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Alien::Build::Manual::FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions about Alien::Build


version 1.39


 perldoc Alien::Build::Manual::FAQ


This document serves to answer the most frequently asked questions made by developers creating Alien modules using Alien::Build.


What is Alien, Alien::Base and Alien::Build?

Alien in a Perl namespace for defining dependencies in CPAN for libraries and tools which are not "native" to CPAN. For a manifesto style description of the Why, and How see Alien. Alien::Base is a base class for the Alien runtime. Alien::Build is a tool for probing the operating system for existing libraries and tools, and downloading, building and installing packages. alienfile is a recipe format for describing how to probe, download, build and install a package.

How do I build a package that uses build system


Use the autoconf plugin (Alien::Build::Plugin::Build::Autoconf). If your package provides a pkg-config .pc file, then you can also use the PkgConfig plugin (Alien::Build::Plugin::PkgConfig::Negotiate).

 use alienfile
 plugin PkgConfig => 'libfoo';
 share {
   start_url => 'http://example.org/dist';
   plugin Download => (
     version => qr/libfoo-([0-9\.])\.tar\.gz$/,
   plugin Extract => 'tar.gz';
   plugin 'Build::Autoconf';

If you need to provide custom flags to configure, you can do that too:

 share {
   plugin 'Build::Autoconf';
   build [
     '%{configure} --disable-shared --enable-foo',
     '%{make} install',

If your package requires GNU Make, use %{gmake} instead of %{make}.


If you see an error like this:

 Unknown option "--with-pic".

It is because the autoconf plugin uses the --with-pic option by default, since it makes sense most of the time, and autoconf usually ignores options that it does not recognize. Some autoconf style build systems fail when they see an option that they do not recognize. You can turn this behavior off for these packages:

 plugin 'Build::Autoconf' => (
   with_pic => 0,

Another thing about the autoconf plugin is that it uses DESTDIR to do a double staged install. If you see an error like "nothing was installed into destdir", that means that your package does not support DESTDIR. You should instead use the MSYS plugin and use a command sequence to do the build like this:

 share {
   plugin 'Build::MSYS';
   build [
     # explicitly running configure with "sh" will make sure that
     # it works on windows as well as UNIX.
     'sh configure --prefix=%{.install.prefix} --disable-shared',
     '%{make} install',


There is an alien Alien::cmake3 that provides cmake 3.x or better (It is preferred to the older Alien::CMake). Though it is recommended that you use the cmake (Alien::Build::Plugin::Build::CMake) plugin instead of using Alien::cmake3.

 use alienfile;
 share {
   plugin 'Build::CMake';
   build [
     # this is the default build step, if you do not specify one.
     [ '%{cmake}',
         @{ meta->prop->{plugin_build_cmake}->{args} },
         # ... put extra cmake args here ...
     '%{make} install',

vanilla Makefiles

Alien::Build provides a helper (%{make}) for the make that is used by Perl and ExtUtils::MakeMaker (EUMM). Unfortunately the make supported by Perl and EUMM on Windows (nmake and dmake) are not widely supported by most open source projects. (Thankfully recent perls and EUMM support GNU Make on windows now).

You can use the make plugin (Alien::Build::Plugin::Build::Make) to tell the Alien::Build system know which make the project that you are alienizing requires.

 plugin 'Build::Make' => 'umake';
 # umake makes %{make} either GNU Make or BSD Make on Unix and GNU Make on Windows.
 build {
   build [
     # You can use the Perl config compiler and cflags using the %{perl.config...} helper
     [ '%{make}', 'CC=%{perl.config.cc}', 'CFLAGS=%{perl.config.cccdlflags} %{perl.config.optimize}' ],
     [ '%{make}', 'install', 'PREFIX=%{.install.prefix}' ],

Some open source projects require GNU Make, and you can specify that, and Alien::gmake will be pulled in on platforms that do not already have it.

 plugin 'Build::Make' => 'gmake';

How do I probe for a package that uses pkg-config

Use the pkg-config plugin (Alien::Build::Plugin::PkgConfig::Negotiate):

 use alienfile;
 plugin 'PkgConfig' => (
   pkg_name => 'libfoo',

It will probe for a system version of the library. It will also add the appropriate version cflags and libs properties on either a system or share install.

