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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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8.7 Pass by Reference

If you want to pass more than one array or hash into a function--or return them from it--and have them maintain their integrity, then you're going to have to use an explicit pass-by-reference. Before you do that, you need to understand references as detailed in 15. This section may not make much sense to you otherwise.

Here are a few simple examples. First, let's pass in several arrays to a function and have it pop all of then, returning a new list of all their former last elements:

@tailings = popmany ( \@a, \@b, \@c, \@d );
sub popmany {
    my $aref;
    my @retlist = ();
    foreach $aref ( @_ ) {
        push @retlist, pop @$aref;
    return @retlist;

Here's how you might write a function that returns a list of keys occurring in all the hashes passed to it:

@common = inter( \%foo, \%bar, \%joe );
sub inter {
    my ($k, $href, %seen); # locals
    foreach $href (@_) {
        while ( $k = each %$href ) {
    return grep { $seen{$_} == @_ } keys %seen;

So far, we're using just the normal list return mechanism. What happens if you want to pass or return a hash? Well, if you're using only one of them, or you don't mind them concatenating, then the normal calling convention is ok, although a little expensive.

Where people get into trouble is here:

(@a, @b) = func(@c, @d);
(%a, %b) = func(%c, %d);

That syntax simply won't work. It sets just @a or %a and clears the @b or %b. Plus the function didn't get passed into two separate arrays or hashes: it got one long list in @_, as always.

If you can arrange for everyone to deal with this through references, it's cleaner code, although not so nice to look at. Here's a function that takes two array references as arguments, returning the two array elements in order of how many elements they have in them:

($aref, $bref) = func(\@c, \@d);
print "@$aref has more than @$bref\n";
sub func {
    my ($cref, $dref) = @_;
    if (@$cref > @$dref) {
        return ($cref, $dref);
    } else {
        return ($dref, $cref);

It turns out that you can actually do this also:

(*a, *b) = func(\@c, \@d);
print "@a has more than @b\n";
sub func {
    local (*c, *d) = @_;
    if (@c > @d) {
        return (\@c, \@d);
    } else {
        return (\@d, \@c);

Here we're using the typeglobs to do symbol table aliasing. It's a tad subtle, though, and also won't work if you're using my variables, because only globals (even in disguise as locals) are in the symbol table.

If you're passing around filehandles, you could usually just use the bare typeglob, like *STDOUT, but typeglobs references work, too. For example:

sub splutter {
    my $fh = shift;
    print $fh "her um well a hmmm\n";
$rec = get_rec(\*STDIN);
sub get_rec {
    my $fh = shift;
    return scalar <$fh>;

If you're planning on generating new filehandles, you could do this. Notice to pass back just the bare *FH, not its reference.

sub openit {
    my $path = shift;
    local *FH;
    return open (FH, $path) ? *FH : undef;
ISBN 9781906966027Perl Language Reference ManualSee the print edition