Static noise - Static file serving in Dancer2

All too often beginners would stumble over the behavior of static file serving in Dancer2. The idea made sense on paper but somehow, when you put it in practical terms, it wasn't just a hurdle but a real pain to constantly headbutt without realizing, "damn it, that again!"

The good news is we fixed it. The bad news is you will have to read this article to understand what we're talking about. The treat is we will explain how it was fixed after we explain what was wrong.


The logic for request serving in Dancer 1 is simple. It consists of the following steps run in order:

  • Try to render a static file from public/
  • Try to render an action - a user's route
  • Try to render an AutoPage - a user's template
  • Give up and render a 404 page

In Dancer2 these items were broken down into composable units known as handlers. Dancer2::Handler::File serves static files (which the DSL keyword send_file uses internally) and Dancer2::Handler::AutoPage renders template files.

These handlers were, when configured to be used (or according to the defaults), merged into an application as regular routes. To make sure they don't cause any confusion, they were merged at the very end. Oops. Strike one!

The following order was created:

  • Try to match a user route
  • Try to match a static file route (Handler::File)
  • Try to match a rendered template (Handler::AutoPage)
  • Give up and render a 404 page

While it seems reasonable for user-defined routes to trump static resources and templates, people were not expecting it to happen, which led to a few peculiar situations.

Problem 1: Greed is NOT good

In order for these routes to accept any input, they use a greedy megasplat route, which captures everything:

get '/**' => sub {
    # (as long as they are a GET request)

(Users can define these routes as well, of course.)

The first manifestation of the reshuffling in order of execution occurred when users defined greedy megasplat routes which accidentally captured all static requests as well:

get '/**' => sub {
    # handle what I think is a user request
    # but can also be a static file request

Now users had to account for static files being asked of them. Ouch. This is actually the small problem.

Problem 2: A hook to kill

Remember hooks? Sure you do. Every route can have hooks. Amongst available hooks there are the before and after hooks which control the execution sequence of a matched route, allowing you to call code before and after it is executed, respectively.

How does that come into play? Since the File and AutoPage handlers create regular routes (just like a user might), the before and after hooks actually apply to them.


Yes! This meant that, for example, your before route hooks were called for static files. If they contained a security check (for which many users use them), you might accidentally prevent a file from being rendered. Strike two!

"You can't see the lacking access picture because you lack access!"

Plack strikes back

Before we hit a strike three we decided to fix this. Since we're depending on Plack and the associated technology to help resolve so many issues, we looked there.

One wonderful part of Plack is the middlewares. One specific middleware that came to our rescue was Plack::Middleware::Static. It allow us to render static files from the public/ directory before it actually reaches our application and Dancer2 dispatching code at all. Wait, what?

The Plack middleware wraps the Dancer2 code and checks for static files on each request before it sends it off to Dancer2. If it can find a file that matches the request, it will serve it directly instead of passing it onwards.

This means we're back to a proper static file serving behavior. They are now served properly before the app and the hooks do not apply to them.

We still kept the File handler to provide send_file, but it is no longer in charge of automatically serving static files.

The AutoPage handler is kept as is because hooks make sense in rendering templates. You might want to use the before_template hook in order to provide default variables that will be available in every template rendering (including automatic ones served by AutoPage) - which is something you will not have with static content.


Wonderful work by Russell @veryrusty Jenkins solving this thorn in Dancer2 and providing consistent behavior that makes sense.

If you meet him, offer him a drink. He's Australian so he'll take it. :)


This article has been written by Sawyer X for the Perl Dancer Advent Calendar 2014.


No copyright retained. Enjoy.

2014 // Sawyer X <>