With so many programming languages available, it’s easy to get muddled in all the different options. Some languages are versatile enough to handle most — if not all — of your programming needs. For many programmers, Perl is that kind of solution. Ahead, you’ll learn what Perl is, how you can use it, and how we can help you get started.

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What is Perl? 

Perl is what ​is called​ a “general purpose” language, which means you can use it to fulfill various needs. Perl is different than languages with a more specific use case, like SQL, which is is typically used for databases and similar applications, for example. 

When Perl was first created, it was used as a text manipulation tool, but its uses have ballooned into a wide range of solutions. 

What is Perl used for? 

What is Perl in the context of the programming sphere? Like many general-purpose programming languages, Perl has an array of uses. But here are some of the most helpful: 

​Text manipulation 

Manipulating text was one of Perl’s original intended uses. Perl is still an excellent option for parsing HTML, manipulating JSON, working within regex, and other text manipulation-related tasks like scraping data from web pages to use in a marketing database. 

Perl’s text manipulation features work by setting rules that determine how strings of data are used. This opens up lots of possibilities, and gives you the flexibility you need to create innovative solutions. 

Log management 

The logs generated by distributed computer systems are key to improving performance, addressing issues, and enhancing safety. Log management enables you to keep track of the logs generated by the system and categorize and prioritize them so you can use them to solve problems. This is where Perl can come in handy:. You can program a system that works with common logging solutions like syslog or proprietary offerings published by a variety of companies. 

For instance, if you’re managing a network of servers that power an e-commerce solution, you need to know which alerts signify a mission-critical failure and which you can address later. If the server that provides names and addresses information malfunctions, customers may not be able to check out promptly. You could use Perl to program a system that aggregates the logs from various sources, surfacing the ones that come from the name and address server so you, as an admin, can quickly mitigate the issue. 

System administration automation 

Suppose you need to know which applications are installed on the computers of users connected to your organization’s network. You can check them one by one, ask people to self-report their app installs, or you can automate this arduous task by writing a script. Perl can help you do this and other system admin tasks. 

Similarly, you can use Perl to build a script that provides users with automatic updates at preset times, making each machine — and your entire network — more secure. Because Perl is a cross-platform solution, you can do this on multiple operating systems, including Linux and Windows. 

Managing data in the cloud 

While cloud vendors tend to have tools you can use to access the data you have stored within their systems, you can use Perl utilities to access data stored in: 

With this functionality, you can design your own systems for managing your cloud data. This gives you the freedom to create apps that grab and manipulate data in novel ways, producing a unique experience for the end-user and creating cutting-edge applications. 

Using Perl, for example, you could design a system that fetched different sets of data for customers based on preset conditions, such as their location, purchase history, or certain demographics, such as age. Then, you could use this to create unique experiences for users based on their situation or needs, making the app a dynamic environment custom-built to meet customers where they are. 

Managing virtual machines (VMs) and cloud virtual machines

A virtual machine is, in simple terms, a computer that’s all software. This means you could control the functions you expect from a hardware component using the VM’s software. 

VMs are often installed in cloud-based environments, and you can use Perl to access them. For a Network Administrator, this means you can assign virtual machines to different users within the company according to what they need to do their jobs. 

For instance, someone on the sales team may need access to the company’s customer relationship management (CRM) system, but a temporary worker may not. You can use Perl to ensure that your sales staff has access while keeping sensitive data, like customers’ contact information, unavailable to a temporary worker who doesn’t need it. 

Speech recognition 

You can leverage Perl to add speech recognition to an application using pre-designed modules. For example, with Perl, you can: 

  • Set up a system that enables users to use voice commands to control elements of software 
  • Make a text transcript of audio files, like the audio recording of an important meeting 

For instance, you can use the Google::Cloud::Speech module as an interface that allows you to interact with their Cloud Speech API. You can use this for anything from voice typing to collecting and analyzing the content of spoken conversations. 

Converting text to speech 

On the flipside, Perl is also a powerful tool for converting the written word into spoken audio files, which enables accessibility tasks such as: 

  • Reading text within an app for users that can’t read it themselves 
  • Helping people learn a different language 
  • Hearing directions on a page while following them on another screen or device 

For example, you can utilize Perl’s text-to-speech to ensure better access to your applications, particularly by people who may have limited sight.  

Testing software 

Whether you’re using DevOps, Agile, or another development approach, you need to be able to test your software quickly, on an ongoing basis, and automatically. Perl provides multiple testing solutions, such as the popular Test Anything Protocol (TAP)

Using TAP or a similar solution, you can use Perl to test code iterations on the fly, enabling a more risk-free, agile development process. In this way, it’s easier to find bugs and security vulnerabilities, addressing them before they impact the end user’s experience. 

Web servers 

Say a small company has a network of Internet of Things (IoT) devices that they want to connect using a central server, but they don’t have the full gamut of hardware resources that the big players often boast. Not a problem. They can hire a Perl programmer to build a web server that can easily manage all the IoT devices in the network, and they can do it with far fewer lines of code. 

Even though you may not want to use your Perl-based server for large, complex networks that have to handle expansive, dynamic workloads, it can be a suitable solution for relatively simple networks, such as those needed to connect IoT devices. 

Genomics and bioinformatics 

Even though genomics and bioinformatics may not be the most common uses of Perl or any other language, these areas of research play a crucial role in developing health solutions. A community known as BioPerl focuses on developing applications that can aid in collecting and processing biological information. This can then be used to develop medicines, perform genomic testing, study the genetic make-ups of different populations, and more. 

Get started 

Perl is your gateway to a number of different coding possibilities. While some may consider it an “older” language, new iterations are constantly being developed, enabling programmers to create powerful, flexible solutions for a wide variety of applications. 

Perl really excels as a source of modules that you can use in conjunction with code produced by other languages. If you want to learn a programming language through interactive, self-guided lessons, check out our coding courses to get started.

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