In particular, the core development team (known as the Perl Porters) are a rag-tag band of highly altruistic individuals committed to producing better software for free than you could hope to purchase for money. You may snoop on pending developments via the archives at http://www.xray.mpe.mpg.de/mailing-lists/perl5-porters/ and http:[email protected]/ or the news gateway nntp://nntp.perl.org/perl.perl5.porters or its web interface at http://nntp.perl.org/group/perl.perl5.porters , or read the faq at http://dev.perl.org/perl5/docs/p5p-faq.html , or you can subscribe to the mailing list by sending [email protected] a subscription request (an empty message with no subject is fine).
While the GNU project includes Perl in its distributions, there's no such thing as ``GNU Perl''. Perl is not produced nor maintained by the Free Software Foundation. Perl's licensing terms are also more open than GNU software's tend to be.
You can get commercial support of Perl if you wish, although for most users the informal support will more than suffice. See the answer to ``Where can I buy a commercial version of perl?'' for more information.
There is often a matter of opinion and taste, and there isn't any one answer that fits anyone. In general, you want to use either the current stable release, or the stable release immediately prior to that one. Currently, those are perl5.10.x and perl5.8.x, respectively.
Beyond that, you have to consider several things and decide which is best for you.
In short, Perl 4 is the past, Perl 5 is the present, and Perl 6 is the future.
The number after perl (i.e. the 5 after Perl 5) is the major release of the perl interpreter as well as the version of the language. Each major version has significant differences that earlier versions cannot support.
The current major release of Perl is Perl 5, and was released in 1994. It can run scripts from the previous major release, Perl 4 (March 1991), but has significant differences. It introduced the concept of references, complex data structures, and modules. The Perl 5 interpreter was a complete re-write of the previous perl sources.
Perl 6 is the next major version of Perl, but it's still in development in both its syntax and design. The work started in 2002 and is still ongoing. Many of the most interesting features have shown up in the latest versions of Perl 5, and some Perl 5 modules allow you to use some Perl 6 syntax in your programs. You can learn more about Perl 6 at http://dev.perl.org/perl6/ .
See perlhist for a history of Perl revisions.
Ponie stands for ``Perl On the New Internal Engine'', started by Arthur Bergman from Fotango in 2003, and subsequently run as a project of The Perl Foundation. It was abandoned in 2006 ( http://www.nntp.perl.org/group/perl.ponie.dev/487 ).
Instead of using the current Perl internals, Ponie aimed to create a new one that would provide a translation path from Perl 5 to Perl 6 (or anything else that targets Parrot, actually). You would have been able to just keep using Perl 5 with Parrot, the virtual machine which will compile and run Perl 6 bytecode.
If you want to learn more about Perl 6, or have a desire to help in the crusade to make Perl a better place then peruse the Perl 6 developers page at http://dev.perl.org/perl6/ and get involved.
Perl 6 is not scheduled for release yet, and Perl 5 will still be supported for quite awhile after its release. Do not wait for Perl 6 to do whatever you need to do.
``We're really serious about reinventing everything that needs reinventing.'' --Larry Wall
Larry and the Perl development team occasionally make changes to the internal core of the language, but all possible efforts are made toward backward compatibility. While not quite all Perl 4 scripts run flawlessly under Perl 5, an update to perl should nearly never invalidate a program written for an earlier version of perl (barring accidental bug fixes and the rare new keyword).
Most tasks only require a small subset of the Perl language. One of the guiding mottos for Perl development is ``there's more than one way to do it'' (TMTOWTDI, sometimes pronounced ``tim toady''). Perl's learning curve is therefore shallow (easy to learn) and long (there's a whole lot you can do if you really want).
Finally, because Perl is frequently (but not always, and certainly not by definition) an interpreted language, you can write your programs and test them without an intermediate compilation step, allowing you to experiment and test/debug quickly and easily. This ease of experimentation flattens the learning curve even more.
Things that make Perl easier to learn: Unix experience, almost any kind of programming experience, an understanding of regular expressions, and the ability to understand other people's code. If there's something you need to do, then it's probably already been done, and a working example is usually available for free. Don't forget Perl modules, either. They're discussed in Part 3 of this FAQ, along with CPAN, which is discussed in Part 2.
Probably the best thing to do is try to write equivalent code to do a set of tasks. These languages have their own newsgroups in which you can learn about (but hopefully not argue about) them.
Some comparison documents can be found at http://www.perl.com/doc/FMTEYEWTK/versus/ if you really can't stop yourself.
If you have a library that provides an API, you can make any component of it available as just another Perl function or variable using a Perl extension written in C or C++ and dynamically linked into your main perl interpreter. You can also go the other direction, and write your main program in C or C++, and then link in some Perl code on the fly, to create a powerful application. See perlembed.
