A thing which puts Raku pretty much apart from Perl is that Raku avoids magic. There are a couple of places where one could say: “it happens magically”. But a closer look usually reveals rather well-explainable mechanics behind the behaviors. It’s like watching illusionist tricks: we always know that there are explanations and that they are certainly logical.

Thus, I have a trick for you. Look at the code and tell me: how many roles do you see here?

role R[::T] { has T $.a; }
class C does R[Int] { }

The intuitive answer is, of course,1. And it’s true. But a part of the trick here is substitution of terms: where the word “role” is used the more accurate term would be “role type object”. Now, try to guess the right answer. And, be sure, it’s more than one.

How’s Raku Magic Is Not Magical

One of the greatest virtues of Raku, which I learn to value more and more over time, is that it does everything to remain logical. Sometimes this doesn’t mean being intuitive. Some behaviours may even confuse beginners at first. But, when explained, the logic is usually quite persuasive. The extensive set of introspection tools, provided by Raku, often helps a lot in understanding it. In this article I’d try to demonstrate how to use some of the tools in a way a “magician” demonstrates the devices it is using to turn a single rabbit into many.

I will also heavily rely on Rakudo implementation of Raku which is based upon NQP, making it rather easy to look behind the curtain of Raku syntax in some cases. By the way, this is another reason why the amount of magic in Raku is at negligible levels. How many of you, my readers, ever looked into the sources of Perl or whatever is your favourite language? If I answer for myself then it would be one word: never. Even though C was my language of choice for years. But now I would insist on you doing git clone https://github.com/rakudo/rakudo.git somewhere under your home directory, where all other projects are kept. Then, as soon as you get a question, there is a good chance the answer is in a file in src/Perl6/Metamodel directory of Rakudo project.


I had to google this word. “Trinity” is familiar to me since the first Matrix movie, but not the others from this row. Yes, the word is the answer to the tricky question. A Raku role is a quadrinity. This article will step by step tell you why.

At this point I’d like to remind that general knowledge of introspection and Raku metamodel would be very beneficial. Some information can be found in the previous articles of this cycle, some in the Raku documentation.

Step 1. Multiplicity

Let’s start with the most simple introspection:

⇒ raku -e 'role R[::T] { }; say R.WHAT'

Don’t be confused with the ‘⇒’ character, it’s just my favorite command line prompt.

Note that we only use square brackets to declare the role, not to invoke a method on it. Also note that the role reports itself as just R; again, no square brackets involved.

Next, you probably already know that in Raku it is possible to have different variants for the same role:

⇒ raku -e 'role R[::T] { }; role R { }; say R.WHAT'

We have two declarations but still only using R to call WHAT.

Let’s change the point of view and see how the role is implemented:

⇒ raku -e 'role R[::T] { }; say R.HOW.^name'

Notice the Group part of the name. Newbies may get confused about the word as long as they only use one variant of a role. But when they get to the point of the second example in this section, things are starting to become more clear. Let me make them more confusing again:

role R[::T] { method foo { 42 } }
role R { }
say R.^lookup('foo');

What would you expect this code to output? Doing it on a class gives rather predictable result, according to the documentation:

class Foo { method foo { } };
say Foo.^lookup("foo"); # foo

Now, forget this experience. Because for R in the above example we will get (Mu) meaning that no method was found!

At this point I’d step back a little. If you read Raku documentation or a book and done the part about roles and parameterization, one detail might strike you as something rather familiar. If it’s the same “something” I’m going to point at then you’re not mistaken: parameterization is about parameters; and where are parameters, then there are signatures! Now this code must be making full sense of it:

role R[Int:D $a, Str:D $b] { ... }

The fact that the part of role declaration enclosed by the square brackets is a signature has another meaning to which I’m going to get back later.

Unfortunately, I’m writing this article a little bit out of schedule and it should have been done after a couple of more basic subjects are covered. For this reason I apologize for a small digression following.


One can find this section in Raku documentation. Another section elaborates on the syntax and functionality. But I’d like to lightly touch the internal implementation of the feature. Let’s start with a basic declaration:

proto foo(|) {*}
multi foo(Int:D $i) {}
multi foo(Str:D $s) {}
say &foo.raku; # proto sub foo (|) {*}

As you can see, the raku method reports only the proto. Also, if we invoke is_dispatcher method on &foo it will return True. Ok, but where are the two multi and what happens when we call foo("bar")? In two words, Raku will first find the proto method. If it recognizes it as such by inspecting the return value of is_dispatcher, then it takes the list of known candidates by calling &foo.candidates:

say &foo.candidates.map(*.raku).join("\n");
# multi sub foo (Int:D $i) { #`(Sub|140560053018928) ... }
# multi sub foo (Str:D $s) { #`(Sub|140560053019072) ... }

And then it tries to bind the supplied parameters to signature of each candidate. Where binding succeeds that candidate is called (or an exception is thrown if none can be found).

