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Time and again, we see monks asking for solutions that "don't use CPAN modules" due to some artificial restriction placed on them. This restriction may be from their manager, from their IT department (or other development support team), from their web host, or even lack of knowledge on how to install CPAN modules without having root authority. This is how I've managed to work around all of these. I put it out here in the hopes that it helps other monks work around their restrictions.

No root authority?

The first step was learning how to install modules without root. Though I generally have root authority on my boxes, I found it informative and it actually has become the basis for some of my other work. The key has been to set PERL5LIB to include the path you're using to install to, e.g., $ENV{PERL5LIB} = "$ENV{HOME}/lib/perl5:$ENV{HOME}/lib" (I think some of the modules install differently when it's ~/lib instead of, say, ~/myperllib, so I found I had to add both) and then pass in the correct parameters to the .PL script the module comes with, e.g.: $^X -I$ENV{HOME}/lib Build.PL --install_base $ENV{HOME}/lib or $^X -I$ENV{HOME}/lib Makefile.PL LIB=$ENV{HOME}/lib PREFIX=$ENV{HOME}. The -I flag may be optional - but I like being explicit.

Once you have everything extracted and then the Makefile or Build files created, go ahead as normal, as if you had root. You just need to ensure PERL5LIB stays set, or that your scripts do a use lib ... properly before trying to use or require anything installed privately like this.

Web host doesn't want to install new modules

Unfortunately, many hosts don't find that they have a vested interest in your success. And, for smaller sites, this may be largely true. Bigger sites may be able to better command the attention of their host, so this probably doesn't apply to you (but then again, if you're a monk doing development for such a site, you probably don't need my help here).

In this case, I've taken everything I learned from non-root, and simply applied it here. If you have ssh or telnet access, this is trivial. If, like me, you don't, well, things can get trickier. In this case, I've taken the above algorithm, put it in code, and then uploaded it to my web host. Then I inserted a cron job to run this once a day to ensure that if I upload more CPAN modules, they get extracted and installed properly. When I add a new CPAN module, I simply adjust the cron job via its web interface to run two minutes from now, and then wait before uploading any of my other code that may rely on it. (In the meantime, I'm considering looking for a host that can compete with this one on price, but gives me ssh access, aka alternate solution #1.)

Manager support

If the problem you're having is at $work, and that problem happens to be the person who signs off on your paychecks, the problem becomes much bigger. It's no longer technical, which is unfortunate because monks are generally much better at technical solutions than social ones.

Here, I suggest starting simple. First off, and I need to stress this, I cannot recommend working around your manager. Do not do this. Your manager's responsibilities include managing resources, and you are a resource. Documenting your disagreement is fine, but don't try doing your manager's job for him/her.

Working with your manager instead of against them, find out what concerns your manager has about using CPAN modules, and see if you can address them without making it sound like you're attacking your manager for having these concerns. Remember: most CPAN modules' licenses are the same as Perl itself, so legal concerns should be there for perl as much as the modules.

Personally, I found this part really easy. When I explained to my manager how I'd be getting a bunch of working, tested code for free, he was all for it. But my manager was from a technical background (he had my job before me though it didn't involve perl until I got here). You may not be so lucky. If you aren't so lucky, just remember to deal with your manager based on his or her concerns, not yours. (This is also called "managing your manager" which is covered very extensively elsewhere.)

IT department reluctance

This is probably the most blatant problem. Though I use the term "IT department" here, it can apply to any similar scenario where the limitation is corporate, but not in your management chain. There are many ways to address this, and they largely re-use ideas from above. First off, you need your manager on your side. That is, you need to convince him/her that this is a problem worth solving. Try to do so without actually talking about how to solve it, but focusing on the why it needs to be solved aspect. This is because sometimes the problem looks intractable, and focusing on the mountain you want to cross may miss the road that passes through it.

Once your manager is okay with the solution to the problem, you will need to decide on how to solve it. Here there are both social and technical solutions, and the one you use may depend on the situation, or even the module you need installed.

The social solution is much like dealing with one's manager above. It involves talking to your IT department and determining the reason for the policy. My experience says that they're generally quite willing to share - though there are always people in any line of work that like to be arses, most policies come about from genuinely wanting to make the product better, even if we may think the implementation is misguided. See if you can address their concerns in a way that they will feel comfortable addressing your concerns.

In my case, when I wanted XML::Twig installed, the infrastructure team complained about a lack of resource. My solution was to trade some work: they had an assignment that was going to eat up large chunks of their time that not only made more sense for my team to do, but that I could automate easier and more reliably than they could anyway (thus I could gain better visibility, seem more productive, etc., so I wanted it anyway). So I suggested that I take on that work, if they'd simply install XML::Twig to make it easier for me to do. Though I had been trying to get XML::Twig installed for other reasons for years, this attempt took about 10 minutes, because I was addressing their concern: resource. Even though they had to fight a bit with expat on some platforms, overall they saved time, which meant they could do the other stuff on their plates faster (or at least sooner).

The technical solution I settled on for other CPAN modules that did not have external dependencies like expat was checking in tarballs from CPAN into our version control system, and then running the automated install tool (see the "web host" section above) to install all the tarballs from the CPAN directory into my lib directory. By adding this tool into the regular build's makefiles as a dependency that all my other perl programs depended, I could then count on using all my favourite modules whenever and wherever required.

I'm sure this doesn't cover every scenario - just the ones I've encountered and gotten past. Hopefully this is enough for newer monks to use to get past their roadblocks so that they can properly abuse, er use, the power that perl, with CPAN, gives them. Instead of re-inventing wheels, we can get on to inventing new vehicles that sit on those wheels.

Update (Mar13/2009): bellaire provided more things to think about: Top Seven (Bad) Reasons Not To Use Modules


In reply to Yes, even you can use CPAN by Tanktalus

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