Perl Book Reviews

Both Perl and PHP will go through a watershed this year, 2003, with major upgrades with large impacts on the syntax and semantics of two very popular open source languages. Hopefully they will maintain more backward compatibility than did VB in its recent move from VB6 to VB.NET. Microsoft has not even been able to provide a reliable, 100% (80% is their best estimate) migration utility to get VB6 code (VB5 and earlier versions are left out in the cold) translated to the new VB.NET. The result is that VB.NET coders can easily spend more time doing unwanted conversions then producing new code. Hopefully Perl and PHP will do better. Because the last thing developers need on top of learning a new language is doing conversions of what is essentially working code.

So given that Perl is about to change - and likely profoundly, these reviews will err on the side of brevity and caution.

The problem with learning Perl and PHP is that there are so many modules which extend the language into database, graphics, mail monitoring, web services, etc. Also both languages have object oriented extensions which allow even more clip-on modules to be created. Mastering all the libraries associated with a language is becoming a daunting task. Steve Holzner's Perl Core Language helps to address that issue by doing the opposite - deciding what is core to the language and in a small; but jam packed volume - teaching that very well.

Steve has already written the big Black Book on Perl - so he knows where to begin. He gets you started doing Perl scripts very well. Making sure your installation in Unix, Windows, DOS or Mac is right; then adding all the little details on setting up the Perl environ - using an editor, making CGI scripts work, etc. The first 30 pages will have users working more confidently in whatever mode Perl brings them to.

Steve then proceeds to show how the core syntax and constructs from packages and modules to objects and formats can be used in practical applications. CGI is covered with topics on browser cookies and mail connections to the coding of a multi-user chat session. The practicality of objects are shown as well - including use in creating records/structures for database and advanced forms. This is a wonderful resource to have by with your Slick or Codewright editor while doing Perl.

Core Pearl by Reuven Lerner is a good blend between a reference manual and users guide. The book start out with over 50 pages of getting started text including install, syntax and working with Perl on a variety of platforms. This is ensuring because one of Perl's attractions is the diversity of uses - batch processing, text manipulation, simple database connectivity and of course web cgi application. Reuven spends a third of the book's 500 pages carefully building out Perl's syntax in the context of ever more varied uses. The next third of the book is devoted to database concepts in the Perl context including approaches to web database applications. The last third of the book of the book concentrates on web applications including ever more sophisticated CGI applications and a full chapter devoted to mod.perl and the Apache web server connection. This is quite helpful to LAMP - LinuxApacheMySQLPerl programmers who need that extra bit of control of modules. Finally, Reuven has a great bibliography - I like writers who are not afraid to reference other books and good material - with good info also on magazines and websites chock full of supplementary material. Core Pearl not only gets you up and running but understanding Perl's full potential.

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