TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Apr 00 Online

Volume Number: 16 (2000)
Issue Number: 4
Column Tag: MacTech Online

Of Perl and Salsa

by Jeff Clites (online@mactech.com)

If computer languages were edible, Perl would be cilantro: some people love it and some people hate it, but no one who's tried it walks away indifferent. Many Macintosh programmer may barely have heard of it, but it's a staple of the Unix world. It's also known varyingly as the Swiss army knife of the internet and the duct tape of the internet, but either way it's a piece of hardware that should be in every programmer's tool box, whether you use it frequently or infrequently. So what's so special about Perl, and why should you care? I'm glad you asked.

A First Look

First, here's the clinical description: Perl is a cross-platform interpreted language, with implementations available for almost every conceivable platform (including the Macintosh and Windows). For most Unix-based systems, including Linux and Mac OS X Server, the standard distribution "just works". It's interpreted, in that Perl programs (or scripts, as they are usually called) run directly from their source code, but actually they are processed into an internal byte-code form at the start of their execution, so while running they exist in a semi-compiled form in memory, much like Java. The upshot of this is that Perl programs tend to be fast-much slower than C programs in general, but faster then other interpreted languages (such as Python and Tcl) and often faster than Java. (The Perl interpreter itself is written in C, and its speed stems in part from careful optimization, which has evolved over time.) You'll also hear Perl and its brethren referred to as scripting languages, but they are used quite differently than AppleScript and Frontier: AppleScript is mostly used to drive other applications, whereas Perl scripts tend to do most of work on their own, like traditional programming languages. It's not a hard-and-fast division, but the two types of languages do tend to be used differently.

MacPerl, the Macintosh port of Perl, has been around for quite a while, and is quite good. It's main drawbacks are that new releases always lag behind the standard version by a significant margin, and despite the magic its porter has achieved, there are still some features which are unavailable due to the nature of the operating system-for instance, you can't fork under the Mac OS (or under Windows for that matter). The good news is that with the advent of Mac OS X and its BSD compatibility layer, you can run the standard distribution-no port necessary. The current word on the street is that MacPerl will continue to evolve as a separate package for the near future, but over time I expect that it will contract to a set of modules on top of the standard distribution. This will certainly be less work for Matthias Neeracher (the man behind the port, now working in Apple's speech group), but MacPerl has several features that I hope will survive the migration, namely a nice editor and documentation viewer, and modules allowing access to a large portion of the classic Mac API.

The MacPerl Pages
http://www.macperl.com/

So, what is Perl like? To indulge in another analogy, if C and C++ are like Latin, then Perl is definitely English. It's quirky and flexible and expressive-you can always rephrase something so that the emphasis is different but the literal meaning is the same. It can be difficult to learn in a sense, but it's actually easy to get started, and once you become comfortable with the language you can write incredibly compact code. (As an extreme example, there is a two-line version of the RSA encryption algorithm.) Perl's flexible syntax is probably its most salient feature. As a quick example, like most languages Perl has an "if", but it also has an "unless", and additionally you can switch the order of the "if" and "then" parts, much as you can in English. So, you can say, "if( ! something() ) { doWhatever(); }", just as you would in C, but you can also phrase this "doWhatever() unless something();". It's just a tiny example, but it does give you a feel for they way Perl allows you to structure your code to focus attention on it's function-in this case, it lets you emphasize the action rather than the condition. It's convenient and expressive at the same time. (Perl is also the only language which has given me the odd experience of finding source code funny-not because it did anything funny or because it was poorly written, but rather because its syntax choices were a commentary on what the program was doing. I know that sounds strange, but I'll spare you the actual code.)

