Brent Royal-Gordon


DBIx::Path - resolve a path in an in-database tree or directed graph


    use DBIx::Path;
    my $root=DBIx::Path->new(dbh => $dbh, table => 'treetable');
    my $node=$root->resolve(split '/', 'one/two/three')
                or die "Can't resolve path: $! at $DBIx::Path::FAILED[0]";
    print $_->name, "\t", $_->id, "\n" for $node->list;


DBIx::Path is used to navigate through trees or directed graphs described by self-referential SQL database tables. It can be used to browse most trees where each row contains a unique ID and the ID of its parent, as well as graphs structured similarly but with multiple parents for a given node (presumably with the actual data for a given ID stored in a different table).

The module is designed to work with tables with at least three columns. One is called the parent ID (pid); one is called the name; and one is the ID. The combination of a particular pid and name must be unique in the entire table. The three columns can be of any type, but pid and id should probably be of the same type. The columns can have any name you want--you're not confined to "id", "pid", and "name". It is possible to have the id and name be the same column.

An example layout:

    CREATE TABLE tree (
        pid INTEGER NOT NULL,
        name VARCHAR(16) NOT NULL,
        id INTEGER NOT NULL,
        PRIMARY KEY (pid, name)

In MySQL, you might want to use a layout with a TIMESTAMP column:

    CREATE TABLE tree (
        pid INTEGER NOT NULL,
        name VARCHAR(16) NOT NULL,
        id INTEGER NOT NULL,
        mtime TIMESTAMP,
        PRIMARY KEY (pid, name)

In this table, name and ID are one:

    CREATE TABLE folders (
        parent VARCHAR(16) NOT NULL,
        name VARCHAR(16) NOT NULL,
        PRIMARY KEY (pid, name)

The parent/child relationship is expressed through the pid field--each node contains its parent's ID in its pid field. DBIx::Path's primary purpose is to retrieve the ID for a particular pid/name combination, with the ability to descend through the tree via the resolve method.

An object of type DBIx::Path represents a node, and in this document it will always be referred to as a node.



    $root_node = DBIx::Path->new( %config );
    $node = $root_node->new( id => $id );    # If the ID is known

Manually creates an object to represent the tree's root node. Note that there doesn't actually need to be an ID in the table for this node, although it doesn't hurt! The pid and name methods will always return undef for a node created through new, but nodes created through new otherwise behave identically to those created with get, set, add, or resolve.

new can also be used as a copy constructor. This can be used to create a DBIx::Path object from a known ID.

The arguments comprise a hash (not a hash reference) with the following keys:

  • dbh

    An already-opened DBI database handle. Required.

  • table

    The name of the table containing the tree/graph being traversed. Required.

  • id_column

    The name of the ID field. Optional; defaults to "id".

  • pid_column

    The name of the pid field. Optional; defaults to "pid".

  • name_column

    The name of the name field. Optional; defaults to "name".

  • id

    The ID of the root. Optional; defaults to 0. Note that id cannot be undef (NULL), due to the SQL used to retrieve nodes.

  • hooks

    A hashref of sub references which DBIx::Path will call at appropriate time. Optional; current hooks include:


    Called at the beginning of any operation involving a database query. The first parameter is the database handle; the second is 'r' for a read operation (which recommends a shared lock) or 'w' for a write operation (which recommends an exclusive lock).


    Called after the operation which needed a lock is complete. Parameters are the same as lock.

The return value is a DBIx::Path object, which can then be used normally.



    $node = $node->get( $name )

The get method retrieves the immediate child of $node named $name. It returns undef and sets $! to ENOENT if no child by that name exists.


    $node = $node->add( $name, $id )

Adds $id as a child of $node named $name, then returns the newly-added node. This is done with a SQL INSERT statement. If the statement failed (because, for example, (pid, name) is a primary key and that particular combination already exists), returns undef and sets $! to EEXIST.


    $ok = $node->del( $name )

Deletes the relation between $node and $name. Returns 1 if successful. If the SQL statement failed, returns undef and sets $! to ENOENT.


    $node = $node->set( $name, $id )

Deletes the old relation between $node and $name, then creates a new one making $id the child of $node named $name. A simple wrapper around del and add. Return values are the same as add, but note that $! may still be set due to the result of del.

This method may be subject to race conditions unless the lock and unlock hooks are specified.


    @list = $node->parents()

Finds all references to the current node--in other words, all parents which count this node as their child. In scalar context, returns the number of parents; in list context, returns a hash whose keys are the IDs of the parents and whose values are an arrayref of names the current node is found under.


