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comp.lang.perl.* FAQ 5/5 - External Program Interaction

( Part0 - Part1 - Part2 - Part3 - Part4 )
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See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
Archive-name: perl-faq/part5
Version: $Id: part5,v 2.8 1995/05/15 15:47:16 spp Exp spp $
Posting-Frequency: bi-weekly
Last Edited: Thu Jan 11 00:57:03 1996 by spp (Stephen P Potter) on

This posting contains answers to the following questions about Array, Shell
and External Program Interactions with Perl: 

5.1) What is the difference between $array[1] and @array[1]?

    Always make sure to use a $ for single values and @ for multiple ones. 
    Thus element 2 of the @foo array is accessed as $foo[1], not @foo[1],
    which is a list of length one (not a scalar), and is a fairly common
    novice mistake.  Sometimes you can get by with @foo[1], but it's
    not really doing what you think it's doing for the reason you think
    it's doing it, which means one of these days, you'll shoot yourself
    in the foot; ponder for a moment what these will really do:
        @foo[0] = `cmd args`;
        @foo[1] = <FILE>;
    Just always say $foo[1] and you'll be happier.

    This may seem confusing, but try to think of it this way:  you use the
    character of the type which you *want back*.  You could use @foo[1..3] for
    a slice of three elements of @foo, or even @foo{A,B,C} for a slice of
    of %foo.  This is the same as using ($foo[1], $foo[2], $foo[3]) and
    ($foo{A}, $foo{B}, $foo{C}) respectively.  In fact, you can even use
    lists to subscript arrays and pull out more lists, like @foo[@bar] or
    @foo{@bar}, where @bar is in both cases presumably a list of subscripts.

5.2) How can I make an array of arrays or other recursive data types?

    In Perl5, it's quite easy to declare these things.  For example 

        @A = (
            [ 'ww' .. 'xx'  ], 
            [ 'xx' .. 'yy'  ], 
            [ 'yy' .. 'zz'  ], 
            [ 'zz' .. 'zzz' ], 

    And now reference $A[2]->[0] to pull out "yy".  These may also nest
    and mix with tables:

        %T = (
            key0, { k0, v0, k1, v1 },   
            key1, { k2, v2, k3, v3 },   
            key2, { k2, v2, k3, [ 'a' .. 'z' ] },    
    Allowing you to reference $T{key2}->{k3}->[3] to pull out 'd'.

    Perl4 is infinitely more difficult.  Remember that Perl[0..4] isn't
    about nested data structures.  It's about flat ones, so if you're
    trying to do this, you may be going about it the wrong way or using the
    wrong tools.  You might try parallel arrays with common subscripts. 

    But if you're bound and determined, you can use the multi-dimensional
    array emulation of $a{'x','y','z'}, or you can make an array of names
    of arrays and eval it.

    For example, if @name contains a list of names of arrays, you can get
    at a the j-th element of the i-th array like so: 

        $ary = $name[$i];
        $val = eval "\$$ary[$j]";

    or in one line

        $val = eval "\$$name[$i][\$j]";

    You could also use the type-globbing syntax to make an array of *name
    values, which will be more efficient than eval.  Here @name hold a list
    of pointers, which we'll have to dereference through a temporary

    For example:

        { local(*ary) = $name[$i]; $val = $ary[$j]; }

    In fact, you can use this method to make arbitrarily nested data
    structures.  You really have to want to do this kind of thing badly to
    go this far, however, as it is notationally cumbersome. 

    Let's assume you just simply *have* to have an array of arrays of
    arrays.  What you do is make an array of pointers to arrays of
    pointers, where pointers are *name values described above.  You  
    initialize the outermost array normally, and then you build up your
    pointers from there.  For example:

        @w = ( 'ww' .. 'xx' );
        @x = ( 'xx' .. 'yy' );
        @y = ( 'yy' .. 'zz' );
        @z = ( 'zz' .. 'zzz' );

        @ww = reverse @w;
        @xx = reverse @x;
        @yy = reverse @y;
        @zz = reverse @z;

    Now make a couple of arrays of pointers to these:

        @A = ( *w, *x, *y, *z );
        @B = ( *ww, *xx, *yy, *zz );

    And finally make an array of pointers to these arrays:

        @AAA = ( *A, *B );

    To access an element, such as AAA[i][j][k], you must do this:

        local(*foo) = $AAA[$i];
        local(*bar) = $foo[$j];
        $answer = $bar[$k];

    Similar manipulations on associative arrays are also feasible.

