Though Perl is not officially an acronym, there are various backronyms in use, such as: Practical Extraction and Reporting Language. Perl was originally developed by Larry Wall in 1987 as a general-purpose Unix scripting language to make report processing easier. Since then, it has undergone many changes and revisions. The latest major stable revision of Perl 5 is 5.18, released in May 2013. Perl 6, which began as a redesign of Perl 5 in 2000, eventually evolved into a separate language. Both languages continue to be developed independently by different development teams and liberally borrow ideas from one another.
The Perl languages borrow features from other programming languages including C, shell scripting (sh), AWK, and sed. They provide powerful text processing facilities without the arbitrary data-length limits of many contemporary Unix tools, facilitating easy manipulation of text files. Perl 5 gained widespread popularity in the late 1990s as a CGI scripting language, in part due to its parsing abilities.
In addition to CGI, Perl 5 is used for graphics programming, system administration, network programming, finance, bioinformatics, and other applications. It’s nicknamed “the Swiss Army chainsaw of scripting languages” because of its flexibility and power, and possibly also because of its perceived “ugliness”. In 1998, it was also referred to as the “duct tape that holds the Internet together”, in reference to its ubiquity and perceived inelegance.
Perl was originally named “Pearl”. Wall wanted to give the language a short name with positive connotations; he claims that he considered (and rejected) every three- and four-letter word in the dictionary. He also considered naming it after his wife Gloria. Wall discovered the existing PEARL programming language before Perl’s official release and changed the spelling of the name.
When referring to the language, the name is normally capitalized (Perl) as a proper noun. When referring to the interpreter program itself, the name is often uncapitalized (perl) because most Unix-like file systems are case-sensitive. Before the release of the first edition of Programming Perl, it was common to refer to the language as perl; Randal L. Schwartz, however, capitalized the language’s name in the book to make it stand out better when typeset. This case distinction was subsequently documented as canonical.
There is some contention about the all-caps spelling “PERL”, which the documentation declares incorrect and which some core community members consider a sign of outsiders. The name is occasionally expanded as Practical Extraction and Report Language, but this is a backronym. Other expansions have been suggested as equally canonical, including Wall’s own humorous Pathologically Eclectic Rubbish Lister. Indeed, Wall claims that the name was intended to inspire many different expansions.
The archive has been online since October 1995 and is constantly growing.
CPAN, the Comprehensive Perl Archive Network, is an archive of over 114,000 modules of software written in the Perl programming language, as well as documentation for them. It has a presence on the World Wide Web at www.cpan.org and is mirrored worldwide at more than 200 locations. CPAN can denote either the archive network itself, or the Perl program that acts as an interface to the network and as an automated software installer (somewhat like a package manager). Most software on CPAN is free and open source software. CPAN was conceived in 1993, and the first web-accessible mirror was launched in January 1997.
Like many programming languages, Perl has mechanisms to use external libraries of code, making one file contain common routines used by several programs. Perl calls these modules. Perl modules are typically installed in one of several directories whose paths are placed in the Perl interpreter when it is first compiled; on Unix-like operating systems, common paths include /usr/lib/perl5, /usr/local/lib/perl5, and several of their subdirectories.
Perl comes with a small set of core modules. Some of these perform bootstrapping tasks, such as ExtUtils::MakeMaker, which is used for building and installing other extension modules; others, like CGI.pm, are merely commonly used. The authors of Perl do not expect this limited group to meet every need, however.
The CPAN’s main purpose is to help programmers locate modules and programs not included in the Perl standard distribution. Its structure is decentralized. Authors maintain and improve their own modules. Forking, and creating competing modules for the same task or purpose is common. There is no formal bug tracking system, but there is a third-party bug tracking system that CPAN designated as the suggested official method of reporting issues with modules. Continuous development on modules is rare; many are abandoned by their authors, or go years between new versions being released. Sometimes a maintainer will be appointed to an abandoned module. They can release new versions of the module, and accept patches from the community to the module as their time permits. CPAN has no revision control system, although the source for the modules is often stored on GitHub. Also, the complete history of the CPAN and all its modules is available as the GitPAN project, allowing to easily see the complete history for all the modules and for easy maintenance of forks. CPAN is also used to distribute new versions of Perl, as well as related projects, such as Parrot.
The CPAN is an important resource for the professional Perl programmer. With over 23,000 modules (containing 20,000,000 lines of code) as of July 2011, the CPAN can save programmers weeks of time, and large Perl programs often make use of dozens of modules. Some of them, such as the DBI family of modules used for interfacing with SQL databases, are nearly irreplaceable in their area of function; others, such as the List::Util module, are simply handy resources containing a few common functions.
