The Perl scripting language borrows its features from Shell scripting and C programming. For example, you have to use sigils before the variable declaration, which is similar to Shell scripts. You can also use variables, expressions and statements that are present in C (and other programming languages).
The origins of Perl date back to 1987. An American programmer, Larry Wall, dealt with text reports and wanted to streamline the process. He developed Perl as a general-purpose Unix scripting language to improve report processing. This is why Perl is still commonly referred to as a text-processing language.
What Is Perl Used For?
One of the main benefits of Perl is text processing. You can use Perl to perform:
- Text manipulation
- Regex-based pattern matching
- In-place file edition
- Logfile analysis
- File conversions to PDF, HTML or XML
Thanks to the great text-handling capabilities and the ability to work with binary files, you can use Perl to write common gateway interface (CGI) programs.
Perl gets its features from other programming and scripting languages like C and Shell.
Most of the Perl language features originate from the C programming language. These include:
- Control structures
Notice that features are not only present in C, but also in any other typical programming language.
The reason why Perl has lots of C features is that C is the mother of many programming languages. C has been a reliable coding language since 1972 and many modern-day languages, including C++ and Objective C, are built on top of C and use its features.
Shell Scripting Features
Perl also borrows features from Shell scripting. For example, you need to use leading symbols like the dollar sign ($), hash (#) or the at sign (@). Besides, there are handy built-in functions, such as sort, which you commonly see in Shell programming.
Perl is a loosely typed language that performs automatic memory management. In practice this means Perl can deduce a variable’s data type based on the surrounding context. You don’t need to specify the data type. What’s more, the Perl interpreter knows the data type-specific memory requirements and allocates (or de-allocates) memory automatically.
With Perl, you can do typecasting to change the data type of an object.
A typical example of typecasting is casting a string to a number. For example, a string-to-number typecast means you can parse a text file of numbers and convert the numbers into numeric types instead of text to perform mathematical operations.
No Style Enforcement
Perl supports object-oriented programming (OOP), functional programming and procedural programming. This is great for software developers looking to apply different programming paradigms in their projects. Perl doesn’t enforce any particular one of these three styles of programming.
Perl has great built-in modules, libraries and APIs. For instance, you can use the XML::Parser to manipulate and parse XML files. You can also use Perl to interact with a MySQL database through the Perl DBI API.
Perl is a highly secure programming language. It has a low-defect density based on the Coverity reports. In other words, Perl has fewer flaws and security holes than other programming languages, such as Python.
Do Programmers Still Use Perl?
Perl is a less trendy programming language than other programming languages, such as Python. Based on the number of developers that talk about Perl on StackOverflow, Perl is clearly fading in popularity, but that doesn’t mean it’s going anywhere.
Perl is a Unix-friendly general-purpose programming language that excels in text processing tasks. For this particular niche, it’s really difficult to find a replacement programming language. Unix-oriented developers still use Perl for system administrator tasks or enhancing their Shell scripts.
But as a first programming language, Perl is definitely not your best choice. For example, the well-known programming language Python is much better suited for general-purpose tasks and easier to learn than Perl. So, if you’re a beginner looking to learn your first programming language, Python is definitely a better option than Perl.