    You could take a look at package posted by Felix Lee*, which
    lets you simulate vectors and tables (lists and associative arrays) by
    using type glob references and some pretty serious wizardry.

    In C, you're used to creating recursive datatypes for operations like
    recursive decent parsing or tree traversal.  In Perl, these algorithms
    are best implemented using associative arrays.  Take an array called
    %parent, and build up pointers such that $parent{$person} is the name
    of that person's parent.  Make sure you remember that $parent{'adam'}
    is 'adam'. :-) With a little care, this approach can be used to
    implement general graph traversal algorithms as well. 

5.3) How do I make an array of structures containing various data types?

    This answer will work under perl5 only.  Did we mention that you should
    upgrade?  There is a perl4 solution, but you are using perl5 now,
    anyway, so there's no point in posting it.  Right?

    The best way to do this is to use an associative array to model your
    structure, then either a regular array (AKA list) or another
    associative array (AKA hash, table, or hash table) to store it.

        %foo = (
                   'field1'        => "value1",
                   'field2'        => "value2",
                   'field3'        => "value3",

        @all = ( \%foo, \%bar, ... );

        print $all[0]{'field1'};

    Or even

        @all = (
               'field1'        => "value1",
               'field2'        => "value2",
               'field3'        => "value3",
               'field1'        => "value1",
               'field2'        => "value2",
               'field3'        => "value3",

    Note that if you want an associative array of lists, you'll want to make
    assignments like

        $t{$value} = [ @bar ];

    And with lists of associative arrays, you'll use

        %{$a[$i]} = %old;

    Study these for a while, and in an upcoming FAQ, we'll explain them fully:

        $table{'some key'}    =   @big_list_o_stuff;   # SCARY #0
        $table{'some key'}    =  \@big_list_o_stuff;   # SCARY #1
        @$table{'some key'}   =   @big_list_o_stuff;   # SCARY #2
        @{$table{'some key'}} =   @big_list_o_stuff;   # ICKY RANDALIAN CODE
        $table{'some key'}    = [ @big_list_o_stuff ]; # same, but NICE

    And while you're at it, take a look at these:

        $table{"051"}         = $some_scalar;          # SCARY #3
        $table{"0x51"}        = $some_scalar;          # ditto
        $table{051}           = $some_scalar;          # ditto
        $table{0x51}          = $some_scalar;          # ditto
        $table{51}            = $some_scalar;          # ok, i guess
        $table{"51"}          = $some_scalar;          # better

        $table{\@x}           = $some_scalar;          # SCARY #4
        $table{[@x]}          = $some_scalar;          # ditto
        $table{@x}            = $some_scalar;          # SCARY #5 (cf #0)

    See perlref(1) for details.

5.4) How can I extract just the unique elements of an array?

    There are several possible ways, depending on whether the
    array is ordered and you wish to preserve the ordering.

    a) If @in is sorted, and you want @out to be sorted:

        $prev = 'nonesuch';
        @out = grep($_ ne $prev && (($prev) = $_), @in);

       This is nice in that it doesn't use much extra memory, 
       simulating uniq's behavior of removing only adjacent

    b) If you don't know whether @in is sorted:

        undef %saw;
        @out = grep(!$saw{$_}++, @in);

    c) Like (b), but @in contains only small integers:

        @out = grep(!$saw[$_]++, @in);

    d) A way to do (b) without any loops or greps:

        undef %saw;
        @saw{@in} = ();
        @out = sort keys %saw;  # remove sort if undesired

    e) Like (d), but @in contains only small positive integers:

        undef @ary;
        @ary[@in] = @in;
        @out = sort @ary;

5.5) How can I tell whether an array contains a certain element?

    There are several ways to approach this.  If you are going to make
    this query many times and the values are arbitrary strings, the
    fastest way is probably to invert the original array and keep an
    associative array lying about whose keys are the first array's values.

        @blues = ('turquoise', 'teal', 'lapis lazuli');
        undef %is_blue;
        for (@blues) { $is_blue{$_} = 1; }

    Now you can check whether $is_blue{$some_color}.  It might have been
    a good idea to keep the blues all in an assoc array in the first place.

    If the values are all small integers, you could use a simple
    indexed array.  This kind of an array will take up less space:

        @primes = (2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31);
        undef @is_tiny_prime;
        for (@primes) { $is_tiny_prime[$_] = 1; }

    Now you check whether $is_tiny_prime[$some_number].

