Quattor Coding Style

Luis Fernando MuÃos Mejias


All major software projects have a set of guidelines for their code. It helps people to understand each other’s code, and even your own code a few months (or days!) after you wrote it for the first time.

There are lots of documents motivating this, feel free to review them. This one is a good starting point but in short:

  • I want to read your code.
  • I want you to read my code.
  • I want to fix your bugs.
  • I want you to fix my bugs.

Further reading

The basics


Use 4 white spaces. No tabs, no 8 white spaces, no funny things. Fix your editor’s configuration, or use a decent one. There are plenty of them.


Use lowercase for local variables, uppercase for constants.

We have no consistent convention for function names enforced in the existing code but the recommandation is function_names_like_this_one rather than functionNameLikeThis.

Use meaningful names for globals, short names for locals

i is a perfectly valid identifier for a loop variable. However, you deserve nasty punishment if you use it as a function name.

On the opposite, this_is_a_temporary_counter is plain bad for a loop variable.

So, some good examples:

sub write_user_credentials
    # ...
foreach my $i (0..10) {
    # ...

And very bad examples:

sub wuc
    # WTH???
foreach my $counter_from_0_to_10_included (0..10) {
    # Excuse me???

Be modular

Really, it matters. Have you ever tried to understand a module which is 700 lines long? Did you ever try to understand what’s the purpose of a variable that was defined 5 screens ago? Or the meaning of the 30th variable on this block? Or the purpose of that line that starts and finishes beyond the screen?

Here are the classic metrics for modularity:

 No lines longer than 80 columns.    Split or rearrange longer strings    Split longer statements * If you have more than 3 levels of indentation, split your block * If your function goes beyond the screen, split it    And don’t try to reduce the font. ;)  If you have more than 7 local variables, split your function.    Sometimes it’s OK to have 10, but if you have 15 your code is a problem.

Don’t use magic numbers

The constant pragma will give you meaningful names for any values other than 0 and 1 you need. They’ll help you to understand why you chose such values on the past.

A good example:

use constant PI => 3.141592;
my $circle_area = $radio * PI * PI;

And the bad example:

# Oops! I missed a decimal somewhere!
 my $circle_area = $radio * 3.14159 * 3.141592;

Module header

A Perl module must start with a line like:

#${PMpre} NCM::Component::mycomp${PMpost}

Update NCM::Component::mycomp to reflect the namespace of your module.

This ensures that the module starts with the proper information about license, authors… and this adds the use strict, use warnings and other things that are required in every Quattor module. Never had them manually.


When in doubt, don’t use them.

Comment all Pan data structures, or at least provide a link to their full description. Try to use the new annotation syntax which can be processed to produce the documentation.

Comment the purpose of each file, probably using POD syntax. Write a comment before the beginning of each function, telling what it does and how to use it. But don’t annoy the reader with the internals.

Don’t comment function bodies. If your code is so complex that it needs further explanations, you should probably split it in several functions and comment those functions. Of course, sometimes you have to work around some broken API, or some corner case. In such case, please comment why you are doing it, but not how. And don’t comment the obvious.

Bad examples:

 # Increment by 1
 sub do_something
    my @args = @_;
    # I do foo and bar here
    # And now, let's do bar again, but with a small difference

These are best done like this:

 # Performs task foo...
 sub foo {...}
 # Performs task bar...
 sub bar {...}
 # Performs task baz, which is quite similar to bar
 sub baz {...}

 # Performs a set of tasks, returning blah blah with arguments
 # $arg1:
 # $arg2:
 sub do_something
     my @args = @_;
     foo (@args);
     bar (@args);
     baz (@args);

Don’t use vars

This pragma has been deprecated since Perl 5.6, and that’s a long time ago. Instead, use the our declaration for package-wide variables:


 our @EXPORT = ...;


 use vars qw (@EXPORT);
 @EXPORT = ...;

Curly bracket position

Follow Kernighan-Ritchie’s convention: open curly brackets on the same line as the sentence they belong to and close them on a line for their own, excepting when it’s an else or a do-while block:

 if ($foo) {
 while ($bar) {
 if ($foo) {
 } else {
 do {
 } while ($bar);    

This way it is perfectly clear where each block starts, finishes and continues.

The only exception to this are the curly brackets that open a function. They should be on a different line, and have nothing else on the same line:

 sub foo
     my @args = @_;

The reason for this is that decent editors (f.i, Emacs) are aware that such curly braces mean something special, and allow you to move to the beginning and the end of a function with a single key stroke. This is a great help for navigating code.


Use them a lot. When in doubt, use them. Especially:

  • Always use parenthesis on function calls
  • Always use them on function calls even when there are no arguments

The reason is that:


Is easier to understand than:


Prefer methods over plain functions

Especially when writing components, you want to log unexpected things. It’s free to have a $self object, and let it log.

Only use plain functions if you want them exported to some other module.

