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Perl Hacks: Tips & Tools for Programming, Debugging, and Surviving [Paperback]

Damian Conway , chromatic , Curtis "Ovid" Poe
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

18 May 2006 0596526741 978-0596526740 1

With more than a million dedicated programmers, Perl has proven to be the best computing language for the latest trends in computing and business. While other languages have stagnated, Perl remains fresh, thanks to its community-based development model, which encourages the sharing of information among users. This tradition of knowledge-sharing allows developers to find answers to almost any Perl question they can dream up.



And you can find many of those answers right here in Perl Hacks. Like all books in O'Reilly's Hacks Series, Perl Hacks appeals to a variety of programmers, whether you're an experienced developer or a dabbler who simply enjoys exploring technology. Each hack is a short lesson--some are practical exercises that teach you essential skills, while others merely illustrate some of the fun things that Perl can do. Most hacks have two parts: a direct answer to the immediate problem you need to solve right now and a deeper, subtler technique that you can adapt to other situations. Learn how to add CPAN shortcuts to the Firefox web browser, read files backwards, write graphical games in Perl, and much more.



For your convenience, Perl Hacks is divided by topic--not according toany sense of relative difficulty--so you can skip around and stop at any hack you like. Chapters include:



  • Productivity Hacks
  • User Interaction
  • Data Munging
  • Working with Modules
  • Object Hacks
  • Debugging


Whether you're a newcomer or an expert, you'll find great value in Perl Hacks, the only Perl guide that offers somethinguseful and fun for everyone.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 298 pages
  • Publisher: O'Reilly Media; 1 edition (18 May 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0596526741
  • ISBN-13: 978-0596526740
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 15.2 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 690,233 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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From the Publisher

Perl Hacks taps into the collective wisdom of the world's most creative Perl gurus, so you can learn from their experiences. It's the perfect book for experienced developers looking for time-saving practical tips or dabblers who are simply curious about Perl's many cool capabilities. Topics include user interaction, data munging, working with modules, object hacks, and debugging.

About the Author

chromatic manages Onyx Neon Press, an independent publisher. His areas of expertise include agile software development, language design, and virtual machines for dynamic languages. He is also a published novelist. His books include The Art of Agile Development and Masterminds of Programming.

Dr. Damian Conway is a Senior Lecturer in Computer Science and Software Engineering at Monash University (Melbourne, Australia), where he teaches object-oriented software engineering. He is an effective teacher, an accomplished writer, and the author of several popular Perl modules. He is also a semi-regular contributor to the Perl Journal. In 1998 he was the winner of the Larry Wall Award for Practical Utility for two modules (Getopt::Declare and Lingua::EN::Inflect) and in 1999 he won his second "Larry" for his Coy.pm haiku-generation module.

Curtis (Ovid) Poe is a CPAN author, a TPF Steering Committee Member, and the TPF Grant Committee Secretary. He likes long walks on the beach and single malt scotch, but hates writing bios. Ovid writes for Perl.com too.

Curtis (Ovid) Poe is a CPAN author, a TPF Steering Committee Member, and the TPF Grant Committee Secretary. He likes long walks on the beach and single malt scotch, but hates writing bios. Ovid writes for Perl.com too.


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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Compendium of Perl Tricks 21 Nov 2006
Format:Paperback
To be completely honest, this isn't the book I thought it was going to be. Most O'Reilly Hacks books start off pretty simply and in a few chapters take you to the further reaches of their subject area. Whilst this is a great way to quickly get a good taste of a particular topic, it has the occasional disadvantage that for subjects that you know well, the first couple of chapters can seem a bit basic. As I know Perl pretty well, I thought I would be on familiar ground for at least half of the book.

I was wrong.

Oh, it started off easily enough. Making use of various browser and command line tools to get easy access to Perl documentation, creating some useful shell aliases to cut down typing for your most common tasks. "Oh yes", I thought smugly to myself, "I know all that". But by about Hack 5 I was reading about little tweaks that I didn't know about. I'd start a hack thinking that I knew everything that the authors were going to cover and end up frustrated that I was on the tube and couldn't immediately try out the new trick I had just learnt.

