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

       perlfaq1 - General Questions About Perl ($Revision: 1.19 $, $Date:
       2005/12/31 00:54:37 $)

       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.	Perls
       process, file, and text manipulation facilities make it particularly
       well-suited for tasks involving quick prototyping, system utilities,
       software tools, system management tasks, database access, 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 Perls author, Larry Wall, gave rise to the free and open
       distribution policy of perl.  Perl is supported by its users.  The
       core, the standard Perl library, the optional modules, and the documen
       tation youre reading now were all written by volunteers.  See the per
       sonal note at the end of the README file in the perl source distribu
       tion for more details.  See perlhist (new as of 5.005) for Perls 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
       http://www.xray.mpe.mpg.de/mailing-lists/perl5-porters/ and
       http://archive.develooper.com/perl5-porters@perl.org/ or the news gate
       way 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://simon-cozens.org/writings/p5p-faq , or you can subscribe to the
       mailing list by sending perl5-porters-request@perl.org a subscription
       request (an empty message with no subject is fine).

       While the GNU project includes Perl in its distributions, theres no
       such thing as "GNU Perl".  Perl is not produced nor maintained by the
       Free Software Foundation.  Perls licensing terms are also more open
       than GNU softwares 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.

       Which version of Perl should I use?

       (contributed by brian d foy)

       There is often a matter of opinion and taste, and there isnt any one
       answer that fits anyone.  In general, you want to use either the cur
       rent stable release, or the stable release immediately prior to that
       one.  Currently, those are perl5.8.x and perl5.6.x, respectively.

       Beyond that, you have to consider several things and decide which is
       best for you.

	  If things arent broken, upgrading perl may break them (or at least
	   issue new warnings).

	  The latest versions of perl have more bug fixes.

	  The Perl community is geared toward supporting the most recent
	   releases, so youll have an easier time finding help for those.

	  Versions prior to perl5.004 had serious security problems with
	   buffer overflows, and in some cases have CERT advisories (for
	   instance, http://www.cert.org/advisories/CA-1997-17.html ).

	  The latest versions are probably the least deployed and widely
	   tested, so you may want to wait a few months after their release
	   and see what problems others have if you are risk averse.

	  The immediate, previous releases (i.e. perl5.6.x ) are usually
	   maintained for a while, although not at the same level as the cur
	   rent releases.

	  No one is actively supporting perl4.x.  Five years ago it was a
	   dead camel carcass (according to this document).  Now its barely a
	   skeleton as its whitewashed bones have fractured or eroded.

	  There is no perl6.x for the next couple of years.  Stay tuned, but
	   dont worry that youll have to change major versions of Perl soon
	   (i.e. before 2006).

	  There are really two tracks of perl development: a maintenance ver
	   sion and an experimental version.  The maintenance versions are
	   stable, and have an even number as the minor release (i.e.
	   perl5.8.x, where 8 is the minor release).  The experimental ver
	   sions may include features that dont make it into the stable ver
	   sions, and have an odd number as the minor release (i.e. perl5.9.x,
	   where 9 is the minor release).

       What are perl4, perl5, or perl6?

       (contributed by brian d foy)

       In short, perl4 is the past, perl5 is the present, and perl6 is the

       The number after perl (i.e. the 5 after perl5) 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

       The current major release of Perl is perl5, and was released in 1994.
       It can run scripts from the previous major release, perl4 (March 1991),
       but has significant differences. It introduced the concept of refer
       ences, complex data structures, and modules.  The perl5 interpreter was
       a complete re-write of the previous perl sources.

       Perl6 is the next major version of Perl, but its 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 perl5, and some perl5 modules allow you to use some
       perl6 syntax in your programs.  You can learn more about perl6 at
       http://dev.perl.org/perl6/ .

       See perlhist for a history of Perl revisions.

       What is Ponie?

       At The OReilly Open Source Software Convention in 2003, Artur Bergman,
       Fotango, and The Perl Foundation announced a project to run perl5 on
       the Parrot virtual machine named 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 http://www.poniecode.org/

       What is perl6?

