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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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9 perlfunc: Perl builtin functions

The functions in this section can serve as terms in an expression. They fall into two major categories: list operators and named unary operators. These differ in their precedence relationship with a following comma. (See the precedence table in 7.) List operators take more than one argument, while unary operators can never take more than one argument. Thus, a comma terminates the argument of a unary operator, but merely separates the arguments of a list operator. A unary operator generally provides a scalar context to its argument, while a list operator may provide either scalar or list contexts for its arguments. If it does both, scalar arguments come first and list argument follow, and there can only ever be one such list argument. For instance, splice() has three scalar arguments followed by a list, whereas gethostbyname() has four scalar arguments.

In the syntax descriptions that follow, list operators that expect a list (and provide list context for elements of the list) are shown with LIST as an argument. Such a list may consist of any combination of scalar arguments or list values; the list values will be included in the list as if each individual element were interpolated at that point in the list, forming a longer single-dimensional list value. Commas should separate literal elements of the LIST.

Any function in the list below may be used either with or without parentheses around its arguments. (The syntax descriptions omit the parentheses.) If you use parentheses, the simple but occasionally surprising rule is this: It looks like a function, therefore it is a function, and precedence doesn't matter. Otherwise it's a list operator or unary operator, and precedence does matter. Whitespace between the function and left parenthesis doesn't count, so sometimes you need to be careful:

print 1+2+4;      # Prints 7.
print(1+2) + 4;   # Prints 3.
print (1+2)+4;    # Also prints 3!
print +(1+2)+4;   # Prints 7.
print ((1+2)+4);  # Prints 7.

If you run Perl with the -w switch it can warn you about this. For example, the third line above produces:

print (...) interpreted as function at - line 1.
Useless use of integer addition in void context at - line 1.

A few functions take no arguments at all, and therefore work as neither unary nor list operators. These include such functions as time and endpwent. For example, time+86_400 always means time() + 86_400.

For functions that can be used in either a scalar or list context, nonabortive failure is generally indicated in a scalar context by returning the undefined value, and in a list context by returning the empty list.

Remember the following important rule: There is no rule that relates the behavior of an expression in list context to its behavior in scalar context, or vice versa. It might do two totally different things. Each operator and function decides which sort of value would be most appropriate to return in scalar context. Some operators return the length of the list that would have been returned in list context. Some operators return the first value in the list. Some operators return the last value in the list. Some operators return a count of successful operations. In general, they do what you want, unless you want consistency.

A named array in scalar context is quite different from what would at first glance appear to be a list in scalar context. You can't get a list like (1,2,3) into being in scalar context, because the compiler knows the context at compile time. It would generate the scalar comma operator there, not the list construction version of the comma. That means it was never a list to start with.

In general, functions in Perl that serve as wrappers for system calls ("syscalls") of the same name (like chown(2), fork(2), closedir(2), etc.) all return true when they succeed and undef otherwise, as is usually mentioned in the descriptions below. This is different from the C interfaces, which return -1 on failure. Exceptions to this rule are wait, waitpid, and syscall. System calls also set the special $! variable on failure. Other functions do not, except accidentally.

Extension modules can also hook into the Perl parser to define new kinds of keyword-headed expression. These may look like functions, but may also look completely different. The syntax following the keyword is defined entirely by the extension. If you are an implementor, see "PL_keyword_plugin" (perlapi) in the Perl C API and Internals Manual for the mechanism. If you are using such a module, see the module's documentation for details of the syntax that it defines.

ISBN 9781906966027Perl Language Reference ManualSee the print edition