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CookBook - tutorial on session management in cgi applications


This document is under construction.


CGI::Session::CookBook is a tutorial that accompanies CGI::Session distribution. It shows the usage of the library in web applications and demonstrates practical solutions for certain problems. We do not recommend you to read this tutorial unless you're familiar with CGI::Session and it's syntax.


To avoid unnecessary redundancy, in all the examples that follow we assume the following session and cgi objects:

        use CGI::Session;
        use CGI;

        my $cgi = new CGI;      
        my $session = new CGI::Session(undef, $cgi, {Directory=>'/tmp'});       

Although we are using default DSN in our examples, you feel free to use any configuration you please.

After initializing the session, we should "mark" the user with that ID. We use HTTP Cookies to do it:

    $cookie = $cgi->cookie(CGISESSID => $session->id );
    print $cgi->header(-cookie=>$cookie);

The first line is creating a cookie using's cookie() method. The second line is sending the cookie to the user's browser using's header() method.

After the above confessions, we can move to some examples with a less guilty conscious.



We have a form in our site that asks for user's name and email address. We want to store the data so that we can greet the user when he/she visits the site next time ( possibly after several days or even weeks ).


Although quite simple and straight forward it seems, variations of this example are used in more robust session managing tricks.

Assuming the name of the form input fields are called "first_name" and "email" respectively, we can first retrieve this information from the cgi parameter. Using this can be achieved in the following way:

    $first_name = $cgi->param("first_name");
    $email  = $cgi->param("email");

After having the above two values from the form handy, we can now save them in the session like:

    $session->param(first_name, $first_name);
    $session->param(email, $email);

If the above 4-line solution seems long for you (it does to me), you can achieve it with a single line of code:

    $session->save_param($cgi, ["first_name", "email"]);

The above syntax will get "first_name" and "email" parameters from the and saves them to the CGI::Session object.Now some other time or even in some other place we can simply say

    $name = $session->param("first_name");
    print "$name, I know it's you. Confess!";

and it does surprise him ( if not scare :) )



You run an outrourcing service, and people get refered to your program from other sites. After finishing the process, which might take several click-throughs, you need to provide them with a link which takes them to a site where they came from. In other words, after 10 clicks through your pages you need to recall the referered link, which takes the user to your site.


This solution is similar to the previous one, but instead of getting the data from the submitted form, you get it from HTTP_REFERER environmental variable, which holds the link to the refered page. But you should be cautious, because the click on your own page to the same application generates a referal as well, in this case with your own link. So you need to watchout for that by saving the link only if it doesn't already exist. This approach is suitable for the application which ALWAYS get accessed by clicking links and posting forms, but NOT by typing in the url. Good examples would be voting polls, shopping carts among many others.

    $ENV{HTTP_REFERER} or die "Illegal use";

    unless ( $session->param("referer") ) {
        $session->param("referer", $ENV{HTTP_REFERER});

In the above code, we simply save the referer in the session under the "referer" parameter. Note, that we first check if it was previously saved, in which case there would be no need to override it. It also means, if the referer was not saved previously, it's most likely the first visit to the page, and the HTTP_REFERER holds the link to the link we're interested in, not our own.

When we need to present the link back to the refered site, we just do:

    $href = $session->param("referer");
    print qq~<a href="$href">go back</a>~;



You have an online store with about a dozen categories and thousands of items in each category. When a visitor is surfing the site, you want to display the last 10-20 visited pages/items on the left menu of the site ( for examples of this refer to ). This will make the site more usable and a lot friendlier


The solution might vary on the way you implement the application. Here we'll show an example of the user's browsing history, where it shows just visited links and the pages' titles. For obvious reasons we build the array of the link=>title relationship. If you have a dynamicly generated content, you might have a slicker way of doing it. Despite the fact your implementation might be different, this example shows how to store a complex data structure in the session parameter. It's a blast!

