Three New Perl Books

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Many new Web programmers will tell you that Perl is too bulky and complicated for the needs of today’s Web programmers, and that it is on the way out, to be replaced by ASP, PHP, and other upstart scripting languages. Those in the know, however, will tell you that Perl can provide a powerful and elegant solution to just about any scripting problem, and that its sheer versatility and abundance of grassroots support means that it will be a contender for years to come!

What follows are my mini-reviews of Professional Perl Programming, and Professional Perl Development, both from WROX Press, and The Perl CD Bookshelf 2.0 from O’Reilly. If you’re just getting started with Perl, be sure to also check out my complete review of Beginning Perl Programming from WROX. Whether you’re a seasoned Perl expert, or have yet to write your first ‘shebang’, WROX and O’Reilly have the book for you.

Professional Perl Programming (WROX)

Professional Perl ProgrammingIntroductory Perl books tend to have one major weakness: they hide the complexities of the language in order to make the subject seem more approachable. While it may be a little too fast paced for readers with no previous programming experience, Professional Perl Programming is packed with technical detail and advanced scripting features. As a result, this book is the ideal choice for experienced programmers getting started with Perl, or who have learned the basics and are looking for more detail.

Written by Peter Wainwright, the author of Professional Apache (the manual that Apache never had), and a number of strong supporting authors including Simon Cozens, author of Beginning Perl Programming, the quality of writing throughout this book is uniformly strong (something that I’ve found is sometimes not the case in other collaborative works from WROX Press). The pages are code-heavy and thick with tables of reference information, but the text that supports this material is always cogent, thoughtful, and to the point.

Besides the incredibly thorough introduction to basic language elements that is featured in the first quarter of the book, Professional Perl Programming covers such advanced topics as regular expressions (the most complete discussion I’ve seen in a book that isn’t dedicated to the subject), terminal I/O (for creating interactive programs), performance profiles (to locate the slow spots in your scripts), object oriented programming in Perl, the inner workings of the Perl interpreter, networked applications, portable coding practices, and more!

If you consider yourself to be comfortable with general programming concepts, whether you have experience with Perl or not, Professional Perl Programming is the ideal no-nonsense guide to get you up and running with the language as quickly as possible and with a minimum of unanswered questions.

"Professional Perl Programming" by Peter Wainwright et al.
2001 WROX Press (www.wrox.com)
1097 pages + 74 pages of Appendices
OVERALL RATING: 5/5
BUY IT: If you have programming experience, whether you’re new to Perl or not.
FORGET IT: If you’re just getting started where programming is concerned, and think you’ll need an extra helping hand with the basics of Perl.

Buy it at Amazon.com for $47.99

Professional Perl Development (WROX)

Professional Perl DevelopmentIt comes as an unpleasant surprise to many that once they have learned Perl they are not immediately able to apply that knowledge to creating dynamic Web pages. The reason for this is that Perl can be used for many different things; creating CGI scripts for use on the Web is only one of those things. In Professional Perl Development, Randy Kobes, Peter Wainwright, Shishir Gundavaram and a group of contributing authors give the reader a tour of the most common applications of Perl (from the most basic to the more advanced).

This book is not for the Perl beginner as it assumes a solid grounding in the language from page one. That isn’t to say this book is only for experienced programmers, just that you should work your way through an introductory text like Beginning Perl Programming before you dive into this book.

The very first chapter covers the most popular application of Perl: Web Server Programming. Specifically, it provides complete coverage of writing CGI scripts in Perl, from the basics of the HTTP protocol to advanced issues of Web server security. The second chapter continues in the same vein, covering modern CGI alternatives FastCGI and mod_perl. Later chapters in the book focus on embedding Perl scripts within HTML pages and using PerlScript to write ASP pages with Perl as the scripting language (as strange as that may sound).

While the above-mentioned chapters are certainly the core chapters of the book for Web developers, but there is a lot more to this book. Additional topics are many and varied, and include libraries that support various networking protocols (from Traceroute to IMAP, NNTP to POP3), database access with files and RDBMS’ such as MySQL with Perl the DBI library, XML support, advanced mathematical and computational applications, graphics, and graphical user interfaces.

All up, Professional Perl Development leaves little room for complaint. A practical guide to applying Perl to the real problems that face computing professionals, it will open your eyes to the sheer versatility of Perl. I can’t help wondering, however, if a short introduction to the Perl language for the benefit of experienced developers who can pick up new languages easily, might have rounded out this book somewhat.

"Professional Perl Development" by Kobes, Wainwright, Gundavaram, et al.
2001 WROX Press (www.wrox.com)
607 pages + 88 pages of Appendices
OVERALL RATING: 4/5
BUY IT: If you’ve learned Perl and want to know how to use it in the real world.
FORGET IT: If you don’t know Perl.

Buy it at Amazon.com for $39.99

The Perl CD Bookshelf, Version 2.0 (O’Reilly)

The Perl CD Bookshelf, Version 2.0If there’s one thing I’ve discovered as I’ve reviewed the various Perl books available to Web developers and general programmers, it’s that it is difficult or impossible to find a single book that will teach you everything you want to know about Perl. With the release of the original edition of The Perl CD Bookshelf, the minds at O’Reilly seemed to have realized this. Instead of trying to create a single, massive volume that covered all aspects of the Perl language, they translated their most successful titles into a convenient, searchable HTML format and presented them all together on a single CD.

In Version 2.0 of this ultimate (and ultimately portable) Perl reference, O’Reilly has dropped two introductory titles (Learning Perl and Learning Perl on Win32 Systems) from the lineup of books included on the CD and replaced them with a new book that is more in keeping with the quick-reference nature of this collection, Perl for System Administration. This new version also includes the updated 3rd Edition of Programming Perl, held by many to be the definitive work on Perl (the so-called "Camel book").

Together the five books in this collection normally retail for $189.75, which makes the $79.95 (or even cheaper if you shop around) CD Bookshelf quite a steal! To recap, The Perl CD Bookshelf, Version 2.0 contains the unabridged versions of the following O’Reilly books:

  • Perl in a Nutshell
  • Programming Perl, 3rd Edition
  • Perl Cookbook
  • Advanced Perl Programming
  • Perl for System Administration

And to top it off, the CD comes bundled to a complete print version of Perl in a Nutshell, which normally retails for $29.95!

Heavily hyperlinked, completely portable, viewable on any browser, and instantly searchable thanks to a master index and Java search engine, I found this to be far more convenient than the print versions of the very same books for reference purposes. If you’re just learning Perl, however, be sure you don’t mind reading on your computer monitor before you invest in this package.

"The Perl CD Bookshelf, Version 2.0"
2001 O’Reilly (www.oreilly.com)
OVERALL RATING: 5/5
BUY IT: If you have need of a complete Perl reference that you can take on the road.
FORGET IT: If you prefer the real thing to reading off your monitor.

Buy it at Amazon.com for $71.95

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