NAME

HTML::Mason::Admin - Mason Administrator's Guide


DESCRIPTION

This guide is intended for the sys admin/web master in charge of installing, configuring, or tuning a Mason system.


PIECES OF AN INSTALLATION

This section discusses the various files and directories that play a part in Mason's configuration.


Config.pm

Config.pm contains global configuration options for Mason. Makefile.PL will initially create the file based on your environment, placing it in the lib/HTML/Mason subdirectory of the distribution. After that, you can edit it by hand, following the comments inside.

``make install'' copies Config.pm to your Perl library directory (e.g. /usr/lib/perl5/site_perl/HTML/Mason) along with the other module files. This allows Mason internally to grab the configuration data with ``use HTML::Mason::Config''.

When upgrading from a previous version, ``make install'' will maintain the previous Config.pm values.

Currently this file controls:

o Whether or not certain optional modules, such as Time::HiRes, should be loaded for enhanced features.

o The type of DBM and the serialization method used for Mason's data caching. If you plan to use data caching, make sure that the DBM package is a good-quality one (DB_File or GDBM_File).


httpd.conf, srm.conf

Directives must be added to Apache's configuration files to specify which requests should be handled through Mason, and the handler used for those requests. As described in HTML::Mason, a simple configuration looks like:

    DocumentRoot /usr/local/www/htdocs
    PerlRequire /usr/local/mason/handler.pl
    DefaultType text/html
    <Location />
        SetHandler perl-script
        PerlHandler HTML::Mason
    </Location>


handler.pl

This file contains startup code that initializes the parent Apache process. It also defines the handler used by each child process to field Mason requests. See the synopsis in HTML::Mason for a simple example. The next section discusses in detail how to configure this file.


CONFIGURING THE HANDLER SCRIPT

Handler.pl is the most important file in your Mason configuration. It is responsible for creating the three Mason objects and supplying the many parameters that control how your components are parsed and executed. It also provides the opportunity to execute arbitrary code at three important junctures: the server initialization, the beginning of a request, and the end of a request. A wide set of behaviors can be implemented with a mere few lines of well-placed Perl in your handler.pl. In this section we present the basics of setting up handler.pl as well as some ideas for more advanced applications.


Creating the Mason objects

handler.pl creates three Mason objects: the Parser, Interpreter, and ApacheHandler. The Parser compiles components into Perl subroutines; the Interpreter executes those compiled components; and the Apache handler routes mod_perl requests to Mason. These objects are created once in the parent httpd and then copied to each child process.

These objects have a fair number of possible parameters. Only two of them are required, comp_root and data_dir; these are discussed in the next two subsections. The various parameters are documented in the individual reference manuals for each object: HTML::Mason::Parser, HTML::Mason::Interp, and HTML::Mason::ApacheHandler.

The advantage of embedding these parameters in objects is that advanced configurations can create more than one set of objects, choosing which set to use at request time. For example, suppose you have a staging site and a production site running on the same web server, distinguishing between them with a configuration variable called version:

    # Create Mason objects for staging site
    my $parser1 = new HTML::Mason::Parser;
    my $interp1 = new HTML::Mason::Interp (parser=>$parser1, ...);
    my $ah1 = new HTML::Mason::ApacheHandler (interp=>$interp1);

    # Create Mason objects for production site
    my $parser2 = new HTML::Mason::Parser;
    my $interp2 = new HTML::Mason::Interp (parser=>$parser2, ...);
    my $ah2 = new HTML::Mason::ApacheHandler (interp=>$interp2);

    sub handler {
        ...

        # Choose the right ApacheHandler
        if ($r->dir_config('version') eq ' staging') {
            $ah1->handle_request($r);
        } else {
            $ah2->handle_request($r);
        }
    }


Component root

Given a tree of component source files, the top of the tree is called the component root and is set via the comp_root parameter. In simple Mason configurations the component root is the same as the server's DocumentRoot. More complex configurations may specify several different document roots under a single component root.

