The A-Z of Programming Languages: Perl

Culture and community go hand-in-hand with Perl programming

Perl creator Larry Wall

Perl creator Larry Wall

How did a picture of a camel come to end up on Programming Perl and consequently end up as a symbol for the language? Were you involved with this at all?

Yes. I picked the camel. When a writer writes a book for O'Reilly they ask them to suggest an animal. And then they say “no, you are going to use a mongoose instead”.

If I had asked for a left-brain cover I would have asked for an oyster. But I shared the vision of the cover designer. The right-brain meaning of a camel is an animal self-sufficient in a dry place, and there are vague biblical connotations of a caravan. Since that was more or less the Perl bible for many years, it kind of naturally became the mascot.

Do you agree with statements stating that Perl is practical rather than beautiful? Was this your intention starting out?

Considering I wrote that into the first Perl manual page, yes. We are trying to make it more beautiful these days without loosing its usefulness. Maybe the next Perl book will have a camel with butterfly wings on it or something.

Many sources quote a main reference point of Perl being the C language. Was this deliberate?

Definitely. C has never exactly been a portable language but it is ubiquitous. By writing complex shell scripts and many macros you can create a portable C and then write a portable language on top. So that made Perl able to be ported everywhere and that was important to us.

How do you feel about the Comprehensive Perl Archive Network (CPAN) carrying over 13,500 modules by over 6,500 authors? Why do you think that the archive network has been such a success?

By it's very size it doesn't matter about Sturgeons Law — that 90 of everything is crud. 10 percent of a very large number is still a large number.

Do you agree with the following statement from Wikipedia: “The design of Perl can be understood as a response to three broad trends in the computer industry: falling hardware costs, rising labour costs, and improvements in compiler technology. Many earlier computer languages, such as Fortran and C, were designed to make efficient use of expensive computer hardware. In contrast, Perl is designed to make efficient use of expensive computer programmers.”

That's accurate. In addition to C, I used YACC which was available. But I wrote my own lexer.

Do you agree that Perl is the “duct tape of the Internet”?

It's one metaphor that we accept, but we like lots of metaphors.

Do you endorse the version of Perl written for Windows: by Adam Kennedy?

Yes, I've used it and it is a good port.

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