Checking for leaks in MyApp.

Wait a minute. Catalyst leaks? No, but our application might be leaking.

The single most common leak cause in Catalyst, which we'll cover later, is stashing a closure which needs to use the Catalyst context (usually $ctx or $c). But that's hardly the only cause.

The Real Culprit(TM): circular references

How do we end up with circular references?

Perl uses references for its complex data structures: perldsc is all about references. Making a loop is easy:

    sub foo : Global Args(0) {
        my ($self, $c) = @_;

        my %foo;
        my $bar = \%foo;
        $foo{bar} = $bar;  # A circular thingy!
                           # It's still ok: if we go out of scope now
                           # it'll be handled nicely but...

        # by adding another ref that survives the scope, we're now leaking
        $c->stash( foo_data => \%foo );

But, what's so bad about circular references? Perl's garbage collector uses reference counting, and memory doesn't get freed until that count gets to zero.

A looping reference happens to make it hard for the GC to know when the thing is ok be freed.

This can happen with all Perl code, not just Catalyst, and it's the reason things like the Devel::Cycle module and Scalar::Util's weaken exist.

In the previous example, we can use Scalar::Util to 'weaken' the reference and get rid of the problem the loop poses.

    use Scalar::Util qw/weaken/;

    sub foo : Global Args(0) {
        # ... 

        $bar = \%foo;
        $foo{bar} = $bar;

        # ...

With this, we're saying that we're referencing \%foo but "just don't count it". Problem is, the example is very simple: the leaked and the leaker are five lines apart: hardly a realistic scenario.

When there's models, several controllers, chained dispatch, stashed code references, that legacy module subclassed with MooseX::NonMoose, and whatnot involved, the task of spotting potential leaks becomes uphill.

Knowing where to weaken gets difficult and, to add more complexity, when weakened references are referenced, the new reference is *not* weak.

How to spot leaks, the perl^Wlazy way.

CatalystX::LeakChecker is a neat Moose role to make our App's debug output tell us when our code is leaving circular references around.

To use it, all we have to do is to compose the role into our app class:

    extends 'Catalyst';
    with 'CatalystX::LeakChecker';

And the previous leak would have produced the following output:

    [debug] Circular reference detected:
    | $ctx->{stash}->{foo_data}->{bar}                                       |

While all nice and dandy, adding and removing the role to our app class in the dev/test/prod cycle can be tedious, so here's what the author did: Instead of consuming the role directly, the author just applies the role if certain conditions are met.

    diff --git a/lib/ b/lib/
    index d0d098a..1c9c034 100644
    --- a/lib/
    +++ b/lib/
    @@ -23,7 +23,7 @@ use Catalyst qw/

    extends 'Catalyst';
   -with 'CatalystX::LeakChecker';
   +with 'CatalystX::LeakChecker' if $ENV{MYAPP_LEAK_CHECK};

    our $VERSION = '0.01';

Now all we need to do to check for leaks is to run our dev server as follows.

    spiceman@cynic ~/workspace/MyApp % MYAPP_LEAK_CHECK=1 script/ -d

And CatalystX::LeakChecker will warn us when we're leaking.

"Oh, I know! I'll just stash a sub ref"

Stashing a sub reference is convenient. Particularly when we want to avoid adding logic to the view.

But it also is, in the author's experience, the Catalyst's most common leak.

Just hiding the logic inside a sub reference makes our templates a lot more readable, moves the code to where it probably belongs (the controller), and -lets face it-, when the line between code and data starts blurring the coder gets some sort of high.

    sub foo : Global Args(0) {
        my( $self, $c ) = @_;

        # wait! isn't this t0m's example? yes, but since this is really about rafl and t0m's modules...
        $c->stash( uri_for_secure => sub { my $uri = $c->uri_for(@_); $uri->scheme('https'); return $uri } );

    [debug] Circular reference detected:
    | $a = $ctx->{stash}->{uri_for_secure};                                  |
    | code reference $a deparses to: sub {                                   |
    |     package MyApp::Controller::Root;                                   |
    |     use warnings;                                                      |
    |     use strict 'refs';                                                 |
    |     my $uri = $c->uri_for(@_);                                         |
    |     $uri->scheme('https');                                             |
    |     return $uri;                                                       |
    | };                                                                     |
    | ${ $c }                                                                |

We could use weaken like in the first example, but that means little reusability. Every time $c gets in the stash we need to make a reference, weaken it, and use the weakened reference instead.

Fortunately, that's what Catalyst::Component::ContextClosure does for us, and the resulting syntax screams Catalyst so much that it just feels natural.

As with CatalystX::LeakChecker, we need to compose the role to our class. In this case, our controller:

    BEGIN {
        extends 'Catalyst::Controller';
        with 'Catalyst::Component::ContextClosure';

    sub foo : Global Args(0) {
        my( $self, $c ) = @_;

            uri_for_secure => $self->make_context_closure(sub {
                my $c = shift;
                my $uri = $c->uri_for(@_);
                return $uri;
            }, $c),

Our closure no longer leaks. And it gets the Catalyst context as an argument, just like our components' methods!

Truly catalyzed.

There's a lot more involving leaks and, sometimes, debugging them is not a task for the faint of heart. Hopefully, this article provided a starting point.


Marcel "SpiceMan" Montes <> was categorized as an "intermediate Perl programmer" by the Catalyst Book. He's working on it when $reallife and @deadlines allow, and he does not talk about himself in third person over IRC. Join him at #catalyst and #perl.