How do I specify a minimum or exact version requirement for packages that use pkg-config?

The various pkg-config plugins all support a minimum_version field:

 use alienfile;
 plugin 'PkgConfig', pkg_name => foo, minimum_version => '1.2.3';

How to create an Alien module for a packages that do not support pkg-config?

Packages that provide a configuration script

Many packages provide a command that you can use to get the appropriate version, compiler and linker flags. For those packages you can just use the commands in your alienfile. Something like this:

 use alienfile;
 probe [ 'foo-config --version' ];
 share {
   build [
     '%{make} PREFIX=%{.runtime.prefix}',
     '%{amek} install PREFIX=%{.runtime.prefix}',
 gather [
   [ 'foo-config', '--version', \'%{.runtime.version}' ],
   [ 'foo-config', '--cflags',  \'%{.runtime.cflags}'  ],
   [ 'foo-config', '--libs',    \'%{.runtime.libs}'    ],

Packages that require a compile test

Some packages just expect you do know that -lfoo will work. For those you can use the cbuilder plugin (Alien::Build::Plugin::Probe::CBuilder.

 use alienfile;
 plugin 'Probe::CBuilder' => (
   cflags => '-I/opt/libfoo/include',
   libs   => '-L/opt/libfoo/lib -lfoo',
 share {
   gather sub {
     my($build) = @_;
     my $prefix = $build->runtime_prop->{prefix};
     $build->runtime_prop->{cflags} = "-I$prefix/include ";
     $build->runtime_prop->{libs}   = "-L$prefix/lib -lfoo ";

This plugin will build a small program with these flags and test that it works. (There are also options to provide a program that can make simple tests to ensure the library works). If the probe works, it will set the compiler and linker flags. (There are also options for extracting the version from the test program). If you do a share install you will need to set the compiler and linker flags yourself in the gather step, if you aren't using a build plugin that will do that for you.

Can/Should I write a tool oriented Alien module?

Certainly. The original intent was to provide libraries, but tools are also quite doable using the Alien::Build toolset. A good example of how to do this is Alien::nasm. You will want to use the 'Probe::CommandLine':

 use alienfile;
 plugin 'Probe::CommandLine' => (
   command => 'gzip',

How do I test my package once it is built (before it is installed)?

Use Test::Alien. It has extensive documentation, and integrates nicely with Alien::Base.

How do I patch packages that need alterations?

If you have a diff file you can use patch:

 use alienfile;
 probe sub { 'share' }; # replace with appropriate probe
 share {
   patch [ '%{patch} -p1 < %{.install.patch}/mypatch.diff' ];
   build [ ... ] ;

You can also patch using Perl if that is easier:

 use alienfile;
 probe sub { 'share' };
 share {
   patch sub {
     my($build) = @_;
     # make changes to source prior to build
   build [ ... ];

599 Internal Exception errors downloading packages from the internet

 Alien::Build::Plugin::Fetch::HTTPTiny> 599 Internal Exception fetching http://dist.libuv.org/dist/v1.15.0
 Alien::Build::Plugin::Fetch::HTTPTiny> exception: IO::Socket::SSL 1.42 must be installed for https support
 Alien::Build::Plugin::Fetch::HTTPTiny> exception: Net::SSLeay 1.49 must be installed for https support
 Alien::Build::Plugin::Fetch::HTTPTiny> An attempt at a SSL URL https was made, but your HTTP::Tiny does not appear to be able to use https.
 Alien::Build::Plugin::Fetch::HTTPTiny> Please see: https://metacpan.org/pod/Alien::Build::Manual::FAQ#599-Internal-Exception-errors-downloading-packages-from-the-internet
 error fetching http://dist.libuv.org/dist/v1.15.0: 599 Internal Exception at /Users/ollisg/.perlbrew/libs/perl-5.26.0@test1/lib/perl5/Alien/Build/Plugin/Fetch/HTTPTiny.pm line 68.

(Older versions of Alien::Build produced a less verbose more confusing version of this diagnostic).

