Dan Collis Puro




Implements a "Nested Set" parent/child tree. Example:

 #This is in "scripts/tree_example.pl" of DBIx::Tree::NestedSet distribution
 use strict;
 use warnings;
 use DBIx::Tree::NestedSet;
 use DBI;

 #Create the connection. We'll use SQLite for now.
 #my $dbh=DBI->connect('DBI:mysql:test','user','pass') or die ($DBI::errstr);
 my $dbh=DBI->connect('DBI:SQLite2:test') or die ($DBI::errstr);

 my $db_type='SQLite';
 #my $db_type='MySQL';
 my $tree=DBIx::Tree::NestedSet->new(

 #Let's see how the table will be created for this driver
 print "Default Create Table Statement for $db_type:\n";
 print $tree->get_default_create_table_statement()."\n";

 #Let's create it.

 #Create the root node.
 my $root_id=$tree->add_child_to_right(name=>'Food');

 #Second level
 my $vegetable_id=$tree->add_child_to_right(id=>$root_id,name=>'Vegetable');
 my $animal_id=$tree->add_child_to_right(id=>$root_id,name=>'Animal');
 my $mineral_id=$tree->add_child_to_right(id=>$root_id,name=>'Mineral');

 #Third Level, under "Vegetable"
 foreach ('Froot','Beans','Legumes','Tubers') {

 #Third Level, under "Animal"
 foreach ('Beef','Chicken','Seafood') {

 #Hey! We forgot pork! Since it's the other white meat,
 #it should be first among the "Animal" crowd.

 #Oops. Misspelling.

 #Get the child nodes of the 2nd level "Animal" node
 my $children=$tree->get_self_and_children_flat(id=>$animal_id);

 #Grab the first node, which is "Animal" and the
 #parent of this subtree.
 my $parent=shift @$children;

 print 'Parent Node: '.$parent->{name}."\n";

 #Loop through the children and do something.
 foreach my $child(@$children) {
     print ' Child ID: '.$child->{id}.' '.$child->{name}."\n";

 #Mineral? Get rid of it.

 #Print the rudimentary report built into the module.
 print "\nThe Complete Tree:\n";
 print $tree->create_report();


This module implements a "Nested Set" parent/child tree, and is focused (at least in my mind) towards offering methods that make developing web applications easier. It should be generally useful, though.

See the "SEE ALSO" section for resources that explain the advantages and features of a nested set tree. This module gives you arbitrary levels of nodes, the ability to put in metadata associated with a node via simple method arguments and storage via DBI.

There are currently drivers implemented for MySQL and SQLite version 2. For some reason this module segfaults on my debian boxes running SQLite 3. Use SQLite 2, unless you can figure out what's going on.

It should be trivial to write one for your RDBMS, see DBIx::Tree::NestedSet::MySQL for an example driver.

A nested set tree is "expensive" on updates because you have to edit quite a bit of the tree on inserts, deletes, or the movement of nodes. Conversely, it is "cheaper" on just queries of the tree because nearly every action (getting children, getting parents, getting siblings, etc) can be done with one SQL statement.

If you're developing apps that require many reads and few updates to a tree (like pretty much every web app I've ever built) a nested set should offer significant performance advantages over the recursive queries required by the typical adjacency list model.

Whew. Say that fast three times.

Use the create_default_table() method to create your Nested Set table in your RDBMS.



new() accepts a number of parameters. You MUST pass new() a valid DBI handle.


The DBI handle returned by DBI::connect().


The name of the unique ID associated with this node. Defaults to "id". If you change the name of the id, you should refer to it in every other method with the name you assigned here.


The name of the column that describes the left hand side of a node. Defaults to "lft".


The name of the column that describes the right hand side of a node. Defaults to "rght".


The name of the table that describes the nested set. Defaults to "nested_set".


By default this module will turn on the "RaiseError" attribute in $dbh. Setting the "No_RaiseError" value to true (because you do not want RaiseError enabled or because it is turned it on elsewhere) will disable this behavior. You should probably leave this alone.


