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Perl Language Reference Manual
by Larry Wall and others
Paperback (6"x9"), 724 pages
ISBN 9781906966027
RRP £29.95 ($39.95)

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5.7 Slices

A common way to access an array or a hash is one scalar element at a time. You can also subscript a list to get a single element from it.

$whoami = $ENV{"USER"};             # one element from the hash
$parent = $ISA[0];                  # one element from the array
$dir    = (getpwnam("daemon"))[7];  # likewise, but with list

A slice accesses several elements of a list, an array, or a hash simultaneously using a list of subscripts. It's more convenient than writing out the individual elements as a list of separate scalar values.

($him, $her)   = @folks[0,-1];              # array slice
@them          = @folks[0 .. 3];            # array slice
($who, $home)  = @ENV{"USER", "HOME"};      # hash slice
($uid, $dir)   = (getpwnam("daemon"))[2,7]; # list slice

Since you can assign to a list of variables, you can also assign to an array or hash slice.

@days[3..5]    = qw/Wed Thu Fri/;
               = (0xff0000, 0x0000ff, 0x00ff00);
@folks[0, -1]  = @folks[-1, 0];

The previous assignments are exactly equivalent to

($days[3], $days[4], $days[5]) = qw/Wed Thu Fri/;
($colors{'red'}, $colors{'blue'}, $colors{'green'})
               = (0xff0000, 0x0000ff, 0x00ff00);
($folks[0], $folks[-1]) = ($folks[-1], $folks[0]);

Since changing a slice changes the original array or hash that it's slicing, a foreach construct will alter some--or even all--of the values of the array or hash.

foreach (@array[ 4 .. 10 ]) { s/peter/paul/ }
foreach (@hash{qw[key1 key2]}) {
    s/^\s+//;           # trim leading whitespace
    s/\s+$//;           # trim trailing whitespace
    s/(\w+)/\u\L$1/g;   # "titlecase" words

A slice of an empty list is still an empty list. Thus:

@a = ()[1,0];           # @a has no elements
@b = (@a)[0,1];         # @b has no elements
@c = (0,1)[2,3];        # @c has no elements


@a = (1)[1,0];          # @a has two elements
@b = (1,undef)[1,0,2];  # @b has three elements

This makes it easy to write loops that terminate when a null list is returned:

while ( ($home, $user) = (getpwent)[7,0]) {
    printf "%-8s %s\n", $user, $home;

As noted earlier in this document, the scalar sense of list assignment is the number of elements on the right-hand side of the assignment. The null list contains no elements, so when the password file is exhausted, the result is 0, not 2.

If you're confused about why you use an '@' there on a hash slice instead of a '%', think of it like this. The type of bracket (square or curly) governs whether it's an array or a hash being looked at. On the other hand, the leading symbol ('$' or '@') on the array or hash indicates whether you are getting back a singular value (a scalar) or a plural one (a list).

ISBN 9781906966027Perl Language Reference ManualSee the print edition