Apparently, in the real life things are somewhat more complicated, but we don’t need to know this yet…

Back To The Multi-Role

Sometimes I feel weird about not being able to recurse into a sub-subject in plain text of an article. Just consider the header of this section as a return statement from the previous section… Ah, nevermind!

Well, what was my point about telling the story of multi-dispatching? When we see that R.HOW reports a Group in the class name, it is OK to draw a parallel with the proto in multi-dispatching implementation. As a matter of fact, the type object R, on which we invoke the HOW method, is an umbrella-kind of entity, representing all variants of the role under its common name. And, when one applies R[Int] to a class, then the process which actually takes place is a kind of multi-dispatch, where Raku tries to match the parameter(s) in square brackets to the signatures of role candidates. And akin to how we list the candidates of &foo, we can also list the candidates of R:

say R.^candidates.map(*.^name).join(", "); # R, R

The only difference is that this time we use a meta-method .^candidates.

At this point there is one mystery remains uncovered. Remember the example with .^lookup? Why does it fail to find the method?

The type object backed by Perl6::Metamodel::ParametricRoleGroupHOW is not a role we can actually use. It neither has methods nor attributes. Yet, under certain circumstances, we may want it to pretend to be a full fledged role. To do so it chooses one of its candidates as the default one and then re-dispatches outside requests on it. When there is a candidate with no signature (as our role R {}), it becomes the implicit default. Otherwise the first declared signatured candidate becomes one.

Getting back to our example, R.^lookup('foo') fails because role R {} doesn’t declare a method with the name.

Step 2. Candidates

Straight to the point, let’s introspect the candidates themselves:

say R.^candidates.map({ .HOW.^name }).join(", ");

This must look almost familiar except that we’ve added .HOW call. Here is what we get with it:

Perl6::Metamodel::ParametricRoleHOW, Perl6::Metamodel::ParametricRoleHOW

It also looks familiar except… Yes, there is no Group in the class name and I’d like to welcome our second kind of role! Actually, we know it already. If I wave my hand like this and distract my spectators with…

Oops, the last sentence was supposed to land in another window! For you, my audience, I have another line of code:

role R {}.HOW.^name.say; # Perl6::Metamodel::ParametricRoleHOW

BTW, it’s a good example of the ubiquitous Raku concept of everything being an object. Even a declaration is; and, just for fun of it:

{ say "foo" }.^name.say; # Block

But I got distracted…

So, what really matters here is that when we declare a role Raku creates an instance of Perl6::Metamodel::ParametricRoleHOW class for us. Each declaration is backed by a distinct instance of the class which is responsible for holding every detail of the role type object. For example, to find out if it can be parameterized one can do:

sub is_parameterized(Mu \r --> Bool) {
    ? r.^signatured
say is_parameterized(role R[::T] {}); # True
say is_parameterized(role R {}); # False

Note that because signatured is a method implemented in NQP it doesn’t know about high-level types and returns either 0 or 1. Sometimes the situation gets even worse. The lookup metamethod I mentioned above actually returns nqp::null() which is a VM-level kind of object. It must never appear at Raku-land. Therefore the language turns it in Mu which is the most basic Raku class.

There is little to say about Perl6::Metamodel::ParametricRoleHOW at this point. But we will get back to it somewhat later.

Step 3. Uncertainty

To get closer to our third kind of role we start with the following snippet:

role R1[::T Stringy, ::V] { method foo { "stringy" } }
role R1[::T Numeric, ::V] { method foo { "numeric" } }
my \r = role R2[::T] does R1[Int, T] { }

Let’s introspect R1:

# We know there is only one role,
# hence .head for prettier output
say r.^roles.map({ .^name ~ " of " ~ .HOW.^name }).head;
# R1[Int,T] of Perl6::Metamodel::CurriedRoleHOW

The output reveals two apparent changes. First, the role name now reports its parameters. Second, the metaobject is now of class Perl6::Metamodel::CurriedRoleHOW. This is another kind of “magic” Rakudo does behind the scenes which I’m going to disclose in this section.

What is the most noticeable feature of R2 declaration in the above example? The fact that where it consumes R1 we only know the first parameter whereas the second one remains a generic. To represent this state of things where our knowledge about roles is incomplete Rakudo uses curried ones.

