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First Perl revamp in five years released

Perl 5.10, the first revamp of the quick-and-dirty open-source programming language project in five years, pilfers some features from Perl 6.

Perl Foundation

The Perl Foundation has released Perl 5.10, the first new version in five years of a programming language with an emphasis on rough-and-ready practicality over syntactical formality.

The new version has some features designed to make programming a notch easier, according to the announcement last week. Among those features is a "say" command that eases some text-output chores, a "switch" operator to send a program in various directions depending on different situations, and improvements to the all-important "regular expression" methods for handling text. The Perl interpreter, which runs Perl programs, also is faster and requires less memory, the foundation said.

The official list of changes is available at the Comprehensive Perl Archive Network.

Perl programmers, meanwhile, are working on two future versions, 5.12 and Perl 6.0. Neither has a due date, said foundation spokesman Andy Lester.

"Perl 5 and Perl 6 will stay in dual development. Perl 5 has such a huge installed base, it won't be going away any time soon after Perl," he said.

Perl founder Larry Wall initially announced Perl 6 in 2000, and development is still under way. For somewhat technical discussion of the differences between Perl 5 and 6, try reading this O'Reilly Media piece.

Perl 6 attempts, among other things, to clean up some of the problems caused by the informality of Perl 5. Closely related but separate is Parrot, an attempt to create a virtual machine that can execute programs written not just in Perl 6 but also in Ruby, Lua, Javascript, Python, and PHP. (Virtual machine software provides an insulating layer that shields programs from the particulars of the computer and operating system they're running on.) Programmers released Parrot version 0.5.1 on December 18. More recently, Audrey Tang started another project called Pugs that can run Perl 6 programs.

"I suspect that one implementation will win out as 'the' implementation," Lester said.

Perl 6 today is "still sort of a big research project," Lester said, but some of its elements, including the "say" command and the regular-expression features were retrofitted to 5.10.

Available packaged versions of Perl 5.10 include ActiveState's ActivePerl and Adam Kennedy's Strawberry Perl, Lester said