Friday, December 17, 2021, marked the thirty-​fourth birth­day of the Perl pro­gram­ming lan­guage, and coin­ci­den­tal­ly this year saw the release of ver­sion 5.34. There are plen­ty of Perl devel­op­ers out there who haven’t kept up with recent (and not-​so-​recent) improve­ments to the lan­guage and its ecosys­tem, so I thought I might list a batch. (You may have seen some of these before in May’s post Perl can do that now!”)

The feature pragma

Perl v5.10 was released in December 2007, and with it came feature, a way of enabling new syn­tax with­out break­ing back­ward com­pat­i­bil­i­ty. You can enable indi­vid­ual fea­tures by name (e.g., use feature qw(say fc); for the say and fc key­words), or by using a fea­ture bun­dle based on the Perl ver­sion that intro­duced them. For exam­ple, the following:

use feature ':5.34';

…gives you the equiv­a­lent of:

use feature qw(bareword_filehandles bitwise current_sub evalbytes fc indirect multidimensional postderef_qq say state switch unicode_eval unicode_strings);

Boy, that’s a mouth­ful. Feature bun­dles are good. The cor­re­spond­ing bun­dle also gets implic­it­ly loaded if you spec­i­fy a min­i­mum required Perl ver­sion, e.g., with use v5.32;. If you use v5.12; or high­er, strict mode is enabled for free. So just say:

use v5.34;

And last­ly, one-​liners can use the -E switch instead of -e to enable all fea­tures for that ver­sion of Perl, so you can say the fol­low­ing on the com­mand line:

perl -E 'say "Hello world!"'

Instead of:

perl -e 'print "Hello world!\n"'

Which is great when you’re try­ing to save some typing.

The experimental pragma

Sometimes new Perl fea­tures need to be dri­ven a cou­ple of releas­es around the block before their behav­ior set­tles. Those exper­i­ments are doc­u­ment­ed in the per­l­ex­per­i­ment page, and usu­al­ly, you need both a use feature (see above) and no warnings state­ment to safe­ly enable them. Or you can sim­ply pass a list to use experimental of the fea­tures you want, e.g.:

use experimental qw(isa postderef signatures);

Ever-​expanding warnings categories

March 2000 saw the release of Perl 5.6, and with it, the expan­sion of the -w command-​line switch to a sys­tem of fine-​grained con­trols for warn­ing against dubi­ous con­structs” that can be turned on and off depend­ing on the lex­i­cal scope. What start­ed as 26 main and 20 sub­cat­e­gories has expand­ed into 31 main and 43 sub­cat­e­gories, includ­ing warn­ings for the afore­men­tioned exper­i­men­tal features.

As the rel­e­vant Perl::Critic pol­i­cy says, Using warn­ings, and pay­ing atten­tion to what they say, is prob­a­bly the sin­gle most effec­tive way to improve the qual­i­ty of your code.” If you must vio­late warn­ings (per­haps because you’re reha­bil­i­tat­ing some lega­cy code), you can iso­late such vio­la­tions to a small scope and indi­vid­ual cat­e­gories. Check out the stric­tures mod­ule on CPAN if you’d like to go fur­ther and make a safe sub­set of these cat­e­gories fatal dur­ing development.

Document other recently-​introduced syntax with Syntax::Construct

Not every new bit of Perl syn­tax is enabled with a feature guard. For the rest, there’s E. Choroba’s Syntax::Construct mod­ule on CPAN. Rather than hav­ing to remem­ber which ver­sion of Perl intro­duced what, Syntax::Construct lets you declare only what you use and pro­vides a help­ful error mes­sage if some­one tries to run your code on an old­er unsup­port­ed ver­sion. Between it and the feature prag­ma, you can pre­vent many head-​scratching moments and give your users a chance to either upgrade or workaround.

Make built-​in functions throw exceptions with autodie

Many of Perl’s built-​in func­tions only return false on fail­ure, requir­ing the devel­op­er to check every time whether a file can be opened or a system com­mand exe­cut­ed. The lex­i­cal autodie prag­ma replaces them with ver­sions that raise an excep­tion with an object that can be inter­ro­gat­ed for fur­ther details. No mat­ter how many func­tions or meth­ods deep a prob­lem occurs, you can choose to catch it and respond appro­pri­ate­ly. This leads us to…

try/​catch exception handling and Feature::Compat::Try

This year’s Perl v5.34 release intro­duced exper­i­men­tal try/​catch syn­tax for excep­tion han­dling that should look more famil­iar to users of oth­er lan­guages while han­dling the issues sur­round­ing using block eval and test­ing of the spe­cial [email protected] vari­able. If you need to remain com­pat­i­ble with old­er ver­sions of Perl (back to v5.14), just use the Feature::Compat::Try mod­ule from CPAN to auto­mat­i­cal­ly select either v5.34’s native try/​catch or a sub­set of the func­tion­al­i­ty pro­vid­ed by Syntax::Keyword::Try.

