Developing Plugins

The usual way Foswiki is extended is by writing a Plugin. Plugins extend Foswiki by providing functions that 'listen' to events in the Foswiki core, and handling these events. These functions are called "Plugin Handlers" and they are described in depth in EmptyPlugin ( lib/Foswiki/Plugins/ ).

The 3048m view of how Foswiki works

Foswiki is a web application that runs inside a web server. When the web server receives a request that it recognises as being for Foswiki, it calls one of the perl scripts in the Foswiki bin directory. Each of the scripts has a specific function, as described in command and CGI scripts.

The scripts are responsible for interpreting the parameters passed in the request, and generating a response that is sent back to the browser, usually in the form of an HTML page.

Foswiki contains three engines that are used by the scripts; the template engine, the macro engine, and the TML engine.

  1. The template engine reads predefined templates from files on the server. These templates contain directives that are expanded by the engine to create the output HTML skeleton. One of these directives expands to the topic text.
  2. The macro engine then expands the macros in the skeleton. This is also where macros registered by plugins are expanded.
    • Macros, including those registered by plugins, are processed in a strict left-right-inside-out processing order. See macros for more details.
    • Macros include things like searches, so this is usually the slowest part of generating a page.
  3. The TML (Topic Markup Language) engine now processes the expanded text, looking for TML constructs such as bulleted lists and tables. It generates HTML for these constructs.

Once all the engines have run, the output is sent to the browser.

There are several ways plugins can interact with this process.
  1. They can register macros that are expanded by the macro engine. This is the simplest kind of plugin.
  2. The can interact with various points in the rendering pipeline by implementing handlers (callbacks).
  3. They can register REST handlers that are invoked via the rest script to support some form of transaction outside those supported by the standard scripts.

APIs available to Extensions

To be robust, extensions must avoid using any unpublished functionality from the Foswiki core. The following perl packages give access to features for extension authors. These APIs are not just for Plugins, they can be used in any type of extension. Click on the name of the package to see the full documentation.
  • Foswiki::Func - this is the package you will use most. This package exposes a lot of core functionality in a way that is friendly to extension writers. If you find that there are two ways of doing something - a Foswiki::Func way, and another call to one of the packages below, then the Foswiki::Func way is almost always the right way.
  • Foswiki::Meta - topic and web meta-data. Certain Foswiki::Func methods, and some plugin handlers, are passed (or return) objects of this type. Almost all of the methods of Foswiki::Meta have analagous methods in Foswiki::Func - in general you should call the Foswiki::Func methods in preference to calling Foswiki::Meta methods directly.
  • Foswiki::OopsException - special exception for invoking the 'oops' script
  • Foswiki::AccessControlException - access control exception
  • Foswiki::Attrs - parser and storage object for macro parameters
  • Foswiki::Time - time parsing and formatting
  • Foswiki::Sandbox - safe server-side program execution, used for calling external programs.
  • Iterators - these are classes that implement the Foswiki::Iterator specification
In addition the following global variables may be referred to:
  • $Foswiki::Plugins::VERSION - plugin handler API version number
  • $Foswiki::Plugins::SESSION - reference to Foswiki singleton object
  • $Foswiki::cfg - reference to configuration hash
  • $Foswiki::regex - see Standard Regular Expressions, below
info Foswiki:Development.GettingStarted is the starting point for more comprehensive documentation on developing for Foswiki.

Note: the APIs are available to all extensions, but rely on a Foswiki singleton object having been created before the APIs can be used. This will only be a problem if you are writing an extension that doesn't use the standard initialisation sequence.

Standard Regular Expressions

A number of standard regular expressions are available for use in extensions, in the $Foswiki::regex hash. these regular expressions are precompiled in an I18N-compatible manner. The following are guaranteed to be present. Others may exist, but their use is unsupported and they may be removed in future Foswiki versions.

In the table below, the expression marked type 'String' are intended for use within character classes (i.e. for use within square brackets inside a regular expression), for example:
   my $isCapitalizedWord =
     ( $s =~ /[$Foswiki::regex{upperAlpha}][$Foswiki::regex{mixedAlpha}]+/ );
Those expressions marked type 'RE' are precompiled regular expressions that can be used outside square brackets. For example:
   my $isWebName = ( $s =~ m/$Foswiki::regex{webNameRegex}/ );

Name Matches Type
upperAlpha Upper case characters String
upperAlphaNum Upper case characters and digits String
lowerAlpha Lower case characters String
lowerAlphaNum Lower case characters and digits String
numeric Digits String
mixedAlpha Alphabetic characters String
mixedAlphaNum Alphanumeric characters String
wikiWordRegex WikiWords RE
webNameRegex User web names RE
topicNameRegex Topic names RE
anchorRegex #AnchorNames RE
abbrevRegex Abbreviations/Acronyms e.g. GOV, IRS RE
emailAddrRegex RE
tagNameRegex Standard macro names e.g. %THIS_BIT% (THIS_BIT only) RE

Creating New Plugins

With a reasonable knowledge of the Perl scripting language, you can create new plugins or modify and extend existing ones.

