Lighting up the TunnErl Pt. 5 – The LightErls

January 9, 2009

Well what was initially one past has turned into a good few, they seem to be popular & I’ve had this in the drafts for the past week, this one focuses more on handling builds and the issues I’ve come across doing so, with a focus on what Faxien & Sinan have to offer.

Getting off the stumbling blocks
After a couple week of tinkering (ages by my standards), I had a simple Twitter interface that could run from the shell.

Though Twitterl is far from perfect, it was a good starting point, there were still things missing from my skill set:

  • A simple way to manage the application
  • How to make OTP compatible
  • How to create an application that can run from a bash shell
  • Handle documentation for projects.

How kill a few birds with one stone
Well for this I had to do a little reading and knew how to make a basic gen_server, what I needed for Chatterl was a number of gen_servers controlled by supervisors, which are encapsulated by an outer supervisor which handles the main application.

I decided for this it would be a good idea to start a new project, something I’ve wanted to create for some time, hence Chatterl, when learning I feel it makes sense to learn whilst working (I’ve worked on a number of chat systems so making a multi-node version is definitely compelling).

This project was not only something that I wanted to build for practical use but also to help me delve into Faxien & Sinan, which will help to kill a few birds at the same time.

I hate hackish code, its fine for playing around but if you want to upgrade/remove or search for applications, its a pain in the arse. So after some reading, I installed Faxien.

Now I’m not going to rewrite Sinan documentation it is pretty decent as is & there is already a decent post here, but I will give you a run down of the basics.

Now I decided to use Faxien & Sinan for a number of reasons, it saves when it comes to generating the files nessary for creating our OTP stucture. Faxien will help us install our project into our include path ‘/usr/local/erlware’, whilst Sinan will help generate our project, handle the builds and run tests and analytics on our project.

The following commands are what I seem to use the most at the moment:

  • sinan gen
  • sinan build
  • sinan dist
  • sinan test
  • faxien install-release
sinan gen

Allows us to generate the base code needed to create an OTP based application, I use this to generate a project skeleton, saving time in messing around with make files and the such like. There is no need to end the command with the project name as this and other pertaining data will be requested within the followed prompt.

sinan build

Allows us to build the application when we have made changes, simply run this from the root of the project directory and Sinan will handle building the application for you (note this does not build the documentation).

sinan doc

This will build all the documentation for our project, see edocs for more information, one thing I will mention, seeing as it took me a while to work out, the edocs overview.edoc is located with project/lib/src/PROJECT/doc. Simply write up our application documentation within that file and it will be generated with the rest of your source documentation.

sinan dist

Builds our application and creates the release tar for us, which is stored in _build/development/tar.

sudo faxien install-release _build/development/tar/project-x.x.x.tar

Which will install our project into our erlware directory, this will allow us to run our application from the bash shell:

erl -s project -s reloader

See few birds, one stone ;), we have a way to manage, generate our docs, install them using Faxien & run our project from the bash shell.

The last step was simply a pain in the ass up until this afternoon, when I was playing around with BeepBeep, there is an erl application called reloader which helps to hot swap modules, that is what ‘-s reloader’ was in the above code example ;), this had me for ages, without it applications need to be restarted, which is a pain & waste of a bloody good feature.

Still to work out

Well I’ve pretty much got the basic tools I need to develop confortably with Erlang, there a just a few more things left to work out:

  • TDD (mainly on applications & gen_servers
  • Automate the generation of docs & project build
  • Error logging/reporting

I still need to get my head around the TDD process within Erlang, thought conceptionally I think I have it down I have yet to implement it in any of my current projects, I saw some post earlier which I mailed to myself, hopefully I’ll have the chance to read over them again finally get back to my testing (feel naked without it).

Automate the generation of docs & project build
After a while it gets tiring running the same few commands over and over, at some point I really should find a way to integrate sinan/faxien into emacs, so I can can within emacs.

Error logging/handling

To be honest I’ve been kind of lazy with this, if you’ve noticed I’ve neglected to talk about sasl or anything like that, hopefully over the coming days I’ll have time to brush up on that & my Mochiweb/BeepBeep skills.


Well that yet another post finished, hopefully in the up and coming days I’ll have time to document using BeepBeep & integrating it into a Sinan application.



  1. The problem I’ve found is that the erlang bundled release is a bit outdated, and that’s the reason I’m not using these tools atm.

  2. I can understand that, thought I have to admit some projects can be out of date, Faxien allows use to host your own repositories with the latest builds and welcomes anyone to maintain a build.

    For me the biggest issue I have with Make files are they tend to import their own deps, which can also be old or conflict with other apps. Sinan/Faxien seems to solve most of this (same as ever is not a silver bullet).

    The amount of time I’ve had to remove a module/application manually, when apt/yum/rpm/gem/pecl/sinan could of done it cleanly for me in a fraction of the time.

    Faxien & Sinan have a long way to go but in my eyes they are on the right track.

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