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Linux Magazine: Uncultured Perl, Perl's creator shares his thoughts on a subversive lifecycle

Jan 05, 2000, 18:47 (2 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Larry Wall)

"Like the typical human, Perl was conceived in secret, and existed for roughly nine months before anyone in the world ever saw it. Its womb was a secret project for the National Security Agency known as the "Blacker" project, which has long since closed down. The goal of that sexy project was not to produce Perl. However, Perl may well have been the most useful thing to come from Blacker. Sex can fool you that way...."

"As with a human fetus, the last several months of Perl's gestation did not produce any large differences in the appearance of Perl. Rather, Perl simply put on some weight as it prepared for the real world. I recognized that acceptance of Perl hinged on the ability of people to leverage what they already knew, so I didn't release Perl until I'd written two translators: s2p (sed to Perl) and a2p (awk to Perl)."

"I made one major, incompatible change to Perl just before it was born. From the start, one of my overriding design principles was to "optimize for the common case." I didn't coin this phase, of course. I learned it from people like Dennis Ritchie, who realized that computers tend to assign more values than they compare. This is why Dennis made = represent assignment and == represent comparison in his C programming language."

"I'd made many such tradeoffs in designing Perl, but I realized that I'd violated the principle in Perl's regular expression syntax. It used grep's notion of backslashing ordinary characters to produce metacharacters, rather than egrep's notion of backslashing metacharacters to produce ordinary characters."

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