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Andy Wardley
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Template::Manual::Internals - Template Toolkit internals


Outside Looking In

The Template module is simply a front end module which creates and uses a Template::Service and pipes the output wherever you want it to go (STDOUT by default, or maybe a file, scalar, etc). The Apache::Template module (available separately from CPAN) is another front end. That creates a Template::Service::Apache object, calls on it as required and sends the output back to the relevant Apache::Request object.

These front-end modules are really only there to handle any specifics of the environment in which they're being used. The Apache::Template front end, for example, handles Apache::Request specifics and configuration via the httpd.conf. The regular Template front-end deals with STDOUT, variable refs, etc. Otherwise it is Template::Service (or subclass) which does all the work.

The Template::Service module provides a high-quality template delivery service, with bells, whistles, signed up service level agreement and a 30-day no quibble money back guarantee. "Have a good time, all the time", that's our motto.

Within the lower levels of the Template Toolkit, there are lots of messy details that we generally don't want to have to worry about most of the time. Things like templates not being found, or failing to parse correctly, uncaught exceptions being thrown, missing plugin modules or dependencies, and so on. Template::Service hides that all away and makes everything look simple to the outsider. It provides extra features, like PRE_PROCESS, PROCESS and POST_PROCESS, and also provides the error recovery mechanism via ERROR. You ask it to process a template and it takes care of everything for you. The Template::Service::Apache module goes a little bit further, adding some extra headers to the Apache::Request, setting a few extra template variables, and so on.

For the most part, the job of a service is really just one of scheduling and dispatching. It receives a request in the form of a call to its process() method and schedules the named template specified as an argument, and possibly several other templates (PRE_PROCESS, etc) to be processed in order. It doesn't actually process the templates itself, but instead makes a process() call against a Template::Context object.

Template::Context is the runtime engine for the Template Toolkit - the module that hangs everything together in the lower levels of the Template Toolkit and that one that does most of the real work, albeit by crafty delegation to various other friendly helper modules.

Given a template name (or perhaps a reference to a scalar or file handle) the context process() method must load and compile, or fetch a cached copy of a previously compiled template, corresponding to that name. It does this by calling on a list of one or more Template::Provider objects (the LOAD_TEMPLATES posse) who themselves might get involved with a Template::Parser to help turn source templates into executable Perl code (but more on that later). Thankfully, all of this complexity is hidden away behind a simple template() method. You call it passing a template name as an argument, and it returns a compiled template in the form of a Template::Document object, or otherwise raises an exception.

A Template::Document is a thin object wrapper around a compiled template subroutine. The object implements a process() method which performs a little bit of housekeeping and then calls the template subroutine. The object also defines template metadata (defined in [% META ... %] directives) and has a block() method which returns a hash of any additional [% BLOCK xxxx %] definitions found in the template source.

So the context fetches a compiled document via its own template() method and then gets ready to process it. It first updates the stash (the place where template variables get defined - more on that shortly) to set any template variable definitions specified as the second argument by reference to hash array. Then, it calls the document process() method, passing a reference to itself, the context object, as an argument. In doing this, it provides itself as an object against which template code can make callbacks to access runtime resources and Template Toolkit functionality.

What we're trying to say here is this: not only does the Template::Context object receive calls from the outside, i.e. those originating in user code calling the process() method on a Template object, but it also receives calls from the inside, i.e. those originating in template directives of the form [% PROCESS template %].

Before we move on to that, here's a simple structure diagram showing the outer layers of the Template Toolkit heading inwards, with pseudo code annotations showing a typical invocation sequence.

     | Caller |     use Template;
     `--------'     my $tt = Template->new( ... );
          |         $tt->process($template, \%vars);
          |                                                     Outside
  - - - - | - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - T T 
          |         package Template;                            Inside
    +----------+    sub process($template, \%vars) {
    | Template |        $out = $self->SERVICE->process($template, $vars);
    +----------+        print $out or send it to $self->OUTPUT;
          |         }
          |         package Template::Service;
          |         sub process($template, \%vars) {
          |             try {
    +----------+            foreach $p in @self->PRE_PROCESS
    | Service  |                $self->CONTEXT->process($p, $vars);
          |                 $self->CONTEXT->process($template, $vars);
          |                 foreach $p @self->POST_PROCESS
          |                     $self->CONTEXT->process($p, $vars);
          |             }
          |             catch {
          |                 $self->CONTEXT->process($self->ERROR);
          |             }
          |         }
          V         package Template::Context;
    | Context  |    sub process($template, \%vars) {
    +----------+        # fetch compiled template
          |             $template = $self->template($template)
          |             # update stash
          |             $self->STASH->update($vars);
          |             # process template
          |             $template->process($self)
          |         }
    +----------+    package Template::Document;
    | Document |    
    +----------+    sub process($context) {
                        $output = &{ $self->BLOCK }($context);

Inside Looking Out

To understand more about what's going on in these lower levels, we need to look at what a compiled template looks like. In fact, a compiled template is just a regular Perl sub-routine. Here's a very simple one.