Pluggable keywords

The above­men­tioned Syntax::Keyword::Try was made pos­si­ble by the intro­duc­tion of a plug­gable key­word mech­a­nism in 2010’s Perl v5.12. So was the Future::AsyncAwait asyn­chro­nous pro­gram­ming library and the Object::Pad test­bed for new object-​oriented Perl syn­tax. If you’re handy with C and Perl’s XS glue lan­guage, check out Paul LeoNerd” Evans’ XS::Parse::Keyword mod­ule to get a leg up on devel­op­ing your own syn­tax module.

Define packages with versions and blocks

Perl v5.12 also helped reduce clut­ter by enabling a package name­space dec­la­ra­tion to also include a ver­sion num­ber, instead of requir­ing a sep­a­rate our $VERSION = ...; v5.14 fur­ther refined packages to be spec­i­fied in code blocks, so a name­space dec­la­ra­tion can be the same as a lex­i­cal scope. Putting the two togeth­er gives you:

package Local::NewHotness v1.2.3 {

Instead of:

    package Local::OldAndBusted;
    use version 0.77; our $VERSION = version->declare("v1.2.3");

I know which I’d rather do. (Though you may want to also use Syntax::Construct qw(package-version package-block); to help along with old­er instal­la­tions as described above.)

The // defined-​or operator

This is an easy win from Perl v5.10:

defined $foo ? $foo : $bar  # replace this
$foo // $bar                # with this


$foo = $bar unless defined $foo  # replace this
$foo //= $bar                    # with this

Perfect for assign­ing defaults to variables.

state variables only initialize once

Speaking of vari­ables, ever want one to keep its old val­ue the next time a scope is entered, like in a sub? Declare it with state instead of my. Before Perl v5.10, you need­ed to use a clo­sure instead.

Save some typing with say

Perl v5.10’s bumper crop of enhance­ments also includ­ed the say func­tion, which han­dles the com­mon use case of printing a string or list of strings with a new­line. It’s less noise in your code and saves you four char­ac­ters. What’s not to love?

Note unimplemented code with ...

The ... ellip­sis state­ment (col­lo­qui­al­ly yada-​yada”) gives you an easy place­hold­er for yet-​to-​be-​implemented code. It pars­es OK but will throw an excep­tion if exe­cut­ed. Hopefully, your test cov­er­age (or at least sta­t­ic analy­sis) will catch it before your users do.

Loop and enumerate arrays with each, keys, and values

The each, keys, and values func­tions have always been able to oper­ate on hash­es. Perl v5.12 and above make them work on arrays, too. The lat­ter two are main­ly for con­sis­ten­cy, but you can use each to iter­ate over an array’s indices and val­ues at the same time:

while (my ($index, $value) = each @array) {

This can be prob­lem­at­ic in non-​trivial loops, but I’ve found it help­ful in quick scripts and one-liners.

delete local hash (and array) entries

Ever need­ed to delete an entry from a hash (e.g, an envi­ron­ment vari­able from %ENV or a sig­nal han­dler from %SIG) just inside a block? Perl v5.12 lets you do that with delete local.

Paired hash slices

Jumping for­ward to 2014’s Perl v5.20, the new %foo{'bar', 'baz'} syn­tax enables you to slice a sub­set of a hash with its keys and val­ues intact. Very help­ful for cherry-​picking or aggre­gat­ing many hash­es into one. For example:

my %args = (
    verbose => 1,
    name    => 'Mark',
    extra   => 'pizza',
# don't frob the pizza
$my_object->frob( %args{ qw(verbose name) };

Paired array slices

Not to be left out, you can also slice arrays in the same way, in this case return­ing indices and values:

my @letters = 'a' .. 'z';
my @subset_kv = %letters[16, 5, 18, 12];
# @subset_kv is now (16, 'p', 5, 'e', 18, 'r', 12, 'l')

More readable dereferencing

Perl v5.20 intro­duced and v5.24 de-​experimentalized a more read­able post­fix deref­er­enc­ing syn­tax for nav­i­gat­ing nest­ed data struc­tures. Instead of using {braces} or smoosh­ing sig­ils to the left of iden­ti­fiers, you can use a post­fixed sigil-and-star:

push @$array_ref,    1, 2, 3;  # noisy
push @{$array_ref},  1, 2, 3;  # a little easier
push $array_ref->@*, 1, 2, 3;  # read from left to right

So much of web devel­op­ment is sling­ing around and pick­ing apart com­pli­cat­ed data struc­tures via JSON, so I wel­come any­thing like this to reduce the cog­ni­tive load.

when as a statement modifier

Starting in Perl v5.12, you can use the exper­i­men­tal switch fea­tures when key­word as a post­fix mod­i­fi­er. For example:

for ($foo) {
    $a =  1 when /^abc/;
    $a = 42 when /^dna/;

But I don’t rec­om­mend when, given, or givens smart­match oper­a­tions as they were ret­conned as exper­i­ments in 2013’s Perl v5.18 and have remained so due to their tricky behav­ior. I wrote about some alter­na­tives using sta­ble syn­tax back in February.