From the point of view of origin, the key distinction of curried roles from the previous two kinds is that there is no way to declare one. A currying can only be a result of parameterization of a group. And, actually, I’m well aware that formally group doesn’t have a representation in Raku syntax. But as soon as it comes out as a result of the first role declaration we could say it is produced with it. Whereas curryings are created by parameterizations exclusively.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, but a currying can also be found in cases where all parameters are well-known to the compiler:

say R2[Str].HOW.^name; # Perl6::Metamodel::CurriedRoleHOW

Partly this is because when we use a role like this all we need of it are perhaps some introspection, type checking, or any other kind of operation which do not require a concrete object. For example:

sub foo(R1[Int, Str] $a) {...}

All we need here is foo parameter to pass type checking against R1[Int, Str]. And because a currying will do the job for us, Rakudo is using it here:

say &foo.signature.params[0].type.HOW.^name;
# Perl6::Metamodel::CurriedRoleHOW

This is because:

say R2[Str] ~~ R1[Int, Str]; # True
say R2[Int] ~~ R1[Int, Str]; # False

But there is one more, primary reason. It will be disclosed in the following section.

Step 4. Concreteness

The destiny of any role is to be consumed by a class. (BTW, punning is not an exception here.) The time has come to consider this final stage:

role R1[::T] { }
role R2[::T] { }
role R3 { }
class C does R1[Int] does R2[Str] does R3 { }

By introspecting the class we will meet all the old friends:

say C.^roles
     .map({ .^name ~ " of " ~ .HOW.^name })
# R3 of Perl6::Metamodel::ParametricRoleGroupHOW
# R2[Str] of Perl6::Metamodel::CurriedRoleHOW
# R1[Int] of Perl6::Metamodel::CurriedRoleHOW

Interestingly enough, we find a mixture of different kinds of roles here. The reason for this is floating atop: contrary to R3 two other roles are parameterized.

But since I love to confuse the audience, I will tell you this: those are actually not the roles the class is built from!

Sure thing, this is another manipulation. The full phrase must be using this: “not the directly used roles”.

When we try another approach the picture is going to be quite different:

say C.^mro(:roles)
     .map({ .^name ~ " of " ~ .HOW.^name })
# C of Perl6::Metamodel::ClassHOW
# R3 of Perl6::Metamodel::ConcreteRoleHOW
# R2 of Perl6::Metamodel::ConcreteRoleHOW
# R1 of Perl6::Metamodel::ConcreteRoleHOW

The difference between .^roles and .^mro is that the former is providing us with what is used to declare a class; whereas the latter gives us what it is actually built with.

As the name of HOW class implies, we now deal with concrete representation of the roles. In other words, this is the kind of roles for which all details are known and they were specialized for this particular class. The emphasis is there on purpose: the process is called specialization; and specialize is the name of the metamodel method which implements it.

I would also remind you about the last sentence of the previous section. The reason why whenever one uses R[Int] or a similar form of role parameterization they deal with a curried role is because full specialization requires the class the role is consumed by. Later I will show why.

We can now take a step back and overview the lifecycle of a role:

  1. A Perl6::Metamodel::ParametricRoleGroupHOW is created.
  2. A Perl6::Metamodel::ParametricRoleHOW is created and added to the group.
  3. A class is declared and does the role. The compiler tries to parameterize the role and Perl6::Metamodel::CurriedRoleHOW is created if the parameterization is needed; otherwise the original Perl6::Metamodel::ParametricRoleHOW is used.
  4. The result of the parameterization is added to the class’ list of roles.
  5. When class is composed all roles added at the previous step are getting specialized with their respective parameters and the class type object. At this point we get role type objects backed by Perl6::Metamodel::ConcreteRoleHOW or, in other words, role concretizations.
  6. The concretizations are added to the class.
  7. Concretizations are applied by migrating their attributes and methods into the class type object.

It worth noting that concretizations are kept as separate entities, apart from the the roles they’re produced from. This is what we observed above by introspecting with .^roles and .^mro. They can also be accessed using .^concretizations metamodel method:

say C.^concretizations
     .map({ .^name ~ " of " ~ .HOW.^name })
# R3 of Perl6::Metamodel::ConcreteRoleHOW
# R2 of Perl6::Metamodel::ConcreteRoleHOW
# R1 of Perl6::Metamodel::ConcreteRoleHOW

At this point there are two rather big subjects remain intentionally unclear: how a role candidate is chosen? and what does specialization do? The first one I could probably cover more or less in full. The second one is way too complex for this article, but a few key points are definitely worth mentioning.

