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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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17 perlform: Perl formats

Perl has a mechanism to help you generate simple reports and charts. To facilitate this, Perl helps you code up your output page close to how it will look when it's printed. It can keep track of things like how many lines are on a page, what page you're on, when to print page headers, etc. Keywords are borrowed from FORTRAN: format() to declare and write() to execute; see their entries in 9. Fortunately, the layout is much more legible, more like BASIC's PRINT USING statement. Think of it as a poor man's nroff(1).

Formats, like packages and subroutines, are declared rather than executed, so they may occur at any point in your program. (Usually it's best to keep them all together though.) They have their own namespace apart from all the other "types" in Perl. This means that if you have a function named "Foo", it is not the same thing as having a format named "Foo". However, the default name for the format associated with a given filehandle is the same as the name of the filehandle. Thus, the default format for STDOUT is named "STDOUT", and the default format for filehandle TEMP is named "TEMP". They just look the same. They aren't.

Output record formats are declared as follows:

format NAME =
FORMLIST
.

If the name is omitted, format "STDOUT" is defined. A single "." in column 1 is used to terminate a format. FORMLIST consists of a sequence of lines, each of which may be one of three types:

  1. A comment, indicated by putting a '#' in the first column.
  2. A "picture" line giving the format for one output line.
  3. An argument line supplying values to plug into the previous picture line.

Picture lines contain output field definitions, intermingled with literal text. These lines do not undergo any kind of variable interpolation. Field definitions are made up from a set of characters, for starting and extending a field to its desired width. This is the complete set of characters for field definitions:

@    start of regular field
^    start of special field
<    pad character for left justification
|    pad character for centering
>    pad character for right justification
#    pad character for a right justified numeric field
0    instead of first #: pad number with leading zeroes
.    decimal point within a numeric field
...  terminate a text field, show "..." as truncation evidence
@*   variable width field for a multi-line value
^*   variable width field for next line of a multi-line value
~    suppress line with all fields empty
~~   repeat line until all fields are exhausted

Each field in a picture line starts with either "@" (at) or "^" (caret), indicating what we'll call, respectively, a "regular" or "special" field. The choice of pad characters determines whether a field is textual or numeric. The tilde operators are not part of a field. Let's look at the various possibilities in detail.

ISBN 9781906966027Perl Language Reference ManualSee the print edition