Day 2: Opt::Imistic

Can't believe I've not made a post about this ancient module. Opt::Imistic is a module I wrote to facilitate the writing of command-line scripts that take options. It was inspired by the node module of the same(ish) name, Optimist (now deprecated).

All Opt::Imistic does is to parse @ARGV for things that look like options (using essentially the same rules as Getopt::Long does with gnu_compat options, i.e. the sensible way of doing it that doesn't cause too much ambiguity.

Long and short options are recognised by default, given GNU style. -xyz is three options and --xyz is one. Use whitespace or = to specify values to options. = can be used if the value looks like an option1.

As the docs say, this is a 90% module - Getopt::Long is for the other 90%.

Hacky magic

Opt::Imistic relies on a piece of Perl magic the reader may not be aware of, which is that, for all of Perl's global variables, it appears to be the entire typeglob by that name that is global.

Simply put, this means that, because @ARGV exists, so does %ARGV. This is exploited by Opt::Imistic, by putting discovered arguments as the keys to the associated values, if any.

Overload magic

tm604 on IRC suggested that I can be even more magical if the discovered options were actually objects of a class that behaves correctly in different situations.

Since you can't prevent a person from multiply specifying a single-use option, instead of bailing horribly in this situation it's traditional to simply take the last instance of it. This implies the option needs a value; otherwise, it doesn't matter how many times you specify it. Think --config, for example.

Indeed, if the option doesn't take a value, it's usually expected that the script is going to count the number of times it's specified. Think -v, often "verbose", or -vvv, "extremely verbose".

Perl being Perl, the user doesn't have to care whether it was specified once or many times, if all the script cares about is whether it was specified at all. Zero is the false value here.

With a simple class2, entirely designed to carry overload magic, we can gather all this information at once.

package Opt::Imistic::Option {
    use overload
        '""' => sub { $_[0]->[-1] },
        'bool' => sub { 1 }

This covers the common uses of command-line options:

  • One or more values - The objects are blessed array refs. Simply deref it for your values.
  • One value - Treat it as a string, and it'll stringify. This also works for numbers. The overload ensures the last value is taken; all options are arrayrefs with at least one thing in them, or absent entirely.
  • A countable option - Simply count your arrayref.
  • A boolean option - Just use it in boolean context. You'll get a 1 if it's there.

Again, this is a 90% solution, but check the docs for the extra functionality I added. You can specify options are required, and specify that at least n arguments must be left on @ARGV at the end of parsing.

1 I'm not sure whether I just came up with this or not. This might not (yet) be true.

2 This package uses the package BLOCK syntax, introduced in 5.14. The module doesn't specify 5.14; this is an oversight.