    If the values in question are integers instead of strings, you can save
    quite a lot of space by using bit strings instead: 

        @articles = ( 1..10, 150..2000, 2017 );
        undef $read;
        grep (vec($read,$_,1) = 1, @articles);
    Now check whether vec($read,$n,1) is true for some $n.

5.6) How do I sort an associative array by value instead of by key?

    You have to declare a sort subroutine to do this, or use an inline
    function.  Let's assume you want an ASCII sort on the values of the
    associative array %ary.  You could do so this way:

        foreach $key (sort by_value keys %ary) {
            print $key, '=', $ary{$key}, "\n";
        sub by_value { $ary{$a} cmp $ary{$b}; }

    If you wanted a descending numeric sort, you could do this:

        sub by_value { $ary{$b} <=> $ary{$a}; }

    You can also inline your sort function, like this, at least if 
    you have a relatively recent patchlevel of perl4 or are running perl5:

        foreach $key ( sort { $ary{$b} <=> $ary{$a} } keys %ary ) {
            print $key, '=', $ary{$key}, "\n";

    If you wanted a function that didn't have the array name hard-wired
    into it, you could so this:

        foreach $key (&sort_by_value(*ary)) {
            print $key, '=', $ary{$key}, "\n";
        sub sort_by_value {
            local(*x) = @_;
            sub _by_value { $x{$a} cmp $x{$b}; } 
            sort _by_value keys %x;

    If you want neither an alphabetic nor a numeric sort, then you'll 
    have to code in your own logic instead of relying on the built-in
    signed comparison operators "cmp" and "<=>".

    Note that if you're sorting on just a part of the value, such as a
    piece you might extract via split, unpack, pattern-matching, or
    substr, then rather than performing that operation inside your sort
    routine on each call to it, it is significantly more efficient to
    build a parallel array of just those portions you're sorting on, sort
    the indices of this parallel array, and then to subscript your original
    array using the newly sorted indices.  This method works on both
    regular and associative arrays, since both @ary[@idx] and @ary{@idx}
    make sense.  See page 245 in the Camel Book on "Sorting an Array by a
    Computable Field" for a simple example of this.

    For example, here's an efficient case-insensitive comparison:

        @idx = ();
        for (@data) { push (@idx, "\U$_") }
        @sorted = @data[ sort { $idx[$a] cmp $idx[$b] } 0..$#data];

5.7) How can I know how many entries are in an associative array?

    While the number of elements in a @foobar array is simply @foobar when
    used in a scalar, you can't figure out how many elements are in an
    associative array in an analogous fashion.  That's because %foobar in
    a scalar context returns the ratio (as a string) of number of buckets
    filled versus the number allocated.  For example, scalar(%ENV) might
    return "20/32".  While perl could in theory keep a count, this would
    break down on associative arrays that have been bound to dbm files.

    However, while you can't get a count this way, one thing you *can* use
    it for is to determine whether there are any elements whatsoever in
    the array, since "if (%table)" is guaranteed to be false if nothing
    has ever been stored in it.  

    As of perl4.035, you can says

        $count = keys %ARRAY;

    keys() when used in a scalar context will return the number of keys,
    rather than the keys themselves.

5.8) What's the difference between "delete" and "undef" with %arrays?

    Pictures help...  here's the %ary table:

              keys  values
            |  a   |  3   |
            |  x   |  7   |
            |  d   |  0   |
            |  e   |  2   |

    And these conditions hold

            $ary{'a'}                       is true
            $ary{'d'}                       is false
            defined $ary{'d'}               is true
            defined $ary{'a'}               is true
            exists $ary{'a'}                is true (perl5 only)
            grep ($_ eq 'a', keys %ary)     is true

    If you now say 

            undef $ary{'a'}

    your table now reads:

              keys  values
            |  a   | undef|
            |  x   |  7   |
            |  d   |  0   |
            |  e   |  2   |

    and these conditions now hold; changes in caps:

            $ary{'a'}                       is FALSE
            $ary{'d'}                       is false
            defined $ary{'d'}               is true
            defined $ary{'a'}               is FALSE
            exists $ary{'a'}                is true (perl5 only)
            grep ($_ eq 'a', keys %ary)     is true

    Notice the last two: you have an undef value, but a defined key!