Simple class inheritance with use parent

Sometimes in old­er object-​oriented Perl code, you’ll see use base as a prag­ma to estab­lish inher­i­tance from anoth­er class. Older still is the direct manip­u­la­tion of the package’s spe­cial @ISA array. In most cas­es, both should be avoid­ed in favor of use parent, which was added to core in Perl v5.10.1.

Mind you, if you’re fol­low­ing the Perl object-​oriented tutorial’s advice and have select­ed an OO sys­tem from CPAN, use its sub­class­ing mech­a­nism if it has one. Moose, Moo, and Class::Accessor’s antlers” mode all pro­vide an extends func­tion; Object::Pad pro­vides an :isa attribute on its class key­word.

Test for class membership with the isa operator

As an alter­na­tive to the isa() method pro­vid­ed to all Perl objects, Perl v5.32 intro­duced the exper­i­men­tal isa infix oper­a­tor:

# or
$my_object isa Local::MyClass

The lat­ter can take either a bare­word class name or string expres­sion, but more impor­tant­ly, it’s safer as it also returns false if the left argu­ment is unde­fined or isn’t a blessed object ref­er­ence. The old­er isa() method will throw an excep­tion in the for­mer case and might return true if called as a class method when $my_object is actu­al­ly a string of a class name that’s the same as or inher­its from isa()s argu­ment.

Lexical subroutines

Introduced in Perl v5.18 and de-​experimentalized in 2017’s Perl v5.26, you can now pre­cede sub dec­la­ra­tions with my, state, or our. One use of the first two is tru­ly pri­vate func­tions and meth­ods, as described in this 2018 Dave Jacoby blog and as part of Neil Bowers’ 2014 sur­vey of pri­vate func­tion techniques.

Subroutine signatures

I’ve writ­ten and pre­sent­ed exten­sive­ly about sig­na­tures and alter­na­tives over the past year, so I won’t repeat that here. I’ll just add that the Perl 5 Porters devel­op­ment mail­ing list has been mak­ing a con­cert­ed effort over the past month to hash out the remain­ing issues towards ren­der­ing this fea­ture non-​experimental. The pop­u­lar Mojolicious real-​time web frame­work also pro­vides a short­cut for enabling sig­na­tures and uses them exten­sive­ly in examples.

Indented here-​documents with <<~

Perl has had shell-​style here-​document” syn­tax for embed­ding multi-​line strings of quot­ed text for a long time. Starting with Perl v5.26, you can pre­cede the delim­it­ing string with a ~ char­ac­ter and Perl will both allow the end­ing delim­iter to be indent­ed as well as strip inden­ta­tion from the embed­ded text. This allows for much more read­able embed­ded code such as runs of HTML and SQL. For example:

if ($do_query) {
    my $rows_deleted = $dbh->do(<<~'END_SQL', undef, 42);
      DELETE FROM table
      WHERE status = ?
    say "$rows_deleted rows were deleted."; 

More readable chained comparisons

When I learned math in school, my teach­ers and text­books would often describe mul­ti­ple com­par­isons and inequal­i­ties as a sin­gle expres­sion. Unfortunately, when it came time to learn pro­gram­ming every com­put­er lan­guage I saw required them to be bro­ken up with a series of and (or &&) oper­a­tors. With Perl v5.32, this is no more:

if ( $x < $y && $y <= $z ) { ... }  # old way
if ( $x < $y <= $z )       { ... }  # new way

It’s more con­cise, less noisy, and more like what reg­u­lar math looks like.

