Readonly::Tiny is better than constant.

UPDATE 2021-10-04 it was long time due to fix the big issue with this post! Now it does what it was meant to do.

I rarely use constants, mainly because I like those constants to be… variables that are possibly read from a file. But yes, those variables might have default values and these would probably be… constants.

The canonical way to declare a constant value in Perl is this:

use constant SOME_VALUE => 42;

This actually creates a sub like this:

sub SOME_VALUE() { 42 }

Being created at compile time (it’s done with a use for a reason) and having an empty prototype means that it can be called without parentheses, so this:

my $value = shift // SOME_VALUE;

does what you think.

But this interface is… not optimal. For example, you cannot use this value in interpolated stuff; as an example, these two lines print different things:

print 'default value is ', SOME_VALUE, "\n";
print "default value is SOME_VALUE\n"

and this does not expand the value in the constant either, at least on the left of the fat comma:

my %doubles = (SOME_VALUE => SOME_VALUE * 2);

There are a couple workarounds for this:

# SOME_VALUE is a function after all, let's call it as such
my %doubles = (SOME_VALUE()  => SOME_VALUE * 2);

# force evaluation as a string
my %triples = (SOME_VALUE.'' => SOME_VALUE * 3);

But they are… workarounds, and they don’t work inside double-quoted strings anyway.

The solution to this would be to use a full-fledged scalar, but scalars are variables, not constants.

Well… not so fast! Scalars can be constants… and Readonly::Tiny can help us craft them as such:

use Readonly::Tiny 'Readonly';
Readonly my $SOME_VALUE => 42;

Now things will work as expected:

print "default value is $SOME_VALUE\n";
my %doubles = ($SOME_VALUE => $SOME_VALUE * 2);

# the following statement will die with error message:
#   Modification of a read-only value attempted...

Last, if you don’t like using the fat-comma to do what amounts to an assignment (another itch I always had with use constant), it’s possible to use function readonly instead, taking care to pass a reference to the variable we want to make read-only:

use Readonly; # function `readonly` is exported by default, yay!
readonly \(my $SOME_VALUE = 42);

So… if you are in need for a scalar constant, keep Readonly::Tiny in mind!

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