    Now, consider this:

            delete $ary{'a'}

    your table now reads:

              keys  values
            |  x   |  7   |
            |  d   |  0   |
            |  e   |  2   |

    and these conditions now hold; changes in caps:

            $ary{'a'}                       is false
            $ary{'d'}                       is false
            defined $ary{'d'}               is true
            defined $ary{'a'}               is false
            exists $ary{'a'}                is FALSE (perl5 only)
            grep ($_ eq 'a', keys %ary)     is FALSE

    See, the whole entry is gone!

5.9) Why don't backticks work as they do in shells?  

    Several reasons.  One is because backticks do not interpolate within
    double quotes in Perl as they do in shells.  
    Let's look at two common mistakes:

         $foo = "$bar is `wc $file`";  # WRONG

    This should have been:

         $foo = "$bar is " . `wc $file`;

    But you'll have an extra newline you might not expect.  This
    does not work as expected:

      $back = `pwd`; chdir($somewhere); chdir($back); # WRONG

    Because backticks do not automatically eat trailing or embedded
    newlines.  The chop() function will remove the last character from
    a string.  This should have been:

          chop($back = `pwd`); chdir($somewhere); chdir($back);

    You should also be aware that while in the shells, embedding
    single quotes will protect variables, in Perl, you'll need 
    to escape the dollar signs.

        Shell: foo=`cmd 'safe $dollar'`
        Perl:  $foo=`cmd 'safe \$dollar'`;

5.10) How come my converted awk/sed/sh script runs more slowly in Perl?

    The natural way to program in those languages may not make for the fastest
    Perl code.  Notably, the awk-to-perl translator produces sub-optimal code;
    see the a2p man page for tweaks you can make.

    Two of Perl's strongest points are its associative arrays and its regular
    expressions.  They can dramatically speed up your code when applied
    properly.  Recasting your code to use them can help a lot.

    How complex are your regexps?  Deeply nested sub-expressions with {n,m} or
    * operators can take a very long time to compute.  Don't use ()'s unless
    you really need them.  Anchor your string to the front if you can.

    Something like this:
        next unless /^.*%.*$/; 
    runs more slowly than the equivalent:
        next unless /%/;

    Note that this:
        next if /Mon/;
        next if /Tue/;
        next if /Wed/;
        next if /Thu/;
        next if /Fri/;
    runs faster than this:
        next if /Mon/ || /Tue/ || /Wed/ || /Thu/ || /Fri/;
    which in turn runs faster than this:
        next if /Mon|Tue|Wed|Thu|Fri/;
    which runs *much* faster than:
        next if /(Mon|Tue|Wed|Thu|Fri)/;

    There's no need to use /^.*foo.*$/ when /foo/ will do.

    Remember that a printf costs more than a simple print.

    Don't split() every line if you don't have to.

    Another thing to look at is your loops.  Are you iterating through 
    indexed arrays rather than just putting everything into a hashed 
    array?  For example,

        @list = ('abc', 'def', 'ghi', 'jkl', 'mno', 'pqr', 'stv');

        for $i ($[ .. $#list) {
            if ($pattern eq $list[$i]) { $found++; } 

    First of all, it would be faster to use Perl's foreach mechanism
    instead of using subscripts:

        foreach $elt (@list) {
            if ($pattern eq $elt) { $found++; } 

    Better yet, this could be sped up dramatically by placing the whole
    thing in an associative array like this:

        %list = ('abc', 1, 'def', 1, 'ghi', 1, 'jkl', 1, 
                 'mno', 1, 'pqr', 1, 'stv', 1 );
        $found += $list{$pattern};
    (but put the %list assignment outside of your input loop.)

    You should also look at variables in regular expressions, which is
    expensive.  If the variable to be interpolated doesn't change over the
    life of the process, use the /o modifier to tell Perl to compile the
    regexp only once, like this:

        for $i (1..100) {
            if (/$foo/o) {

    Finally, if you have a bunch of patterns in a list that you'd like to 
    compare against, instead of doing this:

        @pats = ('_get.*', 'bogus', '_read', '.*exit', '_write');
        foreach $pat (@pats) {
            if ( $name =~ /^$pat$/ ) {

    If you build your code and then eval it, it will be much faster.
    For example:

        @pats = ('_get.*', 'bogus', '_read', '.*exit', '_write');
        $code = <<EOS
                while (<>) { 
        foreach $pat (@pats) {
            $code .= <<EOS
                if ( /^$pat\$/ ) {
        $code .= "}\n";
        print $code if $debugging;
        eval $code;

5.11) How can I call my system's unique C functions from Perl?