Setting this option to a true value will disable locking for methods that alter the tree stored via DBI. Currently, we lock the entire table, as most "editing" methods have the potential to edit every value on even minor changes.


Don't do the automagical table altering stuff used to create columns on-the-fly. See "add_child_to_right" for a description of how this module stores meta-data. Turning off the automagical table altering will probably increase performance, but you won't be able to add in meta-data whenever you want on adding or updating nodes.

Turning off automagical table altering will cause the module to error out if you try and add in new meta-data that doesn't have a column defined for it in the DBI table. You are warned.

It probably makes sense to turn off automagical table altering after you've put the application into production and you're done development, but that depends on how you build your app.


Will turn on DBI::trace() at the level you specify here and output some additional debugging info to STDERR.


The type of RDBMS you're using, currently drivers are only implemented for MySQL and SQLite version 2. Defaults to MySQL if not defined. Drivers abstract non-portable (or non-implemented) SQL. See DBIx::Tree::NestedSet::MySQL and DBIx::Tree::NestedSet::SQLite for examples.


Set this to a true value if you want to manually provide primary keys for new nodes. You must ensure that the primary keys aren't duplicates on your own: this is your responsibility if you turn this option on. The default is false, meaning that the RDBMS will handle the creation of IDs via built in "auto increment" or "sequence" features. If you do want to provide your own primary keys, remember to alter the table. Normally you should ignore this feature and let the RDBMS handle creating ids for you.

See also: add_child_to_left(), add_child_to_right().


 #Create a nested set tree object, including the default nested_set table
 my $tree=DBIx::Tree::NestedSet->new(dbh=>$dbh);

 #Create a nested set tree using SQLite and a few tweaked defaults
 my $tree=DBIx::Tree::NestedSet->new(dbh=>$dbh,db_type=>'SQLite',id_name=>'pageID');


Create a Nested Set table in the data source defined in $dbh that will work for the db_type you specify in new(). Any options (id_name, left_column_name, etc.) you pass to new() will be respected as well. This default table is defined in the driver file for your RDBMS.


Return the SQL used to create the table above as a scalar, but don't create it.


Gets the id of the "root" node of the tree.


This will add a child to the "right" of all its siblings, kind of like "push()ing" onto the bottom of an array. It will be the last child under its parent.

Takes the following parameters as a hash:


The ID of the parent node we want to add the child to. If you don't give an ID or the id isn't valid, it will add the child under the root node. If you changed the name of "id" in new(), use that name here.

Any other parameter passed in as a hash will get stored in the table. If the column doesn't exist, the module will alter the table to add it, and then store that data for you. Example:

Say you have a table that looks like:

 | Field    | Type         | Null | Key | Default | Extra          |
 | id       | mediumint(9) |      | PRI | NULL    | auto_increment |
 | lft      | mediumint(9) |      | MUL | 0       |                |
 | rght     | mediumint(9) |      | MUL | 0       |                |
 | name     | varchar(255) |      | MUL |         |                |

and you execute:

 $tree->add_child_to_right(id=>$tree->get_root(),name=>'Baked Goods',raisins=>'no');

Then the module will create a node named "Baked Goods" under the root as the "rightmost" child. The "raisins" column will be created and "no" will be put in it for this node. The table would then look like:

 | Field    | Type         | Null | Key | Default | Extra          |
 | id       | mediumint(9) |      | PRI | NULL    | auto_increment |
 | lft      | mediumint(9) |      | MUL | 0       |                |
 | rght     | mediumint(9) |      | MUL | 0       |                |
 | name     | varchar(255) |      | MUL |         |                |
 | raisins  | varchar(255) |      | MUL |         |                |

Feel free to tweak the columns after the module creates them (or create them in advance, it doesn't really matter). You may want to add indeces if you're going to be doing other selects on the nested_set table.

This table altering behavior allows you to store metadata about a node simply, with a tradeoff that your metadata could be "flat" and potentially poorly normalized.

This method returns the id of the newly added child.

Note: If you are providing your own non-duplicate primary keys (via the "no_id_creation" option passed to "new()"), pass another parameter named "provided_primary_key" with the value of the primary key you want for this new node. The "provided_primary_key" will be used for this node.

