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Recipe 21.16 Templating with HTML::Mason

21.16.1 Problem

You want to separate presentation (HTML formatting) from logic (Perl code) in your program. Your web site has a lot of components with only slight variations between them. You'd like to abstract out common elements and build your pages from templates without having a lot of "if I'm in this page, then print this; else if I'm in some other page . . . " conditional statements in a single master template.

21.16.2 Solution

Use HTML::Mason components and inheritance.

21.16.3 Discussion

HTML::Mason (also simply called Mason) offers the power of Perl in templates. The basic unit of a web site built with Mason is the component—a file that produces output. The file can be HTML, Perl, or a mixture of both. Components can take arguments and execute arbitrary Perl code. Mason has many features, documented at and in Embedding Perl in HTML with Mason by Dave Rolsky and Ken Williams (O'Reilly; online at

Mason works equally well with CGI, mod_perl, and non-web programs. For the purposes of this recipe, however, we look at how to use it with mod_perl. The rest of this recipe contains a few demonstrations to give you a feel for what you can do with Mason and how your site will be constructed. There are more tricks, traps, and techniques for everything we discuss, though, so be sure to visit the web site and read the book for the full story. Configuration

Install the HTML-Mason distribution from CPAN and add the following to your httpd.conf:

PerlModule HTML::Mason::ApacheHandler
<Location /mason>
  SetHandler perl-script
  PerlHandler HTML::Mason::ApacheHandler
  DefaultType text/html

This tells mod_perl that every URL that starts with /mason is handled by Mason. So if you request /mason/hello.html, the file mason/hello.html in your document directory will be compiled and executed as a Mason component. The DefaultType directive lets you omit the .html from component names.

Next create a directory for Mason to cache the compiled components in. Mason does this to speed up execution.

mkdir mason

Then make a mason directory for components to live in:

mkdir mason

Now you're ready for "Hello, World". Put this in mason/hello:

Hello, <% ("World", "Puny Human")[rand 2] %>

Restart Apache and load up the mason/hello page. If you reload it, you should see "Hello, World" and "Hello, Puny Human" randomly. If not, look at the Mason FAQ (, which answers most commonly encountered problems. Basic Mason syntax

There are four types of new markup in Mason components: substitutions, Perl code, component calls, and block tags. You saw a substitution in the "Hello World" example: <% ... %> evaluates the contents as Perl code and inserts the result into the surrounding text.

Perl code is marked with a % at the start of the line:

% $now = localtime;   # embedded Perl
This page was generated on <% $now %>.

Because substitutions can be almost any Perl code you like, this could have been written more simply as:

This page was generated on <% scalar localtime %>.

If either of these variations were saved in footer.mas, you could include it simply by saying:

<& footer.mas &>

This is an example of a component call—Mason runs the component and inserts its result into the document that made the call.

Block tags define different regions of your component. <%perl> ... </%perl> identifies Perl code. While % at the start of a line indicates that just that line is Perl code, you can have any number of lines in a <%perl> block.

A <%init> ... </%init> block is like an INIT block in Perl. The code in the block is executed before the main body of code. It lets you store definitions, initialization, database connections, etc. at the bottom of your component, where they're out of the way of the main logic.

The <%args> ... </%args> block lets you define arguments to your component, optionally with default values. For example, here's greet.mas:

   $name => "Larry"
   $town => "Mountain View"
Hello, <% $name %>.  How's life in <% $town %>?

Calling it with:

<& greet.mas &>


Hello, Larry.  How's life in Mountain View?

You can provide options on the component call:

<& greet.mas, name => "Nat", town => "Fort Collins" &>

That emits:

Hello, Nat.  How's life in Fort Collins?

Because there are default values, you can supply only some of the arguments:

<& greet.mas, name => "Bob" &>

That emits:

Hello, Bob.  How's life in Mountain View?

Arguments are also how Mason components access form parameters. Take this form:

<form action="compliment">
  How old are you?  <input type="text" name="age"> <br />
  <input type="submit">

Here's a compliment component that could take that parameter:

Hi.  Are you really <% $age %>?  You don't look it! Objects

All Mason components have access to a $m variable, which contains an HTML::Mason::Request object. Methods on this object give access to Mason features. For example, you can redirect with:


The $r variable is the mod_perl request object, so you have access to the information and functions of Apache from your Mason handlers. For example, you can discover the client's IP address with:

$ip = $r->connection->remote_ip; Autohandlers

When a page is requested through Mason, Mason can do more than simply execute the code in that page. Mason inspects each directory between the component root and the requested page, looking for components called autohandler. This forms a wrapping chain, with the top-level autohandler at the start of the chain and the requested page at the end. Mason then executes the code at the start of the chain. Each autohandler can say "insert the output of the next component in the chain here."

Imagine a newspaper site. Some parts don't change, regardless of which article you're looking at: the banner at the top, the random selection of ads, the list of sections down the lefthand side. However, the actual article text varies from article to article. Implement this in Mason with a directory structure like this:


The individual story files contain only the text of each story. The autohandler builds the page (the banner, the ads, the navigation bar), and when it wants to insert the content of the story, it says:

% $m->call_next;

This tells Mason to call the next component in the chain (the story) and insert its output here.

The technique of having a chain of components is called inheritance, and autohandlers aren't the only way to do it. In a component, you can designate a parent with:

  inherit = 'parent.mas'

This lets you have different types of content in the one directory, and each contained component gets to identify its surrounding page (its parent). Dhandlers

Sometimes it's nice to provide the illusion of a directory full of pages, when in reality they are all dynamically generated. For example, stories kept in a database could be accessed through URLs like:


The Mason way to dynamically generate the pages at these URLs is with a component called dhandler in the sports directory. The dhandler component accesses the name of the missing page (123 in this case) by calling:


You could then use this to retrieve the story from the database and insert it into a page template.

21.16.4 See Also

Recipe 15.11 in mod_perl Developer's Cookbook; Embedding Perl in HTML with Mason; and

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