Attribute::Handlers(3) Perl Programmers Reference Guide Attribute::Handlers(3)

       Attribute::Handlers - Simpler definition of attribute handlers

       This document describes version 0.78 of Attribute::Handlers, released
       October 5, 2002.

               package MyClass;
               require v5.6.0;
               use Attribute::Handlers;
               no warnings 'redefine';

               sub Good : ATTR(SCALAR) {
                       my ($package, $symbol, $referent, $attr, $data) = @_;

                       # Invoked for any scalar variable with a :Good attribute,
                       # provided the variable was declared in MyClass (or
                       # a derived class) or typed to MyClass.

                       # Do whatever to $referent here (executed in CHECK phase).

               sub Bad : ATTR(SCALAR) {
                       # Invoked for any scalar variable with a :Bad attribute,
                       # provided the variable was declared in MyClass (or
                       # a derived class) or typed to MyClass.

               sub Good : ATTR(ARRAY) {
                       # Invoked for any array variable with a :Good attribute,
                       # provided the variable was declared in MyClass (or
                       # a derived class) or typed to MyClass.

               sub Good : ATTR(HASH) {
                       # Invoked for any hash variable with a :Good attribute,
                       # provided the variable was declared in MyClass (or
                       # a derived class) or typed to MyClass.

               sub Ugly : ATTR(CODE) {
                       # Invoked for any subroutine declared in MyClass (or a
                       # derived class) with an :Ugly attribute.

               sub Omni : ATTR {
                       # Invoked for any scalar, array, hash, or subroutine
                       # with an :Omni attribute, provided the variable or
                       # subroutine was declared in MyClass (or a derived class)
                       # or the variable was typed to MyClass.
                       # Use ref($_[2]) to determine what kind of referent it was.

               use Attribute::Handlers autotie => { Cycle => Tie::Cycle };

               my $next : Cycle(['A'..'Z']);

       This module, when inherited by a package, allows that package's class
       to define attribute handler subroutines for specific attributes. Vari-
       ables and subroutines subsequently defined in that package, or in pack-
       ages derived from that package may be given attributes with the same
       names as the attribute handler subroutines, which will then be called
       in one of the compilation phases (i.e. in a "BEGIN", "CHECK", "INIT",
       or "END" block).

       To create a handler, define it as a subroutine with the same name as
       the desired attribute, and declare the subroutine itself with the
       attribute ":ATTR". For example:

               package LoudDecl;
               use Attribute::Handlers;

               sub Loud :ATTR {
                       my ($package, $symbol, $referent, $attr, $data, $phase) = @_;
                       print STDERR
                               ref($referent), " ",
                               *{$symbol}{NAME}, " ",
                               "($referent) ", "was just declared ",
                               "and ascribed the ${attr} attribute ",
                               "with data ($data)\n",
                               "in phase $phase\n";

       This creates a handler for the attribute ":Loud" in the class LoudDecl.
       Thereafter, any subroutine declared with a ":Loud" attribute in the
       class LoudDecl:

               package LoudDecl;

               sub foo: Loud {...}

       causes the above handler to be invoked, and passed:

       [0] the name of the package into which it was declared;

       [1] a reference to the symbol table entry (typeglob) containing the

       [2] a reference to the subroutine;

       [3] the name of the attribute;

       [4] any data associated with that attribute;

       [5] the name of the phase in which the handler is being invoked.

       Likewise, declaring any variables with the ":Loud" attribute within the

               package LoudDecl;

               my $foo :Loud;
               my @foo :Loud;
               my %foo :Loud;

       will cause the handler to be called with a similar argument list
       (except, of course, that $_[2] will be a reference to the variable).

       The package name argument will typically be the name of the class into
       which the subroutine was declared, but it may also be the name of a
       derived class (since handlers are inherited).

       If a lexical variable is given an attribute, there is no symbol table
       to which it belongs, so the symbol table argument ($_[1]) is set to the
       string 'LEXICAL' in that case. Likewise, ascribing an attribute to an
       anonymous subroutine results in a symbol table argument of 'ANON'.