Files on the CPAN are referred to as distributions. A distribution may consist of one or more modules, documentation files, or programs packaged in a common archiving format, such as a gzipped tar archive or a ZIP file. Distributions will often contain installation scripts (usually called Makefile.PL or Build.PL) and test scripts which can be run to verify the contents of the distribution are functioning properly. New distributions are uploaded to the Perl Authors Upload Server, or PAUSE (see the section Uploading distributions with PAUSE).
In 2003, distributions started to include metadata files, called META.yml, indicating the distribution’s name, version, dependencies, and other useful information; however, not all distributions contain metadata. When metadata is not present in a distribution, the PAUSE’s software will usually try to analyze the code in the distribution to look for the same information; this is not necessarily very reliable.
With thousands of distributions, CPAN needs to be structured to be useful. Distributions on the CPAN are divided into 24 broad chapters based on their purpose, such as Internationalization and Locale; Archiving, Compression, And Conversion; and Mail and Usenet News. Distributions can also be browsed by author. Finally, the natural hierarchy of Perl module names (such as “Apache::DBI” or “Lingua::EN::Inflect”) can sometimes be used to browse modules in the CPAN.
CPAN module distributions usually have names in the form of CGI-Application-3.1 (where the :: used in the module’s name has been replaced with a dash, and the version number has been appended to the name), but this is only a convention; many prominent distributions break the convention, especially those that contain multiple modules. Security restrictions prevent a distribution from ever being replaced, so virtually all distribution names do include a version number.
There is also a Perl core module named CPAN; it is usually differentiated from the repository itself by using the name CPAN.pm. CPAN.pm is mainly an interactive shell which can be used to search for, download, and install distributions. An interactive shell called cpan is also provided in the Perl core, and is the usual way of running CPAN.pm. After a short configuration process and mirror selection, it uses tools available on the user’s computer to automatically download, unpack, compile, test, and install modules. It is also capable of updating itself.
More recently, an effort to replace CPAN.pm with something cleaner and more modern has resulted in the CPANPLUS (or CPAN++) set of modules. CPANPLUS separates the back-end work of downloading, compiling, and installing modules from the interactive shell used to issue commands. It also supports several advanced features, such as cryptographic signature checking and test result reporting. Finally, CPANPLUS can uninstall a distribution. CPANPLUS was added to the Perl core in version 5.10.0.
Both modules can check a distribution’s dependencies and can be set to recursively install any prerequisites, either automatically or with individual user approval. Both support FTP and HTTP and can work through firewalls and proxies.
sudo apt-get install build-essential
Invoke the cpan command as a normal user
Once you hit on enter for “cpan” to execute, you be asked of some few questions. To make it simple for yourself, answer “no” for the first question so that the latter ones will be done for you automatically.
Enter the commands below
make install install Bundle::CPAN
Now all is set and you can install any perl module you want.
Type o conf init to reconfigure cpan.
The Best Perl Programmers Use Modern Perl
In 1987, Perl 1.0 changed the world. In the decades since then, the language has grown from a simple tool for system administration somewhere between shell scripting and C programming to a powerful, general purpose language steeped in a rich heritage.
Even so, most Perl 5 programs in the world take far too little advantage of the language. You can write Perl 5 programs as if they were Perl 4 programs (or Perl 3 or 2 or 1), but programs written to take advantage of everything amazing the worldwide Perl 5 community has invented, polished, and discovered are shorter, faster, more powerful, and easier to maintain than their alternatives.
They solve difficult problems with speed and elegance. They take advantage of the CPAN and its unparalleled library of reusable code. They get things done.
This productivity can be yours, whether you’ve dabbled with Perl for a decade or someone just handed you this book and said “Fix this code by Friday.”
Modern Perl is suitable for programmers of every level. It’s more than a Perl tutorial—only Modern Perl focuses on Perl 5.12 and 5.14, to demonstrate the latest and most effective time-saving features. Only Modern Perl explains how and why the language works, to let you unlock the full power of Perl.
Hone your skills. Sharpen your knowledge of the tools and techniques that make Perl so effective. Master everything Perl has to offer.
When you have to solve a problem now, reach for Perl. When you have to solve a problem right, reach for Modern Perl.
Modern Perl installations include two clients to connect to, search, download, build, test, and install CPAN distributions, CPAN.pm and CPANPLUS. For the most part, each of these clients is equivalent for basic installation. This book recommends the use of CPAN.pm solely due to its ubiquity. With a recent version (as of this writing, 1.9800 is the latest stable release), module installation is reasonably easy. Start the client with:
To install a distribution within the client:
$ cpan cpan> install Modern::Perl
… or to install directly from the command line:
$ cpan Modern::Perl
Eric Wilhelm’s tutorial on configuring CPAN.pm http://learnperl.scratchcomputing.com/tutorials/configuration/ includes a great troubleshooting section.