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Perl Best Practices [Paperback]

Damian Conway

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Book Description

July 22 2005 0596001738 978-0596001735 1

Many programmers code by instinct, relying on convenient habits or a "style" they picked up early on. They aren't conscious of all the choices they make, like how they format their source, the names they use for variables, or the kinds of loops they use. They're focused entirely on problems they're solving, solutions they're creating, and algorithms they're implementing. So they write code in the way that seems natural, that happens intuitively, and that feels good.

But if you're serious about your profession, intuition isn't enough. Perl Best Practices author Damian Conway explains that rules, conventions, standards, and practices not only help programmers communicate and coordinate with one another, they also provide a reliable framework for thinking about problems, and a common language for expressing solutions. This is especially critical in Perl, because the language is designed to offer many ways to accomplish the same task, and consequently it supports many incompatible dialects.

With a good dose of Aussie humor, Dr. Conway (familiar to many in the Perl community) offers 256 guidelines on the art of coding to help you write better Perl code--in fact, the best Perl code you possibly can. The guidelines cover code layout, naming conventions, choice of data and control structures, program decomposition, interface design and implementation, modularity, object orientation, error handling, testing, and debugging.

They're designed to work together to produce code that is clear, robust, efficient, maintainable, and concise, but Dr. Conway doesn't pretend that this is the one true universal and unequivocal set of best practices. Instead, Perl Best Practices offers coherent and widely applicable suggestions based on real-world experience of how code is actually written, rather than on someone's ivory-tower theories on howsoftware ought to be created.

Most of all, Perl Best Practices offers guidelines that actually work, and that many developers around the world are already using. Much like Perl itself, these guidelines are about helping you to get your job done, without getting in the way.

Praise for Perl Best Practices from Perl community members:

"As a manager of a large Perl project, I'd ensure that every member of my team has a copy of Perl Best Practices on their desk, and use it as the basis for an in-house style guide."-- Randal Schwartz

"There are no more excuses for writing bad Perl programs. All levels of Perl programmer will be more productive after reading this book."-- Peter Scott

"Perl Best Practices will be the next big important book in the evolution of Perl. The ideas and practices Damian lays down will help bring Perl out from under the embarrassing heading of "scripting languages". Many of us have known Perl is a real programming language, worthy of all the tasks normally delegated to Java and C++. With Perl Best Practices, Damian shows specifically how and why, so everyone else can see, too."-- Andy Lester

"Damian's done what many thought impossible: show how to build large, maintainable Perl applications, while still letting Perl be the powerful, expressive language that programmers have loved for years."-- Bill Odom

"Finally, a means to bring lasting order to the process and product of real Perl development teams."-- Andrew Sundstrom

"Perl Best Practices provides a valuable education in how to write robust, maintainable Perl, and is a definitive citation source when coaching other programmers."-- Bennett Todd"I've been teaching Perl for years, and find the same question keeps being asked: Where can I find a reference for writing reusable, maintainable Perl code? Finally I have a decent answer."-- Paul Fenwick"At last a well researched, well thought-out, comprehensive guide to Perl style. Instead of each of us developing our own, we can learn good practices from one of Perl's most prolific and experienced authors. I recommend this book to anyone who prefers getting on with the job rather than going back and fixing errors caused by syntax and poor style issues."-- Jacinta Richardson"If you care about programming in any language read this book. Even if you don't intend to follow all of the practices, thinking through your style will improve it."-- Steven Lembark"The Perl community's best author is back with another outstanding book. There has never been a comprehensive reference on high quality Perl coding and style until Perl Best Practices. This book fills a large gap in every Perl bookshelf."-- Uri Guttman

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"If you are looking for a book to teach you how to program Perl, this is definitely not what you need. Also, if you are cranking out quick Perl scripts to solve one-time tasks, it might not be worth the effort to read this book. However, if you are fairly comfortable with the language and are looking for ways to improve your code, this book would be a wonderful addition to your bookshelf." - James Mohr, Linux Magazine, November 2005

Book Description

Standards and Styles for Developing Maintainable Code

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  49 reviews
54 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book has changed my life Sept. 12 2006
By Eric J. Wu - Published on
This is a must-read for any Perl programmer. You are only as good as the teachers you have, and if your teachers use stuff like $|++, you are screwed. In this case, Conway would tell you to Use English;, and then you'd know what a $| is. A sampling of other tips:

Don't modify via $_ (too easy to screw things up)
Use hashes for arguments if arguments > 3 (trackability)
Use Croak instead of die (Croak gives more info, better for debugging)
Use ' ' instead of " " when no interpolation (less ambiguity)
Don't use unless (complication and confusion).
use /xms in regexes (for readability, and avoiding mistakes)
test when closing or opening a file

A few of the reviews here are 1 star. IMO these are people to which "freedom" is more important than "group code maintainability". This should really be the third Perl book for anybody, after Learning Perl and Intermediate Perl.

