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Chapter 1.  Advanced Techniques

 
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Chapter 1. Advanced Techniques

Once you have read the Camel Book (Programming Perl), or any other good Perl tutorial, you know almost all of the language. There are no secret keywords, no other magic sigils that turn on Perl's advanced mode and reveal hidden features. In one sense, this book is not going to tell you anything new about the Perl language.

What can I tell you, then? I used to be a student of music. Music is very simple. There are 12 possible notes in the scale of Western music, although some of the most wonderful melodies in the world only use, at most, eight of them. There are around four different durations of a note used in common melodies. There isn't a massive musical vocabulary to choose from. And music has been around a good deal longer than Perl. I used to wonder whether or not all the possible decent melodies would soon be figured out. Sometimes I listen to the Top 10 and think I was probably right back then.

But of course it's a bit more complicated than that. New music is still being produced. Knowing all the notes does not tell you the best way to put them together. I've said that there are no secret switches to turn on advanced features in Perl, and this means that everyone starts on a level playing field, in just the same way that Johann Sebastian Bach and a little kid playing with a xylophone have precisely the same raw materials to work with. The key to producing advanced Perlor advanced musicdepends on two things: knowledge of techniques and experience of what works and what doesn't.

The aim of this book is to give you some of each of these things. Of course, no book can impart experience. Experience is something that must be, well, experienced. However, a book like this can show you some existing solutions from experienced Perl programmers and how to use them to solve the problems you may be facing.

On the other hand, a book can certainly teach techniques, and in this chapter we're going to look at the three major classes of advanced programming techniques in Perl. First, we'll look at introspection: programs looking at programs, figuring out how they work, and changing them. For Perl this involves manipulating the symbol tableespecially at runtime, playing with the behavior of built-in functions and using AUTOLOAD to introduce new subroutines and control behavior of subroutine dispatch dynamically. We'll also briefly look at bytecode introspection, which is the ability to inspect some of the properties of the Perl bytecode tree to determine properties of the program.

The second idea we'll look at is the class model. Writing object-oriented programs and modules is sometimes regarded as advanced Perl, but I would categorize it as intermediate. As this is an advanced book, we're going to learn how to subvert Perl's object-oriented model to suit our goals.

Finally, there's the technique of what I call unexpected codecode that runs in places you might not expect it to. This means running code in place of operators in the case of overloading, some advanced uses of tying, and controlling when code runs using named blocks and eval.

These three areas, together with the special case of Perl XS programmingwhich we'll look at in Chapter 9 on Inlinedelineate the fundamental techniques from which all advanced uses of Perl are made up.

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