As another quick example of Perl's syntactic flexibility, there are at least five different ways to quote strings (and that's a conservative count). This is handy if you need a literal with embedded quotation marks or line breaks, but you want to avoid filling it with escape characters and rendering it illegible in your source code. So, rather than writing

	"\"foo\" is a made-up word."

you can write

	q{"foo" is a made-up word.}

This flexibility comes from Perl's emphasis on the practical over the merely elegant, and its terseness lets you accomplish small tasks with small code, and quickly build tools or just one-time scripts to make your work easier. Its creator, Larry Wall, is the king of the insightful quote, and my favorite line from him underscores this point: "A perl script is correct if it gets the job done before your boss fires you." For further examples of Perl's syntax, as well as answers to common criticisms of Perl, check out the "Ten Perl Myths" article on Perl.com.

Beginning Perl : Ten Perl Myths
http://www.perl.com/pub/2000/01/10PerlMyths.html

This last example brings us to Perl's most oft-mentioned strength, its string handling. Strings are a first-class type in Perl, and actually the language doesn't distinguish between strings and numbers at all-they're both just scalars. In fact it's rather awkward in Perl to treat a string as an array of characters, as they are represented in many other languages, but you'll rarely need to do so. The language's text-handling features reflect its original application of processing, analyzing, and reporting on text-based data, and it's regular expression "sub-language" provides you with the richest set of pattern-matching tools you'll find anywhere.

Also, contrary to what you may have heard, Perl does allow you to do object-oriented programming, complete with inheritance, polymorphism, and typing. But it doesn't force you to program this way, and you can ignore these feature if you just need a quick two-line program to rename a bunch of files. For those with an Objective C background, you'll be happy to hear that Perl has the functionality of categories, although I didn't recognize their power as a design tool until I encountered Objective C. (For those unfamiliar with Objective C, categories are a language feature which allows you to add methods to a class without modifying its source code, or even having access to it.)

I would be remiss if I didn't mention one of Perl's most attractive features, which isn't actually part of the language itself: the Comprehensive Perl Archive Network, or CPAN for short. It's a mirrored archive of user-contributed code, with modules for everything from FTP and SSL to parsing HTML, XML, and SGML. (Modules are the unit of reuse in Perl, and correspond to libraries or classes in other languages.) It's a reflection of the Perl user community, which is productive and helpful and opinionated at the same time, much like the Macintosh community. The value of this code base can't be overemphasized. At the same time, I can't think of any technological reason why there is nothing even close to it for C, C++, Objective C, or Java, so I'm left with the feeling that the language itself has fostered this culture of sharing. (Of course, other languages have archive sites, but the CPAN tends to be well-organized and there is, for example, one Net::FTP module rather than 10 different implementations. For the record, I believe that Python's archive also tends to be well-managed.)

CPAN: Comprehensive Perl Archive Network
http://www.cpan.org/

Learning the Language

I hope to return to Perl in the coming months, and cover some specific applications of the language in more detail. Until the, I'll leave you with pointers to a few books designed to help you learn Perl. Also, be sure to check out the Perl.com web site, which has a wealth of resources and HTML versions of all of Perl's documentation, much of which is included with the distributions themselves. The information there is excellent but can be a bit overwhelming for someone coming to the language for the first time. For printed material, the book which jumps to mind first is MacPerl: Power and Ease, by Vicki Brown and Chris Nandor (published by Prime Time Freeware). It is indispensable if you are using the Macintosh version of Perl, but valuable even if you are not. (I hope that the authors bring us a second volume at some point.) The classic for non-Macintosh-specific Perl is Learning Perl, published by O'Reilly and Associates, who have produced a majority of the high-quality Perl titles out there. Finally, there are two new books by Manning Press which have been drawing high praise, Elements of Programming with Perl and Object Oriented Perl. The latter is not geared at beginners specifically, but takes the unique approach of treating Perl as an object-oriented language from the start.

