Set-based DBIx::Class

This was originally posted to the 2012 Perl Advent Calendar. I refer people to this article so often that I decided to repost it here in case anything happens to the server it was originally hosted on.

I’ve been using DBIx::Class for a few years, and I’ve been part of the development team for just a little bit less. Three years ago I wrote a Catalyst Advent article about the five DBIx::Class::Helpers, which have since ballooned to twenty-four. I’ll be mentioning a few helpers in this post, but the main thing I want to describe is a way of using DBIx::Class that results in efficient applications as well as reduced code duplication.

(Don’t know anything about DBIx::Class? Want a refresher before diving in more deeply? Maybe watch my presentation on it, or, if you don’t like my face, try this one.)

The thesis of this article is that when you write code to act on things at the set level, you can often leverage the database’s own optimizations and thus produce faster code at a lower level.

Set Based DBIx::Class

The most important feature of DBIx::Class is not the fact that it saves you time by allowing you to sidestep database incompatibilities. It’s not that you never have to learn the exact way to paginate correctly with SQL Server. It isn’t even that you won’t have to write DDL for some of the most popular databases. Of course DBIx::Class does do these things. Any ORM worth it’s weight in salt should.

🔗 Chaining

The most important feature of DBIx::Class is the ResultSet. I’m not an expert on ORMs, but I’ve yet to hear of another ORM which has an immutable (if it weren’t for the fact that there is an implicit iterator akin to each %foo it would be 100% immutable. It’s pretty close though!) query representation framework. The first thing you must understand to achieve DBIx::Class mastery is ResultSet chaining. This is basic but critical.

The basic pattern of chaining is that you can do the following and not hit the database:

   name => 'frew',
   job => 'software engineer',

What the above implies is that you can add methods to your resultsets like the following:

sub search_by_name {
   my ($self, $name) = @_;

   $self->search({ $self->current_source_alias . ".name" => $name })

sub is_software_engineer {
   my $self = shift;

      $self->current_source_alias . ".job" => 'software engineer',

And then the query would become merely


(microtip: use DBIx::Class::Helper::ResultSet::Me to make defining searches as above less painful.)

🔗 Relationship Traversal

The next thing you need to know is relationship traversal. This can happen two different ways, and to get the most code reuse out of DBIx::Class you’ll need to be able to reach for both when the time arrises.

The first is the more obvious one:

   '' => 'goblin king',
}, {
   join => 'job',

The above finds person rows that have the job “goblin king.

The alternative to use related_resultset in DBIx::Class::ResultSet:


The above generates the same query, but allows you to use methods that are defined on the job resultset.

🔗 Subqueries

Subqueries are less important for code reuse and more important in avoiding incredibly inefficient database patterns. Basically, they allow the database to do more on its own. Without them, you’ll end up asking the database for data, then you’ll send that data right back to the database as part of your next query. It’s not only pointless network overhead but also two queries.

Here’s an example of what not to do in DBIx::Class:

my @failed_tests = $tests->search({
   pass => 0,

my @not_failed_tests = $tests->search({
  id => { -not_in => [map $_->id, @failed_tests] }, # XXX: DON'T DO THIS

If you got enough failed tests back, this would probably just error. Just Say No to inefficient database queries:

my $failed_tests = $tests->search({
   pass => 0,

my @not_failed_tests = $tests->search({
  id => { -not_in => $failed_tests },

This is much more efficient than before, as it’s just a single query and lets the database do what it does best and gives you what you exactly want.

🔗 Christmas!

Ok so now you know how to reuse searches as much as is currently possible. You understand the basics of subqueries in DBIx::Class and how they can save you time. My guess is that you actually already knew that. “This wasn’t any kind of ninja secret, fREW! You lied to me!” I’m sorry, but now we’re getting to the real meat.