That said, there will always be small, focused, special-purpose languages dedicated to a specific problem domain that are simply more convenient for certain kinds of problems. Perl tries to be all things to all people, but nothing special to anyone. Examples of specialized languages that come to mind include prolog and matlab.
Actually, one good reason is when you already have an existing application written in another language that's all done (and done well), or you have an application language specifically designed for a certain task (e.g. prolog, make).
For various reasons, Perl is probably not well-suited for real-time embedded systems, low-level operating systems development work like device drivers or context-switching code, complex multi-threaded shared-memory applications, or extremely large applications. You'll notice that perl is not itself written in Perl.
Perl remains fundamentally a dynamically typed language, not a statically typed one. You certainly won't be chastised if you don't trust nuclear-plant or brain-surgery monitoring code to it. And Larry will sleep easier, too---Wall Street programs not withstanding. :-)
Before the first edition of Programming perl, people commonly referred to the language as ``perl'', and its name appeared that way in the title because it referred to the interpreter. In the book, Randal Schwartz capitalised the language's name to make it stand out better when typeset. This convention was adopted by the community, and the second edition became Programming Perl, using the capitalized version of the name to refer to the language.
You may or may not choose to follow this usage. For example, parallelism means ``awk and perl'' and ``Python and Perl'' look good, while ``awk and Perl'' and ``Python and perl'' do not. But never write ``PERL'', because perl is not an acronym, apocryphal folklore and post-facto expansions notwithstanding.
Originally, a script was a canned sequence of normally interactive commands---that is, a chat script. Something like a UUCP or PPP chat script or an expect script fits the bill nicely, as do configuration scripts run by a program at its start up, such .cshrc or .ircrc, for example. Chat scripts were just drivers for existing programs, not stand-alone programs in their own right.
A computer scientist will correctly explain that all programs are interpreted and that the only question is at what level. But if you ask this question of someone who isn't a computer scientist, they might tell you that a program has been compiled to physical machine code once and can then be run multiple times, whereas a script must be translated by a program each time it's used.
Now that ``script'' and ``scripting'' are terms that have been seized by unscrupulous or unknowing marketeers for their own nefarious purposes, they have begun to take on strange and often pejorative meanings, like ``non serious'' or ``not real programming''. Consequently, some Perl programmers prefer to avoid them altogether.
JAPH stands for ``Just another Perl hacker,'', which Randal Schwartz used to sign email and usenet messages starting in the late 1980s. He previously used the phrase with many subjects (``Just another x hacker,''), so to distinguish his JAPH, he started to write them as Perl programs:
print "Just another Perl hacker, ";
Note the trailing comma and space, which allows the addition of other JAxH clauses for his many other interests.
Other people picked up on this and started to write clever or obfuscated programs to produce the same output, spinning things quickly out of control while still providing hours of amusement for their creators and readers.
CPAN has several JAPH programs at http://www.cpan.org/misc/japh .
Google ``larry wall quotes''! You might even try the ``I feel lucky'' button. :)
Wikiquote has the witticisms from Larry along with their source, including his usenet postings and source code comments.
If you want a plain text file, try http://www.cpan.org/misc/lwall-quotes.txt.gz .
Appeal to their self interest! If Perl is new (and thus scary) to them, find something that Perl can do to solve one of their problems. That might mean that Perl either saves them something (time, headaches, money) or gives them something (flexibility, power, testability).
In general, the benefit of a language is closely related to the skill of the people using that language. If you or your team can be more faster, better, and stronger through Perl, you'll deliver more value. Remember, people often respond better to what they get out of it. If you run into resistance, figure out what those people get out of the other choice and how Perl might satisfy that requirement.
You don't have to worry about finding or paying for Perl; it's freely available and several popular operating systems come with Perl. Community support in places such as Perlmonks ( http://www.perlmonks.com ) and the various Perl mailing lists ( http://lists.perl.org ) means that you can usually get quick answers to your problems.
Finally, keep in mind that Perl might not be the right tool for every job. You're a much better advocate if your claims are reasonable and grounded in reality. Dogmatically advocating anything tends to make people discount your message. Be honest about possible disadvantages to your choice of Perl since any choice has trade-offs.
You might find these links useful:
Date: $Date: 2007-12-14 00:39:01 +0100 (Fri, 14 Dec 2007) $
See perlfaq for source control details and availability.
This documentation is free; you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the same terms as Perl itself.
Irrespective of its distribution, all code examples here are in the public domain. You are permitted and encouraged to use this code and any derivatives thereof in your own programs for fun or for profit as you see fit. A simple comment in the code giving credit to the FAQ would be courteous but is not required.