When Mason handles a request, the request filename ($r->filename) must be underneath your component root -- that way Mason has a legitimate component to start with. If the filename is not under the component root, Mason will place a warning in the error logs and return a 404. Unfortunately if your component root or document root goes through a soft link, Mason will have trouble comparing the paths and will return 404. To fix this, set your document root to the true path.


Component roots (multiple)

If you are just starting out it is probably safe to skip this section initially.

Starting in Mason 0.8 it is now possible to specify multiple component roots to be searched in the spirit of Perl's @INC. To do so you must specify a list of lists:

    comp_root => [[key1, root1], [key2, root2], ...]

Each pair consists of a key and root. The key is a string that identifies the root mnemonically to a component developer. Keys are case-insensitive and must be distinct.

For example:

    comp_root => [[private=>'/usr/home/joe/comps'], [main=>'/usr/local/www/htdocs']]

This specifies two component roots, a main component tree and a private tree which overrides certain components. The order is respected ala @INC, so private is searched first and main second. (I chose the => notation here because it looks cleaner, but note that this is a list of lists, not a hash.)

The key has several purposes. Object and data cache filenames use the (uppercased) key to make sure different components sharing the same path have different cache and object files. For example, if a component /foo/bar is found in 'private', then the object file will be

    <data_dir>/obj/PRIVATE/foo/bar

and the cache file

    <data_dir>/cache/PRIVATE+2ffoo+2fbar

The key is also included whenever Mason prints the component title, as in an error message:

    error while executing /foo/bar [private]:
    ...

This lets you know which version of the component was running.


Data directory

The data directory is where Mason keeps various files to help implement caching, debugging, etc. You specify a single data directory via the data_dir parameter and Mason creates subdirectories underneath it as needed:

 cache:    data cache files
 debug:    debug files
 etc:      miscellaneous files
 obj:      compiled components
 preview:  preview settings files

These directories will be discussed in appropriate sections throughout this manual.


External modules

Components will often need access to external Perl modules. Any such modules that export symbols should be listed in handler.pl, rather than the standard practice of using a PerlModule configuration directive. This is because components are executed inside the HTML::Mason::Commands package, and can only access symbols exported to that package. Here's sample module list:

    { package HTML::Mason::Commands;
      use CGI ':standard';
      use LWP::UserAgent;
      ... }

In any case, for optimal memory utilization, make sure all Perl modules are used in the parent process, and not in components. Otherwise, each child allocates its own copy and you lose the benefit of shared memory between parent processes and their children. See Vivek Khera's mod_perl tuning FAQ (perl.apache.org/tuning) for details.


File ownership

Unix web servers that run on privileged ports like 80 start with a root parent process, then spawn children running as the 'User' and 'Group' specified in httpd.conf. This difference leads to permission errors when child processes try to write files or directories created by the parent process.

To work around this conflict, Mason remembers all directories and files created at startup, returning them in response to interp->files_written. This list can be fed to a chown() at the end of the startup code in handler.pl:

    chown (scalar(getpwnam "nobody"), scalar(getgrnam "nobody"),
            $interp->files_written);


Persistent user sessions

With just a few lines in handler.pl you can make a global hash (e.g. %session) available to all components containing persistent user session data. If you set a value in the hash, you will see the change in future visits by the same user. The key piece is Jeffrey Baker's Apache::Session module, available from CPAN.

The file eg/session_handler.pl in the distribution contains the lines to activate cookie-based sessions using Apache::Session and CGI::Cookie. You can use eg/session_handler.pl as your new handler.pl base, or just copy out the appropriate pieces to your existing handler.pl.

The session code is customizable; you can change the user ID location (e.g. URL instead of cookie), the user data storage mechanism (e.g. DBI database), and the name of the global hash.


Using global variables

Global variables generally make programs harder to read, maintain, and debug, and this is no less true for Mason. Due to the persistent mod_perl environment, globals require extra initialization and cleanup care. And the highly modular nature of Mason pages does not mix well with globals: it is no fun trying to track down which of twenty components is stepping on your variable. With the ability to pass parameters and declare lexical (my) variables in components, there is very little need for globals at all.

