Typist - A template engine and framework like the ones found in Movable Type and TypePad


Began as a prototype and mental exercise of the authors that is inspired by the template engines from in MT and TypePad.

I spend most of my development time working with Movable Type and to a lessor extent. The vast majority of my Perl code is for Movable Type and when its not its creating an open source module for CPAN that works like something in MT.

When I do have to develop something outside of Movable Type I reach for CGI::Application and Data::ObjectDriver which are quite similar to what MT provides. The one thing I miss the though is MT's template engine.

MT's application screen are generated using HTML::Template. HTML::Template is fast, lightweight and separates logic and layout. The problem is the separation of logic from layout is done to the point where templates are almost brain dead. Almost everything but the most basic logic must be done before processing a template in the application code. Want to list 5 instead of 10 items here? You have to go back to your coder. Want to change the sort order. Back to your code. Want to pre-select a pulldown menu item? Each option needs to be wrapped in an TMPL_IF statement. To me this makes development tedious and difficult. It also makes reuse of template layouts difficult if not impossible.

I've looked at other template engines too. My problem with template engines such as Mason and Template Toolkit is that it requires the template designer to know Perl or something similar to it. It also makes writing crap code (a technical term) too easy. Broaden the scope a moment PHP suffers from this same issues.

To me the MT template engine is a great balance of flexibility, power and ease of use. It keeps application logic and layout neatly separated and can be (and has been) used by many coding neophytes without knowing a line of Perl code. With a bit of Perl code it can be extended using easy to re-distribute plugins. The whole implementation of a tag used throughout many templates can be easily swapped out and a template developer wouldn't even know it.

Granted I'm biased by my background, but I think this style of template engine provides and an option that is currently missing from Perl programmer's toolkit.

In scratching my own itch and out of curiosity and frustration I sat down one day and assembled Typist to see what a standalone version would "look" like in addition to working through a few ideas to improve what exists.

This distribution is the result of that work with just a bit of polish.


Typist is not a direct port of what is found in MT. Differences do exist in making this more general purpose and addressing some shortcomings. See "DIFFERENCES FROM MT AND TYPEPAD" below.

Currently Typist is optimized for dynamic page creation though static publishing like MT and TypePad employ is quite possible with some additional enhancement and an eventual goal for this distribution.



The following options can be set when creating when calling new. See the methods of the same name for more information on their use.


Typist is designed to be a singleton object. Calling instance returns that object.


Gets/sets the prefix all tags begins with. Some care needs to be given so HTML or other output Typist is generating isn't interpreted as a template markup. This should only be set once when initializing Typist and then not again. The default is 'MT'.



While this template engines functionality is quite similar to that found in Movable and TypePad, some differences do exist. Some of these differences come from making Typist more general purpose. In other cases its in making a few improvements and enhancements that as a developer quite familiar with MT's internals thought was missing or needed.

Typist::Builder::compile uses a shallow parser instead recursive descent.

I've yet to test this theory, but its my belief that a shallow parser is more efficient then doing recursive descent. Even once benchmarking can be performed, it will be hard to say precisely since other changes were made that would also impact performance.

I also went this route since I didn't want to simply plagiarize MT's code. This was also begun as a mental exercise on my own and I've always been intrigued by Robert's Cameron REX XML Shallow Parser.

Variable tags MUST use $ notation.

While I'm all for flexibility, however the optional $ notation of variable tags found in MT and TypePad impacts performance of the compiler. Further not using $ with varaiable tags or worse being inconsistent with their application makes markup harder to read.

The order of tag arguments is respected while post processing.

This minor change which MT 3.3/MTE 1.01 introduced enables the ability to create filter pipelines. I think that is a really simple, but very handy thing.

Typist::Builder::compile drops the uncompiled hash element in tokens tree.

I never understood why MT did this because it makes the tokens tree much larger in memory then it needs to be. In the one or two instances that I've ever seen this used, examining the tokens tree could have yielded the same results as looking at the raw uncompiled markup of child elements. Hence...

Typist::Build::compile stashes the 'root' element of the tokens tree in the context object when a build begins.

There have been times when I've needed to know what the parent tags are of the one I'm developing. MT doesn't provide any means of examining the token tree. By stashing the root element developers this is possible. This was a bit easier and less obtrusive then a parent element in the token tree and having it deviate from MT's operation.

Tag handlers have class AND object scope in Typist::Context module.

Currently in MT (and presumably TypePad) tags are loaded in the Context class and are available to all other templates that get processed thereafter. This presents a scoping problem implementing tags that need to have their use restricted to a specific template or script. Using Typist developers can control the scope of a tags use by enabling a handler to be registered to a specific Typist::Context object.

Removed need for local stash hack.

