Alien::Base 0.020 and #native

By Graham Ollis on 15 July 2015

This week we rolled out the latest version of Alien::Base which includes a new feature and a bug fix. The most important change in this version are the two new avenues of communication that we have adopted, so I will discuss that first.

The first is that we have established the #native channel on irc.perl.org to discuss interactions with native interfaces.
This includes Alien in general, Alien::Base specifically, and we also intend it to be a place to discuss FFI::Platypus (Foreign Function Interface or NativeCall), as there is a degree of overlap for the people involved. You can now click on a big red button from the metacpan page for the project that will log you into IRC and allow you to start asking questions (or complain at us if that is what needs doing).

The second communication improvement is the creation of an Alien::Base FAQ (see Alien::Base::FAQ). I promised this last year but only recently got around to writing it. It consists of a number of questions (and corresponding answers) that I personally had when I was trying to figure out how to develop my own Alien::Base based Alien distributions. I’m hoping this guide will help those that are getting started now.

One thing that working on the FAQ reminded me of is that although it is relatively simple to create and maintain an Alien::Base based Alien distribution if your package uses autoconf and pkg-config, it is a little more challenging if your package does not use these tools.
Things that are doable, but present their own set of challenges include CMake, autoconf-like, and vanilla makefiles. I’ve done my best to illustrate the techniques to work with these technologies, usually only a few lines of code need to be added to your Build.PL. I wrote Alien::Libbz2 while I was working on the FAQ to serve as a working example of a non-autoconf / non-pkg-config package, and also to verify the techniques are correct.

For those who use Dist::Zilla, I used Dist::Zilla::Plugin::Alien when writing Alien::Libbz2, so it serves as a good example of how to bridge the worlds of Dist::Zilla and Alien. While working on this, I worked with Zakariyya Mughal to drive development of the plugin itself.
The plugin is now up to date once again feature wise with Alien::Base.

Aside from the new IRC channel and the FAQ, we have always had a mailing list and use the project GitHub to track issues and pull requests. With all of these ways to interact with the Alien::Base team you may be wondering what the best way to get your questions answered is. As it turns out, the preferred way of contacting us is whatever is whichever of those you prefer!

https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/perl5-alien

https://github.com/Perl5-Alien/Alien-Base/issues

Now I also mentioned a new feature. New in version 0.020 is the inclusion of command helpers that can be used to compute build and install commands at build time. These are used if the packages needs to be built from source. To see why this is useful, consider packages that require the GNU version of make to build from source. Normally when creating your Alien module, you’d include something like this in your Build.PL file:

use Alien::Base::ModuleBuild;
Alien::Base::ModuleBuild->new(
  dist_name => 'Alien::Foo',
  alien_build_commands => [
    'make',
  ],
  alien_install_commands => [
    'make install PREFIX=%s',
  ],
)->create_build_script;

The problem is that while make will invoke GNU make on Linux, it will typically fail on FreeBSD or OS X where the GNU version is usually either gmake, or just not provided. The core module Config comes with a guess as to the correct name of GNU make, but I recommend not using it as it is frequently wrong. Instead you can use Alien::gmake, which is itself an alien module that will detect a locally installed GNU make, or build and install it for you.

use Alien::Base::ModuleBuild;
Alien::Base::ModuleBuild->new(
  dist_name => 'Alien::Foo',
  # this will make Alien::gmake a build prereq 
  # if our library needs to be built from source
  alien_bin_requires => { 'Alien::gmake' => 0 },
  alien_helper => { gmake => 'Alien::gmake->exe' },
  # %{gmake} gets replaced by the result of
  # Alien::gmake->exe
  alien_build_commands => [
    '%{gmake}',
  ],
  alien_install_commands => [
    '%{gmake} install PREFIX=%s',
  ],
)->create_build_script;

The helper is specified as Perl code in a string that gets evaluated during the build or install steps. You can include arbitrary Perl here to compute the correct command or arguments as you need them.
Unfortunately a code reference cannot be used, because of the limitations of Module::Build.

Because makefile compatibility is a persistent problem with some packages, Alien::gmake provides its own %{gmake} helper, which you can use so long as you require a recent enough Alien::gmake.

use Alien::Base::ModuleBuild;
Alien::Base::ModuleBuild->new(
  dist_name => 'Alien::Foo',
  # The built in %{gmake} helper was added to
  # Alien::gmake in version 0.09.
  alien_bin_requires => { 'Alien::gmake' => 0.09 },
  # no longer need to define our own %{gmake}
  alien_build_commands => [
    '%{gmake}',
  ],
  alien_install_commands => [
    '%{gmake} install PREFIX=%s',
  ],
)->create_build_script;

Prior to Alien::Base 0.020 in order to include this sort of logic you would have to use Alien::gmake in your Build.PL, which would make it a configure_requires requirement. This is undesirable, because you won’t need Alien::gmake if you are using the system version of a library! The alien_bin_requires are dynamic prerequisites that are added only if you are building from source.

Next week I intend on writing about Alien::Base, and this time I will focus system integrators, distribution packagers and destdir. See you then.


This article was originally posted to blogs.perl.org: here


Copyright © 2018 Graham Ollis, Joel Berger et al.