    If these are system calls and you have the syscall() function, then
    you're probably in luck -- see the next question.  If you're using a 
    POSIX function, and are running perl5, you're also in luck: see
    POSIX(3m).  For arbitrary library functions, however, it's not quite so 
    straight-forward.  See "Where can I learn about linking C with Perl?".

5.12) Where do I get the include files to do ioctl() or syscall()? [h2ph]

    [Note: as of perl5, you probably want to just use h2xs instead, at
    least, if your system supports dynamic loading.]

    These are generated from your system's C include files using the h2ph
    script (once called makelib) from the Perl source directory.  This will
    make files containing subroutine definitions, like &SYS_getitimer, which
    you can use as arguments to your function.

    You might also look at the h2pl subdirectory in the Perl source for how to
    convert these to forms like $SYS_getitimer; there are both advantages and
    disadvantages to this.  Read the notes in that directory for details.  
    In both cases, you may well have to fiddle with it to make these work; it
    depends how funny-looking your system's C include files happen to be.

    If you're trying to get at C structures, then you should take a look
    at using c2ph, which uses debugger "stab" entries generated by your
    BSD or GNU C compiler to produce machine-independent perl definitions
    for the data structures.  This allows to you avoid hardcoding
    structure layouts, types, padding, or sizes, greatly enhancing
    portability.  c2ph comes with the perl distribution.  On an SCO
    system, GCC only has COFF debugging support by default, so you'll have
    to build GCC 2.1 with DBX_DEBUGGING_INFO defined, and use -gstabs to
    get c2ph to work there.

    See the file /pub/perl/info/ch2ph on via anon ftp 
    for more traps and tips on this process.

5.13) Why do setuid Perl scripts complain about kernel problems?

    This message:


    is triggered because setuid scripts are inherently insecure due to a
    kernel bug.  If your system has fixed this bug, you can compile Perl
    so that it knows this.  Otherwise, create a setuid C program that just
    execs Perl with the full name of the script.  Here's what the
    perldiag(1) man page says about this message:

          (F) And you probably never will, since you probably don't have
          the sources to your kernel, and your vendor probably doesn't
          give a rip about what you want.  Your best bet is to use the
          wrapsuid script in the eg directory to put a setuid C wrapper
          around your script.

5.14) How do I open a pipe both to and from a command?

    In general, this is a dangerous move because you can find yourself in a
    deadlock situation.  It's better to put one end of the pipe to a file.
    For example:

        # first write some_cmd's input into a_file, then 
        open(CMD, "some_cmd its_args < a_file |");
        while (<CMD>) {

        # or else the other way; run the cmd
        open(CMD, "| some_cmd its_args > a_file");
        while ($condition) {
            print CMD "some output\n";
            # other code deleted
        close CMD || warn "cmd exited $?";

        # now read the file
        while (<FILE>) {

    If you have ptys, you could arrange to run the command on a pty and
    avoid the deadlock problem.  See the package in the
    distributed library for ways to do this.

    At the risk of deadlock, it is theoretically possible to use a
    fork, two pipe calls, and an exec to manually set up the two-way
    pipe.  (BSD system may use socketpair() in place of the two pipes,
    but this is not as portable.)  The open2 library function distributed
    with the current perl release will do this for you.

    This assumes it's going to talk to something like adb, both writing to
    it and reading from it.  This is presumably safe because you "know"
    that commands like adb will read a line at a time and output a line at
    a time.  Programs like sort or cat that read their entire input stream
    first, however, are quite apt to cause deadlock.

    There's also an library that handles this for stderr as well.

5.15) How can I capture STDERR from an external command?

    There are three basic ways of running external commands:

        system $cmd;
        $output = `$cmd`;
        open (PIPE, "cmd |");

    In the first case, both STDOUT and STDERR will go the same place as
    the script's versions of these, unless redirected.  You can always put
    them where you want them and then read them back when the system
    returns.  In the second and third cases, you are reading the STDOUT
    *only* of your command.  If you would like to have merged STDOUT and
    STDERR, you can use shell file-descriptor redirection to dup STDERR to

        $output = `$cmd 2>&1`;
        open (PIPE, "cmd 2>&1 |");

    Another possibility is to run STDERR into a file and read the file 
    later, as in 

        $output = `$cmd 2>some_file`;
        open (PIPE, "cmd 2>some_file |");