In MT the stash method is crucial to managing context and passing values from one handler to the next. Things get messy when container tag handler needs to stash a value with a key that is already in use and needs to be maintain for when the handler completes. One way to handle this issue is to set the existing value to a temporary value and then set the stash back once its run. Another way is to use Perl's local command and manipulate the stash hash table directly.

Here is a real scenario from MT that demonstrates this issue.

MT is generating a individual archive page for a specific entry. The entry object gets loaded and stashed with the key 'entry'. Tags like MTEntryTitle can then use this object to insert its data into the template. This same template has a unordered list of recent posts. This list of entries is created using MTEntries that also stashes an entry object with the key 'entry.' If this loop were to simply set the 'entry' hash with the object, by the time it would get to laying out the entry the page is for the last entry in the recent posts list would be in the stash and not the entry the page is supposed to be generated for. Essentially ever individual archive page would be this same one over and over again.

In Typist stash works like a stack and pushes element rather then overwriting an existing one. An unstash method to pop value off the stack. This not only avoids breaking encapsulation to manipulate the stash hash directly, but allows developers the ability to examine and evaluate the stack something not possible with the use of the local hack.

Here is where the local hack comes in. Instead of...


MT manipulates the underlying stash hash directly and uses the local command to limit its scope to the current method (enclosures) execution and maintain the previous value.

local $ctx->{__stash}{'entry'} = $entry;

Once this command is called I don't know if another entry was in context and if so what it was. I also don't know how "deep" I am in entry contexts.

Here is some pseudo code of how this would be handled in Typist:

  # Application sets initial entry for template context
  # Some tag container tag handler that lists entries
  sub tag { 
    for @loop {
      my @entries = $ctx->stash('entry'); 
        # @entries has $start and $other 
      my $e = $ctx->stash('entry'); 
        # $e is $other 
      # processing of other contained tags
      $ctx->unstash('entry'); # removes $other for next loop 
    # $ctx->stash('entry') is back to just $start

Encapsulation is not broken and developers have the option of examining the stack of elements in a particular stash key. The downside is that you have to remember to unstash stashed element as they are not automatically handled for you. I'm asserting that this is a small price to pay.

Added var method to context for managing template variables.

MT::Template::Context manages a separate hash of variables that template tags like MTSetVar and MTGetVar can manipulate, but nothing in the API is provided for such manipulations so one was added.

Template are file-based and have built in token caching capabilities.

There is no guarantee that a template will be an object or even stored in the database like MT and TypePad. A simple file-based template mechanism has been included in Typist to provide baseline template functionality. It's likely that implementations will create their own more sophisticated template management systems instead of the Typist::Template.

Token caching is something MT had not done until recently. (Whether TypePad does this is unknown since its externals are not exposed to developers.) Before a template was compiled every time it was built.

Plugins are modules that register their resources on import and/or initialization

MT has its own plugin loading mechanism that when introduced was fine particularly given most MT users where not developers and tag handlers were generally simple. A lot has changed since then and the use of plugins has grown exponentially is number and sophistication. Over this time its become clear the original system is inadequate and bogging down the system. For instance all plugins are loaded with every request no matter if they will be needed or not. Also plugin files can contain any type of plugin. Besides these shortcomings, Perl has a perfectly good plugin system via modules that is well-known and documented to developers. See CGI::Application and its collection of CGI::Application::Plugin::* modules.

Implementing plugins as modules by separating plugin types out and suggesting some naming standards, applications can more selectively load what it needs into memory.


Develop a plugin loader methods either based on Module::Pluggable or perhaps using a callback hook plugins could be loaded on demand.
The Include tag does not process a file as markup. How should this be implemented? Argument? Separate tag?
Implement a strict mode will throw error if an unknown tag is encountered.
Implement a Loop tag in the standard tagset. How does this connect up with the stash or vars?
Implement a Translate tag in the standard tagset for localizing strings. This is similar in function to the MT_TRANS tag which exists outside of MT's template engine.
Should Typist remain a singleton?


There is plenty to do that I could use help with in continuing this effort.

Plenty of bugs!

There are surely lots of bugs in this release. As mentioned this code was assembled as part of a prototype and mental exercise and then refactored and tweaked. It shouldn't be too buggy (famous last words) since its based and inspired on different bits of production code, but clearly issues will exist in this release. Please use the CPAN bug tracker as you find them. Patches would be greatly appreciated.


This goes hand and hand with the previous point. Because of how this came together tests weren't written before coding and in just getting this out there for public review they haven't been done yet either. Any help in this area would be greatly appreciated.


What's here is a bit hasty and barely a first draft.


This distribution is hardly even alpha code. Do not use it for a production application.

Please direct all feedback, questions and commentary to the mt-dev mailing list in which I moderate and many knowledge MT and Perl developers frequent.

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