    %pages = (
        "Home"      => "",
        "About us"  => "",
        "Contact"   => "",
        "Products"  => "",
        "Services"  => "",
        "Portfolio" => "",
        # ...

    # Get a url of the page loaded
    $link = $ENV{REQUEST_URI} or die "Errr. What the hack?!";

    # get the previously saved arrayref from the session parameter
    # named "HISTORY"
    $history = $session->param("HISTORY") || [];

    # push()ing a hashref to the arrayref
    push (@{$history}, {title => $pages{ $link  },
                        link  => $link          });

    # storing the modified history back in the session
    $session->param( "HISTORY", $history );

What we want you to notice is the $history, which is a reference to an array, elements of which consist of references to anonymous hashes. This example illustrates that one can safely store complex data structures, including objects, in the session and they can be re-created for you the way they were once stored.

Displaying the browsing history should be even more straight-forward:

    # we first get the history information from the session
    $history = $session->param("HISTORY") || [];

    print qq~<div>Your recently viewed pages</div>~;

    for $page ( @{ $history } ) {
        print qq~<a href="$page->{link}">$page->{title}</a><br>~;

If you use HTML::Template, to access the above history in your templates simply associate the $session object with that of HTML::Template:

    $template = new HTML::Template(filename=>"some.tmpl", 
associate=>$session );

Now in your "some.tmpl" template you can access the above history like so:

    <!-- left menu starts -->
    <table width="170">
            <th> last visited pages </th>
            <a href="<TMPL_VAR NAME=LINK>"> <TMPL_VAR NAME=TITLE> </a>
    <!-- left menu ends -->

and this will print the list in nicely formated table. For more information on associating an object with the HTML::Template refer to HTML::Template manual



You have a site that lists the available products off the database. You need an application that would enable users' to "collect" items for checkout, in other words, to put into a virtual shopping cart. When they are done, they can proceed to checkout.


Again, the exact implementation of the site will depend on the implementation of this solution. This example is pretty much similar to the way we implemented the browing history in the previous example. But instead of saving the links of the pages, we simply save the ProductID as the arrayref in the session parameter called, say, "CART". In the folloiwng example we tried to represent the imaginary database in the form of a hash.

Each item in the listing will have a url to the shopping cart. The url will be in the following format:;itemID=1001

cmd CGI parameter is a run mode for the application, in this particular example it's "add", which tells the application that an item is about to be added. itemID tells the application which item should be added. You might as well go with the item title, instead of numbers, but most of the time in dynamicly generated sites you prefer itemIDs over their titles, since titles tend to be not consistent (it's from experience):

    # Imaginary database in the form of a hash
    %products = (
        1001 =>    [ "usr/bin/perl t-shirt",    14.99],
        1002 =>    [ "just perl t-shirt",       14.99],
        1003 =>    [ "shebang hat",             15.99],
        1004 =>    [ "linux mug",               19.99],
        # on and on it goes....

    # getting the run mode for the state. If doesn't exist,
    # defaults to "display", which shows the cart's content
    $cmd = $cgi->param("cmd") || "display";

    if ( $cmd eq "display" ) {
        print display_cart($cgi, $session);

    } elsif ( $cmd eq "add" ) {
        print add_item($cgi, $session, \%products,);

    } elsif ( $cmd eq "remove") {
        print remove_item($cgi, $session);

    } elsif ( $cmd eq "clear" ) {
        print clear_cart($cgi, $session);

    } else {
        print display_cart($cgi, $session);


The above is the skeleton of the application. Now we start writing the functions (subroutines) associated with each run-mode. We'll start with add_item():

    sub add_item {
        my ($cgi, $session, $products) = @_;

        # getting the itemID to be put into the cart
        my $itemID = $cgi->param("itemID") or die "No item specified";

        # getting the current cart's contents:
        my $cart = $session->param("CART") || [];

        # adding the selected item
        push @{ $cart }, {
            itemID => $itemID,
            name   => $products->{$itemID}->[0],
            price  => $products->{$itemID}->[1],

        # now store the updated cart back into the session
        $session->param( "CART", $cart );

        # show the contents of the cart
        return display_cart($cgi, $session);

As you see, things are quite straight-forward this time as well. We're accepting three arguments, getting the itemID from the itemID CGI parameter, retrieving contents of the current cart from the "CART" session parameter, updating the contents with the information we know about the item with the itemID, and storing the modifed $cart back to "CART" session parameter. When done, we simply display the cart. If anything doesn't make sence to you, STOP! Read it over!