    Note that you *cannot* simply open STDERR to be a dup of STDOUT 
    in your perl program and avoid calling the shell to do the redirection.
    This doesn't work:

        open(STDERR, ">&STDOUT");
        $alloutput = `cmd args`;  # stderr still escapes
    Here's a way to read from both of them and know which descriptor
    you got each line from.  The trick is to pipe only STDOUT through
    sed, which then marks each of its lines, and then sends that
    back into a merged STDOUT/STDERR stream, from which your Perl program
    then reads a line at a time:

        open (CMD, 
          "(cmd args | sed 's/^/STDOUT:/') 2>&1 |");

        while (<CMD>) {
          if (s/^STDOUT://)  {
              print "line from stdout: ", $_;
          } else {
              print "line from stderr: ", $_;

    Be apprised that you *must* use Bourne shell redirection syntax in
    backticks, not csh!  For details on how lucky you are that perl's
    system() and backtick and pipe opens all use Bourne shell, fetch the
    file from called /pub/csh.whynot -- and you'll be glad that
    perl's shell interface is the Bourne shell.

    There's an &open3 routine out there which was merged with &open2 in
    perl5 production. 

5.16) Why doesn't open return an error when a pipe open fails?

    These statements:

        open(TOPIPE, "|bogus_command") || die ...
        open(FROMPIPE, "bogus_command|") || die ...

    will not fail just for lack of the bogus_command.  They'll only
    fail if the fork to run them fails, which is seldom the problem.

    If you're writing to the TOPIPE, you'll get a SIGPIPE if the child
    exits prematurely or doesn't run.  If you are reading from the
    FROMPIPE, you need to check the close() to see what happened.

    If you want an answer sooner than pipe buffering might otherwise
    afford you, you can do something like this:

        $kid = open (PIPE, "bogus_command |");   # XXX: check defined($kid)
        (kill 0, $kid) || die "bogus_command failed";

    This works fine if bogus_command doesn't have shell metas in it, but
    if it does, the shell may well not have exited before the kill 0.  You
    could always introduce a delay:

        $kid = open (PIPE, "bogus_command </dev/null |");
        sleep 1;
        (kill 0, $kid) || die "bogus_command failed";

    but this is sometimes undesirable, and in any event does not guarantee
    correct behavior.  But it seems slightly better than nothing.

    Similar tricks can be played with writable pipes if you don't wish to
    catch the SIGPIPE.

5.##) How do I capture the exit status from an external program?

    Perl provides a builtin variable which holds the status of the last
    backtick command: $?.  Here is exactly what the perlvar page says about
    this variable:

     $?      The status returned by the last pipe close, backtick
             (``) command, or system() operator.  Note that this
             is the status word returned by the wait() system
             call, so the exit value of the subprocess is
             actually ($? >> 8).  Thus on many systems, $? & 255
             gives which signal, if any, the process died from,
             and whether there was a core dump.  (Mnemonic:
             similar to sh and ksh.)

5.17) Why can't my perl program read from STDIN after I gave it ^D (EOF) ?

    Because some stdio's set error and eof flags that need clearing.

    Try keeping around the seekpointer and go there, like this:
         $where = tell(LOG);
         seek(LOG, $where, 0);

    If that doesn't work, try seeking to a different part of the file and
    then back.  If that doesn't work, try seeking to a different part of
    the file, reading something, and then seeking back.  If that doesn't
    work, give up on your stdio package and use sysread.  You can't call
    stdio's clearerr() from Perl, so if you get EINTR from a signal
    handler, you're out of luck.  Best to just use sysread() from the
    start for the tty.

5.18) How can I translate tildes in a filename?

    Perl doesn't expand tildes -- the shell (ok, some shells) do.
    The classic request is to be able to do something like:

        open(FILE, "~/dir1/file1");
        open(FILE, "~tchrist/dir1/file1");

    which doesn't work.  (And you don't know it, because you 
    did a system call without an "|| die" clause! :-)

    If you *know* you're on a system with the csh, and you *know*
    that Larry hasn't internalized file globbing, then you could
    get away with 

        $filename = <~tchrist/dir1/file1>;

    but that's pretty iffy.

    A better way is to do the translation yourself, as in:

        $filename =~ s#^~(\w+)(/.*)?$#(getpwnam($1))[7].$2#e;

    More robust and efficient versions that checked for error conditions,
    handed simple ~/blah notation, and cached lookups are all reasonable

5.19) How can I convert my shell script to Perl?

