Many people are discovering that the scripting language Perl is the most useful language for getting many computing tasks done. In this article Dave Cross takes a brief look at Perl websites.
This article first appeared in the November 1999 issue of the online Perl magazine PerlMonth (which no longer seems to be online).
Note: All of the articles in the RTFM series are really old. It’s likely that many of the links no longer work. I’m leaving these articles online for historical reasons, but these days you should visit perl.org for links to the best current Perl resources.
This month we’re going to look at another type of free information for Perl programmers – web sites. There are a huge number of Perl web sites out there, but as someone else once said, “99% of everything is crap”, so there are a far smaller selection where you’re actually going to find something useful. The purpose of this column is to help you to separate the good from the bad.
The last few months have seen many changes in the Perl web world, with many new sites coming on-line and some old favourites getting facelifts.
I’ll assume that as you are reading this article then I don’t need to direct you to Perlmonth!
Major Perl Sites
These are the sites that you should already have in your bookmarks list and should be visiting weekly to find out what is new.
The Perl home Page
This is the site to come to for all things Perlish. It has recently undergone a major facelift and everything should now be much easier to find. If you question isn’t answered somewhere on this site, then you were probably asking the wrong question.
The main page of this site now contains a number of links to various articles of interest to the Perl community. These articles are constantly changing and are written by people who are really at the core of the Perl community. As I write this article (and this will be a big clue as to how late I am getting this month’s column written!) the articles include introductions to DBI and Perl/Tk and a look at the new features coming in Perl 5.6. There is also a weekly summary of the postings to the Perl 5 Porters mailing list by Mark-Jason Dominus and a daily extract from the Perl Cookbook.
As well as the main page, there are a number of other pages that are worth bookmarking in their own right. These include:
- The Perl FAQs
All of the FAQs that I’ve discussed in previous columns, in a easy to read HTML format.
- Perl Documentation
As I’ve said many times, this should have been installed on your computer when Perl was installed, but if for any reason you don’t have access to it, you can read it on-line here.
The Comprehensive Perl Archive Network has a huge amount of modules and scripts available. This isn’t, however, the most user-friendly interface to it, and you might be better off going to http://search.cpan.org.
The Perl Mongers Advocacy Site
This URL used to be the address of the Perl Institute site, but when the Perl Institute was wound up earlier this year it bequeathed this site to the Perl Mongers who have recently given the site a complete makeover. It now houses a number of useful resources for Perl Advocacy. The old TPI site is still available at http://tpi.perl.org, but most of the content has been updated and moved to the new site.
If www.perl.com is a reference site, then this site is dedicated to Perl advocacy. This is the place to come if you want arguments to persuade people that Perl is the right language for the job. It has lists of facts for use by the press, a number of articles written at a level that will interest Pointy-Haired Bosses, details of commercial support packages for Perl any many other resources to help you convert your work-place to the one true language.
This site also has a number of news stories of interest to the Perl community. At the time of writing these included the announcement of the new Perl jobs site (of which, more later), the announcement of O’Reilly’s new Perl CD Bookshelf and a pointer to the Picking Up Perl project.
On this site, the Perl Mongers talk about the business of setting up and running Perl Mongers groups. These are Perl user groups that have formed over the last two years in numerous cities of the world. There are now almost two hundred groups across every continent (oh… except, perhaps Antarctica).
This site has lists of the established groups together with contact details so that you can get in touch with a group in your area. It also has details on how to form a local group if there isn’t one near you.
Perl Monger activities vary widely from group to group. In some places the meetings always consist of talks on Perl-related subjects, in others they are just a bunch of geeks meeting in a pub. Most fall somewhere inbetween. One nice thing that sometimes happens is that when you’re visiting another city (or, indeed, country) you can meet up with local Perl programmers.
…and you can also buy cool t-shirts and hats.
(Most Perl Monger groups also have their own web site which you can find from the main PM site, but I feel I’d be failing in my duty if I didn’t take this opportunity to point you at the site for my local group, London.pm. We’re at http://london.pm.org.)
One of the things that is so enjoyable about Perl is the culture that goes with it. The Comprehensive Perl Arcana Society Tapestry is a new site which is attempting to document the history of that culture. Already it has a fascinating Perl Timeline. I’m sure that in the coming months it will become an even more valuable resource.