Perl.com
http://www.perl.com/
MacPerl: Power and Ease
http://www.macperl.com/ptf_book/
The O'Reilly Perl Center
http://perl.oreilly.com/
Elements of Programming with Perl
http://www.manning.com/Johnson/
Object Oriented Perl
http://www.manning.com/Conway/

If you want to broaden your linguistic horizons further, come to the MacTech Online web pages at http://www.mactech.com/online/, where you'll find links to other fun languages.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

MarsEdit 3.6.8 - Quick and convenient bl...
MarsEdit is a blog editor for OS X that makes editing your blog like writing email, with spell-checking, drafts, multiple windows, and even AppleScript support. It works with with most blog services... Read more
BBEdit 11.0.3 - Powerful text and HTML e...
BBEdit is the leading professional HTML and text editor for the Mac. Specifically crafted in response to the needs of Web authors and software developers, this award-winning product provides a... Read more
Microsoft Office Preview 15.8 - Popular...
Welcome to the new and modern Microsoft Office for Mac. You will receive regular updates automatically until the official release in the second half of 2015. With the redesigned Ribbon and your... Read more
Yosemite Cache Cleaner 9.0.5 - Clear cac...
Yosemite Cache Cleaner is an award-winning general purpose tool for OS X. YCC makes system maintenance simple with an easy point-and-click interface to many OS X functions. Novice and expert users... Read more
ExpanDrive 4.3.2 - Access cloud storage...
ExpanDrive builds cloud storage in every application, acts just like a USB drive plugged into your Mac. With ExpanDrive, you can securely access any remote file server directly from the Finder or... Read more
RapidWeaver 6.0.8 - Create template-base...
RapidWeaver is a next-generation Web design application to help you easily create professional-looking Web sites in minutes. No knowledge of complex code is required, RapidWeaver will take care of... Read more
Artlantis Studio 5.1.2.7 - 3D rendering...
Artlantis Studio is a unique and ideal tool for performing very high resolution rendering easily and in real time. The new FastRadiosity engine now lets you compute images in radiosity-even in... Read more
MacUpdate Desktop 6.0.5 - Search and ins...
MacUpdate Desktop 6 brings seamless 1-click installs and version updates to your Mac. With a free MacUpdate account and MacUpdate Desktop 6, Mac users can now install almost any Mac app on macupdate.... Read more
BitTorrent Sync 2.0.82 - Sync files secu...
BitTorrent Sync allows you to sync unlimited files between your own devices, or share a folder with friends and family to automatically sync anything. File transfers are encrypted. Your information... Read more
Google Drive 1.20 - File backup and shar...
Google Drive is a place where you can create, share, collaborate, and keep all of your stuff. Whether you're working with a friend on a joint research project, planning a wedding with your fiancé, or... Read more

