Input and output


The “not a hello world script” script is a little dull. Let’s try something a more useful:

print "What is your name?\n";
$name = <STDIN>;
chomp( $name );
print "$name likes beans.\n";

Don’t forget the semicolons at the end of each statement.

The first line of this program should be obvious now, but the others may need a little explaining. The second line contains the line-reading operator < > and the STDIN filehandleSTDIN (the “standard input filehandle”) is automatically opened whenever you run perl, and is where things inputted through pressing buttons on the keyboard live. If you surround a filehandle like STDIN with the < > line reading angle brackets, you will read a line from that filehandle. A line to perl is some text followed by a newline character, hence:


means “read a line from the keyboard”. Which it duly does, grabbing Grumblepuss\n or suchlike: whatever you type in followed by the enter key (which appends a \n newline). The = is an assignment operator, and $name is the name of a Perl variable. Hence,

$name = <STDIN>;

means, “read a line in from the keyboard and store it in the variable $name“.

If you are from a Java or C background, you may be wondering what the $ is for, although anyone sufficiently elderly to remember BBC Micro BASIC may feel slightly more at home. The $ at the front of $name means that $name is a “scalar” variable (think $ for $calar), i.e. a  $ingle, flat item of data, not a list. Scalar variables are Perl’s bread and butter, and they can hold anything: an integer, a floating point number, a string, or even more esoteric things like objects and filehandles.

Cleaning up input

Next up in our script is our second Perl function (we’ve already met print). This goes by the peculiar name of chomp:

chomp( $name );

When you read data in from the keyboard, you will have to press the Enter key. In addition to ending your line of input, this will also add a newline character to whatever you just typed. Hence $name will actually contain Grumblepuss\n,with the newline at the end, not just Grumblepuss on its own. The chomp function removes the newline from the variable it is given, so after chomping, $name will just contain Grumblepuss. The parentheses aren’t really necessary here: they’re just a matter of taste. My personal taste is to leave parentheses off most Perl built-ins, so we’ll immediately change that script to…

print "What is your name?\n";
$name = <STDIN>;
chomp $name;
print "$name likes beans.\n";


Finally, the last line

print "$name likes beans.\n";

prints out

Grumblepuss likes beans

or similar. Because we have used " " double quotes, the contents of variables like $name will be interpolated into what is output automagically. If you’d used ' ' single quotes on the print statement, you’d have got:

$name likes beans.\n

which isn’t what we want here. As we saw earlier, double quotes interpolate escape sequences like \n; now you have seen that they also interpolate the values of scalar variables too. This is extremely useful, and saves you the effort of writing something like:

print $name, "likes beans.\n";

This would also work, as print will print out a comma-separated list of values just as happily as a single item, but it’s rather more effort. Single quotes neither interpolate escapes (except \\ and \') nor interpolate variables.

Versions of perl equal to or higher than 5.10.0 (I’m using 5.16.1 at the instant of writing this) have a new built-in called say, which automatically adds a newline to the end of the outputted data:

use 5.16.1;
say "We don't need no stinking newlines";
We don't need no stinking newlines

The say function is not available automatically for backwards-compatibility reasons, but if you include a use 5.10.0; line to require a version of perl greater than or equal to 5.10.0 then say will be made available.

Next up…arrays and slices.

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