Getting Around Expiration Dates via Reincarnation (and Catalyst)

December 17th, 2010
PerlCatalystCatalyst::Plugin::VersionedURIcachingweb developmentApache

Getting Around Expiration Dates via Reincarnation (and Catalyst)

EDIT: as Alexander Hartmaier pointed out in the comments, the version can also be added as a parameter (, which nicely remove the need to juggle things back into place on the web server side.

Web applications typically have a bunch of static files — images, css and javascript, that kind of stuff — that almost never change. For all but the simplest apps, it’s usually a good idea to let the browser know that it can cache and reuse those files, so that we can all save a little bit of bandwidth and get things moving a wee bit faster. For that, we have the HTTP Expires header:

<Directory /home/myapp/static>
        ExpiresActive on
        ExpiresDefault "access plus 1 year"

This approach is flawless for files that will never, ever change. But for files that almost never change, it’s a little bit more tricky. No matter how big or small you pick your Expires duration, any update of the file can potentially impact users who will still use, for some time, the cached content.

A usual solution to that problem is to have updated files have different urls. For example, instead of having, we add a version number to the path such that a first version of the application would use, a second version, and so on and so forth. The browsers see different urls, so everything is loaded anew each time the version goes up.

Of course, creating a new ‘vsomething’ sub-directory for each release of the app is not very appealing. Nor is it necessary; it’s not because the url has to look different that, under the hood, it can’t be the same. We can augment our Apache configuration with a little path legerdemain like so:

<Directory /home/myapp/static>
        RewriteEngine on
        RewriteRule ^v[0123456789._]+/(.*)$ /myapp/static/$1 [PT]

        ExpiresActive on
        ExpiresDefault "access plus 1 year"

And now, browser-side, we have it all. As long as the app isn’t upgraded, the static files are set to never expire. And as soon we have a new release, that caching will be bypassed by the grace of a new set of urls.

Those shenanigans, however, come with a logistic price; the code of application has to generate those versioned paths. Where, before, we had

$c->uri_for( '/static/foo.png' );

we must now write

$c->uri_for( '/static/v' . $c->VERSION . '/foo.png' );

Blerg. If we want to do that for more than a handful of uris, that’s cumbersome. So… why not write a very small plugin to insert that versioned element in the path for us?


The task we want the plugin to perform is quite simple: intercept calls to uri_for and, if the uri matches a set of paths we know to be static, we supplement it with a versioned component. Pleasantly enough, the code for the plugin proves to be as concise as the requirements:

Once this is done, we just have to add a stanza to our configuration file:

    uri  static/

And, voilà, our application is now issuing versioned paths.

You broke my development server, you insensitive clod!

While this is working fine with the Apache front-end, it’s going to seriously cramp your style if you use, as I do, the myapp_server standalone server. The obvious solution is, well, obvious: remove the VersionedURI configuration stanza from your development configuration file.

If, for whatever reason, you absolutly want your application to deal with the versioned paths with or without Apache, you’ll have to add a controller to strip away what we toiled to shoe-horn in:

That’s, admittedly, not the most elegant way of doing things — there must be a way to programmatically add actions in a less gruesome way — but it’ll do in a pinch.

Where can I get the code?

On GitHub, as usual. Glad you asked. :-) Tuits providing, it should also be pushed to CPAN sometime within the next couple of weeks.