It's really that kind of book. Pretty much everyone who reads it will pick up something that will it easier for them to get their job done (well, assuming that their job involves writing Perl code!) And, of course, looking at the list of authors, that's only to be expected. The three authors listed on the cover are three of the Perl communities most respected members. And the list of other contributers reads like a who's who of people who are doing interesting things with Perl - people whose use.perl journals are always interesting or whose posts on Perl Monks are worth reading before other people's.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Super advanced Perl 21 July 2007
Format:Paperback
From the title, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Perl Hacks. Was it going to be about rummaging around in Perl's internals? Making Perl do clever, yet ultimately dumb and pointless tricks? It turns out that, while there is some fairly voodooish material here, some of it quite playful, on the whole it's a very practical book. Aimed firmly at the advanced Perl programmer who knows when it's appropriate to mess about with the symbol table, temporarily turn off warnings, or crack out one of the B:: modules, this is a collection of 101 suggestions to improve your productivity, boggle your mind about what Perl can do, or both.

The content reminds me a little of the likes of Exceptional C++ Style, a mixture of advanced best practices, and things which you may not need to know, but you'll probably still be interested in finding out how it works. For instance, have you ever considered tieing an array or hash variable to a function? Ever wanted to name a supposed anonymous subroutine? Print out the source code as well as the line number of a syntax error? Nor me, but Perl Hacks shows how it could be useful. These are illustrative of the spirit of the book.

My favourite material was probably the chapter on modules. Included are how-tos for outputting all the modules used in a package, automatically reloading modules in running code, shortening long package names with the CPAN 'aliased' module, and making up your own bundle of modules for easy installation. There's also an interesting object chapter with subjects such as: inside out objects, using YAML for serialisation, using traits and autogeneration of accessors.

Additionally, there's a little on using those scary B:: packages, using modules which use the B:: packages or other dark magic (e.g.
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3.0 out of 5 stars 50 Perl hacks 24 Dec 2010
By Dave C
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
There are 50 good hacks in this book. You'll learn new things about Perl, and about programming in general.

And there are 51 bad hacks in this book. Maybe a book with 50 hacks wouldn't sell so the author padded a little. Some of the hacks were so simple that they don't deserve to be in here. Others are environment hacks, convoluted, contrived or stretch the language so far that they would make your Perl even more unmaitainable.

The style is also a little annoying with every technique or CPAN module described as a "hack", and a standard section called "hacking the hack", even when there is nothing to add to the original "hack".

Once you have ripped out unnecessary, unfeasible and dangerously obfuscated hacks, you have a slim volume that will take a day to read.

Maybe I'm being a little unfair. Maybe I'm just the wrong audience. More advanced programmers might need to mess with symbol tables or alias module names. For me, I just need to write working code that the next programmer can maintain. Perl is already a difficult to language to write well. If I ever join a project to find that a predecessor used some of these hacks then I'll just have to start rewriting using conventional Perl.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
49 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A toolbox and tutorial for the working Perl programmer 19 May 2006
By calvinnme - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book is for experienced working Perl programmers - most likely system administrators but not necessarily - that need working solutions to real problems you'll most likely find in the workplace. There are a few diversions into such "cute" ideas as building animations in Perl, but most of these hacks are for the working programmer who is looking for ways to automate processes, build interfaces that don't get in the way of developers, and thoroughly test and simulate code. Amazon does not show the table of contents so I review this book in the context of the table of contents.

Chapter 1, Productivity Hacks

The hacks in this chapter are about relentless automation - saving time and effort. They allow you to find the information you want, automate repeated tasks, and find ways not to have to think about things that you do all the time.

Chapter 2, User Interaction

Menus, graphics, beeps, and command lines: these are all ways your programs grab user attention. This chapter is about keeping your users happy and even making your interfaces "pretty" with Perl. People may not notice when your code stays out of their way, but you know by their grimaces when it becomes an obstacle. My favorite hack in this chapter was Hack #16 "Interactive Graphical Apps". This uses sdlperl, which is a binding of the C low-level graphical library SDL for the Perl language. The hack is a short example program animating a colored rectangle and its fading tail. It first creates the needed series of surfaces, with a fading color and transparency, then animates sprites along a periodic path. It is a good example of using a GUI in PERL.

Chapter 3, Data Munging

Perl exists to extract, reformat, and report data. This chapter is about novel ways to connect to data and databases that are not "kludgy". For example, Hack #21 is "Use Any Spreadsheet As a Data Source". In it you use the Spreadsheet::Read module to give you a single interface to the data of most spreadsheet formats available, hiding all the troublesome work that deals with the parsers and portability, yet being flexible enough to get to the guts of the spreadsheet.

In Hack #20, "Read Files Backwards" suppose you have a server process that continually writes its status to a file. You only care about its current status, not its historical data. If its status is up, everyone is happy. If its status is down, you need to panic and notify everyone, thus you need to read the log file backwards and this hack shows you how.

Chapter 4, Working with Modules

Perl 5's greatest invention is the concept of the module - a unit of reusable code.