Here are the contents for display_cart(), which simply gets the shoping cart's contents from the session parameter and generates a list:

    sub display_cart {
        my ($cgi, $session) = @_;

        # getting the cart's contents
        my $cart = $session->param("CART") || [];
        my $total_price = 0;
        my $RV = q~<table><tr><th>Title</th><th>Price</th></tr>~;

        if ( $cart ) {
            for my $product ( @{$cart} ) {
                $total_price += $product->{price};
                $RV = qq~

        } else {
            $RV = qq~
                    <td colspan="2">There are no items in your cart 

        $RV = qq~
                <td><b>Total Price:</b></td>

        return $RV;

A more professional approach would be to take the HTML outside the program code by using HTML::Template, in which case the above display_cart() will look like:

    sub display_cart {
        my ($cgi, $session) = @_;

        my $template = new HTML::Template(filename=>"cart.tmpl",
        return $template->output();


And respective portion of the html template would be something like:

    <!-- shopping cart starts -->
            <td> <TMPL_VAR NAME=NAME> </td>
            <td> <TMPL_VAR NAME=PRICE> </td>
            <td><b>Total Price:</b></td>
            <td><b> <TMPL_VAR NAME=TOTAL_PRICE> </td></td>
    <!-- shopping cart ends -->

A slight problem in the above template: TOTAL_PRICE doesn't exist. To fix this problem we need to introduce a slight modification to our add_item(), where we also save the precalculated total price in the "total_price" session parameter. Try it yourself.

If you've been following the examples, you shouldn't discover anything in the above code either. Let's move to remove_item(). That's what the link for removing an item from the shopping cart will look like:;itemID=1001

    sub remove_item {
        my ($cgi, $session) = @_;

        # getting the itemID from the CGI parameter
        my $itemID = $cgi->param("itemID") or return undef;

        # getting the cart data from the session
        my $cart = $session->param("CART") or return undef;

        my $idx = 0;
        for my $product ( @{$cart} ) {
            $product->{itemID} == $itemID or next;
            splice( @{$cart}, $idx++, 1);

        $session->param("CART", $cart);

        return display_cart($cgi, $session);

clear_cart() will get even shorter

    sub clear_cart {
        my ($cgi, $session) = @_;



You want to create an area in the part of your site/application where only restricted users should have access to.


I have encountered literally dozens of different implementations of this by other programmers, none of them perfect. Key properties of such an application are reliability, security and no doubt, user-friendliness. Consider this receipt not just as a CGI::Session implementation, but also a receipt on handling login/authentication routines transparently. Your users will love you for it.

So first, let's build the logic, only then we'll start coding. Before going any further, we need to agree upon a username/password fields that we'll be using for our login form. Let's choose "lg_name" and "lg_password" respectively. Now, in our application, we'll always be watching out for those two fields at the very start of the program to detect if the user submitted a login form or not. Some people tend to setup a dedicated run-mode like "_cmd=login" which will be handled seperately, but later you'll see why this is not a good idea.

