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NAME - a class implementing a fill-in template


 use Text::FillIn;
 # Set the functions to do the filling-in:
 Text::FillIn->hook('$', sub { return ${$_[0]} });  # Hard reference
 Text::FillIn->hook('&', "main::run_function");     # Symbolic reference
 sub run_function { return &{$_[0]} }
 $template = new Text::FillIn('some text with [[$vars]] and [[&routines]]');
 $filled_in = $template->interpret();  # Returns filled-in template
 print $filled_in;
 $template->interpret_and_print();  # Prints template to currently 
                                    # selected filehandle
 # Or
 $template = new Text::FillIn();
 $template->set_text('the text is [[ $[[$var1]][[$var2]] ]]');
 $TVars{'var1'} = 'two_';
 $TVars{'var2'} = 'parter';
 $TVars{'two_parter'} = 'interpreted';
 $template->interpret_and_print();  # Prints "the text is interpreted"
 # Or
 $template = new Text::FillIn();
 $template->get_file('/etc/template_dir/my_template');  # Fetches a file
 # Or
 $template = new Text::FillIn();
 $template->path('.', '/etc/template_dir');  # Where to find templates
 $template->get_file('my_template'); # Gets ./my_template or 
                                     # /etc/template_dir/my_template


This module provides a class for doing fill-in templates. These templates may be used as web pages with dynamic content, e-mail messages with fill-in fields, or whatever other uses you might think of. Text::FillIn provides handy methods for fetching files from the disk, printing a template while interpreting it (also called streaming), and nested fill-in sections (i.e. expressions like [[ $th[[$thing2]]ing1 ]] are legal).

Note that the version number here is 0.04 - that means that the interface may change a bit. In fact, it's already changed some with respect to 0.02 (see the CHANGES file). In particular, the $LEFT_DELIM, $RIGHT_DELIM, %HOOK, and @TEMPLATE_PATH variables are gone, replaced by a default/instance variable system.

I might also change the default hooks or something. Please read the CHANGES file before upgrading to find out whether I've changed anything you use.

In this documentation, I generally use "template" to mean "an object of class Text::FillIn".

Defining the structure of templates

  • delimiters

    Text::FillIn has some special variables that it uses to do its work. You can set those variables and customize the way templates get filled in.

    The delimiters that set fill-in sections of your form apart from the rest of the form are generally [[ and ]], but they don't have to be, you can set them to whatever you want. So you could do this:

     $template->set_text('this is a {$variable} and a {&function}.');

    Whatever you set the delimiter to, you can put backslashes before them in your templates, to force them to be interpreted as literals:

     $template->set_text('some [[$[[$var2]][[$var]]]] and \[[ text \]]');
     # Prints "some stuff and [[ text ]]"

    You cannot currently have several different kinds of delimiters in a single template.

  • interpretation hooks

    In order to interpret templates, Text::FillIn needs to know how to treat different kinds of [[tags]] it finds. The way it accomplishes this is through "hook functions." These are various functions that Text::FillIn will run when confronted with various kinds of fill-in fields. There are two hooks provided by default:

     Text::FillIn->hook('$') is \&find_value,
     Text::FillIn->hook('&') is \&run_function.

    So if you leave these hooks the way they are, when Text::FillIn sees some text like "some [[$vars]] and some [[&funk]]", it will run &Text::FillIn::find_value to find the value of [[$vars]], and it will run &Text::FillIn::run_function to find the value of [[&funk]]. This is based on the first non-whitespace character after the delimiter, which is required to be a non-word character (no letters, numbers, or underscores). You can define hooks for any non-word character you want:

     $template = new Text::FillIn("some [[!mushrooms]] were in my shoes!");
     $template->hook('!', "main::scream_it");  # or \&scream_it
     sub scream_it {
        my $text = shift;
        return uc($text); # Uppercase-it
     $new_text = $template->interpret();
     # Returns "some MUSHROOMS were in my shoes!"

    Every hook function will be passed all the text between the delimiters, without any surrounding whitespace or the leading identifier (the & or $, or whatever). Hooks can be given as either hard references or symbolic references, but if they are symbolic, they need to use the complete package name and everything.

    Beginning in version 0.04, you may use some object's methods as hook functions. For example, if you have a template $template and another object $myObj, you can instruct $template to call $myObj->find_value() and $myObj->run_function() to fill in templates. See the $template->object() method below.

  • the default hook functions

    The hook functions installed with the shipping version of this module are &Text::FillIn::find_value and &Text::FillIn::run_function. They are extremely simple. I suggest you take a look at them to see how they work. What follows here is a description of how these functions will fill in your templates.

    The &find_value function looks for an entry in a hash called %main::TVars. So put an entry in this hash if you want it to be available to templates:

     my $template = new Text::FillIn( 'hey, [[$you]]!' );
     $::TVars{'you'} = 'Sam';
     $template->interpret_and_print();  # Prints "hey, Sam!"

    The &run_function function looks for a function in the TExport package and runs it. The reason it doesn't look in the main package is that you probably don't want to make all the functions in your program available to the templates (not that putting all your program's functions in the main package is always the greatest programming style). Here are a couple of ways to make functions available:

     sub TExport::add_numbers {
        my $result;
        foreach (@_) {
           $result += $_;
        return $result;
     #  or, if you like:
     package TExport;
     sub add_numbers {
        my $result;
        foreach (@_) {
           $result += $_;
        return $result;

    The &run_function function will split the argument string at commas, and pass the resultant list to your function:

     my $template = new Text::FillIn(
        'Pi is about [[&add_numbers(3,.1,.04,.001,.0006)]]'

    In the original version of Text::FillIn, I didn't provide any hook functions. I expected people to write their own, partly because I didn't want to stifle creativity or anything. I now include hook functions because the ones I give will probably work okay for most people, and providing them means it's easier to use the module right out of "the box." But I hope you won't be afraid to write your own hooks - if mine don't work well for you, by all means go ahead and replace them with your own. If you think you've written some really killer hooks, let me know. I may include cool ones with future distributions.

