Open SourcePerl 5.12 Debuts as Open Source Language Progresses

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Perl is getting an update this week that will advance the open source development language with new capabilities.

With Perl 5.12, support is being added for pluggable keywords, which could help to improve Perl developer efficiency.

“The pluggable keyword mechanism hooks directly into the parser, so the mechanism allows the implementation of that keyword to define the syntax of the rest of the statement,” Jan Dubois, a senior developer at ActiveState, told

ActiveState is a lead commercial vendor providing a packaged binary distribution of the language called ActivePerl. ActiveState also includes a number of popular additional modules with ActivePerl. Dubois noted that ActivePerl also includes both a command-line and a GUI version of Perl Package Manager that allows users to download, install and update pre-compiled additional modules from repositories maintained by ActiveState and other third parties.

The new Perl 5.12 release comes at an interesting juncture for the Perl community as new user growth may be slowing down while development continues on Perl 6.

The Perl dynamic language has been around since 1987, and Perl 5.0 appeared in 1994. Longevity is hallmark of Perl development, a feature that’s reinforced with a fix in Perl 5.12. Perl 5.12 includes a fix for a the year 2038 Unix flaw, which restricted Perl to show dates only up to the year 2038, at which point it would reset the calendar back to 1970.

Perl 6

While the new Perl 5.12 release advances the Perl 5 platform, developers have been working on Perl 6 since at least 2004, and that project might still stretch out for years to come.

“Some people are tired of waiting for Perl 6, so the Perl 5 development effort is picking up again,” Dubois said. “Hence the release of Perl 5.12.”

There are currently a number of implementation efforts for Perl 6 underway, with Rakudo probably being the most prominent and advanced, Dubois said. In his opinion, it will still be many years before Perl 6 Rakudo could become a serious alternative to Perl 5 for most users.

“It is hard to predict if this is ever going to happen or not,” Dubois said.

But Perl 5 users won’t have to wait for Perl 6 to get updated, as there is a plan in place for a new Perl 5 version next year.

“Perl 5.14 should be released in about one year with more new features, but the release date will not depend on any particular feature being done,” Dubois said. “It should ship with whatever is done at that time.”

Perl Usage

Though Perl is a relatively old language, it remains in wide use in the enterprise. Dubois noted that ActiveState has large enterprise customers, including CA, Goldman Sachsand Boeing, that continue to use Perl in their business systems and distributed applications.

“The influx of new users has slowed down, but if you watch the Perl-related IRC channels, then you can see new people arriving several times a day that have just installed Perl for the first time and are looking for help,” he said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

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