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Where To Go Next

This tutorial barely scratches the surface of what you can do with Perl. I haven't even talked about hash variables! What was I thinking? :-)

Not to worry. There's a wealth of documentation out there that explains everything you could ever want to know about Perl. Indeed, the biggest problem with the Perl documentation, at least for beginners, is knowing where to start. Below are some suggestions.

This page covers:

A shameless plug

So I thought I'd make this simple little Perl/CGI tutorial, and stick it on the Web. And a lot of you seemed to like it, and sent me positive feedback, including lots of requests for more. So now you can get more, because I've written a book. It's called Perl for Web Site Management, and if you liked this tutorial then it's a good bet you'll like the book, since it's written in the same style and covers pretty much the same subject matter, except that it goes much, much further.

man perl / perldoc

There is a very complete set of documentation that comes free with Perl. If everyone was tied down and forced to read every word of it, well, we'd all know a lot more about Perl. Of course, we'd also have a lot less time to write Perl scripts. Somewhere in the middle is a happy medium.

Read the Perl documentation by typing "man perl" at the Unix command line. If you are on a system that doesn't have the "man" command (say, because you installed Perl locally on your PC or Mac, and you're trying to access the documentation there), you can use "perldoc perl" instead, assuming you have a recent enough version of Perl.

The Perl documentation has been split up into numerous sections; you access the appropriate section by typing "man sectionname" or "perldoc sectionname". More about this, including the list of section names, in that first "man perl" or "perldoc perl" page.

You also should know about a neat trick: If you type "perldoc -f", followed by the name of a particular perl function, you will get the part of the "man perlfunc" page that describes that function. For example:

catlow:/u1/l/lies> perldoc -f join
=item join EXPR,LIST

Joins the separate strings of LIST into a single string with
fields separated by the value of EXPR, and returns the string.

    $_ = join(':', $login,$passwd,$uid,$gid,$gcos,$home,$shell);

See L<perlfunc/split>.

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The Perl FAQ (for "Frequently Asked Questions") file is accessed by entering "man perlfaq" or "perldoc perlfaq" at the command line. The screen you see there in turn refers you to "man perlfaq1", "man perlfaq2", and so on, with each of those FAQ files containing a different set of questions and answers. Unlike some other FAQ's, Perl's really is incredibly complete and useful; most of the Perl questions you're likely to come up with are covered.

Indeed, it's so complete, it can be hard to find the specific part that deals with your particular question. So now, if your version of Perl is recent enough, there's another neat perldoc trick: "perldoc -q something" will search through the Perl FAQs and print entries that contain "something".

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Web sites

As I said, you can browse all this important Perl documentation from the command line, and you'll score machismo points by doing so, but you can also find it on the Web, and that's probably the most convenient way for a beginner to access it. Here are links to the appropriate pages at the site:

Some other handy Web sites are:

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There are a lot of Perl books out there, but some of them are pretty bad, and others expect you to know more than you're likely to at this stage in your education. If you found this tutorial useful, though, I think you'll be happy with these:

If you're wondering why I'm linking to instead of just sending you to Amazon like a normal person, by the way, Perl guru Mark-Jason Dominus gives a good explanation on his Why I Am Boycotting Amazon page. I basically agree with everything he says there.

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CPAN is the Comprehensive Perl Archive Network, a collection of really useful Perl modules. The trick to using it is that you have to know that a module exists before you can take advanatage of it. The following will help you figure out what's in CPAN:

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I put Usenet at the end of the list for a reason: Bursting into comp.lang.perl.misc with novice CGI questions is a sure way to get flamed. You're more likely to get useful answers (and less likely to get your hair parted) in comp.infosystems.www.authoring.cgi. And in general, you should make sure before posting to either group that you've made a sincere effort to answer the question yourself via the resources outlined above. You should also probably hit DejaNews to make sure someone didn't ask the same question last week.

That's it. Have (the appropriate amount of) fun with Perl!

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John Callender