Example of providing your own primary key for a new node:


If you're letting the RDBMS handle generating ids for you (as you should), you can ignore this whole note.


Same as add_child_to_right, except this puts the child to the left of its siblings. It will be the first child under the parent node.


Edits a node and will exhibit the same "table altering" behavior of add_child_to_right or add_child_to_left. Pass in parameters as a hash, and "id" controls which node you're editing.


 #All other values are retained, we're just changing the name of the node
 #with the id in "$edit_id"


Looks up a node(s) by a key name and key value. Takes two parameters:


The name of the column in the database you're doing a lookup on.


The value you want to look up.

If there is more than one node found, we return an array reference. Otherwise we return a scalar. If nothing is found, you'll get a non-true value.


 my $node=$tree->get_id_by_key(key_name=>'name',key_value=>'Foo Name');
 if (! $node){
     #no matching node found.
 elsif(ref $node eq 'ARRAY'){
     #We have more than one id returned.
 } else {
     #We have a single id/node.


This will get a node and its parents down to the root node. Takes the id of the starting node as a hash.

Returns an arrayref of hashrefs (AoH). The hashrefs will have as keys the column names of the table, including those automatically added by the add_*() and edit_node() methods.

This method does NOT return a "nested hash" or "nested array" of nodes, hence the "flat" in the method name.

Additionally there will be a "level" hashkey that's the level of the node, with level 1 being the root.


 my $self_and_parents=$tree->get_self_and_parents(id=>$starting_id);
     print 'ID: '.$_->{id}.' is at level '.$_->{level}."\n";

Besides arrays of hashrefs being easy to use, this object is PERFECT for passing to HTML::Template::param(). Returns non-true in the event a node doesn't have parents.


Same as get_self_and_parents_flat but excludes the starting node.


Similar to get_self_and_children, but deletes nodes from the starting id inclusively. Returns an arrayref of the IDs that were deleted or a non-true value if none.


 my $ids=$tree->delete_self_and_children(id=>$delete_from);

Will delete from the ID in $delete_from and $ids will contain an arrayref of the deleted IDs.


Similar to delete_self_and_children, but leaves the starting id untouched. This method just deletes the children (recursively) of the starting node.


Nearly identical to get_self_and_parents flat, except it retrieves the children of the starting node (and the starting node itself) recursively.

Takes a depth parameter additionally, which will specify how far down in the tree from the starting node to go.


 my $self_and_children=$tree->get_self_and_children_flat(id=>$start_id,depth=>2);

Will retrieve an AoH starting from $start_id going down a maximum of 2 levels.


Same as get_self_and_children_flat but excludes the starting node.


Takes two parameters: first_id and second_id. It will "swap" the nodes represented by these ids, essentially replacing one node with the other. Children will tag along. swap_nodes() can be used to reorder nodes in a tree OR swap nodes to different levels within a tree. This method allows you to reorder nodes in the tree.



$first_id and $second_id will be "swapped" in the tree.


Will return a hashref of the information associated with a node specified by the "id" parameter. Umm. . . Except "level".

This is probably dumb, but in this case you don't need to pass in the ID as a hash, because this method only every takes one argument. Returns "undef" if a node without that ID isn't found.


 my $node_info=$tree->get_hashref_of_info_by_id($node_id);
 print $node_info->{id};


Just like get_hashref_of_info_by_id, except returns the "level" of the node within the tree as well, where the "root" node is level 1. Computing the level is more expensive, so you should use get_hashref_of_info_by_id normally.


Returns a very simple report (in a scalar) of the tree. Takes a few parameters:


The id to start the report from. If none is given, it'll start from the root node.


The number of spaces to indent each level with. Defaults to 2 spaces per level.


 my $report=$tree->create_report(indent_level=>4);
 print $report;

Will create a report starting from the "root" with 4 spaces of indentation per level.


The base "nested_set" table definition for MySQL is below. Please see each driver class (DBIx::Tree::NestedSet::MySQL or DBIx::Tree::NestedSet::SQLite currently) for create statements specific to your RDBMS. Columns will be added when you pass extra parameters to methods noted above (even for SQLite), unless "no_alter_table" is set to true in the constructor.