That said, there are times when it is very useful to make a value available to all Mason components: a DBI database handler, a hash of user session information, the server root for forming absolute URLs. Usually you initialize the global in your handler.pl, either outside the handler() subroutine (if you only need to set it once) or inside (if you need to set it every request).

Mason by default parses components in strict mode, so you can't simply start referring to a new global or you'll get a fatal warning. The solution is to invoke use vars inside the package that components execute in, by default HTML::Mason::Commands:

    { package HTML::Mason::Commands;
      use vars qw($dbh %session);
    }

Alternatively you can use the allow_globals parameter or method:

    my $parser = new HTML::Mason::Parser (..., allow_globals => [qw($dbh %session)]);
    $parser->allow_globals(qw($foo @bar))

The only advantage to allow_globals is that it will do the right thing if you've chosen a different package for components to run in (via the in_package Parser parameter.)

Similarly, to initialize the variable in handler.pl, you need to set it in the component package:

   $HTML::Mason::Commands::dbh = DBI->connect(...);

Alternatively you can use the set_global Interp method:

    $interp->set_global(dbh => DBI->connect(...));

Again, set_global will do the right thing if you've chosen a different package for components.

Now when referring to these globals inside components, you can use the plain variable name:

    $dbh->prepare...


Declining image requests

Mason should be prevented from serving images, tarballs, and other binary files as regular components. Such a file may inadvertently contain a Mason character sequence such as ``<%'', causing an error.

There are several ways to restrict which file types are handled by Mason. One way is with a line at the top of handler(), e.g.:

    return -1 if $r->content_type && $r->content_type !~ m|^text/|i;

This line allows text/html and text/plain to pass through but not much else. It is included (commented out) in the default handler.pl.

Another way is specifying a filename pattern in the Apache configuration, e.g.:

    <FilesMatch "(\.html|\.txt|^[^\.]+)$>
    SetHandler perl-script
    PerlHandler HTML::Mason
    </FilesMatch>

This directs Mason to handle only files with .html, .txt, or no extension.


Securing top-level components

Users may exploit a server-side scripting environment by invoking scripts with malicious or unintended arguments. Mason administrators need to be particularly wary of this because of the tendency to break out ``subroutines'' into individually accessible file components.

For example, a Mason developer might create a helpful shared component for performing sql queries:

    $m->comp('sql_select', table=>'employee', where=>'id=315');

This is a perfectly reasonable component to create and call internally, but clearly presents a security risk if accessible via URL:

    http://www.foo.com/sql_select?table=credit_cards&where=*

Of course a web user would have to obtain the name of this component through guesswork or other means, but obscurity alone does not properly secure a system. Rather, you should choose a site-wide policy for distinguishing top-level components from private components, and make sure your developers stick to this policy. You can then prevent private components from being served.

One solution is to place all private components inside a directory, say /private, that lies under the component root but outside the document root.

Another solution is to decide on a naming convention, for example, that all private components begin with ``_'', or that all top-level components must end in ``.html''. Then turn all private requests away with a 404 NOT_FOUND (rather than, say, a 403 FORBIDDEN which would provide more information than necessary). Use either an Apache directive

    <FilesMatch "^_">
    SetHandler perl-script
    PerlHandler "sub { return 404 }"
    </FilesMatch>

or a handler.pl directive:

    return 404 if $r->filename =~ m{_[^/]+$};

Even after you've safely protected internal components, top-level components that process arguments (such as form handlers) still present a risk. Users can invoke such a component with arbitrary argument values via a handcrafted query string. Always check incoming arguments for validity and never place argument values directly into SQL, shell commands, etc. Unfortunately, Mason does not yet work with with Perl's taint checking which would help ensure these principles.