       The data argument passes in the value (if any) associated with the
       attribute. For example, if &foo had been declared:

               sub foo :Loud("turn it up to 11, man!") {...}

       then the string "turn it up to 11, man!" would be passed as the last

       Attribute::Handlers makes strenuous efforts to convert the data argu-
       ment ($_[4]) to a useable form before passing it to the handler (but
       see "Non-interpretive attribute handlers").  For example, all of these:

               sub foo :Loud(till=>ears=>are=>bleeding) {...}
               sub foo :Loud(['till','ears','are','bleeding']) {...}
               sub foo :Loud(qw/till ears are bleeding/) {...}
               sub foo :Loud(qw/my, ears, are, bleeding/) {...}
               sub foo :Loud(till,ears,are,bleeding) {...}

       causes it to pass "['till','ears','are','bleeding']" as the handler's
       data argument. However, if the data can't be parsed as valid Perl, then
       it is passed as an uninterpreted string. For example:

               sub foo :Loud(my,ears,are,bleeding) {...}
               sub foo :Loud(qw/my ears are bleeding) {...}

       cause the strings 'my,ears,are,bleeding' and 'qw/my ears are bleeding'
       respectively to be passed as the data argument.

       If the attribute has only a single associated scalar data value, that
       value is passed as a scalar. If multiple values are associated, they
       are passed as an array reference. If no value is associated with the
       attribute, "undef" is passed.

       Typed lexicals

       Regardless of the package in which it is declared, if a lexical vari-
       able is ascribed an attribute, the handler that is invoked is the one
       belonging to the package to which it is typed. For example, the follow-
       ing declarations:

               package OtherClass;

               my LoudDecl $loudobj : Loud;
               my LoudDecl @loudobjs : Loud;
               my LoudDecl %loudobjex : Loud;

       causes the LoudDecl::Loud handler to be invoked (even if OtherClass
       also defines a handler for ":Loud" attributes).

       Type-specific attribute handlers

       If an attribute handler is declared and the ":ATTR" specifier is given
       the name of a built-in type ("SCALAR", "ARRAY", "HASH", or "CODE"), the
       handler is only applied to declarations of that type. For example, the
       following definition:

               package LoudDecl;

               sub RealLoud :ATTR(SCALAR) { print "Yeeeeow!" }

       creates an attribute handler that applies only to scalars:

               package Painful;
               use base LoudDecl;

               my $metal : RealLoud;           # invokes &LoudDecl::RealLoud
               my @metal : RealLoud;           # error: unknown attribute
               my %metal : RealLoud;           # error: unknown attribute
               sub metal : RealLoud {...}      # error: unknown attribute

       You can, of course, declare separate handlers for these types as well
       (but you'll need to specify "no warnings 'redefine'" to do it quietly):

               package LoudDecl;
               use Attribute::Handlers;
               no warnings 'redefine';

               sub RealLoud :ATTR(SCALAR) { print "Yeeeeow!" }
               sub RealLoud :ATTR(ARRAY) { print "Urrrrrrrrrr!" }
               sub RealLoud :ATTR(HASH) { print "Arrrrrgggghhhhhh!" }
               sub RealLoud :ATTR(CODE) { croak "Real loud sub torpedoed" }

       You can also explicitly indicate that a single handler is meant to be
       used for all types of referents like so:

               package LoudDecl;
               use Attribute::Handlers;

               sub SeriousLoud :ATTR(ANY) { warn "Hearing loss imminent" }

       (I.e. "ATTR(ANY)" is a synonym for ":ATTR").

       Non-interpretive attribute handlers

       Occasionally the strenuous efforts Attribute::Handlers makes to convert
       the data argument ($_[4]) to a useable form before passing it to the
       handler get in the way.