The Quattor library (aka CAF)

CAF is a set of modules that provide an interface to system calls (or their Perl equivalent) allowing to execute commands, manipulate files… It is mandatory to use them rather than the system calls for the following reasons:

  • If they generate exceptions, this is properly handled to avoid crashing the configuration module.
  • They log what they are doing on the terminal and in log files with a verbosity controlled by command options or the daemon configuration.
  • For file manipulations, a lot of checks are done to avoid doing weird things like silently following symlinks and overwriting files.
  • They are mocked by the Quattor unit test framework, allowing to run unit tests without root access or without installing the underlying services.

CAF documentation is part of the online Quattor documentation.

Running commands

Do not use backticks or system, nor use open for pipes. The CAF::Process module has all you need, and it won’t spawn new subshells, which is much safer.

As the CAF::Process module logs the command line that you are executing at verbose and debug levels, you don’t need to handle the logging yourself. Do not do:

 $self->debug (5, "Going to run ls -l");
 system ("ls", "-l");

Instead, do:

 # Or any reporter object.
 my $proc = CAF::Proces->new (["ls", "-l"], log => $self);
 # One-line version:
 CAF::Process->new (["ls", "-l"], log => $self)->run();

The log option is any CAF::Logger object, for instance the component you are writing ($self).

Sometimes you pass confidential data to your commands. For instance, an encrypted password to usermod. In this cases, you don’t want your command logged. Just don’t pass any log argument to CAF::Process::new:

See Quattor documentation for examples covering the most common use cases.

File handling

Writing to files is not as simple as one could think: there are risks that you should be aware of. For instance, the following code seems harmless but is an example of what shouldn’t be done:

 open (FH, ">/tmp/foo");

If /tmp/foo already exists and is a symbolic link to /etc/shadow, you just lost all accounts on your system.

For this reason, CAF provides several modules related to file manipulation:

  • CAF::FileWriter: allow to create a new file
  • CAF::FileEditor: allow to update an existing file or create a new one if it doesn’t exist yet
  • CAF::FileReader: allow to read an existing file but not to modify it

CAF::FileWriter and CAF::FileEditor update a file when the CAF object is closed. The update is done only if the contents was changed. They allow you to specify the file owner, permissions, a backup file name to save the existing file if it is modified…

See Quattor documentation for examples covering the most common use cases.

Temporary files

Don’t use them. If you don’t use File::Temp, you’ll use predictable filenames, and that’s just bad. Then, most implementations make temporary files world readable, and you usually don’t want that. If you need temporary storage for some text, use an array, IO::String, in-memory files, a CAF::FileWriter or anything like that.

So you want to run a command which needs a file name as an argument, right? Easy. Just pipe to that command, as shown above. And pass /dev/fd/0 as the file name.

Finally, if really all these options are not good enough, use File::Temp::tmpfile, which will provide you an anonymous file handle. But please, use this only if you are convinced there is no other way to keep your temporary data.

Other file operations: CAF::Path

CAF::Path is a module related to path operations (rather than file contents). Its main features are:

  • Test if a path exists, is a file, a symlink, a hardlink or a directory
  • Symlink and hardlink management
  • Management of file permissions and owner

See Quattor documentation for more details on the available methods and for examples covering the most common use cases.

Input handling

Make sure that your code can run in tainted mode: this is a requirement for Quattor configuration modules and most of the other Quattor components.

The basic thing is that no input should be trusted, even when coming from the host profile. Sanitise everything just after reading it else Perl will complain that your input is tainted.

Also, when you create files that will be sourced by shell scripts, be sure to print all values between single quotes. This is true for almost every file you have under /etc/sysconfig.

Quality of messages

The main principle is to find the balance between a totally silent execution and an excessive verbosity that doesn’t allow to identify the important things. Use info and ok methods only for the important messages, use verbose or debug for others. debug implies verbose.

Provide a detailed trace of any task you perform with verbose messages. Trace DNS queries, URLs being retrieved, services you have to enable or disable… but avoid to log (detailed) output of the actions. You don’t need to log the files that you open or the commands that you run. The CAF objects will do so for you.

Debugging output

debug is for information only relevant to developers. A normal user should never be required to ask for debug message to get the information he needs. This should be used only for developer-relevant stuff, such as tracking temporary contents or so.

There are 5 levels of debug information. We don’t have a precise convention about what must be logget at which level. Generally it is enough to use the first 2 levels.

Use error only for fatal errors

Use the error method only if this error will make the entire configuration module to fail. If you can handle it, or the failure is not really important for the component’s results, use warn instead. If failing to download a file is OK because you can work around it, or you know you may have no rights to write on AFS, but that’s OK, use a warn message. warn events don’t cause the component to fail.

After an error has been logged, the configuration module will be re-run each time a new profile arrives until it succeeds. And the other configuration modules that depend on it will not be run.


Code quality matters. It will reduce bugs, and will make everybody’s life easier.

All these conventions can be improved, so feedback will be appreciated. Especially, the CAF library can be extended with whatever task we repeat over and over.