Allowing directory requests

By default Mason will decline requests for directories, leaving Apache to serve up a directory index or a FORBIDDEN as appropriate. Unfortunately this rule applies even if there is a dhandler in the directory: /foo/bar/dhandler does not get a chance to handle a request for /foo/bar.

If you would like Mason to handle directory requests, do the following:

1. Set the decline_dirs ApacheHandler parameter to 0.

2. If your handler.pl contains the standard ``return -1'' line to decline non-text requests (as given in the previous section), add a clause allowing directory types:

    return -1 if $r->content_type && $r->content_type !~ m|^text/|i
                 && $r->content_type !~ m|directory$|i;

The dhandler that catches a directory request is responsible for setting a reasonable content type.


STANDARD FEATURES

This section explains how standard Mason features work and how to administer them.


Data caching

Setup
Cache files are implemented using MLDBM, an interface for storing persistent multi-level data structures. MLDBM, in turn, uses one of several DBM packages (DB_File, GDBM) and one of several serialization mechanisms (Data::Dumper, FreezeThaw or Storable). Mason's Config.pm controls which packages are used.

The most important task is selecting a good DBM package. Most standard DBM packages (SDBM, ODBM, NDBM) are unsuitable for data caching due to significant limitations on the size of keys and values. Perl only comes with SDBM, so you'll need to obtain a good-quality package if you haven't already. At this time the best options are Berkeley DB (DB_File) version 2.x, available at www.sleepycat.com, and GNU's gdbm (GDBM), available at GNU mirror sites everywhere. Stay away from Berkeley DB version 1.x on Linux which has a serious memory leak (and is unfortunately pre-installed on many distributions).

As far as the serialization methods, all of them should work fine. Data::Dumper is probably simplest: it comes with the latest versions of Perl, is required by Mason anyway, and produces readable output (possibly useful for debugging cache files). On the other hand Storable is significantly faster than the other options according to the MLDBM documentation.

Data caching will not work on systems lacking flock(), such as Windows 95 and 98.

Administration
Once set up, data caching requires little administration. When a component calls $m->cache or $m->cache_self for the first time, Mason automatically creates a new cache file under data_dir/cache. The name of the file is determined by encoding the path as follows:

    s/([^\w\.\-\~])/sprintf('+%02x', ord $1)/eg;

like URL encoding with a '+' escape character. For example, the cache file for component /foo/bar is data_dir/cache/foo+2fbar.

Currently Mason never deletes cache files, not even when the associated component file is modified. (This may change in the near future.) Thus cache files hang around and grow indefinitely. You may want to use a cron job or similar mechanism to delete cache files that get too large or too old. For example:

    # Shoot cache files more than 30 days old
    foreach (<data_dir/cache>) {    # path to cache directory
        unlink $_ if (-M >= 30);
    }

In general you can feel free to delete cache files periodically and without warning, because the data cache mechanism is explicitly not guaranteed -- developers are warned that cached data may disappear anytime and components must still function.

If some reason you want to disable data caching, specify use_data_cache=>0 to the Interp object. This will cause all $m->cache calls to return undef without doing anything.


Debugging

A debug file is a Perl script that creates a fake Apache request object ($r) and calls the same PerlHandler that Apache called. Debug files are created under data_dir/debug/<username> for authenticated users, otherwise they are placed in data_dir/debug/anon. Several ApacheHandler parameters are required to activate and configure debug files:

debug_mode
The debug_mode parameter indicates which requests should produce a debug file: ``all'', ``none'', or ``error'' (only if a error occurs).

debug_perl_binary
The full path to your Perl binary -- e.g. /usr/bin/perl. This is used in the Unix ``shebang'' line at the top of each debug file.

debug_handler_script
The full path to your handler.pl script. Debug files invoke handler.pl just as Apache does as startup, to load needed modules and create Mason objects.

debug_handler_proc
The name of the request handler defined in handler.pl. This routine is called with the saved Apache request object.