Step 1a. The Choice

Shocking an innocent reader is very popular among media. And though I’m barely a journalist, to say at least, but as long as I call this text an article - who am I to break the rules? So, sit tight and hold your brains.

Here we go… Ready or not… The truth is about to be revealed!

A role is a routine.

Good, here it goes. I said it! I always wanted to say it!

Seriously, as it often turns out about clickbaiting news, this is not fully true, but there is a point. I’d like you to consider an example:

role R {
    say "inside the role";
module Foo {
    say "inside Foo";
class C {
    say "inside the class";
# inside Foo
# inside the class

We only see two lines of output what gives us an idea of the class declaration behaving identically to module. But not the role. Let’s add one more line to the example:

# inside the role

Why is it so and why I pass C as a parameter I will try to answer in the section on specialization below.

For now I propose to introspect the body block, but first add one more variant of the role to the above snippet:

my \r = role R[::T, ::V Numeric] { }
say r.^body_block.raku;
# multi sub (::$?CLASS ::::?CLASS Mu $, ::T Mu $, ::V Numeric $) { #`(Sub|94052949943024) ... }

Does it ring a bell now? The word multi before sub tells it all, and my job now is reduced to the minimal required wording.

When the compiler builds a role group it also creates a multi-dispatch routine. Internally it is called selector. Of the every newly added parametric role its body block (which is actually a multi sub) is taken and added to the selector as a multi-dispatch candidate. Now, when one writes something like R[Int, Str] in their code the compiler uses multi-dispatch to pick a routine candidate. Based on the result, it finds the role to which the matching candidate block belongs.

So, it must now make much more sense when we mention a role signature. Because it is a signature, as a matter of fact. If I to re-word a role declaration role R[::T, ::V] {} in somewhat more human-programmer-readable way, it might look like:

Declare a candidate role R with body block sub (::T, ::V) {...}

A Bit Of Cold Shower

So far, so good. But there is a catch: named parameters.

NOTE that this section describes the implementation of Rakudo compiler 2021.06 release. The situation might change with a future compiler release.

Consider a declaration:

role R[Int ::T] { method foo { say "none, Int" } }
role R[Int ::T, Str:D :$desc] { method foo { say "desc:", $desc } }

class C1 does R[Int, desc => "sss"] { }
class C2 does R[Int, desc => "sss"] { }
class C3 does R[Int] { }
class C4 does R[Int] { }

First thing to try is to see if roles are chosen correctly:

C1.foo; # desc:sss
C3.foo; # none, Int

Looks like it. But this is where the good news ends:

say C1.^roles[0] =:= C2.^roles[0]; # False
say C3.^roles[0] =:= C4.^roles[0]; # True

What the above output means is that as soon as one uses a named parameter the compiler will be creating a new currying for each new parameterization, despite of the named argument value passed in. Note how positional-only role candidate is not affected by the issue.

Whereas the above problem might not be a big deal most of the time, the following example demonstrates another one, which is more substantial:

say R[Int] ~~ R[Int, :desc<sss>]; # True
say R[Int, :desc<sss>] ~~ R[Int]; # True

Note how positional-only candidate does the right thing:

say R[IntStr] ~~ R[Int]; # True
say R[Int] ~~ R[IntStr]; # False

With all this in mind I’d rather advice to avoid named parameters in role declarations.

Unfortunately, the problem doesn’t have a reasonable solution for now because support for named parameters is not provided by MoarVM implementation of type parameterization. Was it an oversight, or a deliberate decision - I don’t know. Hopefully, the situation will change when the new dispatching mechanism will arrive to Rakudo, but I’d be giving no promises here. I only believe, up to my knowledge, that the new dispatching provides ways for a solution to be implemented.

A Black Magic Sèance

This section is not really related to the candidate choosing, but I can’t stand not showing you something tricky. Also, in many fiction and fairy tale stories black magic is something what lets you achieve a goal but with a price tag attached. Sometimes the tag is quite a bloody one, but this is not my case here. And, actually, my goal and the price are the same: I want to intrigue you with something different.

Here is the spell to cast:

use nqp;
my \r = role R[::T, ::V Numeric] { }
class C { }
my \tenv = r.^body_block().(C, Str, Int);
my \ctx = nqp::atpos(tenv, 1);
my \iter = nqp::iterator(ctx);
while iter {
    my \elem = nqp::shift(iter);
    say nqp::iterkey_s(elem), " => ", nqp::iterval(elem);

As long as the body block is a routine, apparently we can call it ourselves! In order to understand the remaining lines with all the nqp:: ops used one would need to refer to the NQP ops documentation.