    sub my_compiled_template {
        return "This is a compiled template.\n";

You're unlikely to see a compiled template this simple unless you wrote it yourself but it is entirely valid. All a template subroutine is obliged to do is return some output (which may be an empty of course). If it can't for some reason, then it should raise an error via die().

    sub my_todo_template {
        die "This template not yet implemented\n";

If it wants to get fancy, it can raise an error as a Template::Exception object. An exception object is really just a convenient wrapper for the 'type' and 'info' fields.

    sub my_solilique_template {
        die (Template::Exception->new('yorrick', 'Fellow of infinite jest'));

Templates generally need to do a lot more than just generate static output or raise errors. They may want to inspect variable values, process another template, load a plugin, run a filter, and so on. Whenever a template subroutine is called, it gets passed a reference to a Template::Context object. It is through this context object that template code can access the features of the Template Toolkit.

We described earlier how the Template::Service object calls on Template::Context to handle a process() request from the outside. We can make a similar request on a context to process a template, but from within the code of another template. This is a call from the inside.

    sub my_process_template {
        my $context = shift;

        my $output = $context->process('header', { title => 'Hello World' })
                   . "\nsome content\n"
                   . $context->process('footer');

This is then roughly equivalent to a source template something like this:

    [% PROCESS header
        title = 'Hello World'
    some content
    [% PROCESS footer %]

Template variables are stored in, and managed by a Template::Stash object. This is a blessed hash array in which template variables are defined. The object wrapper provides get() and set() method which implement all the magical.variable.features of the Template Toolkit.

Each context object has its own stash, a reference to which can be returned by the appropriately named stash() method. So to print the value of some template variable, or for example, to represent the following source template:

    <title>[% title %]</title>

we might have a subroutine definition something like this:

    sub {
        my $context = shift;
        my $stash = $context->stash();
        return '<title>' . $stash->get('title') . '</title>';

The stash get() method hides the details of the underlying variable types, automatically calling code references, checking return values, and performing other such tricks. If 'title' happens to be bound to a subroutine then we can specify additional parameters as a list reference passed as the second argument to get().

    [% title('The Cat Sat on the Mat') %]

This translates to the stash get() call:

    $stash->get([ 'title', ['The Cat Sat on the Mat'] ]);

Dotted compound variables can be requested by passing a single list reference to the get() method in place of the variable name. Each pair of elements in the list should correspond to the variable name and reference to a list of arguments for each dot-delimited element of the variable.

    [% foo(1, 2).bar(3, 4).baz(5) %]

is thus equivalent to

    $stash->get([ foo => [1,2], bar => [3,4], baz => [5] ]);

If there aren't any arguments for an element, you can specify an empty, zero or null argument list.

    [% foo.bar %]
    $stash->get([ 'foo', 0, 'bar', 0 ]);

The set() method works in a similar way. It takes a variable name and a variable value which should be assigned to it.

    [% x = 10 %]         
    $stash->set('x', 10);

    [% x.y = 10 %]
    $stash->set([ 'x', 0, 'y', 0 ], 10);

So the stash gives us access to template variables and the context provides the higher level functionality. Alongside the process() method lies the include() method. Just as with the PROCESS / INCLUDE directives, the key difference is in variable localisation. Before processing a template, the process() method simply updates the stash to set any new variable definitions, overwriting any existing values. In contrast, the include() method creates a copy of the existing stash, in a process known as cloning the stash, and then uses that as a temporary variable store. Any previously existing variables are still defined, but any changes made to variables, including setting the new variable values passed aas arguments will affect only the local copy of the stash (although note that it's only a shallow copy, so it's not foolproof). When the template has been processed, the include() method restores the previous variable state by decloning the stash.

The context also provides an insert() method to implement the INSERT directive, but no wrapper() method. This functionality can be implemented by rewriting the Perl code and calling include().

    [% WRAPPER foo -%]
       blah blah [% x %]
    [%- END %]

    $context->include('foo', {
        content => 'blah blah ' . $stash->get('x'),

Other than the template processing methods process(), include() and insert(), the context defines methods for fetching plugin objects, plugin(), and filters, filter().

    [% USE foo = Bar(10) %]

    $stash->set('foo', $context->plugin('Bar', [10]));

    [% FILTER bar(20) %]
       blah blah blah
    [% END %]

    my $filter = $context->filter('bar', [20]);
    &$filter('blah blah blah');

Pretty much everything else you might want to do in a template can be done in Perl code. Things like IF, UNLESS, FOREACH and so on all have direct counterparts in Perl.