Anatomy of a Plugin

A (very) basic Foswiki plugin consists of two files:

  • a Perl module, e.g. lib/Foswiki/Plugins/
  • a documentation topic, e.g. MyFirstPlugin.txt

The Perl module can invoke other, non-Foswiki, elements, like other Perl modules (including other plugins), graphics, external applications, or just about anything else that Perl can call.

The plugin API handles the details of connecting your Perl module with the Foswiki core.

The Foswiki:Extensions.BuildContrib module provides a lot of support for plugins development, including a plugin creator, automatic publishing support, and automatic installation script writer. If you plan on writing more than one plugin, you probably need it.

Creating the Perl Module

Copy file lib/Foswiki/Plugins/ to <name> The EmptyPlugin does nothing, but it contains all the information you need to create you own custom plugin.

Writing the Documentation Topic

The plugin documentation topic contains usage instructions and version details. (The doc topic is also included in the distribution package.) To create a documentation topic:

  1. Copy the plugin topic template from EmptyPlugin
  2. Customize your plugin topic.
    • Important: In case you plan to publish your plugin on, use Interwiki names for author names and links to topics, such as Foswiki:Main/WikiGuest. This is important because links should work properly in a plugin topic installed on any Foswiki, not just on
  3. Save your topic, for use in packaging and publishing your plugin.

OUTLINE: Doc Topic Contents
Check the plugins web on for the latest plugin doc topic template. Here's a quick overview of what's covered:

Syntax Rules: <Describe any special text formatting that will be rendered.>"

Example: <Include an example of the plugin in action. Possibly include a static HTML version of the example to compare if the installation was a success!>"

Plugin Settings: <Description and settings for custom plugin settings, and those required by Foswiki.>"

  • Plugins Preferences <If user settings are needed, link to preference settings and explain the role of the plugin name prefix

Plugin Installation Instructions: <Step-by-step set-up guide, user help, whatever it takes to install and run, goes here.>"

Plugin Info: <Version, credits, history, requirements - entered in a form, displayed as a table. Both are automatically generated when you create or edit a page in the Foswiki:Extensions web.>

Packaging for Distribution

The Foswiki:Extensions.BuildContrib is a powerful build environment that is used by the Foswiki project to build Foswiki itself, as well as many of the plugins. You don't have to use it, but it is highly recommended!

If you don't want to (or can't) use the BuildContrib, then a minimum plugin release consists of a Perl module with a WikiName that ends in Plugin, ex:, and a documentation page with the same name(MyFirstPlugin.txt).

  1. Distribute the plugin files in a directory structure that mirrors Foswiki. If your plugin uses additional files, include them all:
    • lib/Foswiki/Plugins/
    • data/Foswiki/MyFirstPlugin.txt
    • pub/Foswiki/MyFirstPlugin/uparrow.gif [a required graphic]
  2. Create a zip archive with the plugin name ( and add the entire directory structure from Step 1. The archive should look like this:
    • lib/Foswiki/Plugins/
    • data/Foswiki/MyFirstPlugin.txt
    • pub/Foswiki/MyFirstPlugin/uparrow.gif

Publishing for Public Use

You can release your tested, packaged plugin to the Foswiki community through the Foswiki:Extensions web. All plugins submitted to are available for public download and further development.

Publish your plugin by following these steps:
  1. Post the plugin documentation topic to the Foswiki:Extensions web
  2. Attach the distribution zip file(s) to the topic, eg:
  3. Add a user support hub by visiting Foswiki:Support.CreateNewSupportHub
  4. Optionally, check in the sources to the Foswiki subversion repository (see Foswiki:Development.HowToStartExtensionDevelopmentInSubversion)

NEW Once you have done the above steps once, you can use the BuildContrib to upload updates to your plugin.

