Command line

Command line Perl

Despite being a suitable for large projects, Perl grew out of Unix shell scripting, so it allows you to run it from the command line directly:

perl -e "print 'Hello'; print 2 + 2;"

if you’re on Windows, or:

perl -e 'print q:Hello:; print 2 + 2;'

if you’re on Unix. The quotes matter. The -e is the execute switch, and there are several others:

perl -v

will get you information on the version of perl you’re running.

perl -h

will tell you all the switches you can use.

perl -w

turns on warnings, (and note that all these switches can also be bunged on the shebang line of a normal script if you’d rather).

perl -c

checks the syntax of a perl script without actually executing it.


perl -T

turns on taint mode. When running under taint, perl will not allow you to do certain unsafe things. In particular, anything entered by users of the script will be considered tainted, and you will not be allowed to use it in potentially dangerous things like:

system( $x );

To untaint data, you need to run any externally sources strings through pattern-match-and-capture, which perl assumes you’re sensible enough to write so as to preclude the possibility of letting bad things through.

Loading modules on the command line

perl -MFile::Find -e "find( sub{ print qq($_\n) if /\.jpg/ }, shift )" D:/pictures

The -M switch allows you to use a module from the command line, here File::Find. This one-liner just prints every JPEG file found in D:/pictures.

Text manipulation from the command line

Here’s a little one-liner that prints out the palindromes found in a dictionary file, using the fact that reverse will reverse a string in scalar context:

perl -l -n -e "print if $_ eq reverse" custom.dic

This one has two new switches, -n and -l. The -n switch assumes a:

while ( <> ) { ... }

loop around the program. The filehandle-less <> diamond operator is a shorthand for opening and reading in every file that follows on the command line, line-by-line. The -l switch does line-end processing (i.e. chomp): it’s quite clever, in that it removes trailing newlines from lines read in from these files, but it adds them back on again if you print them. So:

perl -lne "print if $_ eq reverse" custom.dic

is shorthand for something like:

$\= $/;
for my $file ( @ARGV ) {
    open my $FILE, "<$file";
    while ( defined ( $_ = <$FILE> ) ) {
        print if $_ eq reverse $_;

Only much more convenient. The first line, $\= $/; sets the output record separator $\ to the input record separator $/ . You have met the second of these before: it contains the character that chomp will remove from strings, and that delimits lines when reading from a <FILEHANDLE>. It is ordinarily set to \n. The $\ variable is the mirror image of $/ : it’s what perl will append to every call to print. It is ordinarily set to undef. By setting the output record delimiter to the input record delimiter, our chomped newlines will be re-appended when we print $_.

File manipulation from the command line

Another useful switch is -i (also accessible by setting the special variable $^I). It does an in-place edit of the files on the command line, so whenever you are thinking “Oh, I want to do blah to files foo, bar and baz, but want to back them up first”, look no further than:

perl -i.bak -p -e "blah" foo bar baz

The -i.bak switch tells perl to copy each file it opens to a back-up file with .bak appended to it (or whatever you specify). This effects our backing-up. We then use the -p and execute switches to manipulate the original files.

The -p switch is the same as -n, only it prints the result of the manipulation at the end. Not only this, but when you are doing in-place editing, it prints the result to a special filehandle called ARGVOUT, which is opened for writing on each file on the command-line. Under normal circumstances, a plain print; statement will print STDOUT $_;, but when you are in-place editing, the -p will do an implicit print ARGVOUT $_; instead.

So to replace every vowel in a file called abjadify.txt with x’s, we can use:

perl -i.bak -p -e "tr/aeiouAEIOU/xxxxxXXXXX/" abjadify.txt

Which will back up our original file to abjadify.txt.bak, transliterate all the vowels to x’s, then write the result to the file, producing something like:

Xt's qxxtx xxsy tx rxxd x lxngxxgx yxx knxw wxll whxn yxx rxplxcx xll thx vxwxls
wxth x's, xs lxngxxgxs xrx vxry rxdxndxnt xnd thxrx xrx xsxxlly lxts xf clxxs 
tx dxstxngxxsh bxtwxxn wxrds lxkx bxxts xnd bxxts, bxt nxt hxrx xbvxxxsly!

Next up…Debugging

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