Self-​documenting named regular expression captures

Perl’s expres­sive reg­u­lar expres­sion match­ing and text-​processing prowess are leg­endary, although overuse and poor use of read­abil­i­ty enhance­ments often turn peo­ple away from them (and Perl in gen­er­al). We often use reg­ex­ps for extract­ing data from a matched pat­tern. For example:

if ( /Time: (..):(..):(..)/ ) {  # parse out values
    say "$1 hours, $2 minutes, $3 seconds";

Named cap­ture groups, intro­duced in Perl v5.10, make both the pat­tern more obvi­ous and retrieval of its data less cryptic:

if ( /Time: (?<hours>..):(?<minutes>..):(?<seconds>..)/ ) {
    say "$+{hours} hours, $+{minutes} minutes, $+{seconds} seconds";

More readable regexp character classes

The /x reg­u­lar expres­sion mod­i­fi­er already enables bet­ter read­abil­i­ty by telling the pars­er to ignore most white­space, allow­ing you to break up com­pli­cat­ed pat­terns into spaced-​out groups and mul­ti­ple lines with code com­ments. With Perl v5.26 you can spec­i­fy /xx to also ignore spaces and tabs inside [brack­et­ed] char­ac­ter class­es, turn­ing this:

/[[email protected]"#$%^&*()=?<>']/

…into this:

/ [d-e g-i 3-7]/xx
/[ ! @ " # $ % ^ & * () = ? <> ' ]/xx

Set default regexp flags with the re pragma

Beginning with Perl v5.14, writ­ing use re '/xms'; (or any com­bi­na­tion of reg­u­lar expres­sion mod­i­fi­er flags) will turn on those flags until the end of that lex­i­cal scope, sav­ing you the trou­ble of remem­ber­ing them every time.

Non-​destructive substitution with s///r and tr///r

The s/// sub­sti­tu­tion and tr/// translit­er­a­tion oper­a­tors typ­i­cal­ly change their input direct­ly, often in con­junc­tion with the =~ bind­ing oper­a­tor:

s/foo/bar/;  # changes the first foo to bar in $_
$baz =~ s/foo/bar/;  # the same but in $baz

But what if you want to leave the orig­i­nal untouched, such as when pro­cess­ing an array of strings with a map? With Perl v5.14 and above, add the /r flag, which makes the sub­sti­tu­tion on a copy and returns the result:

my @changed = map { s/foo/bar/r } @original;

Unicode case-​folding with fc for better string comparisons

Unicode and char­ac­ter encod­ing in gen­er­al are com­pli­cat­ed beasts. Perl has han­dled Unicode since v5.6 and has kept pace with fix­es and sup­port for updat­ed stan­dards in the inter­ven­ing decades. If you need to test if two strings are equal regard­less of case, use the fc func­tion intro­duced in Perl v5.16.

Safer processing of file arguments with <<>>

The <> null file­han­dle or dia­mond oper­a­tor” is often used in while loops to process input per line com­ing either from stan­dard input (e.g., piped from anoth­er pro­gram) or from a list of files on the com­mand line. Unfortunately, it uses a form of Perl’s open func­tion that inter­prets spe­cial char­ac­ters such as pipes (|) that would allow it to inse­cure­ly run exter­nal com­mands. Using the <<>> dou­ble dia­mond” oper­a­tor intro­duced in Perl v5.22 forces open to treat all command-​line argu­ments as file names only. For old­er Perls, the per­lop doc­u­men­ta­tion rec­om­mends the ARGV::readonly CPAN mod­ule.

Safer loading of Perl libraries and modules from @INC

Perl v5.26 removed the abil­i­ty for all pro­grams to load mod­ules by default from the cur­rent direc­to­ry, clos­ing a secu­ri­ty vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty orig­i­nal­ly iden­ti­fied and fixed as CVE-​2016 – 1238 in pre­vi­ous ver­sions’ includ­ed scripts. If your code relied on this unsafe behav­ior, the v5.26 release notes include steps on how to adapt.

HTTP::Tiny simple HTTP/1.1 client included

To boot­strap access to CPAN on the web in the pos­si­ble absence of exter­nal tools like curl or wget, Perl v5.14 began includ­ing the HTTP::Tiny mod­ule. You can also use it in your pro­grams if you need a sim­ple web client with no dependencies.

Test2: The next generation of Perl testing frameworks

Forked and refac­tored from the ven­er­a­ble Test::Builder (the basis for the Test::More library that many are famil­iar with), Test2 was includ­ed in the core mod­ule library begin­ning with Perl v5.26. I’ve exper­i­ment­ed recent­ly with using the Test2::Suite CPAN library instead of Test::More and it looks pret­ty good. I’m also intrigued by Test2::Harness’ sup­port for thread­ing, fork­ing, and pre­load­ing mod­ules to reduce test run times.

Task::Kensho: Where to start for recommended Perl modules

This last item may not be includ­ed when you install Perl, but it’s where I turn for a col­lec­tion of well-​regarded CPAN mod­ules for accom­plish­ing a wide vari­ety of com­mon tasks span­ning from asyn­chro­nous pro­gram­ming to XML. Use it as a start­ing point or inter­ac­tive­ly select the mix of libraries appro­pri­ate to your project.

And there you have it: a selec­tion of 34 fea­tures, enhance­ments, and improve­ments for the first 34 years of Perl. What’s your favorite? Did I miss any­thing? Let me know in the comments.