       You can turn off that eagerness-to-help by declaring an attribute han-
       dler with the keyword "RAWDATA". For example:

               sub Raw          : ATTR(RAWDATA) {...}
               sub Nekkid       : ATTR(SCALAR,RAWDATA) {...}
               sub Au::Naturale : ATTR(RAWDATA,ANY) {...}

       Then the handler makes absolutely no attempt to interpret the data it
       receives and simply passes it as a string:

               my $power : Raw(1..100);        # handlers receives "1..100"

       Phase-specific attribute handlers

       By default, attribute handlers are called at the end of the compilation
       phase (in a "CHECK" block). This seems to be optimal in most cases
       because most things that can be defined are defined by that point but
       nothing has been executed.

       However, it is possible to set up attribute handlers that are called at
       other points in the program's compilation or execution, by explicitly
       stating the phase (or phases) in which you wish the attribute handler
       to be called. For example:

               sub Early    :ATTR(SCALAR,BEGIN) {...}
               sub Normal   :ATTR(SCALAR,CHECK) {...}
               sub Late     :ATTR(SCALAR,INIT) {...}
               sub Final    :ATTR(SCALAR,END) {...}
               sub Bookends :ATTR(SCALAR,BEGIN,END) {...}

       As the last example indicates, a handler may be set up to be (re)called
       in two or more phases. The phase name is passed as the handler's final

       Note that attribute handlers that are scheduled for the "BEGIN" phase
       are handled as soon as the attribute is detected (i.e. before any sub-
       sequently defined "BEGIN" blocks are executed).

       Attributes as "tie" interfaces

       Attributes make an excellent and intuitive interface through which to
       tie variables. For example:

               use Attribute::Handlers;
               use Tie::Cycle;

               sub UNIVERSAL::Cycle : ATTR(SCALAR) {
                       my ($package, $symbol, $referent, $attr, $data, $phase) = @_;
                       $data = [ $data ] unless ref $data eq 'ARRAY';
                       tie $$referent, 'Tie::Cycle', $data;

               # and thereafter...

               package main;

               my $next : Cycle('A'..'Z');     # $next is now a tied variable

               while (<>) {
                       print $next;

       Note that, because the "Cycle" attribute receives its arguments in the
       $data variable, if the attribute is given a list of arguments, $data
       will consist of a single array reference; otherwise, it will consist of
       the single argument directly. Since Tie::Cycle requires its cycling
       values to be passed as an array reference, this means that we need to
       wrap non-array-reference arguments in an array constructor:

               $data = [ $data ] unless ref $data eq 'ARRAY';

       Typically, however, things are the other way around: the tieable class
       expects its arguments as a flattened list, so the attribute looks like:

               sub UNIVERSAL::Cycle : ATTR(SCALAR) {
                       my ($package, $symbol, $referent, $attr, $data, $phase) = @_;
                       my @data = ref $data eq 'ARRAY' ? @$data : $data;
                       tie $$referent, 'Tie::Whatever', @data;

       This software pattern is so widely applicable that Attribute::Handlers
       provides a way to automate it: specifying 'autotie' in the "use
       Attribute::Handlers" statement. So, the cycling example, could also be

               use Attribute::Handlers autotie => { Cycle => 'Tie::Cycle' };

               # and thereafter...

               package main;

               my $next : Cycle(['A'..'Z']);     # $next is now a tied variable

               while (<>) {
                       print $next;

       Note that we now have to pass the cycling values as an array reference,
       since the "autotie" mechanism passes "tie" a list of arguments as a
       list (as in the Tie::Whatever example), not as an array reference (as
       in the original Tie::Cycle example at the start of this section).

       The argument after 'autotie' is a reference to a hash in which each key
       is the name of an attribute to be created, and each value is the class
       to which variables ascribed that attribute should be tied.