    $node = $node->resolve( @components )

The resolve method traverses the provided path; that is, it looks up the child of $node named $components[0], then looks up the child of the just-retrieved node named $components[1], and so on. Components which are undefined or consist of the empty string will be ignored.

Return value is the same as get when a name anywhere in @components does not resolve.

After it is run, @DBIx::Path::RESOLVED will contain all components it resolved, and $DBIx::Path::PARENT will contain the node resolved from $RESOLVED[-1]. That is, after a successful run, @RESOLVED will be a copy of the @components list, and $PARENT will contain the parent of the returned node.

After a failed attempt to resolve, @RESOLVED will contain all components that resolved successfully. An additional variable, @DBIx::Path::FAILED, will contain the remaining components. $PARENT will contain the node which didn't have a child named $FAILED[0]. These variables are intended to augment the simple ENOENT placed in $! by get.



Returns all paths from the root to the current node. The return value is an arrayref of names. (If called on the root node, it returns a single empty arrayref, which is probably the most accurate depiction of the situation.) If called in scalar context, it will return the number of paths from the root to the current node.

If reverse() encounters a circular reference while attempting to find the parents, it will return an empty list and set $! to ELOOP.

The results of this function are undefined if the relevant parts of the tree are modified while it's being executed. It is an exceedingly good idea to specify the lock and unlock hooks if you intend to use this method.

Note: This function disregards the contents of the id parameter given to new; it considers the root to simply be the parentless node at the top of the tree. Thus, it may "break out" of a particular subtree.



Returns an unordered list of nodes which are children of the current node.

This method does not operate recursively; the DBIx::Tree module would be more appropriate for that purpose.



    $id = $node->id()

Returns the ID of the current node.


    $pid = $node->pid()

Returns the parent ID used to resolve the current node. Returns undef for the root node.


    $name = $node->name()

Returns the name used to resolve the current node. Returns undef for the root node.


DBIx::Path primarily communicates errors to the caller by returning undef and setting $! to an appropriate value. However, it does throw a few exceptions.

Invalid or missing %s

One of the required parameters to new (either the database handle or the table name) was omitted, or something that clearly wasn't a handle or table name (such as an undef value) was passed. Please check your code.

DBIx::Path->new: Couldn't prepare '%s' statement: %s

new prepares several SQL statements which are used by the other methods. This message indicates that the indicated statement was invalid. This could indicate a bad table name or invalid whatever_column settings; it could also mean that the SQL used by DBIx::Path isn't recognized by your DBD.

Check the parameters you're passing to DBIx::Path->new, then make sure the SQL at the indicated line number is valid for your server. The text after the second colon is the DBI error message.

DBIx::Path: PANIC: Key won't fit in lock

Internal error indicating that DBIx::Path wanted to call your unlock hook, but somehow forgot to call your lock hook in the first place. This shouldn't happen.

DBIx::Path: WARNING: Program may have exited with lock(s) still held

DBIx::Path has an internal variable tracking how deeply nested locks currently are; it uses this to ensure that your lock/unlock hooks are only called once per method. This message will be printed to STDERR if that variable has a non-zero value when Perl exits; it indicates that you should check to make sure your database hasn't become wedged.

This message is most often seen when an error occurs within DBIx::Path itself; it may also be displayed for particularly nasty sorts of bugs within DBIx::Path or if your process is hit by a signal while DBIx::Path is querying your database. It's never good news.


There are no known bugs at this time; however, I'm not that experienced with the DBI, so God only knows if I've missed something important.

The following methods may be vulneurable to race conditions or other time-sensitive bugs unless locking hooks are provided:

  • set

  • resolve

  • reverse

Some enhancements I'm considering are:

  • Hooks on the basic operations (get, add, del, possibly set and list). Subclassing may make this unnecessary, however.

  • Methods that select all descendents of the current node and return them in various useful forms. (These would have to not curl up into a ball and cry in the face of circular references.)

Patches to implement these, or to fix bugs, are much appreciated; send them to <> and start the subject line with something like "[PATCH DBIx::Path]".


DBI, DBD::*, DBIx::Tree, File::Path


Brent 'Dax' Royal-Gordon, <>


Copyright 2005 Brent 'Dax' Royal-Gordon. All rights reserved.

This library is free software; it may be used, redistributed, and/or modified under the same terms as Perl itself.

5 POD Errors

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