ActiveState are the company who produce a version of Perl suitable for use on Win32 systems. This version is known as ActivePerl. In the past the Win32 version of Perl has been a very different animal to the version available for Unix. Since version 5.005 of Perl, however, ActivePerl has been built from exactly the same source code as any other version of Perl. There are still slight limitations in what you can do with ActivePerl, but these are largely due to limitations in the operating system. In June, ActiveState announced a deal with Microsoft whereby Microsoft will invest large sums of money into ActivePerl development of the next three years in order to work around many of these limitations.
ActivePerl is distributed completely free of charge. However ActiveState does produce other products, many of which are based around Perl, which it does charge for. These include:
- The Perl Development Kit
This includes a GUI-based extension to the Perl debugger, PerlCOM and PerlCtrl which allow you to build windows COM objects using Perl, PerlApp which allows you to turn Perl scripts into free-standing executables and a number of other Perl development tools.
This is a plug-in for NT web servers that increases the speed of Perl CGI scripts.
This product effectively puts a ‘corporate’ face onto the Perl distribution method. It allows companies who are scared of the Open Source movement to buy Perl and know that they are getting the the kind of shrink-wrapped products and support that they like to think they get from companies like Microsoft.
Other Useful Sites
I apologised for listing too many O’Reilly books in my August column, but they do currently publish the best Perl books. Also, they are the only publisher that devotes a separate page to their Perl offerings.
Currently this page has links to a number of interesting articles, including sample chapters of the new Mastering Algorithms with Perl book.
The Perl Mongers Career Center
It is surely a healthy sign of Perl culture that the grassroots Perl Mongers movement is responsible for so many of the useful and important web sites. This new site is no exception.
This site is intended to bring together the large number of companies seeking skilled Perl programmers with the large number of skilled Perl programmers that are looking for interesting jobs. In order to do this, it has three main sections:
- Job Search
In this section you can enter various criteria about the kind of jobs that you are looking for and get a list of all jobs in the database that match your criteria.
- Post a Job
In this section, companies who are looking for staff can post a description of their requirements.
- Resume Center
In this section you can post your resume (or CV) so that recruiters and potential employers can find it.
Randal Schwartz is one of the most well-known writers and trainers in the Perl community. Two of his monthly columns are available online at his web site. These are from Unix Review and Web Techniques. Both of these columns are great sources of great Perl code.
And while you’re at Randal’s site, be sure to check out his picture gallery where you’ll find lots of photos from the Perl conference and various Perl Mongers groups.
The Perl Journal
This is another site that has recently undergone some changes, but I’m sorry to say that in this case they are not all for the better. The Perl Journal is the only print magazine that is dedicated to Perl and it is a great magazine. Recently, however, it was bought buy EarthWeb and the web site was integrated into their web presence. All of the previous content is still there but it is much harder to find and the site is much slower. One improvement has been that that actual contents of the magazine are now available on the web, but it is password protected and only subscribers can access these pages.
Where Not To Go
As I mentioned at the start of the article, there are a huge number of web sites dedicated to Perl. They can’t all be good. In fact some of them are very bad. I don’t really want to get into naming sites, but I’d like to give you a few pointers to help you avoid sites that do more harm than good.
Many of the really bad sites are those that give away CGI scripts. It seems that CGI scripting is one area that has really attracted bad programmers. In particular, two of the best known repositories of downloadable CGI scripts are full of scripts that are badly written and buggy (at least one of these contains scripts that are used world-wide). One good rule of thumb to use when looking for CGI scripts on the web is that programmers who know what they are doing will reuse already existing code. This means that they will be making use of CGI.pm (or, at the very least, cgi-lib.pl) to extract CGI parameters passed to a script.
Another good tip is to look at how recently the scripts have been updated. If the most recent version of a script ws released in the last month then you have a script that is being actively supported by its author. If the script hasn’t been updated for three or four years, then you should probably look elsewhere.
I hope this column helps you to find useful and interesting Perl web sites and stops you from wasting your time reading bad advice on other web sites. I’ve barely scratched the surface of Perl web sites, but most of the sites listed here will have links to other sites. If I haven’t covered your favourites here then I apologise, but I’d be interested in hearing about them for a follow-up column in a few months time. Please send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally for this month, yet another return to the topic of books that I covered a few months ago. In that column I mentioned a number of books that were expected in the coming months. I have now seen and read two of these which I would like to recommend you buy.
Object Oriented Perl by Damien Conway will be reviewed in detail in next month’s Perlmonth, but I would like to point out that if you have any interest at all in writing objects in Perl then this book is essential reading.
I’m working on a review of Mastering Algorithms with Perl by Jon Orwant, Jarkko Hietaniemi & John Macdonald which will appear in a later edition of Perlmonth, but in short what I will be saying is “It’s very good – Buy It!”.