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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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15.7 Function Templates

As explained above, an anonymous function with access to the lexical variables visible when that function was compiled, creates a closure. It retains access to those variables even though it doesn't get run until later, such as in a signal handler or a Tk callback.

Using a closure as a function template allows us to generate many functions that act similarly. Suppose you wanted functions named after the colors that generated HTML font changes for the various colors:

print "Be ", red("careful"), "with that ", green("light");

The red() and green() functions would be similar. To create these, we'll assign a closure to a typeglob of the name of the function we're trying to build.

@colors = qw(red blue green yellow orange purple violet);
for my $name (@colors) {
    no strict 'refs';       # allow symbol table manipulation
    *$name = *{uc $name} = sub {
                                "<FONT COLOR='$name'>@_</FONT>" 

Now all those different functions appear to exist independently. You can call red(), RED(), blue(), BLUE(), green(), etc. This technique saves on both compile time and memory use, and is less error-prone as well, since syntax checks happen at compile time. It's critical that any variables in the anonymous subroutine be lexicals in order to create a proper closure. That's the reasons for the my on the loop iteration variable.

This is one of the only places where giving a prototype to a closure makes much sense. If you wanted to impose scalar context on the arguments of these functions (probably not a wise idea for this particular example), you could have written it this way instead:

*$name = sub ($) { "<FONT COLOR='$name'>$_[0]</FONT>" };

However, since prototype checking happens at compile time, the assignment above happens too late to be of much use. You could address this by putting the whole loop of assignments within a BEGIN block, forcing it to occur during compilation.

Access to lexicals that change over time--like those in the for loop above, basically aliases to elements from the surrounding lexical scopes-- only works with anonymous subs, not with named subroutines. Generally said, named subroutines do not nest properly and should only be declared in the main package scope.

This is because named subroutines are created at compile time so their lexical variables get assigned to the parent lexicals from the first execution of the parent block. If a parent scope is entered a second time, its lexicals are created again, while the nested subs still reference the old ones.

Anonymous subroutines get to capture each time you execute the sub operator, as they are created on the fly. If you are accustomed to using nested subroutines in other programming languages with their own private variables, you'll have to work at it a bit in Perl. The intuitive coding of this type of thing incurs mysterious warnings about "will not stay shared" due to the reasons explained above. For example, this won't work:

sub outer {
    my $x = $_[0] + 35;
    sub inner { return $x * 19 }   # WRONG
    return $x + inner();

A work-around is the following:

sub outer {
    my $x = $_[0] + 35;
    local *inner = sub { return $x * 19 };
    return $x + inner();

Now inner() can only be called from within outer(), because of the temporary assignments of the anonymous subroutine. But when it does, it has normal access to the lexical variable $x from the scope of outer() at the time outer is invoked.

This has the interesting effect of creating a function local to another function, something not normally supported in Perl.

ISBN 9781906966027Perl Language Reference ManualSee the print edition