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PERLFAQ1(1)            Perl Programmers Reference Guide            PERLFAQ1(1)

       perlfaq1 - General Questions About Perl ($Revision: 1.14 $, $Date:
       2003/11/23 08:02:29 $)

       This section of the FAQ answers very general, high-level questions
       about Perl.

       What is Perl?

       Perl is a high-level programming language with an eclectic heritage
       written by Larry Wall and a cast of thousands.  It derives from the
       ubiquitous C programming language and to a lesser extent from sed, awk,
       the Unix shell, and at least a dozen other tools and languages.  Perl's
       process, file(1,n), and text manipulation facilities make it particularly
       well-suited for tasks involving quick prototyping, system utilities,
       software tools, system management tasks, database access(2,5), graphical
       programming, networking, and world wide web programming.  These
       strengths make it especially popular with system administrators and CGI
       script authors, but mathematicians, geneticists, journalists, and even
       managers also use Perl.  Maybe you should, too.

       Who supports Perl?  Who develops it?  Why is it free?

       The original culture of the pre-populist Internet and the deeply-held
       beliefs of Perl's author, Larry Wall, gave rise to the free and open(2,3,n)
       distribution policy of perl.  Perl is supported by its users.  The
       core, the standard Perl library, the optional modules, and the documen-
       tation you're reading now were all written by volunteers.  See the per-
       sonal note at the end of the README file(1,n) in(1,8) the perl source distribu-
       tion for more details.  See perlhist (new as of 5.005) for Perl's mile-
       stone releases.

       In particular, the core development team (known as the Perl Porters)
       are a rag-tag band of highly altruistic individuals committed to pro-
       ducing better software for free than you could hope to purchase for
       money.  You may snoop on pending developments via the archives at and http://ar- or the news gateway
       nntp:// or its web interface at , or read(2,n,1 builtins) the faq at , or you can subscribe to the
       mailing list by sending a subscription
       request (an empty message with no subject is fine).

       While the GNU project includes Perl in(1,8) 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(2,3,n)
       than GNU software's tend to be.

       You can get commercial support of Perl if(3,n) you wish, although for most
       users(1,5) the informal support will more than suffice.  See the answer to
       "Where can I buy a commercial version(1,3,5) of perl?" for more information.

       Which version(1,3,5) of Perl should I use?

       You should definitely use version(1,3,5) 5.  Version 4 is old, limited, and no
       longer maintained; its last patch (4.036) was in(1,8) 1992, long ago and far
       away.  Sure, it's stable, but so is anything that's dead; in(1,8) fact,
       perl4 had been called a dead, flea-bitten camel carcass.  The most
       recent production release is 5.8.2 (although 5.005_03 and 5.6.2 are
       still supported). The most cutting-edge development release is 5.9.
       Further references to the Perl language in(1,8) this document refer to the
       production release unless otherwise specified.  There may be one or
       more official bug fixes by the time(1,2,n) you read(2,n,1 builtins) this, and also perhaps
       some experimental versions on the way to the next release.  All
       releases prior to 5.004 were subject to buffer overruns, a grave secu-
       rity issue.

       What are perl4 and perl5?

       Perl4 and perl5 are informal names for different versions of the Perl
       programming language.  It's easier to say "perl5" than it is to say
       "the 5(.004) release of Perl", but some people have interpreted this to
       mean there's a language called "perl5", which isn't the case.  Perl5 is
       merely the popular name for the fifth major release (October 1994),
       while perl4 was the fourth major release (March 1991).  There was also
       a perl1 (in(1,8) January 1988), a perl2 (June 1988), and a perl3 (October

       The 5.0 release is, essentially, a ground-up rewrite of the original
       perl source code from releases 1 through 4.  It has been modularized,
       object-oriented, tweaked, trimmed, and optimized until it almost
       doesn't look(1,8,3 Search::Dict) like the old code.  However, the interface is mostly the
       same, and compatibility with previous releases is very high.  See
       "Perl4 to Perl5 Traps" in(1,8) perltrap.

       To avoid the "what language is perl5?" confusion, some people prefer to
       simply use "perl" to refer to the latest version(1,3,5) of perl and avoid
       using "perl5" altogether.  It's not really that big a deal, though.

       See perlhist for a history(1,3,n,1 builtins) of Perl revisions.

       What is Ponie?

       At The O'Reilly Open Source Software Convention in(1,8) 2003, Artur Bergman,
       Fotango, and The Perl Foundation announced a project to run perl5 on
       the Parrot virtual(5,8) machine named(5,8) Ponie. Ponie stands for Perl On New
       Internal Engine.  The Perl 5.10 language implementation will be used
       for Ponie, and there will be no language level differences between
       perl5 and ponie.  Ponie is not a complete rewrite of perl5.