Here's a sample ApacheHandler constructor with all debug options:

    my $ah = new HTML::Mason::ApacheHandler (interp=>$interp,
               debug_mode=>'all',
               debug_perl_binary=>'/usr/local/bin/perl',
               debug_handler_script=>'/usr/local/mason/eg/handler.pl',
               debug_handler_proc=>'HTML::Mason::handler');

When replaying a request through a debug file, the global variable $HTML::Mason::IN_DEBUG_FILE will be set to 1. This is useful if you want to omit certain flags (like preloading) in handler.pl when running under debug. For example:

    my %extra_flags = ($HTML::Mason::IN_DEBUG_FILE) ? () : (preloads=>[...]);
    my $interp = new HTML::Mason::Interp (..., %extra_flags);


Previewer

The previewer is a web based utility that allows site developers to:

  1. View a site under a variety of simulated client conditions: browser, operating system, date, time of day, referer, etc.

  2. View a debug trace of a page, showing the component call tree and indicating which parts of the page are generated by which components.

The web-based previewer interface (a single component, actually) allows the developer to select a variety of options such as time, browser, and display mode. The set of these options together is called a previewer configuration. Configurations can be saved under one of several preview ports. For more information on how the previewer is used, see HTML::Mason::Devel.

Follow these steps to activate the Previewer:

  1. Choose a set of preview ports, for example, 3001 to 3005.

  2. In httpd.conf, put a Listen in for each port. E.g.

      Listen your.site.ip.address:3001
      ...
      Listen your.site.ip.address:3005
    

    You'll also probably want to restrict access to these ports in your access.conf. If you have multiple site developers, it is helpful to use username/password access control, since the previewer will use the username to keep configurations separate.

  3. In your handler.pl, add the line

        use HTML::Mason::Preview;
    

    somewhere underneath ``use HTML::Mason''. Then add code to your handler routine to intercept Previewer requests on the ports defined above. Your handler should end up looking like this:

        sub handler {
            my ($r) = @_;
    

            # Compute port number from Host header
            my $host = $r->header_in('Host');
            my ($port) = ($host =~ /:([0-9]+)$/);
            $port = 80 if (!defined($port));
    

            # Handle previewer request on special ports
            if ($port >= 3001 && $port <= 3005) {
                my $parser = new HTML::Mason::Parser(...);
                my $interp = new HTML::Mason::Interp(...);
                my $ah = new HTML::Mason::ApacheHandler (...);
                return HTML::Mason::Preview::handle_preview_request($r,$ah);
            } else {
                $ah->handle_request($r);    # else, normal request handler
            }
        }
    

    The three ``new'' lines inside the if block should look exactly the same as the lines at the top of handler.pl. Note that these separate Mason objects are created for a single request and discarded. The reason is that the previewer may alter the objects' settings, so it is safer to create new ones every time.

  4. Copy the Previewer component (``samples/preview'') to your component root (you may want to place it at the top level so that http://www.yoursite.com/preview calls up the previewer interface). Edit the ``CONFIGURATION'' block at the top to conform to your own Mason setup.

To test whether the previewer is working: restart your server, go to the previewer interface, and click ``View''. You should see your site's home page.


System logs

Mason will log various events to a system log file if you so desire. This can be useful for performance monitoring and debugging.

The format of the system log was designed to be easy to parse by programs, although it is not unduly hard to read for humans. Every event is logged on one line. Each line consists of multiple fields delimited by a common separator, by default ctrl-A. The first three fields are always the same: time, the name of the event, and the current pid ($$). These are followed by one or more fields specific to the event.

The events are:

 EVENT NAME     DESCRIPTION                     EXTRA FIELDS

 REQ_START      start of HTTP request           request number, URL + query string
 REQ_END        end of HTTP request             request number, error flag (1 if
                                                error occurred, 0 otherwise)
 CACHE_READ     attempt to read from            component path, cache key, success
                data cache (C<$m-E<gt>cache>)   flag (1 if item found, 0 otherwise)
 CACHE_STORE    store to data cache             component path, cache key
 COMP_LOAD      component loaded into memory    component path
                for first time  

The request number is an incremental value that uniquely identifies each request for a given child process. Use it to match up REQ_START/REQ_END pairs.