Thank you very much for sharing your plugin with the Foswiki community smile

Hints on Writing Fast Plugins

  • Delay initialization as late as possible. For example, if your plugin is a simple syntax processor, you might delay loading extra Perl modules until you actually see the syntax in the text.
    • For example, use an eval block like this:
      eval { require IPC::Run }
      return "<font color=\"red\">SamplePlugin: Can't load required modules ($@)</font>" if $@;
  • Keep the main plugin package as small as possible; create other packages that are loaded if and only if they are used. For example, create sub-packages of BathPlugin in lib/Foswiki/Plugins/BathPlugin/.
  • Avoid using preferences in the plugin topic; set $NO_PREFS_IN_TOPIC if you possibly can, as that will stop Foswiki from reading the plugin topic for every page. Use Config.spec instead.
  • Use registered tag handlers


  • Badly written plugins can open security holes in Foswiki. This is especially true if care isn't taken to prevent execution of arbitrary commands on the server.
  • Don't allow sensitive configuration data to be edited by users. Use the %Foswiki::cfg hash for configuration options. Don't ask installers to edit topics in the System web.
  • Make sure that all user input is checked and validated. Be especially careful to filter characters that might be used in perl string interpolation.
  • Avoid eval, and if you must use it make sure you sanitise parameters
  • Always use the Foswiki::sandbox to execute commands. Never use backtick or qx//.
  • Use Foswiki::Func::checkAccessPermission to check the access rights of the current user.
  • Always audit the plugins you install, and make sure you are happy with the level of security provided. While every effort is made to monitor plugin authors activities, at the end of the day they are uncontrolled user contributions.

Recommended Storage of Plugin Specific Data

Plugins sometimes need to store data. This can be plugin internal data such as cache data, or data generated for browser consumption such as images. Plugins should store data using Foswiki::Func functions that support saving and loading of topics and attachments.

Plugin Internal Data

You can create a plugin "work area" using the Foswiki::Func::getWorkArea() function, which gives you a persistent directory where you can store data files. By default they will not be web accessible. The directory is guaranteed to exist, and to be writable by the webserver user. For convenience, Foswiki::Func::storeFile() and Foswiki::Func::readFile() are provided to persistently store and retrieve simple data in this area.

Web Accessible Data

The internal data area is not normally made web-accessible for security reasons. If yoou want to store web accessible data, for example generated images, then you should use Foswiki's attachment mechanisms.

Topic-specific data such as generated images can be stored in the topic's attachment area, which is web accessible. Use the Foswiki::Func::saveAttachment() function to store the data.

Recommendation for file name:
  • Prefix the filename with an underscore (the leading underscore avoids a name clash with files attached to the same topic)
  • Identify where the attachment originated from, typically by including the plugin name in the file name
  • Use only alphanumeric characters, underscores, dashes and periods to avoid platform dependency issues and URL issues
  • Example: _GaugePlugin_img123.gif
Such auto-generated attachments han be hidden from users by setting the 'h' attribute in the attachment attributes.

Web specific data should be stored in the attachment area of a topic in the web that you specify for the purpose, e.g. Web.BathPlugPictures. Use the Foswiki::Func::saveAttachment() function to store the data in this topic.

Integrating with configure

Some extensions have setup requirements that are best integrated into configure rather than trying to use preference settings. These extensions use Config.spec files to publish their configuration requirements.

Config.spec files are read during configuration. Once a Config.spec has defined a configuration item, it is available for edit through the standard configure interface. Config.spec files are stored in the 'plugin directory' e.g. lib/Foswiki/Plugins/BathPlugin/Config.spec.

Structure of a Config.spec file

The Config.spec file for a plugin starts with a line that declares what section the configuration should appear in. The standard for all extensions is:
# ---+ Extensions
Next we have a sub-heading for the configuration specific to this extension, and the actual configuration options:
# ----++ BathPlugin
# This plugin senses the level of water in your bath, and ensures the plug
# is not removed while the water is still warm.
This is followed by one or more configuration items. Each configuration item has a type, a description and a default. For example:
# **SELECT Plastic,Rubber,Metal**
# Select the plug type
$Foswiki::cfg{BathPlugin}{PlugType} = 'Plastic';

# **NUMBER**
# Enter the chain length in cm
$Foswiki::cfg{BathPlugin}{ChainLength} = '30';

# Turn this option off to disable the water temperature alarm
$Foswiki::cfg{BathPlugin}{TempSensorEnabled} = '1';
The type (e.g. **SELECT** ) tells configure to how to prompt for the value. It also tells configure how to do some basic checking on the value you actually enter. All the comments between the type and the configuration item are taken as part of the description. The configuration item itself defines the default value for the configuration item. The above spec defines the configuration items $Foswiki::cfg{BathPlugin}{PlugType}, $Foswiki::cfg{BathPlugin}{ChainLength}, and $Foswiki::cfg{BathPlugin}{TempSensorEnabled} for use in your plugin. For example,
if( $Foswiki::cfg{BathPlugin}{TempSensorEnabled} && $curTemperature > 50 ) {
    die "The bathwater is too hot for comfort";
You can use other $Foswiki::cfg values in other settings, but you must be sure they are only evaluated under program control, and not when this file is parsed by perl. For example:
$Foswiki::cfg{BathPlugin}{MyBath} = "$Foswiki::cfg{PubDir}/enamel.gif"; # BAD
# Perl will interpolate variables in double-quotes, so $Foswiki::cfg{PubDir}
# will be evaluated at configuration time, which will make reconfiguration
# difficult.

