Distributing Helper Libraries With Perl 6 Modules

NativeCall is a great feature in Perl 6; it's one of the features I like to showcase when showing off what Perl 6 can do! For those of you who don't know, NativeCall is a module that allows you to trivially bind to native libraries without having to write any C. For example, if you want to call write(2) from Perl 6, you can just do this:

use NativeCall;

# native(Str) opens a handle to the running program, but this isn't portable!
sub write(int32 $fd, Buf $buf, int32 $count) returns int32 is native(Str) { * }

my $msg = "hello, world!\n".encode;
write(2, $msg, $msg.bytes);

Opening an external library is as simple as providing its name to is native(). However, sometimes you don't want to rely on the user to have a certain library installed on their system; sometimes you want to bundle a library with your Perl 6 code (for example, if a library is unlikely to have an OS package available), or sometimes you need a helper library that helps you with things that NativeCall can't do (for example, wrapping C++ code that uses templates in C wrappers). Let's take my Linenoise module for example; it used to be that you would just do this:

our sub linenoise(Str $prompt) returns Str is native('linenoise') { * }

However, the recent change in distribution installation means that now, you need to do this:

our sub linenoise(Str $prompt) returns Str
    is native(%?RESOURCES{'lib/linenoise.so'}) { * }

Which isn't that big of a change! But what does that %?RESOURCES part mean?


In Perl 6, modules are distributed in distributions, or "dists" for short. In addition to code, dists may have associated resources; you can imagine using this to distribute images with a GUI app, or builtin templates with a web framework. To access these resources, a special compile-time hash is available to your modules: %?RESOURCES. When you retrieve a value from the %?RESOURCES hash, you get an IO object you can use. So this makes a natural vehicle for distributing helper libraries! However, there are a few caveats in doing so, and you may have spotted one in my example above.


.so is the standard extension for shared libraries on *nix systems, like Linux and BSD. Mac OS X breaks from BSD tradition with its .dylib, and Windows, ever the odd one out, uses .dll. So we can't hardcode the extension. Fortunately, the $*VM dynamic variable can help us out here; the extension is available as $*VM.config<dll> But only on MoarVM; the JVM has a different key under $*VM.config for getting this information. There's also $*VM.platform-library-name. But only on MoarVM; the JVM has a different key under $*VM.config for getting this information. There's also $*VM.platform-library-name. . So we can accommodate the various extensions like so:

our sub linenoise(Str $prompt) returns Str
    is native(%?RESOURCES{'lib/linenoise' ~ $*VM.config<dll>}) { * }

However, there is another issue: getting our module installer to install the helper library.

Installing the Helper Library

In order to get files into %?RESOURCES, we need to put them into our dist's META file. According to the the spec, all of the resources in the dist's META file need to exist at installation time. We shouldn't need to build a DLL on Linux if we're never going to use it, but we need to give the installer something. So we end up with a resources section that looks like this:

    ...rest of META.info...
    "resources": [

...and a Build.pm that looks like this:

use v6;

use Panda::Builder;
use LibraryMake;

class Build is Panda::Builder {
    method build($workdir) {
        my %vars = get-vars("$workdir/blib/lib");
        my @shared-object-extensions = <.so .dll .dylib>.grep(* ne %vars<SO>);

        %vars<FAKESO> = @shared-object-extensions.map('resources/lib/liblinenoise' ~ *);

        my $fake-so-rules = @shared-object-extensions.map({
            "resources/lib/liblinenoise$_:\n\tperl6 -e \"print ''\" > resources/lib/liblinenoise$_"

        process-makefile($workdir, %vars);
        spurt("$workdir/Makefile", $fake-so-rules, :append);

What happens here is that I amend the Makefile so that empty files are generated for the other operating systems' shared object extensions. The FAKESO variable is present so that the Makefile can put it in its all rule to make sure those fake resources are built.

Hopefully .so, .dylib, and .dll covers everything (if I missed something, please let me know! I love finding out about this kind of stuff!).

So we have a complicated Build.pm file, some redundant logic in our module, and some custom rules in our Makefile.in that Build.pm will process. I didn't want to keep having to write the same boilerplate for every module that does this, so I did what all Perl programmers do: I wrote a module.


My module, Native::Resources, does its best to minimize boilerplate you need to write when distributing helper libraries. You still need the %FAKESO% bit in your Makefile.in, but here's what Build.pm looks like now:

use v6;

use Panda::Builder;
use Native::Resources::Build;

class Build is Panda::Builder {
    method build($workdir) {
        make($workdir, "$workdir/resources/lib", :libname<linenoise>);

...and here's how the module code has changed:

our sub linenoise(Str $prompt) returns Str
    is native(resource-lib('linenoise', :%?RESOURCES)) { * }

You can look at the full Linenoise conversion to use Native::Resources here.

It's my hope that helper libraries will be handled by the spec and that Native::Resources will one day be obsolete panda is already experimenting with some ideas in this area. panda is already experimenting with some ideas in this area. . Until then, feel free to give it a try!

UPDATE: With recent changes to Rakudo and the various Perl 6 module installers, Native::Resources has been made obsolete.

Published on 2016-01-12