Who’s ready to live in the past? Me!

Every time I try to like some other templating system in Perl, I fail. The only one I sort of like is Mason. No, no, not Mason 2. I don’t like that. I like HTML::Mason. You know, Mason 1.

It has about a zillion problems, but the biggest problem, I think, is just its reputation. People think it’s guaranteed to lead to some kind of awful “whole app written inside your templates,” just because its original use case was “you can write our whole app inside your templates.” But we believe in second chances, right?

For years now, I’ve wanted to write a Mason-inspired Mason replacement. I just haven’t. I did, though, write a bunch of plugins to Mason to change how it behaved. They’ve made it a lot nicer to work with, and I thought I’d give a bit of a quick run-through on what they do. Maybe someone else will find them useful, although… well, I guess it could happen!

Stricter Component Interfaces

So, a typical Mason component might look like:


<%method greeting>
Hey, <% $name %>

  <head><title>Your face</title></head>
  <& SELF:body, name => $name &>

<%method body>
  <div><& SELF:greeting, name => $name &><div>

<!-- good night! -->

Even in this dumb contrived example, it can be hard to figure out the entry point. Basically, anything that isn’t part of some other special block like <%method> or <%args> or <%def> is “the main thing that gets run.” You could write your Perl programs like this, too, switching between the main code and subroutine definitions as you go, mixing them together, but you wouldn’t. Right? No, you wouldn’t.

Sometimes, we even encapsulate the main part of a program in sub main, like some other languages do. Then you run the program by calling main() at the end.

HTML::MasonX::Free::Compiler lets you do this with your Mason components. First, it forbids stray content. Everything must be inside a method or doc block (or similar structures), or the compiler barfs.

Then, when you render a component, there’s a default method to call. So, if you call <& /some/component &> — which is what happens when you find and render a path — then it actually ends up calling /some/component:main. This forces a non-nesting structure where you’re not interleaving a bunch of blocks inside of your main content.

Component Roots as Subclass Overlays

The Mason resolver maps component paths (which look like file paths) to components. In general it does that by looking through a file tree, but it can be more abstract, like in MasonX::Resolver::WidgetFactory. By default, though, it works like this:

Say you have three roots, /X and /Y and /Z. Then these two things exist:


…and then you call /vehicle/car.

Traditionally, Mason will look through the component and find the one in the first root. In this case, that’s in /X. The component at /X/vehicle/car is then called. Calling (exec-ing) that component actually means walking up its ancestry to its inheritance root and calling that, which will then call $m->next until it gets back down to the actually-requested component.

This is nuts.

It made a bit of sense once upon a time when the default parent, autohandler was used for things like permissions checks. I’m only using Mason for templates, though, so forget that! I want to use inheritance in a more traditional way, for a more specialized version of a general thing. For this, I wrote HTML::MasonX::Free::Resolver. It gets a list of roots, but they’re treated like overlays.

I’ll elaborate. In the standard configuration, /X/vehicle/car can never have a parent under /Z. The default tree is:

  -> /X/vehicle/autohandler
    -> /X/autohandler

With HTML::MasonX::Free::Resolver, we’d get:

  -> /Z/vehicle/car

And while traditional Mason would call its tree from the bottom up, ours calls from the top down. Since all our components have a main method, then a pretty simple thing to do is to have this in the “base” template /Z/vehicle/car:

<%method main>
This is a <% SELF:color %> <% SELF:type %> car.

<%method color>grey</%method>
<%method type>motorized</%method>

…and in your “derived” template, /X/vehicle/car just:

<%method type>hybrid</%method>

This makes it easy to have a generic pack of templates that you customized on a per-install basis by adding a new root at the derived end of the list.

One fun fact: the component roots in Mason aren’t stored in the resolver, but in the interpreter, even though the resolver is the thing that does the resolving. In order to have HTML::MasonX::Free::Resolver be in charge of its roots, you have to put a special value into comp_roots to indicate, “yes, I realize this won’t ever get used.”

HTML Entity Encoding with Fewer Screw-ups

Say your template has this:

<input value='<% $value %>' />

Well, you’d never do that, right, because you’d use a widget generator? But let’s pretend you would. The other bug is that you probably didn’t escape the entites in $value, so maybe there’s an HTML injection attack there. You might have wanted:

<input value='<% $value |html %>' />

That weird-o pipe thing is Mason’s filtering syntax. You probably almost always want to entity encode things, so you might set the default_escape_flags on your compiler to html. Then, when you don’t wan’t to encode, you do this:

<div><% $known_html |n %></div>

This means, “no escaping for this, please.” The problem is that you might want to write a method that accepts a parameter that could be of either type. There’s no default way to know, and if you get it wrong, you’re screwed up. You can find yourself in that situation in a number of ways.

HTML::MasonX::Free::Escape provides a replacement for the default html filter that can be given an argument that is known to be HTML. You generate it by using the html_hunk routine, like this:

% my $text = "D&D";
% my $html = html_hunk("D&amp;D");
I like playing <% $text %> and more <% $html %>.

The rendered text will encode $text without double-encoding $html. You also can’t accidentally do this:

% my $html = html_hunk("D&amp;D");
% my $string = "My favorite game is $html."

Or, rather, you can, but it will be a runtime error instead of a weird-o double encoding showing up somewhere.

That’s it!

So, these don’t really make Mason an amazingly modern thing, but help sand down a few of its most obvious warts, and that’s been good enough for me!

Written on May 25, 2016