If those two parameters are present in our CGI object, we will go ahead and try to load the user's profile from the database and set a special session flag "~logged-in" to a true value. If those parameters are present, but if the login/password pairs do not match with the ones in the database, we leave "~logged-in" untouched, but increment another flag "~login-trials" to one. So here is an init() function (for initializer) which should be called at the top of the program:

    sub init {
        my ($session, $cgi) = @_; # receive two args

        if ( $session->param("~logged-in") ) {
            return 1;  # if logged in, don't bother going further

        my $lg_name = $cgi->param("lg_name") or return;
        my $lg_psswd=$cgi->param("lg_password") or return;

        # if we came this far, user did submit the login form
        # so let's try to load his/her profile if name/psswds match
        if ( my $profile = _load_profile($lg_name, $lg_psswd) ) {
            $session->param("~profile", $profile);
            $session->param("~logged-in", 1);
            return 1;


        # if we came this far, the login/psswds do not match
        # the entries in the database
        my $trials = $session->param("~login-trials") || 0;
        return $session->param("~login-trials", ++$trials);

Syntax for _load_profile() totally depends on where your user profiles are stored. I normally store them in MySQL tables, but suppose you're storing them in flat files in the following format:

    username    password    email

Your _load_profile() would look like:

    sub _load_profile {
        my ($lg_name, $lg_psswd) = @_;

        local $/ = "\n";
        unless (sysopen(PROFILE, "profiles.txt", O_RDONLY) ) {
            die "Couldn't open profiles.txt: $!");
        while ( <PROFILES> ) {
            /^(\n|#)/ and next;
            my ($n, $p, $e) = split "\s+";
            if ( ($n eq $lg_name) && ($p eq $lg_psswd) ) {
                my $p_mask = "x" . length($p);
                return {username=>$n, password=>$p_mask, email=>$e};


        return undef;

Now regardless of what run mode user is in, you just call the above init() method somewhere in the beginning of your program, and if the user is logged in properly, you're guaranteed that "~logged-in" session flag would be set to true and the user's profile information will be available to you all the time from the "~profile" session parameter:

    init($cgi, $session);

    if ( $session->param("~login-trials") >= 3 ) {
        print error("You failed 3 times in a row.\n" .
                    "Your session is blocked. Please contact us with ".
                    "the details of your action");


    unless ( $session->param("~logged-in") ) {
        print login_page($cgi, $session);


In the above example we're using exit() to stop the further processing. If you require mod_perl compatibility, you will want some other, more graceful way.

To access the user's profile data without accessing the database again, you simply do:

    my $profile = $session->param("~profile");
    print "Hello $profile->{username}, I know it's you. Confess!";

and the user will be terrified :-).

But here is a trick. Suppose, a user clicked on the link with the following query_string: "profile.cgi?_cmd=edit", but he/she is not logged in. If you're performing the above init() function, the user will see a login_page(). What happens after they submit the form with proper username/password? Ideally you would want the user to be taken directly to "?_cmd=edit" page, since that's the link they clicked before being prompted to login, rather than some other say "?_cmd=view" page. To deal with this very important usabilit feature, you need to include a hiidden field in your login form similar to:

    <INPUT TYPE="hidden" NAME="_cmd" VALUE="$cmd" />

Since I prefer using HTML::Template, that's what I can find in my login form most of the time:

    <input type="hidden" name="_cmd" value="<tmpl_var _cmd>">

The above _cmd slot will be filled in properly by just associating $cgi object with HTML::Template.

Implementing a "sign out" functionality is even more straight forward. Since the application is only checking for "~logged-in" session flag, we simply clear the flag when a user click on say "?_cmd=logout" link:

    if ( $cmd eq "logout" ) {


You can choose to clear() "~profile" as well, but wouldn't you want to have an ability to greet the user with his/her username or fill out his username in the login form next time? This might be a question of beliefs. But we believe it's the question of usability. You may also choose to delete() the session... agh, let's not argue what is better and what is not. As long as you're happy, that's what counts :-). Enjoy!


We tried to put together some simple examples of CGI::Session usage. There're litterally hundreds of different exciting tricks one can perform with proper session management. If you have a problem, and believe CGI::Session is a right tool but don't know how to implement it, or, if you want to see some other examples of your choice in this Cook Book, just drop us an email, and we'll be happy to work on them as soon as this evil time permits us.

Send your questions, requests and corrections to CGI::Session mailing list,


    Sherzod Ruzmetov <>


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