This indicates an "internal" exception from HTTP::Tiny. This could mean a number of different problems, but most frequently indicates that a SSL request was made without the required modules (Net::SSLeay and IO::Socket::SSL). Normally the Alien::Build::Plugin::Download::Negotiate and Alien::Build::Plugin::Fetch::HTTPTiny will make sure that the appropriate modules are added to your prerequisites for you if you specify a https URL. Some websites allow an initial request from http but then redirect to https. If you can it is better to specify https, if you cannot, then you can instead use the ssl property on either of those two plugins.

Network fetch is turned off

If you get an error like this:

 Alien::Build> install type share requested or detected, but network fetch is turned off
 Alien::Build> see see https://metacpan.org/pod/Alien::Build::Manual::FAQ#Network-fetch-is-turned-off

This is because your environment is setup not to install aliens that require the network. You can turn network fetch back on by setting ALIEN_INSTALL_NETWORK to true, or by unsetting it. This environment variable is designed for environments that don't ever want to install aliens that require downloading source packages over the internet.

I would really prefer you not download stuff off the internet

The idea of Alien is to download missing packages and build them automatically to make installing easier. Some people may not like this, or may even have security requirements that they not download random package over the internet (caveat, downloading random stuff off of CPAN may not be any safer, so make sure you audit all of the open source software that you use appropriately). Another reason you may not want to download from the internet is if you are packaging up an alien for an operating system vendor, which will always want to use the system version of a library. In that situation you don't want Alien::Build to go off and download something from the internet because the probe failed for some reason.

This is easy to take care of, simply set ALIEN_INSTALL_TYPE to system and a build from source code will never be attempted. On systems that do not provide system versions of the library or tool you will get an error, allowing you to install the library, and retry the alien install. You can also set the environment variable on just some aliens.

 % export ALIEN_INSTALL_TYPE=system  # for everyone
 % env ALIEN_INSTALL_TYPE=system cpanm -v Alien::libfoo

For testing I would like to test both system and share installs!

You can use the ALIEN_INSTALL_TYPE environment variable. It will force either a share or system install depending on how it is set. For travis you can do something like this:

     - ALIEN_INSTALL_TYPE=system

How do I use Alien::Build from Dist::Zilla?

For creating Alien::Base and Alien::Build based dist from Dist::Zilla you can use the dzil plugin Dist::Zilla::Plugin::AlienBuild.

Cannot find either a share directory or a ConfigData module

If you see an error like this:

 Cannot find either a share directory or a ConfigData module for Alien::libfoo.
 (Alien::libfoo loaded from lib/Alien/libfoo.pm)
 Please see https://metacpan.org/pod/distribution/Alien-Build/lib/Alien/Build/Manual/FAQ.pod#Cannot-find-either-a-share-directory-or-a-ConfigData-module
 Can't locate Alien/libfoo/ConfigData.pm in @INC (you may need to install the Alien::libfoo::ConfigData module) (@INC contains: ...)

it means you are trying to use an Alien that hasn't been properly installed. An Alien::Base based Alien needs to have either the share directory build during the install process or for older legacy Alien::Base::ModuleBuild based Aliens, a ConfigData module generated by Module::Build.

This usually happens if you try to use an Alien module from the lib directory as part of the Alien's distribution. You need to build the alien and use blib/lib instead of lib or install the alien and use the installed path.

It is also possible that your Alien installer is not set up correctly. Make sure your Makefile.PL is using Alien::Build::MM correctly.

I have a question not listed here!

There are a number of forums available to people working on Alien, Alien::Base and Alien::Build modules:

#native on irc.perl.org

This is intended for native interfaces in general so is a good place for questions about Alien generally or Alien::Base and Alien::Build specifically.

mailing list

The perl5-alien google group is intended for Alien issues generally, including Alien::Base and Alien::Build.


Open a support ticket

If you have an issue with Alie::Build itself, then please open a support ticket on the project's GitHub issue tracker.



Alien::Build, Alien::Build::MM, Alien::Build::Plugin, alienfile


Author: Graham Ollis <plicease@cpan.org>


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This software is copyright (c) 2017 by Graham Ollis.

This is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the same terms as the Perl 5 programming language system itself.