🔗 Correlated Subqueries

One of the common, albeit expensive, usage patterns I’ve seen in DBIx::Class is using N + 1 queries to get related counts. The idea is that you do something like the following:

my @data = map +{
   %{ $_->as_hash },
   friend_count => $_->friends->count, # XXX: BAD CODE, DON'T COPY PASTE
}, $person_rs->all

Note that the $_->friends->count is a query to get the count of friends. The alternative is to use correlated subqueries. Correlated subqueries are hard to understand and even harder to explain. The gist is that, just like before, we are just using a subquery to avoid passing data to the database for no good reason. This time we are just going to do it for each row in the database. Here is how one would do the above query, except as promised, with only a single hit to the database:

my @data = map +{
   %{ $_->as_hash },
   friend_count => $_->get_column('friend_count'),
}, $person_rs->search(undef, {
   '+columns' => {
      friend_count => $friend_rs->search({
         'friend.person_id' =>
            { -ident => $person_rs->current_source_alias . ".id" },
      }, {
        alias => 'friend',

There are only two new things above. The first is -ident. All -ident does is tell DBIx::Class “this is the name of a thing in the database, quote it appropriately.” In the past people would have written -ident using queries like this:

'friend.person_id' => \' =' # don't do this, it's silly

So if you see something like that in your code base, change it to -ident as above.

The next new thing is the alias => 'friend' directive. This merely ensures that the inner rs has it’s own alias, so that you have something to correlate against. If that doesn’t make sense, just trust me and cargo cult for now.

This adds a virtual column, which is itself a subquery. The column is, basically, $friend_rs->search({ 'friend.person_id' => $_->id })->count, except it’s all done in the database. The above is horrible to recreate every time, so I made a helper: DBIx::Class::Helper::ResultSet::CorrelateRelationship. With the helper the above becomes:

my @data = map +{
   %{ $_->as_hash },
   friend_count => $_->get_column('friend_count'),
}, $person_rs->search(undef, {
   '+columns' => {
      friend_count => $person_rs->correlate('friend')->count_rs->as_query

🔗 ::ProxyResultSetMethod

Correlated Subqueries are nice, especially given that there is a helper to make creating them easier, but it’s still not as nice as we would like it. I made another helper which is the icing on the cake. It encourages more forward-thinking DBIx::Class usage with respect to resultset methods.

Let’s assume you need friend count very often. You should make the following resultset method in that case:

sub with_friend_count {
   my $self = shift;

   $self->search(undef, {
      '+columns' => {
         friend_count => $self->correlate('friend')->count_rs->as_query

Now you can just do the following to get a resultset with a friend count included:


But to access said friend count from a result you’ll still have to use ->get_column('friend'), which is a drag since using get_column on a DBIx::Class result is nearly using a private method. That’s where my helper comes in. With DBIx::Class::Helper::Row::ProxyResultSetMethod, you can use the ->with_friend_count method from your row methods, and better yet, if you used it when you originally pulled data with the resultset, the result will use the data that it already has! The gist is that you add this to your result class:

__PACKAGE__->load_components(qw( Helper::Row::ProxyResultSetMethod ));

and that adds a friend_count method on your row objects that will correctly proxy to the resultset or use what it pulled or cache if called more than once!

🔗 ::ProxyResultSetUpdate

I have one more, small gift for you. Sometimes you want to do something when either your row or resultset is updated. I posit that the best way to do this is to write the method in your resultset and then proxy to the resultset from the row. If you force your API to update through the result you are doing N updates (one per row), which is inefficient. My helper simply needs to be loaded:

__PACKAGE__->load_components(qw( Helper::Row::ProxyResultSetUpdate ));

and your results will use the update defined in your resultset.

🔗 Don’t Stop!

This isn’t all! DBIx::Class can be very efficient and also reduce code duplication. Whenever you have something that’s slow or bound to result objects, think about what you could do to leverage your amazing storage layer’s speed (the RDBMS) and whether you can push the code down a layer to be reused more.

Posted Sat, Jul 16, 2016

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