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How to Learn Perl

Karen Schwarze - February 05, 2021


Perl is a programming language that you can use to manage databases, text parsing, and system administration. Many websites are built using Perl, including Priceline.com, Craigslist, IMDb, DuckDuckGo, and Ticketmaster.

A website that has a database needs a back-end language like Perl to manage it. Perl’s text-handling capabilities can be used for generating SQL queries, a task often used in database management. With Perl, you can also perform tasks like system administration and network programming.

In this guide, we’ve put together some of the best tips for getting started with learning Perl.

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What is Perl?

Perl’s text manipulation capabilities was at the forefront of the spread of online text information. Designed by linguist Larry Wall, Perl was used in many text processing tasks. Perl was first released in 1987. Today, it is a key language many companies use to do business online.

Perl was at one point the most popular scripting language. It played a key role in fields like bioinformatics, where it powered breakthroughs in genetic sequencing, and finance. The language was designed so programmers could quickly and easily write programs.

One of its core principles is “There’s more than one way to do it” and there are shortcuts that allow you to write quick scripts.

Today, Perl is still used by many businesses because they need developers who can update and maintain their systems that were originally written using Perl. This makes Perl a great language to learn if you are exploring a career in web development.

What is Perl Used for?

Perl is used to manage databases, perform system administration tasks and develop Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs). Perl was once considered the “duct tape of the internet” because it has so many functionalities. It is part of the LAMP tech stack used in web development as one of the “P” options (the other options are Python and PHP). The other letters stand for Linux OS, Apache Web Server, and MySQL.

Here are the main ways that Perl is used today:

  • System administration. Perl can be used to perform or automate system administration tasks. These tasks include renaming numerous files in a directory or changing a given text component in every source file in a directory tree.
  • Web development. You can use Perl to create web applications. Perl has frameworks such as Dancer that you can use in the web development process. Perl can also be used to serve web pages.
  • Network programming. Perl provides built-in functions that you can use to make client/server programs. Perl also has modules that facilitate programming common networking tasks, such as pinging remote machines.
  • Managing data in the cloud. Today, many companies have migrated their data to a public cloud. Perl can help you manage data in the cloud, and you can also administer virtual machines.

Learning Perl

Perl is a valuable skill to learn if you want a job in tech. Companies that built their system administration processes, network programs, and websites using Perl need developers who know this programming language. These companies include Amazon, Roblox, Venmo, and MIT. People who know Perl have titles such as Solutions Engineer, Software Engineer, Web Developer, and Database Engineer.

Perl is great to round out your understanding of trending technologies if you want to get a job as a developer or system administrator in the tech field.

This leads us to the question: How do you learn Perl?

Why Should I Learn Perl?

Here are some of the reasons why you should learn Perl:

Perl is a great general-purpose language. Perl is used in a variety of contexts. These include database management, system administration, web development, and network programming.

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Perl is used in fascinating ways. Bioinformatics developers create software to understand data sets dealing with biological data. The growing field of genomics (the study of whole genomes of organisms) uses knowledge from the bioinformatics industry. Using Perl, you can retrieve genomic sequences and study population genetics.

Perl is rooted in linguistic principles, and today it’s still a great tool for manipulating text. Think regex, HTML parsing and JSON manipulation. Perl can also power language processing functions like speech recognition and text-to-speech translation.

You can also test software automatically with Perl by using the popular Test Anything Protocol (TAP). The bottom line is that, by learning Perl, you open up interesting opportunities for yourself in your web development career.

Perl developers are in-demand. Once you’ve learned Perl, you can use this programming language to power your own projects or get a job.

Currently, Perl comes in at 17 out of 50 programming languages in popularity, according to the TIOBE Index, a website that uses search engine results to make judgement calls about a programming language’s popularity. The index uses results from 25 search engines. It counts the number of hits for a given programming language, and the hits are used to determine that language’s rating in the index. Learn more about the TIOBE Index methodology .

This, along with other metrics like the number of job postings that mention Perl, suggests that while Perl is not the most popular programming language right now, it is still being used and is therefore a valuable skill to learn.

There are over 15,000 job descriptions on LinkedIn that mention Perl, and over 10,000 on Glassdoor . So while Perl may not be the most popular language now, companies are still using it to power their online business, and they’re still looking for people who have this skill set.

How Long Does It Take to Learn Perl?

To learn the basics and start writing programs, you’ll want to give yourself three months. This assumes you are spending an hour everyday learning this language.

This estimation takes into consideration that it takes about eight weeks to learn the basics of Python , which is another scripting language that came out around the same time as Perl (1991) and is used for many similar tasks.

A key difference, however, is that while Python was designed to have a limited number of ways to perform a task, while Perl was designed with the philosophy of “There’s more than one way to do it”. This means you may take more time to learn the basics of Perl.

Know that the amount of time it takes to learn Perl depends on what degree of proficiency you want to gain—do you want to become an expert at Perl or just learn the basics?

Is It Hard to Learn Perl?

Perl can be difficult to those new to coding. However, having experience in other scripting languages eases the learning curve. If you have some experience in Python, learning Perl will not be difficult.

You have to install software on your machine and interact with the command line to get started with Perl. If you have never done this before, do this before you learn the Perl syntax itself. Perl Learn has simple installation instructions you can follow on all platforms.