       Note that there is no longer any need to import the Tie::Cycle module
       -- Attribute::Handlers takes care of that automagically. You can even
       pass arguments to the module's "import" subroutine, by appending them
       to the class name. For example:

               use Attribute::Handlers
                       autotie => { Dir => 'Tie::Dir qw(DIR_UNLINK)' };

       If the attribute name is unqualified, the attribute is installed in the
       current package. Otherwise it is installed in the qualifier's package:

               package Here;

               use Attribute::Handlers autotie => {
                       Other::Good => Tie::SecureHash, # tie attr installed in Other::
                               Bad => Tie::Taxes,      # tie attr installed in Here::
                   UNIVERSAL::Ugly => Software::Patent # tie attr installed everywhere

       Autoties are most commonly used in the module to which they actually
       tie, and need to export their attributes to any module that calls them.
       To facilitiate this, Attribute::Handlers recognizes a special
       "pseudo-class" -- "__CALLER__", which may be specified as the qualifier
       of an attribute:

               package Tie::Me::Kangaroo:Down::Sport;

               use Attribute::Handlers autotie => { '__CALLER__::Roo' => __PACKAGE__ };

       This causes Attribute::Handlers to define the "Roo" attribute in the
       package that imports the Tie::Me::Kangaroo:Down::Sport module.

       Note that it is important to quote the __CALLER__::Roo identifier
       because a bug in perl 5.8 will refuse to parse it and cause an unknown

       Passing the tied object to "tie"

       Occasionally it is important to pass a reference to the object being
       tied to the TIESCALAR, TIEHASH, etc. that ties it.

       The "autotie" mechanism supports this too. The following code:

               use Attribute::Handlers autotieref => { Selfish => Tie::Selfish };
               my $var : Selfish(@args);

       has the same effect as:

               tie my $var, 'Tie::Selfish', @args;

       But when "autotieref" is used instead of "autotie":

               use Attribute::Handlers autotieref => { Selfish => Tie::Selfish };
               my $var : Selfish(@args);

       the effect is to pass the "tie" call an extra reference to the variable
       being tied:

               tie my $var, 'Tie::Selfish', \$var, @args;

       If the class shown in SYNOPSIS were placed in the module,
       then the following code:

               package main;
               use MyClass;

               my MyClass $slr :Good :Bad(1**1-1) :Omni(-vorous);

               package SomeOtherClass;
               use base MyClass;

               sub tent { 'acle' }

               sub fn :Ugly(sister) :Omni('po',tent()) {...}
               my @arr :Good :Omni(s/cie/nt/);
               my %hsh :Good(q/bye) :Omni(q/bus/);

       would cause the following handlers to be invoked:

               # my MyClass $slr :Good :Bad(1**1-1) :Omni(-vorous);

               MyClass::Good:ATTR(SCALAR)( 'MyClass',          # class
                                           'LEXICAL',          # no typeglob
                                           \$slr,              # referent
                                           'Good',             # attr name
                                           undef               # no attr data
                                           'CHECK',            # compiler phase

               MyClass::Bad:ATTR(SCALAR)( 'MyClass',           # class
                                          'LEXICAL',           # no typeglob
                                          \$slr,               # referent
                                          'Bad',               # attr name
                                          0                    # eval'd attr data
                                          'CHECK',             # compiler phase

               MyClass::Omni:ATTR(SCALAR)( 'MyClass',          # class
                                           'LEXICAL',          # no typeglob
                                           \$slr,              # referent
                                           'Omni',             # attr name
                                           '-vorous'           # eval'd attr data
                                           'CHECK',            # compiler phase

               # sub fn :Ugly(sister) :Omni('po',tent()) {...}

               MyClass::UGLY:ATTR(CODE)( 'SomeOtherClass',     # class
                                         \*SomeOtherClass::fn, # typeglob
                                         \&SomeOtherClass::fn, # referent
                                         'Ugly',               # attr name
                                         'sister'              # eval'd attr data
                                         'CHECK',              # compiler phase

               MyClass::Omni:ATTR(CODE)( 'SomeOtherClass',     # class
                                         \*SomeOtherClass::fn, # typeglob
                                         \&SomeOtherClass::fn, # referent
                                         'Omni',               # attr name
                                         ['po','acle']         # eval'd attr data
                                         'CHECK',              # compiler phase