Bored? MyLeisure FreeTime Maximizer Will...
Bored? MyLeisure FreeTime Maximizer Will Take Care of That! Posted by Jessica Fisher on March 5th, 2015 [ permalink ] iPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad | Read more »
New Publisher Allstar Games Heads West w...
Allstar Games has announced its first mobile title designed for western audiences, Allstar Heroes. The game will be a massive online battle arena (MOBA) that offers dozens of heroes for you to collect and pit against your opponents. As each hero has... | Read more »
RAD Boarding Review
RAD Boarding Review By Jennifer Allen on March 5th, 2015 Our Rating: :: NEARLY RADUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad RAD Boarding isn’t quite one of the greats, but it has potential.   | Read more »
Presenting the International Mobile Gami...
11th Annual International Mobile Gaming Awards ceremony, hosted by actress Allison Haislip, gathered mobile game developers and publishers from around the world. They chose 13 winners out of the 93 nominations. British studio USTWO won the the Grand... | Read more »
AG Drive Review
AG Drive Review By Tre Lawrence on March 5th, 2015 Our Rating: :: FUTURISTIC STREET RACING.Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Futuristic racing… interstellar style.   | Read more »
GDC 2015 – Nightmare Guardians is an Int...
GDC 2015 – Nightmare Guardians is an Interesting Hybrid of MOBA and Lane Defense Posted by Rob Rich on March 5th, 2015 [ permalink ] I have to say that lane defense (i.e. | Read more »
Overkill 3 Review
Overkill 3 Review By Tre Lawrence on March 5th, 2015 Our Rating: :: WHO'S NEXT?Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Cover system gameplay in the third-person.   Developer: Craneballs Price: Free Version Reviewed: 1.1.6... | Read more »
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment A...
Warner Bros. has some exciting games coming down the pipe! | Read more »
GDC 2015 – Star Trek Timelines will Prob...
GDC 2015 – Star Trek Timelines will Probably Make Your Inner Trekkie Squeal With Glee Posted by Rob Rich on March 4th, 2015 [ permalink ] Any popular fictional universe has its fair share of fan fiction – where belo | Read more »
Protect Yourself from an Onslaught of Ca...
Surprise Attack Games has announced a Cat-astrophic new physics puzzler called Fort Meow! In the game, a young girl named Nia finds her grandfather’s journal which triggers an all mighty feline attack! Why do the cats want the journal? Who knows,... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple restocks refurbished 15-inch Retina Mac...
The Apple Store has restocked Apple Certified Refurbished 2014 15″ Retina MacBook Pros, available for up to $400 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model,... Read more
Roundup of MacBook Air sale prices, models up...
B&H Photo has MacBook Airs on sale for up to $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 11″ 128GB MacBook Air: $799 100 off MSRP - 11″ 256GB MacBook Air: $999 $100... Read more
New Firstrade Mobile App Enables On-The-Go Tr...
Firstrade Securities Inc. has announced its new mobile app, which gives investors immediate access to the company’s trading platform on all mobile devices. The app was developed in-house and was... Read more
Sonnet Introduces USB 3.0 + eSATA Thunderbolt...
Sonnet has announced the launch of its new USB 3.0 + eSATA Thunderbolt Adapter for easy connectivity to USB 3.0 devices and eSATA storage, and USB 3.0 + Gigabit Ethernet Thunderbolt Adapter for easy... Read more
Apple restocks refurbished 27-inch 5K iMacs f...
The Apple Store has restocked Apple Certified Refurbished 27″ 3.5GHz 5K iMacs for $2119 including free shipping. Their price is $380 off the cost of new models, and it’s the lowest price available... Read more
Free Clean Reader Mobile App Hides Swear Word...
The new Clean Reader app, now available in the Apple App Store and Google Play, delivers the opportunity of reading any book without being exposed to profanity. By selecting how clean they want their... Read more
Kinsa Launches “Groups” App to Monitor Illnes...
Kinsa, makers of the first FDA approved app-enabled smartphone thermometer thst won the 2013 Cleveland Clinic Medical Innovation Grand Prize and recently appeared in Apple’s “Parenthood” TV... Read more
iPad: A More Positive Outlook – The ‘Book Mys...
It’s good to hear someone saying positive things about the iPad. I’ve been trying to bend my mind around how Apple’s tablet could have gone from zero to bestselling personal computing device on the... Read more
Mac Pros on sale for up to $279 off MSRP
Amazon has Mac Pros in stock and on sale for up to $279 off MSRP. Shipping is free: - 4-Core Mac Pro: $2725.87, $273 off MSRP (9%) - 6-Core Mac Pro: $3719.99, $279 off MSRP (7%) Read more
Sale! 13-inch Retina MacBook Pros for up to $...
B&H Photo has 13″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to $205 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 13″ 2.6GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro: $1219.99 save $80 - 13″ 2.... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Retail Sales...
**Job Summary** As an Apple Solutions Consultant (ASC) you are the link between our customers and our products. Your role is to drive the Apple business in a retail Read more
Position Opening at *Apple* - Apple (United...
…Summary** As a Specialist, you help create the energy and excitement around Apple products, providing the right solutions and getting products into customers' hands. You Read more
Position Opening at *Apple* - Apple (United...
**Job Summary** The Apple Store is a retail environment like no other - uniquely focused on delivering amazing customer experiences. As an Expert, you introduce people Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Retail Sales...
**Job Summary** As an Apple Solutions Consultant (ASC) you are the link between our customers and our products. Your role is to drive the Apple business in a retail Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.