Grok all the things

grok (v): to understand (something) intuitively.


🙄  Cynics & grumps

Ah, Perl, the Swiss Army chainsaw of scripting languages. If there's one thing you might have heard about Perl, it's probably that "There's More Than One Way to Do It" (TMTOWTDI). This infamous design philosophy has given Perl a reputation for being an incredibly flexible language, but with that flexibility comes the delightful opportunity to write code that's as unreadable as hieroglyphics. But don't worry, we're here to trudge through the mire and reveal some of the peculiarities of Perl that keep it clinging to life like a persistent weed in the garden of programming languages.

Perl is the brainchild of Larry Wall, who released it back in 1987, and its acronym is often described as "Practical Extraction and Reporting Language." Remind yourself that those were the days when programming languages were usually born out of necessity, rather than boredom or endless pursuit of innovation. In that sense, Perl certainly lived up to its acronym, as it quickly gained popularity for text processing, data munging, and supergluing other languages together.

Perl's syntax is a mesmerizing amalgamation of various features borrowed from languages like C, sed, awk, and even shell scripting. It's like a buffet where Larry Wall picked out his favorite dishes and then mashed them together into something so eclectic and gastronomically unholy that it leaves newcomers questioning the culinary choices made.

Let's dive into some of the language "features" that make Perl... well, Perl:

my $str = "Hello, World!";
print $str;

At first glance, this might seem pretty standard for any language—you're just setting a variable and printing it out. But oh dear reader, the devil is in the details. Variables in Perl come with charming little sigils ($, @, %) to denote their type: scalars ($), arrays (@), and hashes (%). It's like a secret language that only Perl programmers are in on.

Now, let's see how Perl handles something as simple as counting from 1 to 5:

for (my $i = 1; $i <= 5; $i++) {
    print $i, "\n";

It's not so bad, right? Well, let me introduce you to the mystical artifact known as "the range operator":

print $_, "\n" for (1..5);

Yes, you read that correctly; 1..5 is a completely valid expression in Perl. It's both a blessing and a curse because while it saves you some keystrokes (and who doesn't love brevity), it also gives rise to code that looks like a cat walked across the keyboard. And don't even get me started on "foreach", which is another way of doing the same thing.

Perl, like any language, has its fair share of idiosyncrasies and unique features that can make or break your love for it. Consider the following gem:

my @numbers = (1, 2, 3);
print "@numbers"; # prints "1 2 3"

Would anyone have guessed that concatenating an array with a string would magically turn numbers into a space-separated list? I guess this is what TMTOWTDI really looks like in action. The seasoned Perl programmer may call this a feature, while the rest of us quietly sob in the corner.

But fear not! Despite all of its quirks, Perl boasts a fanatically loyal community and an extensive library of modules lovingly curated on CPAN (the Comprehensive Perl Archive Network). So while you may wonder why on earth you would choose to learn Perl over one of the sleek new programming languages that promise to make your life easier, remember that sometimes there's value in sticking around with the eccentric old-timer. After all, TMTOWTDI. is a collection of articles on a variety of technology and programming articles assembled by James Padolsey. Enjoy! And please share! And if you feel like you can donate here so I can create more free content for you.