If you're doing any serious work with Perl, you'll spend a lot of time working with modules: installing them, upgrading them, loading them, working around weird and unhelpful features, and even distributing them. It makes a lot of sense to understand how Perl and modules interact and how to work with them effectively.

Chapter 5, Object Hacks

Abstraction, encapsulation, and genericity are the keys to designing large, maintainable systems. Some people claim that Perl doesn't really do OO, but they're wrong and these hacks demonstrate that by building some powerful abstractions.

Chapter 6, Debugging

Someday you'll have to dig through a pile of Perl left by an obnoxious coworker. This chapter prepares you for the worst with a toolkit full of tips and techniques to disarm the weirdest code you can imagine.

Chapter 7, Developer Tricks

Maintaining a program is different from maintaining an entire system. This is doubly true if you work with other people. If anything, discipline and consistency are more important than ever. This chapter is all about testing code, working with benchmarks, and even simulating hostile environments.

Chapter 8, Know Thy Code

If you really want to take advantage of the deeper mysteries of Perl, you have to be able to look deeply into the language, the libraries, and the interpreter itself--as well as your own code--and understand what's happening.

Chapter 9, Expand Your Perl Foo

This chapter explores a few of the odder ideas in the world of Perl. Then you'll be ready to discover your own. The explicit list of hacks is as follows:

Chapter 1. Productivity Hacks

Hack 1. Add CPAN Shortcuts to Firefox

Hack 2. Put Perldoc to Work

Hack 3. Browse Perl Docs Online

Hack 4. Make the Most of Shell Aliases

Hack 5. Autocomplete Perl Identifiers in Vim

Hack 6. Use the Best Emacs Mode for Perl

Hack 7. Enforce Local Style

Hack 8. Don't Save Bad Perl

Hack 9. Automate Checkin Code Reviews

Hack 10. Run Tests from Within Vim

Hack 11. Run Perl from Emacs

Chapter 2. User Interaction

Hack 12. Use $EDITOR As Your UI

Hack 13. Interact Correctly on the Command Line

Hack 14. Simplify Your Terminal Interactions

Hack 15. Alert Your Mac

Hack 16. Interactive Graphical Apps

Hack 17. Collect Configuration Information

Hack 18. Rewrite the Web

Chapter 3. Data Munging

Hack 19. Treat a File As an Array

Hack 20. Read Files Backwards

Hack 21. Use Any Spreadsheet As a Data Source

Hack 22. Factor Out Database Code

Hack 23. Build a SQL Library

Hack 24. Query Databases Dynamically Without SQL

Hack 25. Bind Database Columns

Hack 26. Iterate and Generate Expensive Data

Hack 27. Pull Multiple Values from an Iterator

Chapter 4. Working with Modules

Hack 28. Shorten Long Class Names

Hack 29. Manage Module Paths

Hack 30. Reload Modified Modules

Hack 31. Create Personal Module Bundles

Hack 32. Manage Module Installations

Hack 33. Presolve Module Paths

Hack 34. Create a Standard Module Toolkit

Hack 35. Write Demos from Tutorials

Hack 36. Replace Bad Code from the Outside

Hack 37. Drink to the CPAN

Hack 38. Improve Exceptional Conditions

Hack 39. Search CPAN Modules Locally

Hack 40. Package Standalone Perl Applications

Hack 41. Create Your Own Lexical Warnings

Hack 42. Find and Report Module Bugs

Chapter 5. Object Hacks

Hack 43. Turn Your Objects Inside Out

Hack 44. Serialize Objects (Mostly) for Free

Hack 45. Add Information with Attributes

Hack 46. Make Methods Really Private

Hack 47. Autodeclare Method Arguments

Hack 48. Control Access to Remote Objects

Hack 49. Make Your Objects Truly Polymorphic

Hack 50. Autogenerate Your Accessors

Chapter 6. Debugging

Hack 51. Find Compilation Errors Fast

Hack 52. Make Invisible Characters Apparent

Hack 53. Debug with Test Cases

Hack 54. Debug with Comments

Hack 55. Show Source Code on Errors

Hack 56. Deparse Anonymous Functions

Hack 57. Name Your Anonymous Subroutines

Hack 58. Find a Subroutine's Source

Hack 59. Customize the Debugger

Chapter 7. Developer Tricks

Hack 60. Rebuild Your Distributions

Hack 61. Test with Specifications

Hack 62. Segregate Developer and User Tests

Hack 63. Run Tests Automatically

Hack 64. See Test Failure Diagnostics -- in Color!

