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Announcing xref_runner

Iñaki Garay wrote this on February 10, 2015 under erlang, inaka, workflow, xref .

Erlang has many strengths, stemming from its design decisions. One of those decisions was to be as dynamic as possible and bind attributes to language entities as late as possible. One example is when resolving calls to functions, finding the code's location is done just before the call, instead of, say, at compile-time. This gives you flexibility when writing code and allows the underlying platform VM to swap code while it's running.

The tradeoff is that you can write code that calls a function which doesn't exist, and the error will be detected at run-time. Erlang's fail-fast philosphy (at least, if you are following it) means you'll find out sooner than later that the call will blow up, but NOW is better than sooner, especially if now is before time is spent running tests and reviewing code!

Checking your code is trivial (for a certain definition of "trivial"; c.f. mathematical proofs), all you have to do is parse the compiled .beam files, build a callgraph and check whether undefined functions are called. Of course, Erlang/OTP includes a tool that does just this: xref. And it's really easy to use. Rebar simplifies its use further and allows you to check your code with a single command: rebar xref. Every developer should compile, test and xref their code before committing and pushing (dialyzer too!).

At Inaka, we sure can get lazy sometimes. The good kind of lazy, the kind that doesn't want to do repetitive repetitive repetitive and boring work twice. We like our little robots to do the menial work that we sometimes forget, like making sure our code conforms to all our guidelines, or xreffing our code. In the same spirit in which we created elvis and, we now started on xref-runner.

To use xref_runner, make sure it’s in your code path and call xref_runner:check/2 with the appropriate parameters. The first one is the type of check made by xref, since it can do much more than check for undefined functions. The second parameter is a configuration map, all fields are optional. To check the full documentation see the file in the github repo.

1> xref_runner:check(undefined_functions, #{}).

We envision a suite of tools to automatically sanitize your Erlang code, and up your game level.

Stay tuned for more, same inaka-channel, same inaka-time.