Perl is 26 Today

26 years ago today, on December 18, 1987, Larry Wall released Perl to an unsuspecting world. The earliest reference to the posting to Usenet's comp.sources.unix is Perl, a "replacement" for awk and sed.

Perl did make awk and sed semi-obsolete. (This is Unix, where you can never get rid of anything.) In the process of doing so, it gave system administrators more power than they had by combining shell and Unix commands with more ease than they had by writing C.

Then came the web and interactive web sites, and Perl found its way into a similar ecological niche: shells and Unix commands were a little too low level and a lot clunky to string together, while C's string handling and whipupitude were just too difficult.

Perl has been a pioneer in a lot of computing niches. It's excelled at zagging whether other languages would have zigged, and it's demonstrated that many problems have good enough solutions if you're willing to look at them in a different way. Along its journey, Perl has suffered somewhat from its success—not only has it allowed non-programmers to commit atrocities against maintainability and cleanliness while getting their jobs done on time and under budget, but it's been around and successful and ubiquitous for so long that it's easy to take for granted.

Perl's stolen from other languages and communities with glee and without shame (CTAN => CPAN, Henry Spencer's regular expressions => Perl regular expressions). It's also encouraged other languages to improve just to compete. (What would PHP look like without Perl? Ruby? Python? Go? JavaScript? Even Haskell?)

As Perl grew up into adulthood, the Perl community rallied around a new style for Perl programs and Perl programming. At various times it's called Modern Perl or Enlightened Perl. This style is descriptive, not prescriptive. It retains Perl's flexibility and malleability to let you solve problems your way. Yet it also embraces Perl's essential nature.

Perl may not be the only tool in your toolbox. It may not be in your toolbox at all. Yet its legacy after 26 years is so great that it's influenced not only the tools you use every day but the way technologists think about the world.

Happy birthday, Perl. Here's to 26 more.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by chromatic published on December 18, 2013 6:00 AM.

The Unix Way and Regular Expressions as a Last Resort was the previous entry in this blog.

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