Hack 65. Test Live Code

Hack 66. Cheat on Benchmarks

Hack 67. Build Your Own Perl

Hack 68. Run Test Suites Persistently

Hack 69. Simulate Hostile Environments in Your Tests

Chapter 8. Know Thy Code

Hack 70. Understand What Happens When

Hack 71. Inspect Your Data Structures

Hack 72. Find Functions Safely

Hack 73. Know What's Core and When

Hack 74. Trace All Used Modules

Hack 75. Find All Symbols in a Package

Hack 76. Peek Inside Closures

Hack 77. Find All Global Variables

Hack 78. Introspect Your Subroutines

Hack 79. Find Imported Functions

Hack 80. Profile Your Program Size

Hack 81. Reuse Perl Processes

Hack 82. Trace Your Ops

Hack 83. Write Your Own Warnings

Chapter 9. Expand Your Perl Foo

Hack 84. Double Your Data with Dualvars

Hack 85. Replace Soft References with Real Ones

Hack 86. Optimize Away the Annoying Stuff

Hack 87. Lock Down Your Hashes

Hack 88. Clean Up at the End of a Scope

Hack 89. Invoke Functions in Odd Ways

Hack 90. Glob Those Sequences

Hack 91. Write Less Error-Checking Code

Hack 92. Return Smarter Values

Hack 93. Return Active Values

Hack 94. Add Your Own Perl Syntax

Hack 95. Modify Semantics with a Source Filter

Hack 96. Use Shared Libraries Without XS

Hack 97. Run Two Services on a Single TCP Port

Hack 98. Improve Your Dispatch Tables

Hack 99. Track Your Approximations

Hack 100. Overload Your Operators

Hack 101. Learn from Obfuscations
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Practical Advice for Perl Programmers 27 May 2006
By Devin Croak - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If your a serious Perl programmer or a long-time Perl scripter whose looking to broaden your horizons then this is an excellent book. Surprisingly, this is really a Perl book for professional Perl developers, sys-admins, and scripters. This book avoids parlor-tricks like "Controlling your coffee maker with Perl" and focuses on how best to make writing and testing Perl code quick, easy, and sometimes even fun.

O'Reilly's "Hacks" series of books have been hit or miss. Many books in this series regurgitate the basics a veteran probably already knows or provide convoluted or contrived examples that usually try to do too much, leaving you to extrapolate to the problem at hand. "Hacks" books can often contain an overabundance of gimmicks or games which, while instructive, can only have practical considerations for very few programmers. Some of these flaws would be acceptable in a book about "gaming" or "tuning your car" for non-professionals; this book is for people who know Perl and want to do more with it.

Perl is a language that often gets called on for quick and dirty tasks so perhaps it's natural that the book has allot of excellent advice. This book manages to not reiterate the information of the core Perl book trilogy ("Learning Perl", "Programming Perl" and the "Perl Cookbook"). Instead it focuses on practical UI, database, and developer tips and tricks. It assumes you know how to put Perl through it's paces and focuses on helping you do things more effectively.

I won't repeat the table of contents except to say that object-oriented programming, modules, user-interfaces, databases, and debugging are given plenty of coverage. If you find yourself working more with modules and packages, don't debug your Perl programs with print statements anymore, or are buried under unorganized Perl spaghetti then this book is for you.

I can't recommend this to a Perl beginner. You're much better off with perldoc or "Learning Perl". It's not a "101 things you can do with regular expressions" book either. If you write one-liner Perl scripts and never wish to move beyond that then this isn't your book either.

I'm not a "professional" Amazon reviewer. I just read this book and like what I've read and examples I've used. Perl has become a daily part of my job and it's books like these that demonstrate it to be capable language for rapid long-term development. It's odd that a book in the "Hacks" series so clearly demonstrates that Perl is capable of so much more.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Compendium of Perl Tricks 21 Nov 2006
By David Cross - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
To be completely honest, this isn't the book I thought it was going to be. Most O'Reilly Hacks books start off pretty simply and in a few chapters take you to the further reaches of their subject area. Whilst this is a great way to quickly get a good taste of a particular topic, it has the occasional disadvantage that for subjects that you know well, the first couple of chapters can seem a bit basic. As I know Perl pretty well, I thought I would be on familiar ground for at least half of the book.

I was wrong.

Oh, it started off easily enough. Making use of various browser and command line tools to get easy access to Perl documentation, creating some useful shell aliases to cut down typing for your most common tasks. "Oh yes", I thought smugly to myself, "I know all that". But by about Hack 5 I was reading about little tweaks that I didn't know about. I'd start a hack thinking that I knew everything that the authors were going to cover and end up frustrated that I was on the tube and couldn't immediately try out the new trick I had just learnt.