               # my @arr :Good :Omni(s/cie/nt/);

               MyClass::Good:ATTR(ARRAY)( 'SomeOtherClass',    # class
                                          'LEXICAL',           # no typeglob
                                          \@arr,               # referent
                                          'Good',              # attr name
                                          undef                # no attr data
                                          'CHECK',             # compiler phase

               MyClass::Omni:ATTR(ARRAY)( 'SomeOtherClass',    # class
                                          'LEXICAL',           # no typeglob
                                          \@arr,               # referent
                                          'Omni',              # attr name
                                          ""                   # eval'd attr data
                                          'CHECK',             # compiler phase

               # my %hsh :Good(q/bye) :Omni(q/bus/);

               MyClass::Good:ATTR(HASH)( 'SomeOtherClass',     # class
                                         'LEXICAL',            # no typeglob
                                         \%hsh,                # referent
                                         'Good',               # attr name
                                         'q/bye'               # raw attr data
                                         'CHECK',              # compiler phase

               MyClass::Omni:ATTR(HASH)( 'SomeOtherClass',     # class
                                         'LEXICAL',            # no typeglob
                                         \%hsh,                # referent
                                         'Omni',               # attr name
                                         'bus'                 # eval'd attr data
                                         'CHECK',              # compiler phase

       Installing handlers into UNIVERSAL, makes them...err..universal.  For

               package Descriptions;
               use Attribute::Handlers;

               my %name;
               sub name { return $name{$_[2]}||*{$_[1]}{NAME} }

               sub UNIVERSAL::Name :ATTR {
                       $name{$_[2]} = $_[4];

               sub UNIVERSAL::Purpose :ATTR {
                       print STDERR "Purpose of ", &name, " is $_[4]\n";

               sub UNIVERSAL::Unit :ATTR {
                       print STDERR &name, " measured in $_[4]\n";

       Let's you write:

               use Descriptions;

               my $capacity : Name(capacity)
                            : Purpose(to store max storage capacity for files)
                            : Unit(Gb);

               package Other;

               sub foo : Purpose(to foo all data before barring it) { }

               # etc.

       "Bad attribute type: ATTR(%s)"
           An attribute handler was specified with an ":ATTR(ref_type)", but
           the type of referent it was defined to handle wasn't one of the
           five permitted: "SCALAR", "ARRAY", "HASH", "CODE", or "ANY".

       "Attribute handler %s doesn't handle %s attributes"
           A handler for attributes of the specified name was defined, but not
           for the specified type of declaration. Typically encountered whe
           trying to apply a "VAR" attribute handler to a subroutine, or a
           "SCALAR" attribute handler to some other type of variable.

       "Declaration of %s attribute in package %s may clash with future
       reserved word"
           A handler for an attributes with an all-lowercase name was
           declared. An attribute with an all-lowercase name might have a
           meaning to Perl itself some day, even though most don't yet. Use a
           mixed-case attribute name, instead.

       "Can't have two ATTR specifiers on one subroutine"
           You just can't, okay?  Instead, put all the specifications together
           with commas between them in a single "ATTR(specification)".

       "Can't autotie a %s"
           You can only declare autoties for types "SCALAR", "ARRAY", and
           "HASH". They're the only things (apart from typeglobs -- which are
           not declarable) that Perl can tie.

       "Internal error: %s symbol went missing"
           Something is rotten in the state of the program. An attributed sub-
           routine ceased to exist between the point it was declared and the
           point at which its attribute handler(s) would have been called.

       "Won't be able to apply END handler"
           You have defined an END handler for an attribute that is being
           applied to a lexical variable.  Since the variable may not be
           available during END this won't happen.

       Damian Conway (

       There are undoubtedly serious bugs lurking somewhere in code this funky
       :-) Bug reports and other feedback are most welcome.

                Copyright (c) 2001, Damian Conway. All Rights Reserved.
              This module is free software. It may be used, redistributed
                  and/or modified under the same terms as Perl itself.

perl v5.8.6                       2001-09-21            Attribute::Handlers(3)