Perl is a language for getting your job done.
-- Larry Wall
Perl is a dynamic, object-oriented, interpreted,
applications programming language with a full complement of security
features, syntax-directed editors, debuggers, profilers and libraries.
You can also write scripts in it. Perl lets you program any way you
want, and XP helps you choose which way is the most effective for your
This chapter discusses how Perl shares similar values with XP, and how
the Perl culture uses XP programming practices. Finally, we note why
XP is needed to organize Perl's exuberance.
Perl and XP share a similar set of values. It's rare for programming
languages and methodologies to define values at all, so this basic
fact puts Perl and XP in a unique category. We discussed XP's values
Extreme Programming, so let's compare Perl's core
values to XP's:
Laziness means you work hard to look for the
simplest solution and that you communicate efficiently. You don't
want to misunderstand what someone said which might cause you to do
more work than you have to.
Impatience encourages you to do the simplest
thing that could possibly work. You use the code to communicate your
understanding of the problem to the customer, because you don't like
sitting through long, boring meetings.
Hubris is courage born from the fear your code
will be too complex for others to understand. Hubris makes you strive
for positive feedback and to react quickly to negative feedback from your
peers, the computer, and the customer.
Larry Wall, Perl's inventor, calls these values the
"three great virtues of a programmer".
They tell us why Perl is the way it is: a language that grows
organically to meet the demands of its customers.
Perl and XP were invented in the trenches. Larry Wall had to produce
reports for configuration management based on netnews.
Kent Beck was tasked with saving the Chrysler Comprehensive
Compensation project. Neither Perl nor XP were designed in the ivory
towers of academia. Both XP and Perl were developed to solve a
specific problem, and quickly so that Kent and Larry would keep their
It's too early to tell with XP, but Perl has remained true to its
roots. Perl continues to evolve based on feedback from its customers:
the Perl community. Features are added or changed if enough people
clamor for them.
This smorgasbord approach to programming languages is non-traditional,
much like XP's focus on people over process is non-traditional in the
development methodology community. Perl gives you a wide variety of
tools without constraining how you use them. For example, Perl is
object-oriented but objects aren't required to create modules or
scripts. Perl programmers aren't forced to encapsulate all their code
in objects to solve every problem, especially when simpler
XP asks you to ignore what you aren't going to need, and Perl lets you
put this principle into action.
Another parallel between XP and Perl is testing. The Perl culture is
steeped in testing, and in XP, we test to get feedback from the
computer and the customer. Perl comes with a complete test suite for
the language, and virtually every CPAN (Comprehensive Perl Archive
Network) module comes with unit tests.
Testing in Perl is about impatience. It's faster to get accurate
feedback from a unit test than by firing up the whole system to see
that it works.
It's easy to write tests in Perl. The software quality assurance
community has long known this, and Perl is a favorite tool among
Perl programmers are lazy, so sometimes on CPAN the only useful documentation
for a package is its tests. Some programmers find it's easier to write
documents, and conveniently that's the XP way of doing things anyway.
Unit tests communicate exactly how to use an API, and acceptance
tests demonstrate correctness and progress to the customer.
In XP, we share code in a collective repository. CPAN is probably the
largest collection of Perl code on the Internet. There are over 3500
open source packages available for download. It's also the
official repository for the Perl core implementation. Any
perl programmer can get the latest version of Perl, and perl
developers check in their changes directly to CPAN. The Perl
community shares openly, because they're lazy, and want to solve
problems once and only once.
Hubris plays a role on CPAN and in the Perl community in general. For
example, type in xml parser into
http://search.cpan.org, and you'll get at least six
pages of results. It took some time for us to find the right XML
parsing package to use in It's a SMOP. CPAN, like
Perl, offers you many more ways to do it than any one project needs.
Organizing Your Workshop
Perl is often called a Swiss Army Chainsaw.
When you add in CPAN, it's really more like the world's largest
selection of hardware.
You can get lost in the dizzying array of choices. Some
programmers find Perl daunting.
This is where XP comes to the rescue. XP is the organizer in the
Extreme Perl marriage that complements Perl, the doer and fixer.
XP's role is to keep Perl from fixing the car when the kids need to be
put to bed. XP gently guides Perl to do the right thing for the
The next few chapters show you how Extreme Perl is organized, and the
second half of this book shows you know Extreme Perl gets things done.
Programming Perl, 3rd Edition by Larry Wall et
al, p xix.
This wonderful story of doing the simplest thing that could possibly
work is elaborated in Programming Perl, p. 646.
See Object-Oriented Programming in
It's a SMOP for an example of when objects
and search for Perl.
McGuckin Hardware in Boulder, Colorado
is the physical world equivalent of Perl.
In a presentation at the 2002 PHP Conference, Michael J. Radwin lists
Perl's Motto, "There Is More Than One Way To Do It", as
one of the three reasons Yahoo! was moving away from Perl.
for the complete presentation.