$Foswiki::cfg{BathPlugin}{MyBath} = '$Foswiki::cfg{PubDir}/enamel.gif'; # GOOD
# The single quotes make sure $Foswiki::cfg{PubDir} will only be evaluated
# at run-time.

The Config.spec file is read by configure, and configure then writes LocalSite.cfg with the values chosen by the local site admin.

A range of types are available for use in Config.spec files:

BOOLEAN A true/false value, represented as a checkbox
COMMAND length A shell command
LANGUAGE A language (selected from {LocalesDir}
NUMBER A number
OCTAL An octal number
PASSWORD length A password (input is hidden)
PATH length A file path
PERL A simplified perl data structure, consisting of arrays, hashes and scalar values
REGEX length A perl regular expression
SELECT choices Pick one of a range of choices
SELECTCLASS package-specifier Select a perl package (class) e.g. SELECTCLASS Foswiki::Plugins::BathPlugin::*Plug lets the user select between all packages with names ending in Plug, Foswiki::Plugins::BathPlugin::RubberPlug, Foswiki::Plugins::BathPlugin::BrassPlug etc.
STRING length A string
URL length A url
URLPATH length A relative URL path

All types can be followed by a comma-separated list of attributes.
EXPERT means this an expert option
M means the setting is mandatory (may not be empty)
H means the option is not visible in configure
5x80 means "use a 5 row, 80 column textarea". Can be used with any text entry field type, such as STRING, COMMAND, PERL etc.

See lib/Foswiki.spec for many more examples.

Config.spec files are also used for other (non-plugin) extensions. in this case they are stored under the Contrib directory instead of the Plugins directory.

Linking to configure

You can link to your configure settings by using the following:


Replace BathPlugin with the name of your extension.

Maintaining Plugins

Discussions and Feedback on Plugins

Usually published plugins have a support hub in the Support web on hubs have links to where to discuss feature enhancements and give feedback to the developer and user communities.

Maintaining Compatibility with Earlier Foswiki Versions

The plugin interface (Foswiki::Func functions and plugin handlers) evolve over time. Foswiki introduces new API functions to address the needs of plugin authors. Plugins using unofficial Foswiki internal functions may no longer work on a Foswiki upgrade.

Organizations typically do not upgrade to the latest Foswiki for many months. However, many administrators still would like to install the latest versions of a plugin on their older Foswiki installation. This need is fulfilled if plugins are maintained in a compatible manner.

TIP Tip: Plugins can be written to be compatible with older and newer Foswiki releases. This can be done also for plugins using unofficial Foswiki internal functions of an earlier release that no longer work on the latest Foswiki codebase. Here is an example; the Foswiki:Support.PluginsSupplement has more details.

    if( $Foswiki::Plugins::VERSION >= 1.1 ) {
        @webs = Foswiki::Func::getListOfWebs( 'user,public' );
    } else {
        @webs = Foswiki::Func::getPublicWebList( );

Handling deprecated functions

From time-to-time, the Foswiki developers will add new functions to the interface (either to Foswiki::Func, or new handlers). Sometimes these improvements mean that old functions have to be deprecated to keep the code manageable. When this happens, the deprecated functions will be supported in the interface for at least one more Foswiki release, and probably longer, though this cannot be guaranteed.

When a plugin defines deprecated handlers, a warning will be shown in the list generated by %FAILEDPLUGINS%. Admins who see these warnings should check and if necessary, contact the plugin author, for an updated version of the plugin.

Updated plugins may still need to define deprecated handlers for compatibility with old Foswiki versions. In this case, the plugin package that defines old handlers can suppress the warnings in %FAILEDPLUGINS%.

This is done by defining a map from the handler name to the Foswiki::Plugins version in which the handler was first deprecated. For example, if we need to define the endRenderingHandler for compatibility with Foswiki::Plugins versions before 1.1, we would add this to the plugin:

package Foswiki::Plugins::SinkPlugin;
use vars qw( %FoswikiCompatibility );
$FoswikiCompatibility{endRenderingHandler} = 1.1;
If the currently-running Foswiki version is 1.1 or later, then the handler will not be called and the warning will not be issued. Foswiki with versions of Foswiki::Plugins before 1.1 will still call the handler as required.

TWiki® Plugins

Most plugins written for TWiki can also be run in Foswiki, by installing the TWikiCompatibilityPlugin. See Foswiki:Extensions.TWikiCompatibilityPlugin for more information.
Topic revision: r1 - 2011-06-10, ProjectContributor
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