You can add columns you're going to use proactively, and/or "tweak" the columns after you've let this module create them. Just make sure that you use valid SQL column names for the attributes you pass to the edit_node() and add_*() methods.

 #MySQL specific.
 CREATE TABLE nested_set (
   id mediumint(9) NOT NULL primary key,
   lft mediumint(9) NOT NULL,
   rght mediumint(9) NOT NULL
 CREATE INDEX lft nested_set(lft);
 CREATE INDEX rght nested_set(rght);

This module has been tested on MySQL 3.x and 4.x and SQLite 2.x.


I've implemented a couple different nested tree models in the past, from a flat "one column per level" monstrosity to a typical "adjacency list" parent/child model.

The "one column per level" model was a BEAR to work with, especially when it came to adding more levels, editing/deleting children and creating parent lists.

An "adjacency list" is the typical "id/parent_id" model, as illustrated below:

           food                food_id   parent_id
           ==================  =======   =========
           Food                001       NULL
           Beans and Nuts      002       001
           Beans               003       002
           Nuts                004       002
           Black Beans         005       003
           Pecans              006       004

(That table was ripped off directly from DBIx::Tree)

The recursive queries involved with "adjacency list" models always bugged me and I couldn't get acceptable performance metrics without caching bits of the tree.

The "nested set" model appears, theoretically, to be perfect for most of the web applications I develop: it's very fast to create lists of children and parents, at the cost of much more complicated and processor-intense updating.

I've also taken pains to create methods that are useful for web application development but not specific to it.

If you have an application that sees many reads of a nested tree but not as many writes or updates, the "nested set" model this module implements should offer significant performance benefits over an adjacency list.


DBIx::Tree, which implements an "adjacency list" model of nested trees.

DBIx::NestedSet::Manage which is included with this distribution and implements a CGI::Application and HTML::Based system for managing trees via DBIx::NestedSet and implements most DBIx::NestedSet methods.


For those last three links, the "Nested Set" discussion starts about halfway through the articles.


Yes. I'm sure there are some, but this module is in production in several non-trivial apps and it's working smoothly. Please contact me if you find any, though.

Things to be aware of:

Custom Names

Keep the names of columns, the table, and any automagically added meta-data keys to fit m/^[_A-Za-z\d]+$/, which is A-Z, a-z, digits, and the underscore. And don't use SQL reserved words.

Mandrake 10.0 users

You should update to the latest version of DBI and DBD::mysql, there was apparently a bug with placeholder counting that made this module barf on that distribution. I've worked around this bug, but I can't guarantee anything. Upgrade DBI and DBD::mysql just to be sure.


I may implement some or all of these. PATCHES ARE WELCOME!

  • Methods to translate an adjacency list into a nested set tree.

  • The ability to associate other user-defined SQL statements with methods. "Pre-" and "post-" triggered SQL.

  • Create methods to get children that DO implement "nested array" trees.

  • Maybe create a "traversal" system other than the very simple:

     my $nodes=$tree->get_self_and_children(id=$tree->get_root);
     foreach my $node(@$nodes){
         #do something with the hashref that represents this node.


The following folks have provided patches, bug alerts, ideas, guidance and suggestions related directly to this module. THANKS! Sorry if I left anyone out.

Giuseppe Maxia

gmax on www.perlmonks.org. He pushed me to make it more RDBMS-independent and offered other suggestions to improve the module and documentation.

Martin Kamerbeek

www.procolix.com, a core WebGUI developer. One of the original guineau pigs. Bug fixes and feature enhancements.


On www.perlmonks.org, algorithm improvement for node dropping.


On www.perlmonks.org for the original idea.

JT Smith, plainblack.com

Suggested enhancements (and submitted a patch) for the get_self_and_children() method.


Dan Collis Puro, Geekuprising.com. Email: dan at geekuprising dot com.

This model was inspired by the perlmonks.org thread below:


See "Tilly's" response in particular. I'm "Hero Zzyzzx".


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