To turn on logging, specify a string value to system_log_events containing one or more event names separated by '|'. In additional to individual event names, the following names can be used to specify multiple events:

 REQUEST = REQ_START | REQ_END
 CACHE = CACHE_READ | CACHE_STORE
 ALL = All events

For example, to log REQ_START, REQ_END, and COMP_LOAD events, you could use system_log_events => ``REQUEST|COMP_LOAD'' Note that this is a string, not a set of constants or'd together.

Configuration Options

By default, the system log will be placed in data_dir/etc/system.log. You can change this with system_log_file.

The default line separator is ctrl-A. The advantage of this separator is that it is very unlikely to appear in any of the fields, making it easy to split() the line. The disadvantage is that it will not always display, e.g. from a Unix shell, making the log harder to read casually. You can change the separator to any sequence of characters with system_log_separator.

The time on each log line will be of the form ``seconds.microseconds'' if you are using Time::HiRes, and simply ``seconds'' otherwise. See Config.pm section.

Sample Log Parser

Here is a code skeleton for parsing the various events in a log. You can also find this in eg/parselog.pl in the Mason distribution.

   open(LOG,"mason.log");
   while (<LOG>) {
       chomp;
       my (@fields) = split("\cA");
       my ($time,$event,$pid) = splice(@fields,0,3);
       if ($event eq 'REQ_START') {
           my ($reqnum,$url) = @fields;
           ...
       } elsif ($event eq 'REQ_END') {
           my ($reqnum,$errflag) = @fields;
           ...
       } elsif ($event eq 'CACHE_READ') {  
           my ($comp,$key,$hitflag) = @fields;
           ...
       } elsif ($event eq 'CACHE_STORE') { 
           my ($comp,$key) = @fields;
           ...
       } elsif ($event eq 'COMP_LOAD') {
           my ($comp) = @fields;
           ...
       } else {
           warn "unrecognized event type: $event\n";
       }
   }
   

Suggested Uses

Performance: REQUEST events are useful for analyzing the performance of all Mason requests occurring on your site, and identifying the slowest requests. eg/perflog.pl in the Mason distribution is a log parser that outputs the average compute time of each unique URL, in order from slowest to quickest.

Server activity: REQUEST events are useful for determining what your web server children are working on, especially when you have a runaway. For a given process, simply tail the log and find the last REQ_START event with that process id. (You can also use the Apache status page for this.)

Cache efficiency: CACHE events are useful for monitoring cache ``hit rates'' (number of successful reads over total number of reads) over all components that use a data cache. Because stores to a cache are more expensive than reads, a high hit rate is essential for the cache to have a beneficial effect. If a particular cache hit rate is too low, you may want to consider changing how frequently it is expired or whether to use it at all.

Load frequency: COMP_LOAD events are useful for monitoring your code cache. Too many loads may indicate that your code cache is too small. Also, if you can turn off the code cache for a short time, COMP_LOAD events will tell you which components are loaded most often and thus good candidates for preloading.


PERFORMANCE TUNING

This section explains Mason's various performance enhancements and how to administer them.


Code cache

When Mason loads a component, it places it in a memory cache.

The maximum size of the cache is specified with the code_cache_max_size Interp parameter; default is 10MB. When the cache fills up, Mason frees up space by discarding a number of components. The discard algorithm is least frequently used (LFU), with a periodic decay to gradually eliminate old frequency information. In a nutshell, the components called most often in recent history should remain in the cache. Very large components (over 20% of the maximum cache size) never get cached, on the theory that they would force out too many other components.

Note that the ``size'' of a component in memory cannot literally be measured. It is estimated by the length of the source text plus some overhead. Your process growth will not match the code cache size exactly.

You can monitor the performance of the memory cache by turning on system logs and counting the COMP_LOAD events. If these are occurring frequently even for a long-running process, you may want to increase the size of your code cache.

