Perl Hacks

Author: chromatic with Damian Conway and Curtis "Ovid" Poe



Publisher: O'Reilly (2006)

Reviewed by: Dave Cross

To be completely honest, this isn't the book I thought it was going to be. Most O'Reilly Hacks books start off pretty simply and in a few chapters take you to the further reaches of their subject area. Whilst this is a great way to quickly get a good taste of a particular topic, it has the occasional disadvantage that for subjects that you know well, the first couple of chapters can seem a bit basic. As I know Perl pretty well, I thought I would be on familiar ground for at least half of the book.

I was wrong.

Oh, it started off easily enough. Making use of various browser and command line tools to get easy access to Perl documentation, creating some useful shell aliases to cut down typing for your most common tasks. "Oh yes", I thought smugly to myself, "I know all that". But by about Hack 5 I was reading about little tweaks that I didn't know about. I'd start a hack thinking that I knew everything that the authors were going to cover and end up frustrated that I was on the tube and couldn't immediately try out the new trick I had just learnt.

It's really that kind of book. Pretty much everyone who reads it will pick up something that will it easier for them to get their job done (well, assuming that their job involves writing Perl code!) And, of course, looking at the list of authors, that's only to be expected. The three authors listed on the cover are three of the Perl communities most respected members. And the list of other contributers reads like a who's who of people who are doing interesting things with Perl - people whose use.perl journals are always interesting or whose posts on Perl Monks are worth reading before other people's. Luckily, it turns out that all these excellent programmers can also explain what they are doing (and why they are doing it) very clearly.

Like all books in the Hacks series, it's a little bitty. The hacks are organised into nine broad chapters, but the connections between hacks in the same chapter can sometimes be a bit hard to see. But I enjoyed that. In places it made the book a bit of a rollercoaster ride. You're never quite sure what is coming next, but you know it's going to be fun.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more apt the fairground analogy seems. When you ask Perl programmers what they like about Perl, you'll often hear "fun" mentioned near the top of the list. People use Perl because they enjoy it. And the authors' enjoyment of Perl really comes through in the book. It's obvious that they really wanted to show people the things that they thought were really cool.

Although I did learn useful tips from the earlier part of the book, it was really the last three chapters that were the most useful for me. Chapter 7, Developer Tricks, had a lot of useful things to say about testing, Chapter 8, Know Thy Code, contains a lot of information on using Perl to examine your Perl code and Chapter 9, Expand Your Perl Foo was a grab-bag of obscure (but still useful) Perl tricks.

So where does this book fit in to O'Reilly's Perl canon? I can't recommend it for beginners. But if you're a working Perl programmer with a couple of years' experience then I'd be very surprised if you didn't pick up something that will be useful to you. And don't worry about it overlapping with other books in your Perl library - offhand I can't think of anything in the book that has been covered in any previous Perl book.

All in all, this would make a very useful addition to your Perl library.