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Archive for the ‘Perl’ Category

Happy Perl Devs

I’m kinda amused to see this old post suggesting that perl developers are happier than other developers. I can well believe it. I’ve always been happy playing with perl than the other languages I know, although I’m not quite convinced by the method.

Just a thought though – personally, I’m happier on smaller code bases than larger code bases. Could it be that perl sees more use for moderately sized systems and other languages are used to create developer depressing byzantine balls of mud?

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I recommend Dave Rolsky

I can’t believe Dave is still on the job market.

I don’t know him personally, but I know him by his posts and his code and I can recommend him without hesitation. The guy is one of the great thinkers of the Perl Community.

If I had hiring authority, I’d get him for my firm.

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Forked Processes and Pipes

Last time, I linked to some example code that forks a bunch of processes and communicates with them via pipes. This is the main feature of the code I’m interested in, but the explanation is the article is kinda sparse so you can consider this to be supplemental.

As usual, the perl doco is pretty good for covering this stuff.

Creating a child process (a kid) involves two pipes, one for the parent to send data to the kid, and one for the kid to send data back to the parent.

One probably obvious thing to note, you can’t directly send a reference down a pipe, (well, not in any reasonable way and that’s a feature, not a bug), so you’ll be interested in serialisation modules. I’ve mentioned them in passing before and I generally use JSON::XS these days.

Another hopefully obvious thing is if the writer is buffered and the reader is waiting for something specific, there will probably be some deadlock in your future. Remember to unbuffer the writer.

I made a couple more J – comments inline:

sub create_kid {
    my $to_kid = IO::Pipe->new;
    my $from_kid = IO::Pipe->new;

    # J - Fork returns undef for failure, 0 for the child, and the
    # J - child PID for the parent

    # J - Handle fork error
    defined (my $kid = fork) or return; # if can't fork, try to make do

    unless ($kid) { # I'm the kid
      # J - The kid reads from $to_kid and writes to $from_kid
      $to_kid->reader;
      $from_kid->writer;

      # J - unbuffer writing to the pipes.  Otherwise may deadlock
      $from_kid->autoflush(1);

      # J - Reset all of the signal handling
      $SIG{$_} = 'DEFAULT' for grep !/^--/, keys %SIG; # very important!
      do_kid($to_kid, $from_kid);
      exit 0; # should not be reached
    }

    # J - parent here...
    # J - The parent reads from $from_kid and writes to $to_kid
    $from_kid->reader;
    $to_kid->writer;

    # J - unbuffer writing to the pipes.  Otherwise may deadlock
    $to_kid->autoflush(1);

    $kids{$kid} = [$to_kid, $from_kid];
    $kid;
}

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Parallel Tasks using Fork

Randal Schwartz wrote an example link checker which used forked processes to run tasks in parallel. Each child process created has a read pipe from and a write pipe to the parent (created with IO::Pipe).

The result is an inverted version of my preferred architecture. I like the parent to dump work on a queue and whichever child is ready to pull it off. This is pretty easy to do with threads.

In Randal’s version, the parent figures out which child is available to do work.

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My question about how windows works without fork got pointers to two useful Windows perl modules in the comments:

Spawning External Programs

(from dagolden) See Win32::Job or just use system(1, $cmd, @args)

Creating Daemons

(from Christian Walde) Use Win32::Detached


What I was really wondering about was how reliable software was written without fork. What do I mean by that?

What is the difference between?

parent
fork()
do_something_independent()
wait_for_childs_response()

and

parent
thread()
do_something_independent()
wait_for_childs_response()

If the child thread misbehaves – exits, dumps core, leaks memory, or whatever, that’s bad for the parent. Child processes can’t wreak quite so much havoc.

Presumably the solution adopted in Window is don’t do stuff in threads that causes them to accidentally exit [the whole process], dump core or leak memory.

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Relative Popularity

It’s hard to objectively measure Perl’s popularity compared to Python or Ruby. Even before nerds-central used job availability as a measurement, the ease of finding a job was a key requirement for me.

Who cares if I love Ruby if I can’t use it for the 10 hours a day I’m working?

Anecdotal evidence

In the last twelve years I’ve had no difficulty finding plenty of Perl work. In the past couple of years, I’ve had a few calls about Python jobs, but probably ten times fewer than the number of Perl calls I get. Hold the front page – Perl is ten times more popular than Python.

Well, no. Of course I get a lot more Perl calls. I’m a Perl programmer, and my résumé mentions Perl all over the place. Anyone calling about Python must really be desperate!

But I notice that a lot of Python programmers working at Python-centric firms apply similar logic. All the folks they work with do Python, clearly no-one does Perl anymore. Thank goodness – Python is finally the winner it always deserved to be.

Why do people care?

Network effects are important. All other things being equal, a language with more users will get more libraries, will have more companies using it, will get more users, will get more libraries, etc. vs a language with fewer users. And, popularity aside, none of the big three scripting languages has a huge advantage over the others.

Except of course that Perl was the first mover.

So, what can you do if you don’t have a real advantage you can point to? That’s right – you trash-talk the leader, hope you can convince enough people there is a real problem and when they jump ship hopefully you’ll be the one left with the positive feedback loop.

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Michael Murdock doesn’t believe in anti-Perlism. Of course he has to indulge in some of his own.

“Every developer with whom I have discussed this issue says roughly the same thing: It’s very difficult to pick up a piece of Perl code, even when it’s your own, and be able to quickly understand the gist of it.”

I find it hard to understand French but I don’t go round saying it is a speak-only language.

You couldn’t make it up. Or was the irony intentional?

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