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All about Dancer – interview of Sawyer X part 2

2014 May 2
by Nikos Vaggalis

NV: Is Dancer 2 a complete re-write and why? what shortcomings of the first version does it address ?

SX:Dancer 2 is indeed a complete rewrite of the code, and for good reason.

Dancer started as a fork of a fun web framework in Ruby called Sinatra. The founder of Dancer, Alexis Sukrieh, being a polyglot (programming in both Perl and Ruby), had used Sinatra, and wished to have a similar framework in Perl.

As Dancer evolved through its users and community, gaining numerous additional features, it became apparent that some of the original design decisions regarding architecture were a problem. Specifically, engines, which are the core tenants of Dancer, are all singletons. This means every Dancer subsystem (and consequently, every code you write in Dancer in the same process) will share the same engine.

An interesting example is the serializer. This means that one piece of code in which you want automatic serialization would require all your other pieces of code to work with serialization. You cannot control that.

When we realized we could not force Dancer to do the right thing when it came to engines, we resorted to rewriting from scratch. This allowed several improvements: using a modern object system (Moo), having contextual engines and DSL, and decoupled mini-applications, called Dancer apps.

NV:There is a lot of talk on Plack/PSGI. What is it and what is the advantage of hooking into it ?

SX:PSGI is a protocol, which means it’s literally a paper describing how a server and application should speak to each other. It includes the parameters each expects and how they should respond. In essence, it’s an RFC for a new standardized protocol.

Plack is a set of tools for writing PSGI applications and servers. We can use Plack as reference implementation, or as actual utilities for working with any layer of the PSGI stack, whether it’s the server or the client.

PSGI, inspired by Python’s WSGI and Ruby’s Rack, has many qualities which rendered it an instant success: it’s simple, understandable, works across web servers, includes advanced features such as application mounting, middlewares, long polling requests, and even asynchronous responses.

This deemed Plack/PSGI a solid foundation for writing web servers and web frameworks. All major web frameworks in Perl support PSGI, and many web servers started appearing, offering ranges of features from pre-forking to event-based serving: Starman, Twiggy, Starlet, Feersum, and many more.

NV:What functionality do I get out of the box and what tasks does Dancer take care of for me so I don’t have to? For example does it include measures of preventing XSS attacks or SQL injection? Or implementing a variety of authentication schemes?

SX:Dancer attempts to be a thin layer over your application code. It provides keywords to help you navigate through the web of… web programming. :)

If you want to define dispatching for your application paths, these are our routes. If you want to check for sessions, we have syntax to store them and retrieve them across different session storages. If you need to set cookies, we have easy syntax for that.

The idea with Dancer is that it gives you all the small bits and pieces to hook up your application to your web users, and then it vanishes in the background and stays out of your way.

We make an effort of making sure we provide you with code that is flexible, performant, and secure. We take security patches seriously, and our code is publicly available, so security audits are more than welcome.

NV:Plugins and extensibility. How easy is to extend the DSL, consume CPAN modules, hook plugins into it ? What are some of the most useful plugins that I can choose from? (engines for template,session,authentication,dbms etc)

SX:When you call “use Dancer2″ in order to write your web code, DSL is generated explicitly for your scope. It can be different than another scope. The reason for this is so you could use modules that extend that DSL. This is how plugins work.

It’s very important to note that we promote using Plack middlewares (available under the Plack::Middleware class), so your code can work across multiple web frameworks. Still, there are quite a few Dancer plugins to achieve various tasks through Dancer.

There is a list of recommended modules in Task::Dancer and here are a few I would recommend checking out:

  • Dancer::Plugin::REST – Writing RESTful apps quickly
  • Dancer::Plugin::Database – Easy database connections
  • Dancer::Plugin::Email – Integrate email sending
  • Dancer::Plugin::NYTProf – Easy profiling for Dancer using NYTProf
  • Dancer::Plugin::SiteMap – Automatically generate a sitemap
  • Dancer::Plugin::Auth::Tiny – Authentication done right
  • Dancer::Plugin::Cache::CHI – CHI-based caching for Dancer

NV:What about dependencies to third party components? is it lightly or heavily affected?

SX:I love this question, because it allows me to talk about our lovely community.

We try to be community-oriented. Our community is what fuelled Dancer from a simple web dispatching piece of code to a competitor for full-fledged production websites and products.

The original assumption with Dancer was that dependencies are a problem. While it is possible to reinvent the wheel, it comes at a cost. We tried to balance it out by having as few dependencies as possible, and reinventing where needed.

With time, however, the community expressed a completely different view of the matter. People said, “we don’t give a damn about dependencies. If we can install Dancer, we can install dependencies.”

By the time Dancer 2 came around, we already had so many ways to install dependencies in Perl, that it really wasn’t a problem anymore. We have great projects like FatPacker, local::lib, carton, Pinto, and more. This allowed us to remove a lot of redundant code in Dancer, to make it faster, easier to handle, more predictable, and even add features. The community was very favorable to that, and we’re happy we made that decision.

So our current approach is “if we need a dependency, we’ll add it”. Last release, actually, we removed a dependency. We just didn’t need it. Our current stack is still relatively small. I think we have a balance, and we’re always open to more feedback from the community about this.

I’ll take every chance to talk about how the community is driving the project. :)

nikosNikos Vaggalis has a BSc in Computer Science and a MSc in Interactive Multimedia. He works as a Database Developer with Linux and Ingres, and programs in both Perl and C#. He writes articles, conducts interviews and reviews technical IT books

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