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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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8.2.2 Persistent variables with closures

Just because a lexical variable is lexically (also called statically) scoped to its enclosing block, eval, or do FILE, this doesn't mean that within a function it works like a C static. It normally works more like a C auto, but with implicit garbage collection.

Unlike local variables in C or C++, Perl's lexical variables don't necessarily get recycled just because their scope has exited. If something more permanent is still aware of the lexical, it will stick around. So long as something else references a lexical, that lexical won't be freed--which is as it should be. You wouldn't want memory being free until you were done using it, or kept around once you were done. Automatic garbage collection takes care of this for you.

This means that you can pass back or save away references to lexical variables, whereas to return a pointer to a C auto is a grave error. It also gives us a way to simulate C's function statics. Here's a mechanism for giving a function private variables with both lexical scoping and a static lifetime. If you do want to create something like C's static variables, just enclose the whole function in an extra block, and put the static variable outside the function but in the block.

{
    my $secret_val = 0;
    sub gimme_another {
        return ++$secret_val;
    }
}
# $secret_val now becomes unreachable by the outside
# world, but retains its value between calls to gimme_another

If this function is being sourced in from a separate file via require or use, then this is probably just fine. If it's all in the main program, you'll need to arrange for the my to be executed early, either by putting the whole block above your main program, or more likely, placing merely a BEGIN code block around it to make sure it gets executed before your program starts to run:

BEGIN {
    my $secret_val = 0;
    sub gimme_another {
        return ++$secret_val;
    }
}

See "BEGIN, UNITCHECK, CHECK, INIT and END" (perlmod) in the Perl Library Reference Manual (Volume 2) about the special triggered code blocks, BEGIN, UNITCHECK, CHECK, INIT and END.

If declared at the outermost scope (the file scope), then lexicals work somewhat like C's file statics. They are available to all functions in that same file declared below them, but are inaccessible from outside that file. This strategy is sometimes used in modules to create private variables that the whole module can see.

ISBN 9781906966027Perl Language Reference ManualSee the print edition