George Neuner wrote on 11/26/18 1:07 PM:
Perl should talk ... [...] It's a mystery to me how it became so popular.
I bet George knows the story, but I'd like to tell it for the list, since I think this is relevant background, to people interested in practical programming languages research...
Perl, though I'd try not to use it today, actually has a proud history of being a god-like power tool on Unix, starting circa 1990. Four of the reasons:
* a Perl programmer could wipe the floor, functionality-wise, with even with the most skilled Unix shell person (the kind who could avoid textual expansion/evaluation bugs in Bourne and Csh, and do things like relational database operations using only AT&T / Bell Labs and Berkeley shell tools);
* Perl was portable (there was a lot of variation among all the engineering workstation Unix implementations; plus there were VAXstations that you'd otherwise have to script in DCL, and DEC stuff was all interesting and solid, but a very different philosophy from Unix; Linux and the PC BSDs, and most MS-DOS and Windows stuff, were still underpowered toys);
* the alternative to Perl was usually C or early C++ (though extension languages like Tcl and Python were starting to kick around; but Tcl's main use was relatively easy GUI development, and Python was just a bare language without libraries when Perl already had lots); and
* Perl was especially well-suited to the needs of sysadmins, doing everything from very sophisticated and complicated operations, to quick little labor-saving scripts.
There was also a second burst to Perl popularity, when the Web started to emerge. Up until then, Perl was the lightsaber of the sysadmin, plus a few software developers who knew about it, and liked to use it on the side. But one of the earliest ways to do server-side dynamic Web content, in the early-mid 1990s, was with the CGI interface to the Web server, and Perl had one of the first libraries for that, strong string manipulation, and quick process startup. (I did most of my CGI in Perl, and only one in C, because it needed the GD library for drawing a diagram, and Perl didn't yet have library support for that. And a Perl CGI script is how I have prior art on Facebook, years before, and mine was scraping multiple university resources in real time. :) Other libraries and frameworks and Web servers and such came along, but, for a while, Perl was almost synonymous with server-side Web stuff, because it was there first, and you could get it to do what you needed.
I agree that Perl was always gratuitously crazy, with its linguistic shortcuts and redundant forms. (Today, a student could have a blast, implementing a `#lang perl` for Perl 4 or later, and getting all the syntax and semantics right.) The cult-like pride behind "you can do that in a single line of Perl", and perhaps being proud of line noise appearance, might've fed that. But it was easy to see why Perl became popular despite this.
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