You can prepopulate the cache with components that you know will be accessed often; see Preloading. Note that preloaded components possess no special status in the cache and can be discarded like any others.

Naturally, a cache entry is invalidated if the corresponding component source file changes.

To turn off code caching completely, set code_cache_max_size to 0.


Object files

The in-memory code cache is only useful on a per-process basis. Each process must build and maintain its own cache. Shared memory caches are conceivable in the future, but even those will not survive between web server restarts.

As a secondary, longer-term cache mechanism, Mason stores a compiled form of each component in an object file under data_dir/obj/component-path. Any server process can eval the object file and save time on parsing the component source file. The object file is recreated whenever the source file changes.

Besides improving performance, object files are essential for debugging and interpretation of errors. Line numbers in error messages are given in terms of the object file. The curious-minded can peek inside an object file to see exactly how Mason converted a given component to a Perl object.

If you change any Parser options, you must remove object files previously created under that parser for the changes to take effect.

If for some reason you don't want Mason to create object files, set the use_object_files Interp parameter to 0.


Preloading

You can tell Mason to preload a set of components in the parent process, rather than loading them on demand, using the preloads Interp parameter. Each child server will start with those components loaded in the memory cache. The trade-offs are:

time
a small one-time startup cost, but children save time by not having to load the components

memory
a fatter initial server, but the memory for preloaded components are shared by all children. This is similar to the advantage of using modules only in the parent process.

Try to preload components that are used frequently and do not change often. (If a preloaded component changes, all the children will have to reload it from scratch.)


Reload file

Normally, every time Mason executes a component, it checks the last modified time of its source file to see if it needs to be reloaded. These file checks are convenient for development, but for a production site they degrade performance unnecessarily.

To remedy this, Mason has an accelerated mode that changes its behavior in two ways:

1. Does not check component source files at all, relying solely on object files. This means the developer or an automated system is responsible for recompiling any components that change and recreating object files, using the make_component Parser method.

2. Rather than continuously checking whether object files have changed, Mason monitors a ``reload file'' containing an ever-growing list of components that have changed. Whenever a component changes, the developer or an automated system is responsible for appending the component path to the reload file. The reload file is kept in data_dir/etc/reload.lst.

You can activate this mode with the use_reload_file Interp method.

The advantage of using this mode is that Mason stats one file per request instead of ten or twenty. The disadvantage is a increase in maintenance costs as the object and reload files have to be kept up-to-date. Automated editorial tools, and cron jobs that periodically scan the component hierarchy for changes, are two possible solutions. The Mason content management system automatically handles this task.


STAGING vs. PRODUCTION

Site builders often maintain two versions of their sites: the production (published) version visible to the world, and the development (staging) version visible internally. Developers try out changes on the staging site and push the pages to production once they are satisfied.

The priorities for the staging site are rapid development and easy debugging, while the main priority for the production site is performance. This section describes various ways to adapt Mason for each case.


Out mode

Mason can spew data in two modes. In ``batch'' mode Mason computes the entire page in a memory buffer and then transmits it all at once. In ``stream'' mode Mason outputs data as soon as it is computed. (This does not take into account buffering done by Apache or the O/S.) The default mode is ``batch''.

Batch mode has the advantage of better error handling. Suppose an error occurs in the middle of a page. In stream mode, the error message interrupts existing output, often appearing in an awkward HTML context such as the middle of a table which never gets closed. In batch mode, the error message is output neatly and alone.

Batch mode also offers more flexibility in controlling HTTP headers (see sending_http_headers) and in handling mid-request error conditions (see clear_buffer).

Stream mode may help get data to the browser more quickly, allowing server and browser to work in parallel. It also prevents memory buildup for very large responses.

Since Apache does its own buffering, stream mode does not entail immediate delivery of output to the client. You must set $|=1 to turn off Apache buffering completely (generally not a good idea) or call $m->flush_buffer to flush the buffer selectively.

