Using Module.register_attribute and accumulate: true lets us collect the values of annotations in our module for later use. Observe:

defmodule Greetify do

  defmacro __using__(_) do
    quote do
      Module.register_attribute __MODULE__, :greet, accumulate: true,
        persist: false
      @before_compile Greetify

  defmacro __before_compile__(env) do
    greetings = Module.get_attribute(env.module, :greet)
    for {name, age} <- greetings do
      IO.puts "#{name} is #{age} years old"


In the above example, we’re collecting annotations that are named @greet.

We can then specify a @before_compile callback from the same Greetify module that will be called before whatever downstream module that use Greetify compiles.

@before_compile provides a hook that will be invoked before the module is compiled. This makes it possible to inject functions inside the module exactly before compilation. You can think of it as an after_* callback in Rails.

Now let’s see how this works in action:

defmodule Human do
  use Greetify

  @greet {"Jon", 21}
  @greet {"Sam", 23}

When the above Human module is loaded, we see:

iex> Jon is 21 years old
iex> Sam is 23 years old

Note that our Greetify module calls IO.puts to print these messages before the compilation of Human is complete, because of @before_compile.

Note that you can pass in any Elixir term as arguments to your annotations. In the example above, we pass in a tuple.

To sum up, annotations enables you to have your library users to declaratively add or modify behaviour without modifying any actual code.