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Perl Programming

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Perl Programming
Five great books for learning Perl and regular expressions

If you're interested in learning Perl, you've got lots of company. More and more programmers are realizing how close to miraculous Perl can be for getting things done quickly and efficiently.

Why learn Perl? Its high-level syntax and powerful implementation of regular expressions make it a great tool for cranking out applications that perform complex text manipulation. It is also widely used for writing CGI applications for the World Wide Web. Perl's C-like syntax makes it easy to learn, yet the language dispenses with pointers, memory allocation, memory-oriented data types, and all the errors that these features can lead you into.

Perl is portable across most Unix systems and is even available on the Macintosh and Windows NT platforms. For object fans, the latest release, Perl 5, introduces object-oriented extensions to the language. Finally, Perl is available free of charge through a GNU license and is probably installed on your Unix system already.

Anyone who wants to learn Perl is blessed with an unusually good selection of books. We review five of the best, including a classic by Larry Wall, the author of the Perl language.


The latest update to one of the most readable crash courses in programming we've seen, Learning Perl, Second Edition, will teach you the core of the Perl 5 language, while introducing regular expressions, directory and file manipulation, process management, database access, and CGI programming. Learning Perl is probably too concentrated for total novices, but if you've had some experience in another programming language, you'll be able to follow the discussion easily. Exercises at the end of each chapter (with answers thoughtfully provided in an appendix) let you test your growing knowledge. Authors Randal L. Schwartz and Tom Christiansen are close associates of Larry Wall, the language's creator.

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Regular expressions, a symbolic system for precisely describing and parsing text, isn't unique to Perl, but it is one of Perl's most powerful features. Jeffrey E. F. Friedl 's Mastering Regular Expressions is an excellent and detailed introduction to the general concept of regular expressions. The guide also covers a number of specific implementations, with the lion's share (over 100 pages) devoted to Perl regular expressions. Anyone using Perl for intensive text manipulation should study this book.

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A classic by the author of the Perl language and his close associates, Programming Perl is a language bible that every serious Perl programmer should own. In addition to a quick language tutorial, you'll find detailed treatment of Perl's language fundamentals, built-in functions and standard libraries, object-oriented extensions, debugger, and a host of other features. The tone is deft, chatty, and to the point--a real pleasure to read.

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David Till's Teach Yourself Perl 5 in 21 Days is a good choice for those with little or no programming experience. This manual's steady pace and detailed explanations will start novices at the beginning and guide them methodically through the fundamentals. While the book offers good coverage of the Perl language, its treatment of Perl 5's new object-oriented features is somewhat cursory. Teach Yourself Perl 5 in 21 Days also does not attempt to teach CGI programming or other specialized applications. Experienced programmers will want a faster-paced tutorial.

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Perl 5 How-To is a real power-programmer's toolkit, packed with practical solutions to hundreds of real-world problems that you'll confront in a production environment. The guide also provides systematic coverage of the language, so if you're at home in Unix and have another language under your belt (preferably C), is a great accelerated tutorial. Novices will find Perl 5 How-To tough and will do better with a more elementary selection.

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