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Perl for C Programmers

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Spotlight Customer Reviews

Average Customer Rating: 5

Customer Rating: 5
Summary: Speak Perl with a C Accent
Comment: After years of trying, I've finally learned Perl. And it's all thanks to this

My biggest obstacles to learning Perl have always been: the language's twisted,
almost willfully obscure syntax, and the chattiness, annoying humor, and equally
obscure tone of the language's leading book for beginners, which I will leave
nameless (hint: there's an animal on the cover.) It often seems as if both the
book and the language take a perverse pride in being so arbitrary, riddled with
exceptions and special cases, and overly complex. I'm sure most Perl people will
disagree with me, but most Java and C/C++ folks I know would not. We are really
past the point in history where it's funny or cute for a language to be so
difficult and obscure. More than ever, time is money, the latter of which is in
far shorter supply since the dot-com crash. We (and our bosses) just want to get
things done. Not everyone wants to be a funny hacker with a funny t-shirt who
thinks it's funny when no one else can understand their code. Unfortunately,
while Perl is the champion of the heavy-lifting in text processing, its extremely
flexible and often counter-intuitive syntax can make these benefits inaccessible
to many programmers. Furthermore, the unnamed introductory book has a chatty
folksy, verbose tone that seems to deepen and celebrate these faults.

Oualline's book turns out to be the antidote. Using a brief, business-like tone,
the author brings the logic and organization of the C language to bear in his
approach to teaching and using Perl. Here's a quote from the book that sums up
Oualline's mindset: "Perl's designers have stated that their philosophy in
designing Perl is 'There's more than one way to do it.' My philosophy is a
little different: 'There is only one clearest way to do it.'" Basically, by
taking a single, C-flavored route through Perl's syntax, shunning its more
confusing and counter-intuitive elements, Oualline provides you with an empowering,
working knowledge of the language. Once he gets you there, you finally see just
how awesome a language Perl can be, particularly for reporting and system

In short, Oualline teaches you to speak Perl with a C accent.

One example of this is the way he recommends that you write Perl subroutines.
Contrary to nearly every published piece of Perl documentation, he tells you
to declare all of them with parameter specifications. That is, if you are writing
a subroutine called "do_it" that will always accept two scalar parameters, write:
"sub do_it ($$) { . . . }" instead of "sub_doit { . . . }". Sure, this is less
fun and less flexible than not specifying parameters, which Perl will allow you
to do. But in Oualline's opinion, "[that] form of parameter passing should be
avoided. By using a parameter specification, you give Perl the capability to
do valuable parameter checking. Leave out the parameter specification, and you
invite chaos." Like I said, this goes against all conventional Perl wisdom, but
for people who are used to mainstream, highly-structured, strongly-typed
languages, it definitely makes thinking about Perl much easier.

The book has a few flaws and omissions. For example, while stressing that we
should specify parameters, Oualline forgets to mention that this means we must
either put subroutine declarations at the beginning of a progam, or use forward
references. Given his emphasis on parameter specification, he should have
mentioned this. Also, his discussion of parameter passing is incomplete - he does
not explain how directly accessing the @_ array in a subroutine will alter the
caller's copy of the parameters. Then again, the other introductory book I mentioned
doesn't cover these facts, either. I had to dig through perldoc to figure all this
stuff out. Finally, a chapter on accessing databases from Perl would have been

This book is not for everyone. If you want to learn Perl in all its gory details,
and, more importantly, if you want to adopt the style and mindset of the Perl
programmer, then you probably will want to look to another beginner book. Ditto if
you're the kind of programmer who's more interested in playing syntactical games
than in designing an effective architecture. However, if you are a programmer of
C/C++, Java, or a similar language, who just wants to get things done effectively,
clearly, and quickly, then this is the best route to go down.

Customer Rating: 5
Summary: Excellent book
Comment: I started a job where I was forced to use perl, this book became incredibly useful. I use it to write perl code that makes sense to me. Most other books I've read didn't get me nearly as far in as short of a time period. My background is C/Assembly programming, so this was perfect. I recommend it for those who want to learn perl, by choice, or not.