It's really that kind of book. Pretty much everyone who reads it will pick up something that will it easier for them to get their job done (well, assuming that their job involves writing Perl code!) And, of course, looking at the list of authors, that's only to be expected. The three authors listed on the cover are three of the Perl communities most respected members. And the list of other contributers reads like a who's who of people who are doing interesting things with Perl - people whose use.perl journals are always interesting or whose posts on Perl Monks are worth reading before other people's. Luckily, it turns out that all these excellent programmers can also explain what they are doing (and why they are doing it) very clearly.

Like all books in the Hacks series, it's a little bitty. The hacks are organised into nine broad chapters, but the connections between hacks in the same chapter can sometimes be a bit hard to see. But I enjoyed that. In places it made the book a bit of a rollercoaster ride. You're never quite sure what is coming next, but you know it's going to be fun.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more apt the fairground analogy seems. When you ask Perl programmers what they like about Perl, you'll often hear "fun" mentioned near the top of the list. People use Perl because they enjoy it. And the authors' enjoyment of Perl really comes through in the book. It's obvious that they really wanted to show people the things that they thought were really cool.

Although I did learn useful tips from the earlier part of the book, it was really the last three chapters that were the most useful for me. Chapter 7, Developer Tricks, had a lot of useful things to say about testing, Chapter 8, Know Thy Code, contains a lot of information on using Perl to examine your Perl code and Chapter 9, Expand Your Perl Foo was a grab-bag of obscure (but still useful) Perl tricks.

So where does this book fit in to O'Reilly's Perl canon? I can't recommend it for beginners. But if you're a working Perl programmer with a couple of years' experience then I'd be very surprised if you didn't pick up something that will be useful to you. And don't worry about it overlapping with other books in your Perl library - offhand I can't think of anything in the book that has been covered in any previous Perl book.

All in all, this would make a very useful addition to your Perl library.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Do perl or die - $@ 18 Nov 2006
By Rupesh Verma - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In a time when new computer languages are dime a dozen, perl unquestionably retains its beauty. Keeping with the philosophy of perl - there is more than one way to do it - the book shows you ingenious ways to work with this powerful language. This is a true hacks book and meant mostly for the advanced user. Before reading this book, I didn't even realize what I didn't know and I rate myself just short of contributing to CPAN. Even if you have read all the popular books - Perl Programming, Perl Best Practices etc. you'll still find a lot of gems.

Simply put if you like perl, you'll love this book. Welcome to the next level...
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Super-advanced Perl 21 July 2007
By Thing with a hook - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
From the title, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Perl Hacks. Was it going to be about rummaging around in Perl's internals? Making Perl do clever, yet ultimately dumb and pointless tricks? It turns out that, while there is some fairly voodooish material here, some of it quite playful, on the whole it's a very practical book. Aimed firmly at the advanced Perl programmer who knows when it's appropriate to mess about with the symbol table, temporarily turn off warnings, or crack out one of the B:: modules, this is a collection of 101 suggestions to improve your productivity, boggle your mind about what Perl can do, or both.

The content reminds me a little of the likes of Exceptional C++ Style, a mixture of advanced best practices, and things which you may not need to know, but you'll probably still be interested in finding out how it works. For instance, have you ever considered tieing an array or hash variable to a function? Ever wanted to name a supposed anonymous subroutine? Print out the source code as well as the line number of a syntax error? Nor me, but Perl Hacks shows how it could be useful. These are illustrative of the spirit of the book.

My favourite material was probably the chapter on modules. Included are how-tos for outputting all the modules used in a package, automatically reloading modules in running code, shortening long package names with the CPAN 'aliased' module, and making up your own bundle of modules for easy installation. There's also an interesting object chapter with subjects such as: inside out objects, using YAML for serialisation, using traits and autogeneration of accessors.

Additionally, there's a little on using those scary B:: packages, using modules which use the B:: packages or other dark magic (e.g. peeking inside closures), some fairly hardcore tracing and profiling, that touches on some Perl VM internals. Also worth mentioning is the hack that hijacks the angle bracket glob operator to create Haskell/Python-style list comprehensions.

You are going to have to be one scarily gifted Perl hacker not to find something useful or at least thought-provoking at regular intervals throughout this book. My only complaint is that the hack format, which the blurb on the back of the book describes as a "short lesson", does not lend itself equally well to all hacks. While I liked the chapter on objects, some of the hacks (in particular the traits hack, some of the testing material) were too short.

If you like the sound of a book that's somewhere between Perl Cookbook, Perl Best Practices and the second edition of Advanced Perl Programming, you're going to love this.
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