Programming Perl 3rd Edition - Larry Wall, Tom Christiansen & John Orwant 2000 Reviewed by Alan Rocker, July 2010

A long-time Perl programmer, reviewing the Camel, is in the same situation as a devout Christian reviewing the Old Testament. It's the foundation of the faith, so what do you say? (That's more than a casual analogy, given the number of humourous references to inventories of flocks and lists of the begotten in the first edition's examples; alas largely excised from later versions.) The only text more definitive is the interpreter itself.

Actually, the latest edition is more like the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Apocrypha rolled into one. Like one's friends' begotten, "My, how it's grown"! Perl may be highly portable, but Camel III is just barely. It could use wheels and a handle for towing.

The Pink Camel ran to 465 pages when it was published in 1991. Despite the pruning of the Biblical jokes, the 1996 second edition, (the Blue Camel), that introduced Perl 5, had expanded to 645 pages. The latest version comprises 1070 pages; 650 of narrative, and 420 of reference, glossary, & index.

The extra size isn't just the result of adding descriptions of new features added between 5.0 and 5.6, the book has experienced a serious restructuring.

Its major divisions now are:

  1. Overview (the one-chapter "executive summary" of Perl)
  2. The gory details - 14 chapters describing the language in detail
  3. Perl as technology - 7 chapters on internal matters
  4. Perl as culture - 6 chapters on how to write good Perl
  5. Reference materials - Detailed descriptions of names, functions and modules

Owners of the second edition may notice that Randall Schwartz no longer credited as a co-author, having been replaced by Jon Orwant, but with the success of the Llama, ("Learning Perl"), he probably doesn't mind.

2000 is an aeon ago in computing times - that was Before Google, something almost unimaginable today. In Perl terms, it was the era of 5.6. Some of the features just making their way into the language, or touted as Advances Yet To Come, turned out to be Not Terribly Good Ideas, (e.g. threads). The non-trivial advances represented by 5.8, 5.10, and now 5.12, obviously are not covered. (And probably won't be; I very much doubt if there will ever be a Fourth Edition, at least on dead trees.)

The depth of the material in the 3rd. edition is almost enough to overwhelm the casual scripter. They would probably be better off with the Llama, possibly the "Cookbook", and "Perl in a Nutshell" for reference. For the serious Perl programmer, on the other hand, reading the Camel is an essential experience. (For example, while reading it for this review, I learnt about the -I command-line switch. Now I know how to test modules without messing up the site's installed libraries.)

If you want to know more about Perl than you thought there was to know, you should have a copy of "Programming Perl". Just buy a lectern on which to read it.