Chapter 1 РPerl Introduction

What is it?
Perl was one of the first successful computer languages ever written, through its years of existence the contributors of the language have made it one of the the most robust and powerful languages available for personal or commercial use. Perl is short for Practical Extraction Report Language, because that’s what it is. It creates and extracts data on the fly with remarkable speed and efficiency.

You will often times hear the words Perl and CGI together as if they’re one and the same. It’s safe to think this, as CGI is a module built for Perl, the main difference is CGI is typically OOP (object-oriented programming) while Perl itself usually is not. CGI is short for Common Gateway Interface which is a great name because it’s Perl’s interface to work on the web.

What does it do?
Since this is one of the fastest computer languages, Perl makes a great report processing and retrieval language. You can parse hundreds of thousands of lines of code from a text file in just fractions of a second.

Some very common uses for Perl or CGI include: data extraction, encryption, contact forms, guestbooks, full ecommerce sites, web parsers and web bots, search engines, image manipulation, security, and game development.

What can’t it do?
It can do nearly anything you can think of when working in solely on your own computer (the greatest limitation is the operating system itself). You can create graphics, setup password scripts, encrypt files, track users, etc. But on the web, its only limitation is the fact it’s a server-side language and not client-side.

This means that the content created using Perl/CGI is not dynamic and all of its work is completed at the time the page loads. This is unlike JavaScript which can have content change at any given time. A simple example of this would be a contact form. The fields can’t be checked or verified on the page that just loaded, the page has to reload or redirect before Perl/CGI can process this information.

What do I need?
If you want to run Perl scripts on your own computer and you’re on Windows or Mac, you’ll need to download ActiveState Perl. You should do your best to download the latest and greatest version available.¬† At the time of writing this article, the latest version is 5.8.6.

To use CGI, you’ll either need your own server or a server hosted online. Your server or web host must have access to the CGI module. If it doesn’t, you will not be able to use web based Perl scripts. There are many free servers out there that do allow CGI and nearly all paid hosts will.

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