How to Learn Perl: Step-by-Step

When it comes to learning a programming language, there isn’t a single way to get started. Your success depends on your motivation, how much time you want to dedicate, and how you learn.

The best approach is to watch tutorials, read books, and take courses before building a project on your own. However, some people prefer just watching a handful of tutorials before they start coding.

That said, here is a general blueprint for how to learn Perl.

  1. Decide why you want to learn Perl. Are you interested in working at an established company that uses Perl for system administration, web development, and networking? Do you want to expand your horizons for more opportunities? Is coding a hobby?
  2. Get the basics down. Check out tutorials on YouTube, the courses recommended below, or books about Perl to get familiar with the language syntax. Learn how to install Perl on your computer.
  3. Build projects. Try interesting Perl projects you can showcase on your portfolio. Whatever your end game is for learning Perl, building projects strengthens your skills. Start with this Perl tutorial that shows you how to build a “Hello, World!” program.
  4. Learn about Perl frameworks and toolkits. Just like other programming languages like Python, JavaScript, or Ruby, Perl has frameworks (like Dancer) and toolkits that you can use to simplify and enhance your work.
  5. Join a Perl community. The Perl developer community is still going strong and has a lot of members and resources. Online communities, such as Perl.org and StackOverflow , allow you to learn more about Perl.

The Best Perl Courses

There are many online tutorials and courses teaching you Perl and how to use it successfully. But with all of this information, it can be difficult to identify the best courses to enroll in. Below, you’ll find some of the best online Perl courses that will help you learn how to use this programming language.

Udemy: Learn Perl 5 By Doing It
Cost: $24.99

In this course, you’ll learn how to use Perl for many tasks. You’ll explore regular expressions, how to download text and images with Perl, quantifiers, arrays, web scraping, and working with databases.

You should have basic knowledge of computer programming prior to taking this course. This Perl course is meant for students who have some basic knowledge of programming. If you have used another programming language before, terms like “arrays” and “regular expressions” will be more familiar to you.

This course includes 14 hours of content and you can earn a certificate upon completion.

Geekuni: Perl Essentials
Cost: $240 for six months

This course by Geekuni covers a variety of topics within Perl, including arrays and lists, control flow and conditionals, and subroutines. You can take the Perl Web Development course after completing this course to further your Perl skills. This course comes with a certificate of completion.


LinkedIn Learning: Perl 5 Essential Training
Cost: $34.99 or LinkedIn Premium membership ($29.99/month)

This course teaches you how to write Perl scripts and understand how to maintain an existing Perl code base. You’ll learn about Perl functions, references and data structures through over five hours of content and quizzes and practice files so you can test your skills. The Perl course is open to new and experienced programmers, and a certificate is issued upon its completion.

Online Perl Books

‘Beginning Perl’ by Simon Cozens

Image credit: Amazon

Beginning Perl , provided for free by the Perl.org community, teaches you how to install Perl on Windows and UNIX, how to use Perl resources like Comprehensive Perl Archive Network (CPAN), write code using the Perl syntax, and use Perl as an object-oriented language. This book is written for people who are new to programming and want to learn with Perl.

‘Learning Perl: Making Easy Things Easy and Hard Things Possible’ by Randal L. Schwartz, brian d foy and Tom Phoenix

Image credit: Amazon

This book claims it will “turn you into a Perl programmer”. It teaches you about string manipulation, process management, file operations, and Perl data and variable types.

‘Modern Perl’ by chromatic

Image credit: Amazon

Modern Pearl , made available for free by the Perl.org community, helps you get the most out of the programming language. As one book description puts it, “ Modern Perl is one way to describe the way the world’s most effective Perl 5 programmers work. They use language idioms. They take advantage of the CPAN. They show good taste and craft to write powerful, maintainable, scalable, concise, and effective code.”

Online Perl Resources

CPAN

Image credit: CPAN

The Comprehensive Perl Archive Network has almost 200,000 modules that you can use as part of your Perl programs. The CPAN website contains links to other resources like Perl documentation and a scripts repository.

Perl 5.32.1 Documentation

Image credit: Perl 5.32.1 Documentation

Reading documentation is one of the best ways to learn any programming language or new technology. Doing so gives you an overview with certain concepts and functions before you dive in.

YouTube Perl Tutorials

Image credit: Coding 101

If you want to get your feet wet with Perl and are looking for free video content, check out some of the Perl tutorials available on YouTube. This tutorial series from Coding 101 is beginner-friendly.

Conclusion

Perl is a good programming language to learn if you want a job in tech, or even if you just want to build your own web development projects. Perl can be used in a variety of contexts, including web development, system administration, database management, and text manipulation. The language has been the power behind exciting breakthroughs in bioinformatics and text processing.

Many companies still use Perl and they need experienced Perl programmers. Currently, some of the companies that have posted job descriptions that mention Perl are Synopsys, JP Morgan Chase, and Cisco.

It will take you several months to understand the basics of Perl and to start building your own projects, but once you have learned Perl, this skill will be an asset to your technology career.

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Karen Schwarze

About the author: A former educator and edtech marketer, Karen is passionate about computer science education. She’s particularly fascinated by the connections between coding languages and English language/literature structures. This led her to build an edtech app where users create Python programs by manipulating literary devices like similes and metaphors. When she’s not writing, Karen enjoys watching comedy and reading books about history.

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