Anyway, the output the “spell” is producing may look like this:

::?CLASS => (C)
$?ROLE => (R)
T => (Str)
$?PACKAGE => (R)
::?PACKAGE => (R)
V => (Int)
::?ROLE => (R)
$?CLASS => (C)
$_ => (Mu)

In two words, role body block returns an array of two elements. The second element is a mapping of symbol names into their concrete values. I.e., among the keys on the left side of the => arrows you can easily spot our T and V type captures from the role signature; and compiler constants like ::?CLASS and others.

Overall, what the code returns is called internally type environment and is used in another widely employed mechanism called generic instantiation. But this subject is definitely well beyond this article’s purpose. What does worth mentioning here is that all the symbols included into the environment are actually role body lexicals. For example, if we add my FOO = 42 to the body the above output will have the following line added to it:

FOO => 42

Also, looking the symbols you can now even better understand why does role specialization requires a class consuming it. You would probably think about it next time doing something like:

method foo(::?CLASS:D: |) {...}

One last thing I’d like to point you at is $?CONCRETIZATION symbol which is not yet documented. It is only available within a role body and role methods and is bound to role’s concretization when it is available. The symbol is mostly useful for introspection purposes.

Step 4a. Specialization

So, we have a candidate. We know the concrete parameters. We know the class consuming it. Thus, we do know everything to specialize and get a concretization to eventually incorporate the role into the class consuming it.

As I already mentioned above, specialization is rather complex process. In Rakudo metamodel implementation it is spread across a couple of source files and involves some other internal mechanisms like generic instantiation, which I also hinted about above. I’d better not get into the deep details of it but focus on the major stages. Those who are really curious can start with method specialize in src/Perl6/Metamodel/ParametricRoleHOW.nqp of Rakudo compiler sources.

Specializing a new role starts with creating a fresh instance of Perl6::Metamodel::ConcreteRoleHOW and corresponding concrete role type object. Then body block is invoked to obtain a type environment structure. I’m going to focus a bit on this. As usual, we take an example first:

role R {
    say "inside the role, class is ", ::?CLASS.^name;
    say "class is composed? ", ::?CLASS.^is_composed ?? "yes" !! "no";
class C1 does R { }
class C2 does R { }
# inside the role, class is C1
# class is composed? no
# inside the role, class is C2
# class is composed? no

What we observe here is that the role body has been invoked twice, it knows the class it is applied to, and the class is not composed yet (I have some information about class life cycle in another article). Also, as I mentioned it already, the concretization exists at this point:

role R {
	say $?CONCRETIZATION.^name; # R

But it is empty yet:

say $?CONCRETIZATION.^attributes.elems; # 0
say $?CONCRETIZATION.^methods.elems;    # 0

And, apparently, not composed:

say $?CONCRETIZATION.^is_composed ?? "yes" !! "no"; # no

All this makes role body a good place to do things needed to be done whenever the role is actually consumed.

Now, with all the necessary information available, the metamodel finalizes the specialization by instantiating attributes and methods of the original parametric or curried role and installing them into the newly created concretization. For example for this snippet:

role R[::T] { has T $.attr }
class C R[Str] { }

a copy of $!attr attribute object will be created with Str in place of T. If we dump attributes of the original role and the concretization we may see something similar to the following output:

role attr: (Attribute|94613946040184 T $!attr)
concretization attr: (Attribute|94613946043184 Str $!attr)

When done with attributes and methods any consumed roles are getting instantiated and specialized. For example, for this declaration:

role R1[::T, ::V] does R2[::T] { ... }

R2 will be specialized with whatever is passed in as T. The concretization of R2 will then be added back to the concretization of R1.

And, finally, if there any parent classes added to the role they are instantiated and added too.

When all the above preparations are done our concretization gets composed. It is now ready to be added to its consuming class.

And that makes the story end.

Paying The Debts

It’s really relieving to know that long ago given promises were eventually kept. Unfortunately, to get this subject covered I have jumped over a few other, more basic ones. For example, it would be beneficial for a reader to get know better about multi-dispatching, type object composition, and how Rakudo, NQP, and backend VM are interacting with each other. If I ever write enough articles and consider making a book out of this material, then the chapter made of this text will be placed further away from the book beginning.

Anyway, I did my best to keep away from yet untold concepts and hope you found information here useful.

I would be very thankful for any report about errors found on this page!