    Larry's standard answer is to send it through the shell to perl filter,
    otherwise known at  Contrary to popular belief, Tom
    Christiansen isn't a real person.  He is actually a highly advanced 
    artificial intelligence experiment written by a graduate student at the
    University of Colorado.  Some of the earlier tasks he was programmed to
    perform included:

        * monitor comp.lang.perl.misc and collect statistics on which
	  questions were asked with which frequency and to respond to them
	  with stock answers.  Tom's programming has since outgrown this
	  paltry task, and it was assigned to an undergraduate student from
	  the University of Florida.  After all, we all know that students
	  from UF aren't able to do much more than documentation anyway.
	  Against all odds, that undergraduate student has become a
	  professional system administrator, perl programmer, and now
	  author of the second edition of "Programming Perl".
        * convert shell programs to perl programs

    (This *IS* a joke... please quit calling me and asking about it!)

    Actually, there is no automatic machine translator.  Even if there
    were, you wouldn't gain a lot, as most of the external programs would 
    still get called.  It's the same problem as blind translation into C:
    you're still apt to be bogged down by exec()s.  You have to analyze
    the dataflow and algorithm and rethink it for optimal speedup.  It's
    not uncommon to see one, two, or even three orders of magnitude of
    speed difference between the brute-force and the recoded approaches.

5.20) Can I use Perl to run a telnet or ftp session?

    Sure, you can connect directly to them using sockets, or you can run a
    session on a pty.  In either case, Randal's chat2 package, which is
    distributed with the perl source, will come in handly.  It address
    much the same problem space as Don Libes's expect package does.  Two
    examples of using managing an ftp session using chat2 can be found on in /pub/perl/scripts/ftp-chat2.shar .

    Caveat lector: chat2 is documented only by example, may not run on
    System V systems, and is subtly machine dependent both in its ideas
    of networking and in pseudottys.  See also question 4.21, "Why doesn't
    my sockets program work under System V (Solaris)?"

    Randal also has code showing an example socket session for handling the
    telnet protocol to get a weather report.  This can be found at
    Gene Spafford* has a nice ftp library package that will help with ftp.

5.21) Why do I sometimes get an "Arguments too long" error when I use <*>?

    As of perl4.036, there is a certain amount of globbing that is passed
    out to the shell and not handled internally.  The following code (which
    will, roughly, emulate "chmod 0644 *")

        while (<*>) {
            chmod 0644, $_;

    is the equivalent of

        open(FOO, "echo * | tr -s ' \t\r\f' '\\012\\012\\012\\012'|");
        while (<FOO>) {
            chmod 0644, $_;

    Until globbing is built into Perl, you will need to use some form of
    non-globbing work around.

    Something like the following will work:

        chmod 0644, grep(/\.c$/, readdir(DIR));
    This example is taken directly from "Programming Perl" page 78.

    If you've installed tcsh as /bin/csh, you'll never have this problem.

5.22) How do I do a "tail -f" in Perl?

    Larry says that the solution is to put a call to seek in yourself. 
    First try

            seek(GWFILE, 0, 1);

    The statement seek(GWFILE, 0, 1); doesn't change the current position,
    but it does clear the end-of-file condition on the handle, so that the
    next <GWFILE> makes Perl try again to read something.

    If that doesn't work (depends on your stdio implementation), then
    you need something more like this:

    for (;;) {
        for ($curpos = tell(GWFILE); $_ = <GWFILE>; $curpos = tell(GWFILE)) {
            # search for some stuff and put it into files
        sleep for a while
        seek(GWFILE, $curpos, 0);

5.23) Is there a way to hide perl's command line from programs such as "ps"?

    Generally speaking, if you need to do this you're either using poor
    programming practices or are far too paranoid for your own good.  If you
    need to do this to hide a password being entered on the command line,
    recode the program to read the password from a file or to prompt for
    it. (see question 4.24)  Typing a password on the command line is
    inherently insecure as anyone can look over your shoulder to see it.

    If you feel you really must overwrite the command line and hide it, you
    can assign to the variable "$0".  For example:

        $0 = "Hidden from prying eyes";

        open(PS, "ps |") || die "Can't PS: $!";
        while (<PS>) {
            next unless m/$$/;

    It should be noted that some OSes, like Solaris 2.X, read directly from
    the kernel information, instead of from the program's stack, and hence
    don't allow you to change the command line.