    [% IF msg %]
       Message: [% msg %]
    [% END %];

    if ($stash->get('msg')) {
        $output .=  'Message: ';
        $output .= $stash->get('msg');

The best way to get a better understanding of what's going on underneath the hood is to set the $Template::Parser::DEBUG flag to a true value and start processing templates. This will cause the parser to print the generated Perl code for each template it compiles to STDERR. You'll probably also want to set the $Template::Directive::PRETTY option to have the Perl pretty-printed for human consumption.

    use Template;
    use Template::Parser;
    use Template::Directive;
    $Template::Parser::DEBUG = 1;
    $Template::Directive::PRETTY = 1;
    my $template = Template->new();
    $template->process(\*DATA, { cat => 'dog', mat => 'log' });
    The [% cat %] sat on the [% mat %]

The output sent to STDOUT remains as you would expect:

    The dog sat on the log

The output sent to STDERR would look something like this:

    compiled main template document block:
    sub {
        my $context = shift || die "template sub called without context\n";
        my $stash   = $context->stash;
        my $output  = '';
        my $error;
        eval { BLOCK: {
            $output .=  "The ";
            $output .=  $stash->get('cat');
            $output .=  " sat on the ";
            $output .=  $stash->get('mat');
            $output .=  "\n";
        } };
        if ($@) {
            $error = $context->catch($@, \$output);
            die $error unless $error->type eq 'return';
        return $output;


Please feel free to hack on the Template Toolkit. If you find a bug that needs fixing, if you have an idea for something that's missing, or you feel inclined to tackle something on the TODO list, then by all means go ahead and do it!

If you're contemplating something non-trivial then you'll probably want to bring it up on the mailing list first to get an idea about the current state of play, find out if anyone's already working on it, and so on.

When you start to hack on the Template Toolkit, please make sure you start from the latest developer release. Stable releases are uploaded to CPAN and have all-numerical version numbers, e.g. 2.04, 2.05. Developer releases are available from the Template Toolkit web site and have a character suffix on the version, e.g. 2.04a, 2.04b, etc.

Once you've made your changes, please remember to update the test suite by adding extra tests to one of the existing test scripts in the 't' sub-directory, or by adding a new test script of your own. And of course, run make test to ensure that all the tests pass with your new code.

Don't forget that any files you do add will need to be added to the MANIFEST. Running 'make manifest' will do this for you, but you need to make sure you haven't got any other temporary files lying around that might also get added to it.

Documentation is often something that gets overlooked but it's just as important as the code. If you're updating existing documentation then you should download the 'docsrc' bundle from which all the Template Toolkit documentation is built and make your changes in there. It's also available from the Template Toolkit web site. See the README distributed in the archive for further information.

If you're adding a new module, a plugin module, for example, then it's OK to include the POD documentation in with the module, but please write it all in one piece at the end of the file, after the code (just look at any other Template::* module for an example). It's a religious issue, I know, but I have a strong distaste for POD documentation interspersed throughout the code. In my not-so-humble opinion, it makes both the code and the documentation harder to read (same kinda problem as embedding Perl in HTML).

Aesthetics aside, if I do want to extract the documentation into the docsrc bundle then it's easy for me to do it if it's all written in one chunk and extremely tedious if not. So for practical reasons alone, please keep Perl and POD sections separate. Comment blocks within the code are of course welcome.

To share your changes with the rest of the world, you'll need to prepare a patch file. To do this you should have 2 directories side-by-side, one which is the original, unmodified distribution directory for the latest developer release, and the other is a copy of that same directory which includes your changes.

The following example shows a typical hacking session. First we unpack the latest developer release.

    $ tar zxf Template-Toolkit-2.05c.tar.gz

At this point, it's a good idea to rename the directory to give some indicate of what it contains.

    $ mv Template-Toolkit-2.05c Template-Toolkit-2.05c-abw-xyz-hack

Then go hack!

    $ cd Template-Toolkit-2.05c-abw-xyz-hack

      [ hacking ]

    $ cd ..

When you're all done and ready to prepare a patch, unpack the distribution archive again so that you've got the original to diff against your new code.

    $ tar zxf Template-Toolkit-2.05c.tar.gz

You should now have an original distribution directory and a modified version of that same directory, side-by-side.

    $ ls
    Template-Toolkit-2.05c  Template-Toolkit-2.05c-abw-xyz-hack

Now run diff and save the output into an appropriately named patch file.

    $ diff -Naur Template-Toolkit-2.05c Template-Toolkit-2.05c-abw-xyz-hack > patch-TT205c-abw-xyz-hack

You can then post the generated patch file to the mailing list, describing what it does, why it does it, how it does it and any other relevant information.

If you want to apply someone else's patch then you should start with the same original distribution source on which the patch is based. From within the root of the distribution, run 'patch' feeding in the patch file as standard input. The 'p1' option is required to strip the first element of the path name (e.g. Template-Toolkit-2.05c/README becomes README which is then the correct path).

    $ tar zxf Template-Toolkit-2.05c.tar.gz
    $ cd Template-Toolkit-2.05c
    $ patch -p1 < ../patch-TT205c-abw-xyz-hack

The output generated by 'patch' should be something like the following:

    patching file README
    patching file lib/Template.pm
    patching file lib/Template/Provider.pm
    patching file t/provider.t


Andy Wardley <abw@wardley.org>



Template Toolkit version 2.18, released on 09 February 2007.


  Copyright (C) 1996-2007 Andy Wardley.  All Rights Reserved.

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