In terms of making your server seem responsive, the initial bytes are most important. You can send these early by calling $m->flush_buffer in key locations such as the common page header. However, this dilutes the advantages of batch mode mentioned above. Tradeoffs...

You control output mode by setting interp->out_mode to ``batch'' or ``stream''.


Error mode

When an error occurs, Mason can respond by:

The first option is ideal for development, where you want immediate feedback on the error. The second option is usually desired for production so that users are not exposed to messy error messages. You control this option by setting ah->error_mode to ``html'' or ``fatal'' respectively.


Debug mode

As discussed in the debugging section, you can control when Mason creates a debug file. While creating a debug file is not incredibly expensive, it does involves a bit of work and the creation of a new file, so you probably want to avoid doing it on every request to a frequently visited site. I recommend setting debug_mode to 'all' in development, and 'error' or 'none' in production.


Reload files

Consider reload files only for frequently visited production sites.


CONFIGURING VIRTUAL SITES

These examples extend the single site configuration example in HTML::Mason.


Multiple sites, one component root

If you want to share some components between your sites, arrange your httpd.conf so that all DocumentRoots live under a single component space:

    # httpd.conf
    PerlRequire /usr/local/mason/handler.pl

    # Web site #1
    <VirtualHost www.site1.com>
        DocumentRoot /usr/local/www/htdocs/site1
        <Location />
            SetHandler perl-script
            PerlHandler HTML::Mason
        </Location>
    </VirtualHost>

    # Web site #2
    <VirtualHost www.site2.com>
        DocumentRoot /usr/local/www/htdocs/site2
        <Location />
            SetHandler perl-script
            PerlHandler HTML::Mason
        </Location>
    </VirtualHost>

In handler.pl:

    my $interp = new HTML::Mason::Interp (parser=>$parser,
                    comp_root=>'/usr/local/www/htdocs'
                    data_dir=>'/usr/local/mason/');

The directory structure for this scenario might look like:

    /usr/local/www/htdocs/  # component root
        +- shared/          # shared components
        +- site1/           # DocumentRoot for first site
        +- site2/           # DocumentRoot for second site

Incoming URLs for each site can only request components in their respective DocumentRoots, while components internally can call other components anywhere in the component space. The shared/ directory is a private directory for use by components, inaccessible from the Web.


Multiple sites, multiple component roots

Sometimes your sites need to have completely distinct component hierarchies, e.g. if you are providing Mason ISP services for multiple users. In this case the component root must change depending on the site requested. Since you can't change an interpreter's component root dynamically, you need to maintain separate Mason objects for each site in the handler.pl:

    my (%interp,%ah);
    foreach my $site qw(...) {
        $interp{$site} = new HTML::Mason::Interp  (comp_root=>"/usr/local/www/$site",...);
        $ah{$site} = new HTML::Mason::ApacheHandler (interp=>$interp{$site},...);
    }

    ...

    sub handler {
        my $site = $r->dir_config('site');
        $ah{$site}->handle_request($r);
    }

We assume each virtual server configuration section has a

    PerlSetVar site <site_name>

Above we pre-create all Mason objects in the parent. Another scheme is to create objects on demand in the child:

    my (%interp,%ah);

    ...

    sub handler {
        my $site = $r->dir_config('site');
        unless exists($interp{$site}) {
            # get comp_root from PerlSetVar as well
            my $comp_root = $r->dir_config('comp_root');
            $interp{$site} = new HTML::Mason::Interp(comp_root=>$comp_root,...);
            $ah{$site} = new HTML::Mason::ApacheHandler(interp=>$interp{$site},...);
        }
    }

The advantage of the second scheme is that you don't have to hardcode as much information in the handler.pl. The disadvantage is a slight memory and performance impact. On development servers this shouldn't matter; on production servers you may wish to profile the two schemes.


AUTHOR

Jonathan Swartz, swartz@pobox.com


SEE ALSO

HTML::Mason, HTML::Mason::Parser, HTML::Mason::Interp, HTML::Mason::ApacheHandler