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Perl Developer's Dictionary
by Rick Smith (September 1, 2001)

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B O O K   I N F O R M A T I O N
Title: Perl Developer's Dictionary
Author: Clinton Pierce
Publisher: Sams Publishing
201 West 103rd Street
Indianapolis, IN 46290

Clinton Pierce, the author, introduces this book "unashamedly [as] a reference book" and suggests that beginners should read his book Teach Yourself Perl in 24 Hours to learn the Perl language. I definitely agree, because this book is not a tutorial.

I started to read this book from the beginning several times, but each time I ended up putting it down, never feeling that I made any progress. It appeared as if I was stuck in the first chapter forever, because Chapter One is nearly one-third of the entire book. This book has only 7 chapters, which is quite low for a 590 page book.

Since I wasn't making much progress, I decided to use this book in a more referential fashion. Because one of the most powerful features of Perl is regular expressions, I decided to read the entire Regular Expressions chapter, line by line. This strategy worked, but I quickly wanted to have one single index that included all functions and specific Perl syntax. Specific operators (y), modifiers (/o) and character classes (\w, \b) aren't listed in any index in this book. I also wasn't sure if I should look up these symbols under their letter or the character (-/\) in front of them. There are also symbol variables ($!, $*, $/, $;, $?, $\, $], etc.) that are not listed in the index either.

The chapter on Regular Expressions is far from a "quick read" because it is so extremely thorough. This chapter is broken down into short sections about specific topics, which are clearly and accurately described. Most of these sections include plenty of useful, functional code snippets with explanations. These examples made me think and even start wondering about changes that I could make to my existing code. Some of these topics were:

  • Problems with using untrusted regular expression patterns from CGI search forms

  • Pre-compilation of regular expressions

  • Effects of locale on the meanings of metacharacters

  • POSIX character classes

  • Lookaheads, Lookbehinds and internal modifiers

  • Making regular expressions more efficient to gain a faster execution speed

    Each topic section also includes a "See Also" table to refer you to other related sections for further information. Unfortunately, you then need to check the index or scan the Table of Contents to find the correct page. Because searching these indexes takes extra work, this book could be made even more useful by becoming a hyperlinked e-book. This way, reference material would be much easier to find, since it could be accessed directly, without having to use any index.

    I feel this book doesn't live up to its name of Developer's "Dictionary". To me, a developer's dictionary would be a reference book that I can use to quickly find further information about a symbol or function I encounter within Perl code. A "dictionary" has a specific user interface, with a single list of entries presented in alphabetical order. Synonyms and related topics are included in this list, but there would be no other indexes to look through. The current layout of this book might be better served if it was titled "Perl Developer's Reference" instead.

    In spite of these organizational issues, I feel that the information and content of Perl Developer's "Dictionary" are quite excellent, once you find the information you're looking for.

    Book Chapters

    Copyright 2001 Rick Smith All rights reserved.

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