       For more details, see

       What is perl6?

       At The Second O'Reilly Open Source Software Convention, Larry Wall
       announced Perl6 development would begin in(1,8) earnest. Perl6 was an oft
       used term(5,7) for Chip Salzenberg's project to rewrite Perl in(1,8) C++ named(5,8)
       Topaz. However, Topaz provided valuable insights to the next version(1,3,5) of
       Perl and its implementation, but was ultimately abandoned.

       If you want to learn more about Perl6, or have a desire to help in(1,8) the
       crusade to make Perl a better place then peruse the Perl6 developers
       page at and get involved.

       Perl6 is not scheduled for release yet, and Perl5 will still be sup-
       ported for quite awhile after its release. Do not wait for Perl6 to do
       whatever you need to do.

       "We're really serious about reinventing everything that needs reinvent-
       ing."  --Larry Wall

       How stable is Perl?

       Production releases, which incorporate bug fixes and new functionality,
       are widely tested before release.  Since the 5.000 release, we have
       averaged only about one production release per year.

       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 perl4 scripts run flaw-
       lessly under perl5, an update(7,n) to perl should nearly never invalidate a
       program written for an earlier version(1,3,5) of perl (barring accidental bug
       fixes and the rare new keyword).

       Is Perl difficult to learn?

       No, Perl is easy to start learning--and easy to keep learning.  It
       looks like most programming languages you're likely to have experience
       with, so if(3,n) you've ever written a C program, an awk script, a shell
       script, or even a BASIC program, you're already partway there.

       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 learn-
       ing curve is therefore shallow (easy to learn) and long (there's a
       whole lot you can do if(3,n) you really want).

       Finally, because Perl is frequently (but not always, and certainly not
       by definition) an interpreted language, you can write(1,2) your programs and
       test them without an intermediate compilation step, allowing you to
       experiment and test/debug quickly and easily.  This ease of experimen-
       tation 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 the new perl mod-
       ules, either.  They're discussed in(1,8) Part 3 of this FAQ, along with
       CPAN, which is discussed in(1,8) Part 2.

       How does Perl compare with other languages like Java, Python, REXX,
       Scheme, or Tcl?

       Favorably in(1,8) some areas, unfavorably in(1,8) others.  Precisely which areas
       are good and bad is often a personal choice, so asking this question on
       Usenet runs a strong risk of starting an unproductive Holy War.

       Probably the best thing to do is try to write(1,2) equivalent code to do a
       set(7,n,1 builtins) of tasks.  These languages have their own newsgroups in(1,8) which you
       can learn about (but hopefully not argue about) them.

       Some comparison documents can be found at
       sus/ if(3,n) you really can't stop yourself.

       Can I do [task] in(1,8) Perl?

       Perl is flexible and extensible enough for you to use on virtually any
       task, from one-line file-processing tasks to large, elaborate systems.
       For many people, Perl serves as a great replacement for shell script-
       ing.  For others, it serves as a convenient, high-level replacement for
       most of what they'd program in(1,8) low-level languages like C or C++.  It's
       ultimately up to you (and possibly your management) which tasks you'll
       use Perl for and which you won't.

       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(1,8) C or C++ and dynamically linked into your main
       perl interpreter.  You can also go the other direction, and write(1,2) your
       main program in(1,8) C or C++, and then link(1,2) in(1,8) some Perl code on the fly,
       to create a powerful application.  See perlembed.

       That said, there will always be small, focused, special-purpose lan-
       guages dedicated to a specific problem domain that are simply more con-
       venient 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.

       When shouldn't I program in(1,8) Perl?

       When your manager forbids it--but do consider replacing them :-).

       Actually, one good reason is when you already have an existing applica-
       tion written in(1,8) 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(1,8) Perl.

       The new, native-code compiler for Perl may eventually reduce the limi-
       tations given in(1,8) the previous statement to some degree, but understand
       that Perl remains fundamentally a dynamically typed language, not a
       statically typed one.  You certainly won't be chastised if(3,n) you don't
       trust nuclear-plant or brain-surgery monitoring code to it.  And Larry
       will sleep(1,3) easier, too--Wall Street programs not withstanding. :-)

       What's the difference between "perl" and "Perl"?

       One bit.  Oh, you weren't talking ASCII? :-) Larry now uses "Perl" to
       signify the language proper and "perl" the implementation of it, i.e.
       the current interpreter.  Hence Tom's quip that "Nothing but perl can
       parse Perl."  You may or may not choose to follow this usage.  For
       example, parallelism means "awk and perl" and "Python and Perl" look(1,8,3 Search::Dict)
       OK, while "awk and Perl" and "Python and perl" do not.  But never write(1,2)
       "PERL", because perl is not an acronym, apocryphal folklore and post-
       facto expansions notwithstanding.

