Perl, which is short for Practical Extraction and Report Language, is a high-level programming language developed by Larry Wall at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA in 1986. Working as a system administrator, his intention was to make a general purpose UNIX scripting language for making report processing easier.

Since Perl was introduced, numerous developers have improved the language to make it one of the most favored among system administrators, CGI script authors, journalists, mathematicians, geneticists, and even managers. Just like the Linux operating system, Perl can be obtained free of cost. Due to its flexibility and adaptability, it is often referred to as “The Swiss Army chainsaw of programming languages”.

Perl is derived from the C programming language, and it has its roots in UNIX; hence, it contains a number of UNIX utilities. A few other languages and tools have also contributed to the development of Perl, namely Sed, AWK, and lISP. The system administrators and CGI script authors particularly love Perl because it is ideal for tasks that involve software tools, graphical programming, system management tasks, database access, system utilities, networking, and world wide web programming. Among its other notable features are its remarkable text-processing capability which assists system administrators in writing administrative tasks, its inherent ability of handling the development of prototype versions of programs, and its quality of being extremely portable across various operating systems, since it is an interpreted language.

Perl is often used as a replacement for shell-level scripting or a high-level replacement for programs that are made in low-level languages like C or C++. If you are having a library which provides API, you can use a Perl extension written in C or C++ and link them dynamically to the main Perl interpreter to make any of its components easily accessible. Using Perl to create a powerful application is quite easy too. Simply write your main program in C or C++ and link in a few Perl codes. Moreover, since Perl is an interpreted language, you can write your programs, test them with the least hassle, and debug them easily as well.

There are several websites that provide working examples of Perl, and many of them are available for free. At the outset, however, a lengthy manual page, Perl Man Page, was the only reference available. Subsequently, the book Programming Perl (1991), which contains the picture of a camel, was published by O’Reilly Media. Perl programmers often call this book, the ‘Camel Book‘, and it is now regarded as the quintessential reference book for Perl. The camel has also become the general logo for the language.

Perl follows an open distribution policy, and it is supported by its users. The major constituents of Perl are the Coreoptional Perl Modulesthe standard Perl library, and a long and comprehensive documentation written by the volunteers.

Commercial support of Perl can also be availed, although most programmers find the informal support to be sufficient. You should bear in mind that Perl may not be the best tool to use for every kind of programming job. Particularly for real-time embedded systems, complex multi-threaded shared-memory applications, and low-level operating systems development work such as device drivers or context-switching code, Perl is not the recommended option.

Fundamentally, Perl remains a dynamically-typed language, and not much has changed since its first version, Perl 4Perl 5 is the present version, and it is suggested that you use the current stable release, perl5.10.x, or the one immediately before that, which is perl5.8.x. Perl 6 is the latest version which is currently under development, and it promises to introduce elements of both historical and modern programming languages