       At The Second OReilly Open Source Software Convention, Larry Wall
       announced Perl6 development would begin in earnest. Perl6 was an oft
       used term for Chip Salzenbergs project to rewrite Perl in C++ named
       Topaz. However, Topaz provided valuable insights to the next version of
       Perl and its implementation, but was ultimately abandoned.

       If you want to learn more about Perl6, or have a desire to help in the
       crusade to make Perl a better place then peruse the Perl6 developers
       page at http://dev.perl.org/perl6/ 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.

       "Were 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 to perl should nearly never invalidate a
       program written for an earlier version 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 youre likely to have experience
       with, so if youve ever written a C program, an awk script, a shell
       script, or even a BASIC program, youre already partway there.

       Most tasks only require a small subset of the Perl language.  One of
       the guiding mottos for Perl development is "theres more than one way
       to do it" (TMTOWTDI, sometimes pronounced "tim toady").	Perls learn
       ing curve is therefore shallow (easy to learn) and long (theres 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 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 peoples code.  If theres something
       you need to do, then its probably already been done, and a working
       example is usually available for free.  Dont forget the new perl mod
       ules, either.  Theyre discussed in Part 3 of this FAQ, along with
       CPAN, which is discussed in Part 2.

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

       Favorably in some areas, unfavorably in 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 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 cant stop

       Can I do [task] in 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 theyd program in low-level languages like C or C++.  Its
       ultimately up to you (and possibly your management) which tasks youll
       use Perl for and which you wont.

       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 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 shouldnt I program in 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 another language thats 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.  Youll
       notice that perl is not itself written in Perl.

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

       Whats the difference between "perl" and "Perl"?

       One bit.  Oh, you werent talking ASCII? :-) Larry now uses "Perl" to
       signify the language proper and "perl" the implementation of it, i.e.
       the current interpreter.  Hence Toms 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
       OK, 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.

       Is it a Perl program or a Perl script?

       Larry doesnt really care.  He says (half in 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 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 isnt 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 its 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 machine) or to completely different languages, like C or
       assembly language.  You cant 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 its 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
       http://www.cpan.org/misc/japh .

       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 http://www.cpan.org/misc/lwall-quotes.txt.gz .

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

       If your manager or employees are wary of unsupported software, or soft
       ware which doesnt 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 general, its 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 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 you cant find the answer in the comprehensive documenta
       tion, including this FAQ.

       See http://www.perl.org/advocacy/ for more information.

       If you face reluctance to upgrading from an older version of perl, then
       point out that version 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 for any
       given task.  Also mention that the difference between version 4 and
       version 5 of Perl is like the difference between awk and C++.  (Well,
       OK, maybe its not quite that distinct, but you get the idea.)  If you
       want support and a reasonable guarantee that what youre developing
       will continue to work in the future, then you have to run the supported
       version.  As of December 2003 that means running either 5.8.2 (released
       in November 2003), or one of the older releases like 5.6.2 (also
       released in November 2003; a maintenance release to let perl 5.6 com
       pile on newer systems as 5.6.1 was released in April 2001) or 5.005_03
       (released in March 1999), although 5.004_05 isnt that bad if you abso
       lutely need such an old version (released in April 1999) for stability
       reasons.  Anything older than 5.004_05 shouldnt 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 all Linux distributions a new security problem was
       found in the optional suidperl (not built or installed by default) in
       all the Perl branches 5.6, 5.005, and 5.004, see
       http://www.cpan.org/src/5.0/sperl-2000-08-05/ Perl maintenance releases
       5.6.1 and 5.8.0 have this security hole closed.	Most, if not all,
       Linux distribution have patches for this vulnerability available, see
       http://www.linuxsecurity.com/advisories/ , but the most recommendable
       way is to upgrade to at least Perl 5.6.1.

       Copyright (c) 1997-2006 Tom Christiansen, Nathan Torkington, and other
       authors as noted. 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 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.

perl v5.8.8			  2008-04-25			   PERLFAQ1(1)

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