       Is it a Perl program or a Perl script?

       Larry doesn't really care.  He says (half in(1,8) jest) that "a script is
       what you give the actors.  A program is what you give the audience."

       Originally, a script was a canned sequence of normally interactive com-
       mands--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(1,8) 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(3,n) 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(1,2,n) it's used.

       Perl programs are (usually) neither strictly compiled nor strictly
       interpreted.  They can be compiled to a byte-code form (something of a
       Perl virtual(5,8) machine) or to completely different languages, like C or
       assembly language.  You can't tell just by looking at it whether the
       source is destined for a pure interpreter, a parse-tree interpreter, a
       byte-code interpreter, or a native-code compiler, so it's hard to give
       a definitive answer here.

       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 pro-
       grammers prefer to avoid them altogether.

       What is a JAPH?

       These are the "just another perl hacker" signatures that some people
       sign their postings with.  Randal Schwartz made these famous.  About
       100 of the earlier ones are available from .

       Where can I get a list of Larry Wall witticisms?

       Over a hundred quips by Larry, from postings of his or source code, can
       be found at .

       How can I convince my sysadmin/supervisor/employees to use version(1,3,5)
       5/5.6.1/Perl instead of some other language?

       If your manager or employees are wary of unsupported software, or soft-
       ware which doesn't officially ship with your operating system, you
       might try to appeal to their self-interest.  If programmers can be more
       productive using and utilizing Perl constructs, functionality, simplic-
       ity, and power, then the typical manager/supervisor/employee may be
       persuaded.  Regarding using Perl in(1,8) general, it's also sometimes help-
       ful to point out that delivery times may be reduced using Perl compared
       to other languages.

       If you have a project which has a bottleneck, especially in(1,8) terms of
       translation or testing, Perl almost certainly will provide a viable,
       quick solution.  In conjunction with any persuasion effort, you should
       not fail to point out that Perl is used, quite extensively, and with
       extremely reliable and valuable results, at many large computer soft-
       ware and hardware companies throughout the world.  In fact, many Unix
       vendors now ship Perl by default.  Support is usually just a news-post-
       ing away, if(3,n) you can't find the answer in(1,8) the comprehensive documenta-
       tion, including this FAQ.

       See for more information.

       If you face reluctance to upgrading from an older version(1,3,5) of perl, then
       point out that version(1,3,5) 4 is utterly unmaintained and unsupported by the
       Perl Development Team.  Another big sell for Perl5 is the large number
       of modules and extensions which greatly reduce development time(1,2,n) for any
       given task.  Also mention that the difference between version(1,3,5) 4 and
       version(1,3,5) 5 of Perl is like the difference between awk and C++.  (Well,
       OK, maybe it's not quite that distinct, but you get the idea.)  If you
       want support and a reasonable guarantee that what you're developing
       will continue to work in(1,8) the future, then you have to run the supported
       version.  As of December 2003 that means running either 5.8.2 (released
       in(1,8) November 2003), or one of the older releases like 5.6.2 (also
       released in(1,8) November 2003; a maintenance release to let perl 5.6 com-
       pile on newer systems as 5.6.1 was released in(1,8) April 2001) or 5.005_03
       (released in(1,8) March 1999), although 5.004_05 isn't that bad if(3,n) you abso-
       lutely need such an old version(1,3,5) (released in(1,8) April 1999) for stability
       reasons.  Anything older than 5.004_05 shouldn't be used.

       Of particular note is the massive bug hunt for buffer overflow problems
       that went into the 5.004 release.  All releases prior to that, includ-
       ing perl4, are considered insecure and should be upgraded as soon as

       In August 2000 in(1,8) all Linux distributions a new security problem was
       found in(1,8) the optional 'suidperl' (not built or installed by default) in(1,8)
       all the Perl branches 5.6, 5.005, and 5.004, see Perl maintenance releases
       5.6.1 and 5.8.0 have this security hole closed.  Most, if(3,n) not all,
       Linux distribution have patches for this vulnerability available, see , but the most recommendable
       way is to upgrade to at least Perl 5.6.1.

       Copyright (c) 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Tom Christiansen and Nathan
       Torkington.  All rights reserved.

       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(1,8) the
       public domain.  You are permitted and encouraged to use this code and
       any derivatives thereof in(1,8) your own programs for fun or for profit as
       you see fit.  A simple comment in(1,8) the code giving credit to the FAQ
       would be courteous but is not required.

perl v5.8.5                       2004-04-23                       PERLFAQ1(1)

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