How does Foswiki find Perl libraries? And how do I change that?

How Foswiki Finds Perl Libraries

Foswiki is implemented in Perl, and uses a number of external Perl libraries. Some of these are normally installed by default in any Perl installation, and some have to be installed explicitly. There are a number of different ways in which libraries can be installed, and Foswiki uses a configurable library system to help cope with this.

How Perl works

Perl relies on being able to find the libraries that make it work at "run time" i.e. every time a Foswiki script is executed.

Where Perl libraries live

Perl uses something called the @INC path (pronounced at-ink path) to find libraries. The @INC path is a list of directories. Perl searches these directories for each new library it needs to load, starting at the first, and proceeding in order to the last. Perl will always use the first version of a library it finds in the @INC path, so the order of the path is important.

On any system Perl is set up with a default @INC path that defines where all the pre-installed system libraries are to be found. If you have access to the command-line, you can review this 'base path' using the following (UNIX) shell command:
perl -V

This will display the default content of the @INC variable at the end of the output.

ALERT! Unless you run this command as the webserver user, you can't be 100% sure the webserver will have the same @INC path.


Perl comes with a standard mechanism for installing and managing Perl libraries, called CPAN. If you use CPAN, and install as the root user, then the libraries are installed in the base path. However on some systems, notably hosted platforms, you don't have access to the root user and have to install using a local CPAN library. In addition, Foswiki comes with some pre-installed local CPAN libraries, in the lib/CPAN directory.

HowToInstallCpanModules has extensive instructions on installing CPAN modules, including setting up your own local CPAN library.

Other install methods

On some systems, Perl libraries can be installed in the base path without using CPAN - for example on Debian, where you can apt-get some perl libraries.

How Foswiki works

When a Foswiki script starts up, it starts with the default @INC path, the same as any other Perl script. Of course Foswiki itself is implemented as a set of Perl libraries, and the @INC path has to be modified to find these libraries, so one of the first things every Foswiki script does is to require a small module called bin/setlib.cfg to do this.

setlib.cfg is itself very flexible, in order to be able to cope with all the different types of system Foswiki might be installed on. It's driven by an even smaller Perl module that is usually written by the person installing Foswiki, called bin/LocalLib.cfg. Normally this is very easy to set up - Foswiki can pick intelligent defaults - but sometimes you have to be able manipulate the paths using it.

You can review the @INC path that is set by setlib.cfg by viewing the 'Web Server Environment' section in configure.

LocalLib.cfg gives the installer three ways to manipulate the @INC path, through the settings of three Perl variables:
  • $foswikiLibPath
  • @localPerlLibPath


This is the most commonly modified setting. It is set to the path where the Foswiki libraries reside i.e. the directory where is to be found, and is always put first on the @INC path. If you don't set it, then Foswiki will build it from the path of the setlib.cfg. On some systems, this might fail, most notably on persistent environments like mod_perl or FastCGI, and it could be a bit slower than hard coding the path, so it's a good practice to set it.

99% of Foswiki installs will never need to go beyond this point.

@localPerlLibPath and $CPANBASE

These two are inextricably linked, so have to be dealt with together. $CPANBASE is a simple path, and is intended to let you point to a local CPAN installation (see HowToInstallCpanModules). @localPerlLibPath is a list of paths that can be added to @INC. Neither $CPANBASE nor @localPerlLibPath are defined by default, but either or both can be defined in LocalLib.cfg. There's no simple way to describe their interactions, so here goes:
  1. If $CPANBASE is defined, then
    • $foswikiLibPath/CPAN/lib is not added to @INC - you have to do it yourself if you need it.
    • The directory pointed at by $CPANBASE must exist, otherwise the setting is ignored.
  2. If @localPerlLibPath is defined and $CPANBASE is defined, then
    • the paths in @localPerlLibPath, followed by $CPANBASE, are added to the beginning of @INC.
  3. If @localPerlLibPath is defined and $CPANBASE is not defined, then
    • the paths in @localPerlLibPath, followed by $foswikiLibPath/CPAN/lib are added to the end of @INC.


Let's say for example that you are on a hosted platform where Foswiki is installed in /var/www/foswiki, and you need a more recent version of a Perl library that the hosting provider has already installed in the default perl libraries. How can you override their version of the library? Let's further assume you have created a personal CPAN install in /users/me/CPAN and installed the library there. Your LocalLib.cfg might look as follows:
# By Rule 1, have to manually add the shipped CPAN modules to @INC. Do this by defining @localPerlLibPath.
@localPerlLibPath = ( '/var/www/foswiki/lib/CPAN' );
# By Rule 2, defining $CPANBASE will get our local CPAN library added *before* the default system libraries
$CPANBASE = '/users/me/CPAN';

Use configure to review your modified @INC path.

Troubleshooting your library installation

If Foswiki appears to be having trouble finding libraries, there are some basic steps you should follow.

First, open the configure "Web Server Environment" section, and check the @INC path displayed there. Your perl modules must exist somewhere on those paths for Foswiki to find them. The order of these paths is important; a library might be installed in several different places on your system, but Perl will only ever use the first version it finds in the @INC path - even if that's the wrong version.

Next, check the permissions on the directories (and the files under them) in the @INC path. The web server user has to be able to read.

-- CrawfordCurrie, OlivierRaginel - 06 Nov 2009

Support.FAQForm edit

TopicClassification FrequentlyAskedQuestion
Subject Setup
Topic Summary Foswiki uses a number of external Perl libraries. This is how it finds them, and what you can do to change that.
Interested Parties
Related Topics HowToInstallCpanModules
Topic revision: r5 - 27 Dec 2011, ArthurClemens
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