Definition

Perl

Contributor(s): Jon Lenzer, Trea Lavery

Perl is a family of script programming languages that are similar in syntax to the C language, including Perl 5 and Perl 6. Perl is an open source, general-use, interpreted language.

In general, Perl is easier to learn and faster to code in than the more structured C and C++ languages. Perl programs can, however, be quite sophisticated. It is often used for developing common gateway interface (CGI) programs because it has good text manipulation facilities, although it also handles binary files.

Perl includes a number of popular UNIX facilities such as sed, awk, and tr. It can be compiled just before execution into either C code or cross-platform bytecode. When compiled, a Perl program is almost as fast as a fully precompiled C language program. A plug-in can be installed for some servers, such as Apache, so that Perl is loaded permanently in memory, thus reducing compile time and resulting in faster execution of CGI Perl scripts.

The first version of Perl was created in 1987 by programmer Larry Wall. The name was originally said to stand for "Practical Extraction and Reporting Language," but that name is no longer used. Wall prefers the usage of an upper-case "Perl" for the language itself and lower-case "perl" for any interpreter or compiler of Perl.

As of May 2017, Perl is in its fifth release, Perl 5, which was first made available in 1994. The current version is 5.24, released in May 2016.

Perl 6, while stemming from the same ancestor language, is a completely separate programming language from Perl 5, and is developed by a separate organization. The project began after the 2000 Perl Conference, but the first official version of the language, version 6.c, was not made available until December 2015.

This was last updated in May 2017

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Do you use Perl in programming? What is your opinion of the language?
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Perl is my goto for big, complex text file analysis, for extracting row and column subsets from very large text files, and for other data handling tasks involving regex more complex than SQL can comfortably handle.  A big piece of my job is determining suitability of external data sources, and Perl scripts that detect things like varying seperator counts, out-of-band characters, and other multirow anomalies have been part of my toolbox for a long time.
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Whups, forgot to state my opinion: Perl is a fast, familiar, and reliable part of my toolbox.  I know others that use R or Python instead, but for me Perl fills that role admirably.  Programming is a minor part of my overall job, so getting what I need done with a known tool and known, tested scripts is a big plus.

The reliable part?  Within the last 2 years I had started to use R a bit more, had in fact written a SQL Server interface that allowed me to use some of R's great libraries, and then had that interface break because a key package had been updated without keeping backward compatibility.  That has never happened to me with Perl, and I have 15 year old scripts I still use.  YMMV, but I don't use R anymore.

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