Data::Fake::CPAN (a PTS 2024 supplement)

One of the things I wrote at the first PTS (back when it was called the Perl QA Hackathon) was Module::Faker. I wrote about it back then (way back in 2008), and again eleven years later. It’s a library that, given a description of a (pretend) CPAN distribution, produces that distribution as an actual file on disk with all the files the dist should have.

Every year or two I’ve made it a bit more useful as a testing tool, mostly for PAUSE. Here’s a pretty simple sample of how those tests use it:

$pause->upload_author_fake(PERSON => 'Not-Very-Meta-1.234.tar.gz', {
  omitted_files => [ qw( META.yml META.json ) ],

This writes out Not-Very-Meta-1.234.tar.gz with a Makefile.PL, a manifest, and other stuff. The package and version (and a magic true value) also appear in lib/Not/Very/ Normally, you’d also get metafiles, but here we’ve told Module::Faker to omit them, so we can test what happens without them. When we were talking about testing the new PAUSE server in Lisbon, we knew we’d have to upload distributions and see if they got indexed. Here, we wouldn’t want to just make the same test distribution over and over, but to quickly get new ones that wouldn’t conflict with the old ones.

This sounded like a job for Module::Faker and a random number generator, so I hot glued the two things together. Before I get into explaining what I did, I should note that this work wasn’t very important, and we really only barely used it, because we didn’t really need that much testing. On the other hand, it was fun. I had fun writing it and seeing what it would generate, and I have plans to have more fun with it. After a long day of carefully reviewing cron job logs, this work was a nice goofy thing to do before dinner.


Data::Fake is a really cool library written by David Golden. It’s really simple, but that simplicity makes it powerful. The ideas are like this:

  1. it’s useful to have a function that, when called, returns random data
  2. to configure that generator, it’s useful to have a function that returns the kind of function discussed in #1
  3. these kinds of functions are useful to compose

So, for example, here’s some sample code from the library’s documentation:

my $hero_generator = fake_hash(
        name      => fake_name(),
        battlecry => fake_sentences(1),
        birthday  => fake_past_datetime("%Y-%m-%d"),
        friends   => fake_array( fake_int(2,4), fake_name() ),
        gender    => fake_pick(qw/Male Female Other/),

Each of those fake... subroutine calls returns another subroutine. So, in the end you have $hero_generator as a code reference that, when called, will return a reference to a five-key hash. Each value in the hash will be the result of calling the generators given as values in the fake_hash call.

It takes a little while to get used to working with the code generators this way, but once you do, it comes very easy to snap together generators of random data structures. (When you’re done here, why not check out David Golden’s talk about using higher-order functions to create Data::Fake?) Helpfully, as you can see above, Data::Fake comes with generators for a bunch of data types.

What I did was write a Data::Fake plugin, Data::Fake::CPAN, that provides generators for version strings, package names, CPAN author identities, license types, prereq structures and, putting those all together, entire CPAN distributions. So, this code works:

use Data::Fake qw(CPAN);

my $dist = fake_cpan_distribution()->();

my $archive = $dist->make_archive({ dir => '.' });

When run, this writes out an archive file to disk. For example, I just got this:

$ ./nonsense/module-blaster
Produced archive as ./Variation-20010919.556.tar.gz (cpan author: MDUNN)
- Variation
- Variation::Colorless
- Variation::Conventional
- Variation::Dizzy

There are a few different kinds of date formats that it might pick. This time, it picked That username, MDUNN, is short for Mayson Dunn. I found out by extracting the archive and reading the metadata. Here’s a sample of the prereqs:

  "prereqs" : {
    "build" : {
       "requires" : {
          "Impression::Studio" : "19721210.298"
    "runtime" : {
       "conflicts" : {
          "Writer::Cigarette" : "19830107.752"
       "recommends" : {
          "Error::Membership" : "v5.16.17",
          "Marriage" : "v1.19.6"
       "requires" : {
          "Alcohol" : "v12.16.0",
          "Competition::Economics" : "v19.1.7",
          "People" : "20100228.011",
          "Republic" : "20040805.896",
          "Transportation::Discussion" : "6.069"

You’ll see that when I generated this, I ran ./nonsense/module-blaster. That program is in the Module-Faker repo, for your enjoyment. I hope to play with it more in the future, changing the magic true values, maybe adding real code, and just more variation — but probably centered around things that will have real impact on how PAUSE indexes things.

Probably very few people have much use for Module::Faker, let alone Data::Fake::CPAN. I get that! But Data::Fake is pretty great, and pretty useful for lots of testing. Also, generating fun, sort of plausible data makes testing more enjoyable. I don’t know why, but I always like watching my test suite fail more when it’s spitting out fun made-up names at the same time. Try it yourself!

Written on May 12, 2024
🐪 perl
🧑🏽‍💻 programming