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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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15.4 Symbolic references

We said that references spring into existence as necessary if they are undefined, but we didn't say what happens if a value used as a reference is already defined, but isn't a hard reference. If you use it as a reference, it'll be treated as a symbolic reference. That is, the value of the scalar is taken to be the name of a variable, rather than a direct link to a (possibly) anonymous value.

People frequently expect it to work like this. So it does.

$name = "foo";
$$name = 1;                 # Sets $foo
${$name} = 2;               # Sets $foo
${$name x 2} = 3;           # Sets $foofoo
$name->[0] = 4;             # Sets $foo[0]
@$name = ();                # Clears @foo
&$name();                   # Calls &foo() (as in Perl 4)
$pack = "THAT";
${"${pack}::$name"} = 5;    # Sets $THAT::foo without eval

This is powerful, and slightly dangerous, in that it's possible to intend (with the utmost sincerity) to use a hard reference, and accidentally use a symbolic reference instead. To protect against that, you can say

use strict 'refs';

and then only hard references will be allowed for the rest of the enclosing block. An inner block may countermand that with

no strict 'refs';

Only package variables (globals, even if localized) are visible to symbolic references. Lexical variables (declared with my()) aren't in a symbol table, and thus are invisible to this mechanism. For example:

local $value = 10;
$ref = "value";
    my $value = 20;
    print $$ref;

This will still print 10, not 20. Remember that local() affects package variables, which are all "global" to the package.

ISBN 9781906966027Perl Language Reference ManualSee the print edition