I’m busy this week host­ing my par­ents’ first vis­it to Houston, but I didn’t want to let this Tuesday go by with­out link­ing to my talk from last week’s Ephemeral Miniconf. Thanks so much to Thibault Duponchelle for orga­niz­ing such a ter­rif­ic event, to all the oth­er speak­ers for com­ing togeth­er to present, and to every­one who attend­ed for wel­com­ing me.

After a lot of pro­cras­ti­na­tion, I’ve decid­ed my talk for this week’s ePhEmeRaL mini­conf will be Cunningham’s Law: A Year of Being Wrong on the Internet, or «prêch­er le faux pour savoir le vrai.»

The event starts at 8:00 AM CST on Thursday, November 18; you can find out more about it includ­ing the full sched­ule and a time zone con­vert­er here.

Look, I get it. You don’t like the Perl pro­gram­ming lan­guage or have oth­er­wise dis­re­gard­ed it as dead.” (Or per­haps you haven’t, in which case please check out my oth­er blog posts!) It has weird noisy syn­tax, mix­ing reg­u­lar expres­sions, sig­ils on vari­able names, var­i­ous braces and brack­ets for data struc­tures, and a menagerie of cryp­tic spe­cial vari­ables. It’s old: 34 years in December, with a his­to­ry of (some­times ama­teur) devel­op­ers that have used and abused that syn­tax to ship code of ques­tion­able qual­i­ty. Maybe you grudg­ing­ly accept its util­i­ty but think it should die grace­ful­ly, main­tained only to run lega­cy applications.

But you know what? Perl’s still going. It’s had a steady cadence of year­ly releas­es for the past decade, intro­duc­ing new fea­tures and fenc­ing in bad behav­ior while main­tain­ing an admirable lev­el of back­ward com­pat­i­bil­i­ty. Yes, there was a too-​long adven­ture devel­op­ing what start­ed as Perl 6, but that lan­guage now has its own iden­ti­ty as Raku and even has facil­i­ties for mix­ing Perl with its native code or vice versa.

And then there’s CPAN, the Comprehensive Perl Archive Network: a continually-​updated col­lec­tion of over 200,000 open-​source mod­ules writ­ten by over 14,000 authors, the best of which are well-​tested and ‑doc­u­ment­ed (apply­ing peer pres­sure to those that fall short), pre­sent­ed through a search engine and front-​end built by scores of con­trib­u­tors. Through CPAN you can find dis­tri­b­u­tions for things like:

All of this is avail­able through a mature instal­la­tion tool­chain that doesn’t break from month to month.

Finally and most impor­tant­ly, there’s the glob­al Perl com­mu­ni­ty. The COVID-​19 pan­dem­ic has put a damper on the hun­dreds of glob­al Perl Mongers groups’ mee­tups, but that hasn’t stopped the year­ly Perl and Raku Conference from meet­ing vir­tu­al­ly. (In the past there have also been year­ly European and Asian con­fer­ences, occa­sion­al for­ays into South America and Russia, as well as hackathons and work­shops world­wide.) There are IRC servers and chan­nels for chat, mail­ing lists galore, blogs (yes, apart from this one), and a quirky social net­work that pre­dates Facebook and Twitter.

So no, Perl isn’t dead or even dying, but if you don’t like it and favor some­thing new­er, that’s OK! Technologies can coex­ist on their own mer­its and advo­cates of one don’t have to beat down their con­tem­po­raries to be suc­cess­ful. Perl hap­pens to be battle-​tested (to bor­row a term from my friend Curtis Ovid” Poe), it runs large parts of the Web (speak­ing from direct and ongo­ing expe­ri­ence in the host­ing busi­ness here), and it’s still evolv­ing to meet the needs of its users.

a car parked beside airplane

One of Perl’s car­di­nal strengths is the depth and vari­ety of add-​on mod­ules to extend its capa­bil­i­ties, col­lect­ed for the past 26 years and count­ing on CPAN, the Comprehensive Perl Archive Network. Starting with ver­sion 5.004 in 1997, Perl has come pack­aged with a mod­ule (also called CPAN) and asso­ci­at­ed command-​line client for down­load­ing and installing from this ser­vice. Some devel­op­ers favor alter­na­tive tools such as CPANPLUS and its cpanp com­mand or cpan­mi­nus and its cpanm, or tools built on the lat­ter such as Carton and Carmel.

My favorite of these over the past sev­er­al years has been Shoichi Kaji’s cpm, main­ly because it’s blaz­ing­ly fast. As an exam­ple, the doc­u­men­ta­tion cites an instal­la­tion of Plack, the Perl web appli­ca­tion toolk­it, as tak­ing three times as long using cpanm ver­sus cpm. Both use the same Menlo core code but cpm achieves its speed by break­ing down depen­den­cies into indi­vid­ual streams, installing mod­ules in par­al­lel, and syn­chro­niz­ing the nec­es­sary work­er processes.

Shoichi’s pre­sen­ta­tion from The Perl Conference 2016 pro­vides a great summary:

Shoichi Kaji: Why a new CPAN client cpm’ is fast” (2016)

It’s very impor­tant to note that cpm is not a drop-​in replace­ment for the cpan or cpanm command-​line tools. Firstly, it uses the sub­com­mand install, e.g., cpm install Module::Name. Also, by default, it installs mod­ules into a sub­di­rec­to­ry named local/ as if you spec­i­fied cpanm --local-lib-contained local. You might want this if you’re set­ting up a Perl project with its non-​core depen­den­cies in a sep­a­rate loca­tion addressed by the local::lib mod­ule; oth­er­wise, you should use cpm install --global to install into a direc­to­ry in Perl’s @INC array. I tend to do the lat­ter when devel­op­ing, declar­ing my project’s depen­den­cies in a cpanfile.

Speaking of cpanfiles, like cpanm --installdeps cpm will use a cpanfile to dri­ve project depen­den­cy instal­la­tion. In fact, it defaults to look­ing for one if you don’t spec­i­fy indi­vid­ual mod­ules on the com­mand line and sup­ports the version-​controlled cpanfile.snapshot file intro­duced by Carton for track­ing exact depen­den­cies used by your project. This is great for repeat­ed­ly build­ing Docker con­tain­ers and cpm makes that process even faster.

Although speed is its most impor­tant fea­ture, cpm has a cou­ple more tricks up its sleeve like installing from a Git repos­i­to­ry or self-​hosted DarkPAN.” Check out its includ­ed tuto­r­i­al.

Picture of Ayn Rand

Speaking of Ayn Rand, there’s anoth­er event the fol­low­ing week­end on Saturday, March 6. Titled How to Put a Dent in the Universe,’ ” it looks like a good (and free!) one-​day con­fer­ence for every­one from begin­ners to advanced stu­dents. Be sure to reg­is­ter on the web site and tune in!