Andrew Main (Zefram) > Scope-Cleanup > Scope::Cleanup



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Scope::Cleanup - reliably run code upon exit of dynamic scope


        use Scope::Cleanup qw(establish_cleanup);

        establish_cleanup sub { ... };
        establish_cleanup \&do_cleanup;
        establish_cleanup $cleanup_code_ref;


This module provides a facility for automatically running cleanup code when exiting a dynamic scope. The cleanup code is attached to the stack frame directly, rather than being attached to an object that must then be managed separately. The cleanup code reliably runs when the stack frame unwinds, regardless of the reason for unwinding: it may be a normal return, exception throwing, program exit, or any kind of non-local return.

Cleanup code established through this module has direct access to Perl's dynamic state. It can do things such as die to change the course of execution outside the cleanup.


While returning (locally or non-locally) to an outer stack frame, things must be done automatically at each stage, depending on the circumstances in which the stack frames were created. Variables that were given dynamically-local values (with local) are restored to their previous values. Objects used by the stack frames, that are not referenced elsewhere, are destroyed. These things happen in the reverse of the order in which their stack frames were established. This is referred to as "unwinding the stack".

It is sometimes desired to establish some code that will be automatically executed during unwinding, for example to release resources that are not reified as objects. A common way of doing this in Perl, implemented in the End module, is to create a blessed object whose DESTROY method will perform the desired action, and hold a reference to it in a lexical variable. If the object is not otherwise touched, then upon unwinding its destructor will fire. This isn't really a clean approach for arbitrary cleanup code, which is more concerned with its specific stack frame than with a specific object. This module provides a better way to run arbitrary cleanup code, registering code directly to run during unwinding, without any intermediation.

An object destructor is run inside an implicit eval block. This prevents it from making any non-local control transfer outside the confines of the destructor. This is an appropriate limitation to put on object destructors, but is not so appropriate for code associated with a specific stack frame. Code run directly is not so wrapped, and is free to make non-local control transfers. However, when the stack unwinding is due to one of Perl's native mechanisms, critical parts of the stack can be seen in an inconsistent state, which interferes with some non-local transfers that ought to be valid. This is because Perl doesn't expect arbitrary code to run without an eval block during unwinding. The unwinding performed by Scope::Escape's non-local control transfers is better behaved.


Cleanup code must be especially careful about certain global state variables. The five variables $., $@, $!, $^E, and $? are all set as a side effect by relevant operations, indicating part of the result of that operation. They are expected to be examined by code run subsequently, before the next operation relevant to the variable overwrites it. (For $. the value itself does not behave like this, because that is actually part of an I/O handle's persistent state. However, the choice of which I/O handle the variable looks at is such temporary status.)

If some code that incidentally overwrites one of the status variables is somehow executed between a relevant operation and the code that expected to read the variable, then the wrong value will be read. The most serious type of problem occurs with eval setting $@, where reading the correct value from $@ is almost always critical to the next bit of program logic. Also, prior to Perl 5.13.1, die is much more vulnerable to having the variable clobbered than are operations involving the other variables. When dieing on an older Perl, $@ gets set first, then the stack unwinds to the eval frame, and only then does eval complete. So there is a large window of opportunity during unwinding for $@ to lose the exception that is being thrown. From Perl 5.13.1 onwards that particular vulnerability has been fixed, but $@ can still potentially be clobbered after eval completes.

There are three main ways that lexically remote code could get run unexpectedly: signal handlers, object destructors, and scope cleanup code. Signal handlers can be run at essentially any time. Not knowing what code they might be interrupting, it is vital that they avoid changing any of the status variables. It must also be careful not to die or otherwise exit non-locally. (Though it can validly use exceptions internally.) Object destructors are a bit more predictable, and in fact predictable destruction time is often used as a hack to achieve a scope cleanup effect, but basically destructors can run at nearly any time. Destructors should also, therefore, always avoid changing any of the status variables.

Scope cleanup code is in a different position. Because it is guaranteed to run when a particular scope exits, the code around that scope may be expecting the effects of the cleanup code. That might include performing operations that set status variables, for code running just outside the scope to read. It is permitted to do this sort of thing, but liable to be confusing, so it is recommended that you not pass information out of cleanup code in this way. (You should read the status variable inside the cleanup code, and put the result in an ordinary well-behaved variable.) Cleanup code might also intentionally die or perform another kind of non-local control transfer.

Where automatically-run code does not intend to set the global status variables for other code to read, it should consistently localise them, with "local($., $@, $!, $^E, $?);". This should be done as early as possible in the signal handler, destructor, or cleanup function.

If a scope cleanup function intends to exit by die, there is a complication. Prior to Perl 5.13.1, localising $@ prevents the die from working normally: the restoration of the previous value will itself clobber $@ for the purposes of that die. (This is due to $@ being set early in the die, as described above.) In this case, the cleanup function must not localise $@, and must make other arrangements to avoid clobbering $@ in the event that it does not exit by die.

There is ongoing discussion about changing some of the Perl core's semantics, to make the above more tractable. The changes to $@ behaviour in Perl 5.13.1 were a result of these concerns, and further change is likely.


These operators should be used through bareword function call syntax, as if they were functions. However, they cannot otherwise be called as functions in the normal manner. Attempting to take a reference to them will result in a code reference that does not have any of the behaviour described.


CLEANUP_CODE must be a reference to a subroutine. A cleanup handler is established, such that the referenced subroutine will be called during unwinding of the current stack frame.


Scope::Escape, Scope::Upper


Andrew Main (Zefram) <>


Copyright (C) 2010, 2012 Andrew Main (Zefram) <>


This module is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the same terms as Perl itself.

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