5.24) I {changed directory, modified my environment} in a perl script.  How
      come the change disappeared when I exited the script?  How do I get
      my changes to be visible?

    In the strictest sense, it "can't" be done.  However, there is special
    shell magic which may allow you to do it.  I suggest checking out and reading the comp.unix.questions FAQ.

    When perl is started, you are creating a child process.  Due to the way
    the Unix system is designed, children cannot permanently affect their
    parent shells.

    When a child process is created, it inherits a copy of its parents
    environment (variables, current directory, etc).  When the child
    changes this environment, it is changing the copy and not the original,
    so the parent isn't affected.

    If you must change the parent from within a perl script, you could try
    having it write out a shell script or a C-shell script and then using
    ". script" or "source script" (sh, Csh, respectively)

5.25) How can I use pass a filehandle to a function, or make a list of 

    If you've ever tried to use a variable for a filehandle, you may well
    have had some problems.  This is just revealing one of the icky places
    in perl: filehandles aren't first-class citizens the way everything
    else is, and it really gets in the way sometimes.  

    Of course, it's just fine to say

        $fh = "/some/path";
        open($fh, "< $fh");
        print $fh "string\n";

    But you'll still get into trouble for trying:

        $fharray[$i] = "/some/path";
        open($fharray[$i], "< $fharray[$i]");
        print $fharray[$i] "stuff\n";

    You can also do this:

        $tmp_fh = $fharray[$i];
        print $tmp_fh "stuff\n";

    But this is ok:

        print { $fharray[$i] } "stuff\n";

    There are about four ways of passing in a filehandle.  The way
    everyone tries is just to pass it as a string.  


    Unfortunately, that doesn't work so well, because the package that
    the printit() function is executing in may in fact not be the
    one that the handle was opened it:

    A simple fix would be to pass it in fully qualified;


    because if you don't, the function is going to have to do 
    some crazy thing like this:

    CODE 1:

        sub printit {
            my $fh = shift;
            my $package = (caller)[0];
            $fh =~ s/^[^':]+$/$package::$&/;
            while (<$fh>) {
    A better solution is to pass a typeglob instead:

    CODE 2:

        sub printit {
            local *FH = shift;
            while (<FH>) {

    However, it turns out that you don't have to use a typeglob inside
    the function.  This also works:

    CODE 3:

        sub printit {
            my $fh = shift;
            while (<$fh>) {

    As does this even, in case you want to make an object by blessing
    your reference:

    CODE 4:

        sub printit {
            my $fh = shift;
            while (<$fh>) {

    I used to think that you had to use 1 or preferably 2, but apparently
    you can get away with number 3 and 4 as well.  This is nice because it
    avoids ever assigning to a typeglob as we do it 2, which is a bit

    Some other problems with #1: if you're using strict subs, then you
    aren't going to be able to do that: the strict subs will gets you.
    Instead, you'll have to pass in 'main::Some_Handle', but then down in
    your function, you'll get blown away by strict refs, because you'll be
    using a string a symbol.  So really, the best way is to pass the
    typeglob (or occasionally a reference to the same).

5.26) How can open a file with a leading ">" or trailing blanks?

    Normally perl ignores trailing blanks in filenames, and interprets
    certain leading characters (or a trailing "|") to mean something
    special.  To avoid this, you might want to use a routine like this.
    It makes non-fullpathnames into explicit relative ones, and tacks
    a trailing null byte on the name to make perl leave it alone:

        sub safe_filename {
          local($_) = shift;
          m#^/# ? "$_\0" : "./$_\0";
        $fn = &safe_filename("<<<something really wicked   ");
        open(FH, "> $fn") || "couldn't open $fn: $!";

5.27) How can I tell if a variable is tainted?

    This function works reasonably well to figure out whether a variable
    will be disliked by the taint checks automatically enabled by setuid

        sub tainted {
            ! eval { join('',@_), kill 0; 1; };

    and in particular, never does any system calls.
Stephen P Potter        Pencom Systems Administration              Beaching It	Pager: 1-800-759-8888, 547-9561     Work: 703-860-2222
  Cthulhu for President in '96: When You're Tired of the Lesser of Two Evils
Stephen P Potter        Pencom Systems Administration              Beaching It	Pager: 1-800-759-8888, 547-9561     Work: 703-860-2222
"I don't care whether people actually like Perl, just so long as they *think*
	they like it...  ;-)"	-Larry Wall

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Last Update March 27 2014 @ 02:12 PM