For those wanting to test their code against this book, there is a Perl Module, Perl::Critic, that does the job.
56 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gutsy, well researched and written Aug. 2 2005
By Jack D. Herrington - Published on
I love this book, and I'm impressed with the guts it took to write it. Perl is a "there are many ways to do it" language, and Perl programmers are adamant about finding clever solutions in the language. This book sets down a set of guidelines for the most professional way to do it. And in so doing pays Perl a lot more respect than it's paid in other books.

I strongly recommend that anyone writing Perl professionally should read this. But I do have an issue or two with it. For example, I think it was wrong to start off with a rule about brackets. That's one thing that people are religious about and there is no real reason to go one way or another. That starts the book on a weak premise. From which it quickly recovers.

Overall, a fantastic book. Well written and researched. It's the kind of book I would expect from Damian Conway and I wasn't let down. A must-read for Perl programmers.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you program in Perl, you need this book Aug. 3 2005
By Randy Giedrycz - Published on
What a great book. If you have experience programming in Perl you will truely appreciate the hard won insights of the author. As I read through the author's tips and guidelines for Perl programming I would constantly find myself thinking 'what a great idea' or 'why didn't I think of that'. We are always told in programming 'don't reinvent the wheel', as advice to find code already written to solve our problem. Well, with this book you can do something just as good regarding the learning process of Perl programming. Following the author's guidelines will save you countless hours by making you a better Perl programmer. I wish I had this book about 5 years ago, it would have improved my Perl programming ten fold. Better late than never.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If only there were more books as good as this Dec 23 2005
By Felix Sheng - Published on
This book is probably one of the best tech books I've read. The topics he covers range quite a bit starting from the very beginning with programming style through documentation and error handline. Style is a contentious topic, if ever there was one, but he argues convincingly for each of the points he makes and gives practical reasons why it benefits you to code in a certain way. We've all heard many of these things before, but I've never been convinced that the particular way I coded was less good than any other proposed way - this book has changed my opinion on that.

He brings up so many topics, some well discussed and some more esoteric and presents practical benefits that almost anyone who reads it, I expect, will come away with some new habits. I think there are very few books I've ever read that could convince people to change their programming ways - years of developing versus a couple hours of reading. You may not agree with every point he makes, but he'll make you think about why you do certain things, and that can't but help make you a better programmer.

I can not recommend this book enough to any perl developer out there. If you're new to it or been doing it for years, this book is for you.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just get it Jan. 3 2007
By Kevin Benton - Published on
Please allow me to be presumptuous and say that if you don't have this book and you're looking at buying it, stop waiting and just get it. As my bookshelf gets more and more full, this is one of those gems that I borrowed from my library, then went out and bought. Other reviewers have done an excellent job of detailing contents so I won't bore you with those.

The goal of this book is teaching Perl programmers how to write their code for both readability and maintainability. We've all been there - we wrote code months or years ago, or we're just picking up someone else's code and we need to go back in and change something. The challenge is, whether it's been a long time or it's someone else's code, it takes time to remember what we were trying to do. If we are inconsistent in our coding style, it can be difficult to switch to the style of the code we're working in.

Example: (quoting the book, p 453)



Don't be clever.


Tied variables are a clever idea, but "cleverness" is the

natural enemy of maintainable code. Unfortunately, Perl

provides endless opportunities for cleverness.

For example, imagine coming across this result selector in

production code:

| $optimal_result = [$result1=>$result2]->[$result2=>$result1];

This syntactic symmetry is very elegant, of course, and

devising it obviously provided the original developer with

a welcome diversion from the tedium of everyday coding. But

a clever line of code like that is a (recurring) nightmare

to understand and to maintain, and imposes an unnecessary

burden on everyone in the development and maintenance teams.

Cleverness doesn't have to be nearly that flagrant either.

Having finally deduced that the example expression returns

the smaller of the two results, you would almost certainly

be tempted to immediately replace it with something like

the following:

| $optimal_result = $result1 <= $result2 ? $result1 : $result2;

While that's certainly an improvement in both readability

and efficiency, it still requires some careful thought to

verify that it's doing the right (i.e., minimizing) thing.

And everyone who maintains this code will still have to

decode that expression--possibly every time they come

across it.

However, it's also possible to write that same expression

in a way that's so obvious, straightforward, and plain-

spoken that it requires no effort at all to verify that

it implements the desired behaviour:

| use List::Util qw( min );


| $optimal_result = min($result1, $result2);

It's not "clever" and it's even marginally slower, but

it is clean, clear, efficient, scalable, and easy to

maintain. And that's always a much better choice.

Encapsulated Cleverness


If you must rely on cleverness, encapsulate it.


If you never buy this book, at least go to your local library and check it out.

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