  • template directories

    You can tell Text::FillIn where to look for templates:

     Text::FillIn->path('.', '/etc/template_dir');
     $template->get_file('my_template'); # Gets ./my_template or /etc/template_dir/my_template


  • new Text::FillIn($text)

    This is the constructor, which means it returns a new object of type Text::FillIn. If you feed it some text, it will set the template's text to be what you give it:

     $template = new Text::FillIn("some [[$vars]] and some [[&funk]]");
  • $template->get_file( $filename );

    This will look for a template called $filename (in the directories given in $template->path()) and slurp it in. If $filename starts with / , then Text::FillIn will treat $filename as an absolute path, and not search through the directories for it:

     $template->get_file( "my_template" );
     $template->get_file( "/weird/place/with/template" );

    The default path is ('.').

  • $template->interpret()

    Returns the interpreted contents of the template:

     $interpreted_text = $template->interpret();

    This, along with interpret_and_print, are the main point of this whole module.

  • $template->interpret_and_print()

    Interprets the [[ fill-in parts ]] of a template and prints the template, streaming its output as much as possible. This means that if it encounters an expression like "[[ stuff [[ more stuff]] ]]", it will fill in [[ more stuff ]], then use the filled-in value to resolve the value of [[ stuff something ]], and then print it out.

    If it encounters an expression like "stuff1 [[thing1]] stuff2 [[thing2]]", it will print stuff1, then the value of [[thing1]], then stuff2, then the value of [[thing2]]. This is as streamed as possible if you want nested brackets to resolve correctly.

The following methods all get and/or set certain attributes of the template. They can all be called as instance methods, a la $template->Ldelim(), or as static methods, a la Text::FillIn->Ldelim(). Using an instance method only changes the given template, it does not affect the properties of any other template. Using a static method will change the default behavior of all templates created in the future.

I think I need to reserve the right to change what happens when you create a template $t, then change the default behavior of all templates, then call $t->interpret() -- should it use the new defaults or the old defaults? Currently it uses the old defaults, but that might change.

  • $template->Ldelim($new_delimiter)

  • $template->Rdelim($new_delimiter)

    Get or set the left or right delimiter. When called with no arguments, simply returns the delimiter. When called with an argument, sets the delimiter.

  • $template->text($new_text)

    Get or set the contents of the template.

  • $template->path($dir1, $dir2, ...)

    Get or set the list of directories to search for templates in. The path is used in the get_file() method.

  • $template->hook($character, $hook_function)

    Get or set the functions for filling in the sections of the template between delimiters. The first argument is the non-word character the hook is installed under. The second argument, if present, is the function to install as a hook. It may either be a hard reference to a function, a string containing the fully package-qualified name of a function, or if you're using objects to fill in your template, a method name. See also the subsection on interpretation hooks in the DESCRIPTION section.

  • $template->object($obj)

    As of version 0.04, you may use method calls on an arbitrary object as template hooks. This can be very powerful. Your code might look like this:

     $t   = new Text::FillIn("some [[$animal]]s");
     $obj = new MyClass(animal=>'chicken');  # Create some object
     $t->object($obj);  # Tell $t to use methods of $obj as hooks
     $t->hook('$', 'lookup_var');  # Set the method name for '$'
     $t->interpret_and_print();  # Calls $obj->lookup_var()

    The object methods will be passed the same arguments as regular (static) hook functions.

  • $template->property( $name, $value );

    This method lets you get and set arbitrary properties of the template, like this:

     $template->property('color', 'blue');  # Set the color
     # ... some code...
     $color = $template->property('color'); # Get the color

    The Text::FillIn class doesn't actually pay any attention whatsoever to the properties - it's purely for your own convenience, so that small changes in functionality can be achieved without having to subclass Text::FillIn.


If you want to use nested fill-ins on your template, make sure things get printed in the order you think they'll be printed. If you have something like this: [[$var_number_[[&get_number]]]], and your &get_number prints a number, you won't get the results you probably want. Text::FillIn will print your number, then try to interpret [[$var_number_]], which probably won't work.

The solution is to make &get_number return its number rather than print it. Then Text::FillIn will turn [[$var_number_[[&get_number]]]] into [[$var_number_5]], and then print the value of $var_number_5. That's probably what you wanted.


The deprecated methods get_text(), set_text(), get_property(), and set_property() will be removed in version 0.06 and greater. Use text() and property() instead.

By slick use of local() variables, it would be possible to have Text::FillIn keep track of when it's doing nested tags and when it's not, allowing the user to nest tags using arbitrary depth and not have to worry about the above "common mistake." This would let hook functions be oblivious to whether they're supposed to print their results or return them, since Text::FillIn would keep track of it all. This will take some doing on my part, but it's not insurmountable. It would probably involve evaluating the tags from the outside in, rather than the inside out.


The interpreting engine can be fooled by certain backslashing sequences like \\[[$var]], which looks to it like the [[ is backslashed. I think I know how to fix this, but I need to think about it a little.


Ken Williams (

Copyright (c) 1998 Swarthmore College. All rights reserved. This program is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the same terms as Perl itself.