicle and Spiffy export, will go into Bicycle, except field.

Exporting can be very helpful when you've designed a system with hundreds of classes, and you want them all to have access to some functions or constants or variables. Just export them in your main base class and every subclass will get the functions they need.

You can do almost everything that Exporter does because Spiffy delegates the job to Exporter (after adding some Spiffy magic). Spiffy offers a @EXPORT_BASE variable which is like @EXPORT, but only for usages that use -base.

Spiffy MIXINs & ROLEs

If you've done much OO programming in Perl you've probably used Multiple Inheritance (MI), and if you've done much MI you've probably run into weird problems and headaches. Some languages like Ruby, attempt to resolve MI issues using a technique called mixins. Basically, all Ruby classes use only Single Inheritance (SI), and then mixin functionality from other modules if they need to.

Mixins can be thought of at a simplistic level as importing the methods of another class into your subclass. But from an implementation standpoint that's not the best way to do it. Spiffy does what Ruby does. It creates an empty anonymous class, imports everything into that class, and then chains the new class into your SI ISA path. In other words, if you say:

    package A;
    use B '-base';
    use C '-mixin';
    use D '-mixin';

You end up with a single inheritance chain of classes like this:

    A << A-D << A-C << B;

A-D and A-C are the actual package names of the generated classes. The nice thing about this style is that mixing in C doesn't clobber any methods in A, and D doesn't conflict with A or C either. If you mixed in a method in C that was also in A, you can still get to it by using super.

When Spiffy mixes in C, it pulls in all the methods in C that do not begin with an underscore. Actually it goes farther than that. If C is a subclass it will pull in every method that C can do through inheritance. This is very powerful, maybe too powerful.

To limit what you mixin, Spiffy borrows the concept of Roles from Perl6. The term role is used more loosely in Spiffy though. It's much like an import list that the Exporter module uses, and you can use groups (tags) and negation. If the first element of your list uses negation, Spiffy will start with all the methods that your mixin class can do.

    use E -mixin => qw(:tools walk !run !:sharp_tools);

In this example, walk and run are methods that E can do, and tools and sharp_tools are roles of class E. How does class E define these roles? It very simply defines methods called _role_tools and _role_sharp_tools which return lists of more methods. (And possibly other roles!) The neat thing here is that since roles are just methods, they too can be inherited. Take that Perl6!


By using the -Base flag instead of -base you never need to write the line:

    my $self = shift;

This statement is added to every subroutine in your class by using a source filter. The magic is simple and fast, so there is litte performance penalty for creating clean code on par with Ruby and Python.

    package Example;
    use Spiffy '-Base';
    sub crazy {
    sub wacky { }
    sub new() {
        bless [], shift;

is exactly the same as:

    package Example;
    use Spiffy '-base';
    sub crazy {my $self = shift;
    sub wacky {my $self = shift; }
    sub new {
        bless [], shift;

Note that the empty parens after the subroutine new keep it from having a $self added. Also not that the extra code is added to existing lines to ensure that line numbers are not altered.


The XXX function is very handy for debugging because you can insert it almost anywhere, and it will dump your data in nice clean YAML. Take the following statement:

    my @stuff = grep { /keen/ } $self->find($a, $b);

If you have a problem with this statement, you can debug it in any of the following ways:

    XXX my @stuff = grep { /keen/ } $self->find($a, $b);
    my @stuff = XXX grep { /keen/ } $self->find($a, $b);
    my @stuff = grep { /keen/ } XXX $self->find($a, $b);
    my @stuff = grep { /keen/ } $self->find(XXX $a, $b);

XXX is easy to insert and remove. It is also a tradition to mark uncertain areas of code with XXX. This will make the debugging dumpers easy to spot if you forget to take them out.

WWW and YYY are nice because they dump their arguments and then return the arguments. This way you can insert them into many places and still have the code run as before. Use ZZZ when you need to die with both a YAML dump and a full stack trace.

The debugging functions are exported by default if you use the -base option, but only if you have previously used the -XXX option. To export all 4 functions use the export tag:

    use SomeSpiffyModule ':XXX';

To force the debugging functions to use Data::Dumper instead of YAML:

    use SomeSpiffyModule '-dumper';


Every foundation class has a constructor method to inherit, and Spiffy is no exception. Spiffy has a class method called new that creates a new object. It accepts keyword/value pairs as arguments. Each keyword is considered to be a method, and will be called on the new object using the associated value.

    my $sss = SomeSpiffySubclass->new(size => 42);

If you call the constructor like this, you must ensure that SomeSpiffySubclass->can('size').


This section describes the functions the Spiffy exports. The field, const, stub and super functions are only exported when you use the -base or -Base options. The spiffy_constructor is exported if you request it.


This section lists all of the methods that any subclass of Spiffy automatically inherits.


When you use the Spiffy module or a subclass of it, you can pass it a list of arguments. These arguments are parsed using the parse_arguments method described above. Any arguments that are pairs are passed on to calls to a spiffy_constructor generated function. The special argument -base, is used to make the current package a subclass of the Spiffy module being used.

Any non-paired parameters act like a normal import list; just like those used with the Exporter module.

USING Spiffy WITH base.pm

The proper way to use a Spiffy module as a base class is with the -base parameter to the use statement. This differs from typical modules where you would want to use base.

    package Something;
    use Spiffy::Module '-base';
    use base 'NonSpiffy::Module';

Now it may be hard to keep track of what's Spiffy and what is not. Therefore Spiffy has actually been made to work with base.pm. You can say:

    package Something;
    use base 'Spiffy::Module';
    use base 'NonSpiffy::Module';

use base is also very useful when your class is not an actual module (a separate file) but just a package in some file that has already been loaded. base will work whether the class is a module or not, while the -base syntax cannot work that way, since use always tries to load a module.

base.pm Caveats

To make Spiffy work with base.pm, a dirty trick was played. Spiffy swaps base::import with its own version. If the base modules are not Spiffy, Spiffy calls the original base::import. If the base modules are Spiffy, then Spiffy does its own thing.

There are two caveats.


Spiffy is a wonderful way to do OO programming in Perl, but it is still a work in progress. New things will be added, and things that don't work well, might be removed.


Brian Ingerson <INGY@cpan.org>


Copyright (c) 2004. Brian Ingerson. All rights reserved.

This program is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the same terms as Perl itself.

See http://www.perl.com/perl/misc/Artistic.html

 Spiffy - Spiffy Perl Interface Framework For You