ground group growth hands

This past year of blogging has introduced me to a wide variety of people in the Perl community. Some I’ve admired from afar for years due to their published work, and even more I’ve met” interacting on social media and other forums. So this will be the first in an occasional series highlighting not just the code, but the people that make up the Perl family.

Paul LeoNerd” Evans

I first came across Paul’s work during his series last year on writing a core Perl feature; he’s responsible for Perl v5.32’s isa operator and v5.34’s experimental try/​catch exception handling syntax. I interviewed him about the latter for in March 2021. He’s been active on CPAN for so much longer, though, and joined the Perl Steering Council in July. He’s also often a helpful voice on IRC.

Elliot Holden

Renowned author and trainer Randal L. merlyn” Schwartz linked over the weekend in a private Facebook group to Elliot’s impassioned YouTube video about his day job as a Perl web application developer. Through his alter ego Urban Guitar Legend Elliot is also a passionate musician; besides gigging and recording he’s been posting videos for nine years. (I’m a bit envious since I took a break from music almost twenty years ago and haven’t managed to recapture it.) Elliot seems like the quintessential needs-​to-​get-​shit-​done developer, and Perl is perfect for that.

Gábor Szabó

Gábor is a polyglot (both in human and computer languages) trainer, consultant, and author, writing about programming and devops on his Code Maven and Perl Maven websites. He’s also the founder and co-​editor of Perl Weekly and recipient of a Perl White Camel award in 2008 thanks to his organizational and support contributions. Last year he introduced me to the world of live pair programming, working on a web application using the Mojolicious framework.

If you’re on Twitter and looking to connect with other Perl developers, please consider participating in the Perl community I’ve set up there. Twitter Communities are topic-​specific moderated discussion groups, unlike the freewheeling #hashtags system that can be diluted by spam or topics that share the same name. Unfortunately, they’re still read-​only on the Twitter Android app, but you can participate fully on iOS/​iPadOS and the website.

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.

clear light bulb planter on gray rock

Twitter recently recommended a tweet to me (all hail the algorithm) touting what the author viewed as the top 5 web development stacks.”

JavaScript/​Node.js options dominated the four-​letter acronyms as expected, but the fifth one surprised me: LAMP, the combination of the Linux operating system, Apache web server, MySQL relational database, and Perl, PHP, or Python programming languages. A quick web search for similar lists yielded similar results. Clearly, this meme (in the Dawkins sense) has outlasted its popularization by tech publisher O’Reilly in the 2000s.

Originally coined in 1998 during the dot-​com” bubble, I had thought that the term LAMP” had faded with developers in the intervening decades with the rise of language-​specific web frameworks for:

Certainly on the Perl side (with which I’m most familiar), the community has long since recommended the use of a framework built on the PSGI specification, deprecating 1990s-​era CGI scripts and the mod_​perl Apache extension. Although general-​purpose web servers like Apache or Nginx may be part of an overall system, they’re typically used as proxies or load balancers for Perl-​specific servers either provided by the framework or a third-​party module.

Granted, PHP still relies on web server-​specific modules, APIs, or variations of the FastCGI protocol for interfacing with a web server. And Python web applications typically make use of its WSGI protocol either as a web server extension or, like the Perl examples above, as a proxied standalone server. But all of these are deployment details and do little to describe how developers implement and extend a web application’s structure.

Note how the various four-​letter JavaScript stacks (e.g., MERN, MEVN, MEAN, PERN) differentiate themselves mostly by frontend framework (e.g., Angular, React, Vue.js) and maybe by the (relational or NoSQL) database (e.g., MongoDB, MySQL, PostgreSQL). All however seem standardized on the Node.js runtime and Express backend web framework, which could, in theory, be replaced with non-​JavaScript options like the more mature LAMP-​associated languages and frameworks. (Or if you prefer languages that don’t start with P”, there’s C#, Go, Java, Ruby, etc.)

My point is that LAMP” as the name of a web development stack has outlived its usefulness. It’s at once too specific (about operating system and web server details that are often abstracted away for developers) and too broad (covering three separate programming languages and not the frameworks they favor). It also leaves out other non-​JavaScript back-​end languages and their associated frameworks.

The question is: what can replace it? I’d propose NoJS” as reminiscent of NoSQL,” but that inaccurately excludes JavaScript from its necessary role in the front-​end. NJSB” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, either, and still has the same ambiguity problem as LAMP.”

How about pithy sort-​of-​acronyms patterned like database-​frontend-​backend? Here are some Perl examples:

  • MRDancer: MySQL, React, and Dancer (I use this at work. Yes, the M could also stand for MongoDB. Naming things is hard.)
  • MRMojo: MongoDB, React, and Mojolicious
  • PACat: PostgreSQL, Angular, and Catalyst
  • etc.

Ultimately it comes down to community and industry adoption. If you’re involved with back-​end web development, please let me know in the comments if you agree or disagree that LAMP” is still a useful term, and if not, what should replace it.