• The cover of the 'Perl Hacks' book
  • The cover of the 'Beginning Perl' book
  • An
            image of Curtis Poe, holding some electronic equipment in front of
            his face.

The Future of Perl

minute read

The first Corinna commits

Recently, some of the first commits of the new Corinna object system for Perl have been merged into the Perl core. If you’re not familiar with it, I wrote a brief tutorial .

Around the same time as those commits were merged, I was rummaging around on an old computer and discovered, to my shock, that I had an old implementation of what I was trying to do, before that fateful day at a conference when Sawyer X, the man driving Perl development, saw my work, liked it, but urged me to to stop the implementation and just design something great. (As an aside, it also doesn’t quite appear to match my previous descriptions of it. Oops).

With my initial commit of that code on September 2, 2018, the Corinna project has been roughly four and a half years from conception to the initial core implementation. Since that time, I worked on design, made an initial announcement, and led a design team of some of the top experts in Perl, with much feedback coming from others who’ve designed object systems such as Moose or Moo, and from that effort, Corinna was accepted and the Perl core will have clean, mature OOP system for the first time (and one whose prototype, Object::Pad has been running in production at more than one company).

Keep in mind that bless and @ISA will still be there. We’re not taking anything away because the Perl 5 Porters (a.k.a., P5P) strive hard to not break backwards-compatibility.

If you’re curious, here’s what a simple 2D point class looked like;

class Point {
    has [qw/x y/] => ( default => sub { 0 } );

    sub clear ($self) {
        $self->@{ 'x', 'y' } = ( 0, 0 );

That’s not good at all, but I was trying to work within Perl’s limitations. It was also largely a response to improve upon Moxie :

package Point {
    use Moxie;

    extends 'Moxie::Object';

    has x => ( default => sub { 0 } );
    has y => ( default => sub { 0 } );

    sub x : ro;
    sub y : ro;

    sub clear ($self) {
        $self->@{ 'x', 'y' } = (0, 0);

I quite liked the intent of some of the ideas in Moxie, but that syntax is what pushed me to finally build Corinna. By contrast, here’s the same code in Corinna:

class Point {
    field ( $x, $y ) :param = 0;

    method clear () {
        ( $x, $y ) = ( 0, 0 );

There will be an adjustment period while people learn a new way to program in Corinna, the same way that learning a new programming requires learning to think a different way, but overall, the Perl community is very happy about the project. Some are not, but that’s OK. Having a perfectly homogeneous community, marching in lockstep, no questions asked, would be a creepy thing. It would also be a useless thing. Diversity of opinion is not only healthy, but needed.

What’s Next?

That’s a great question. I’ve co-written one book on Perl and written another (linked in the images at the top of the page), I served two decades at The Perl Foundation, the last several years as a member of the board, I have a bunch of modules on the CPAN , and our company, All Around the World , is still doing well, with multiple contracts. I’m currently having fun building an OpenAPI system using Dancer2 (something I’ve not had much chance to play with before), and another company inquired about help from us to go in and fix their object-oriented mess, including cleaning up a bunch of old code to use Moose .

So we’re doing fine, but whither Perl? Or to abuse Shakespeare:

To Perl or not to Perl, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the code to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous criticism,
Or to add commits against a sea of troubles,
And by rebasing, end them? To die(), to sleep(),
No more; and by a sleep() to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That Perl is heir to. 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die(), to sleep();
To sleep–perchance to dream–ay, there's the 'no strict.'

Sue me. I like poetry. Why do you think my nickname is “Ovid”?

Let’s be honest, Perl isn’t as popular as it used to be. There’s a lot of angst in the Perl community expressed over this. There’s also a lot of finger-pointing. There are many reasons that Perl is not as popular as it once was, but rather than ruminate on history and stir up debates over things we cannot change, I want to look to the future.

Fix the problem, not the blame.

So what’s the problem?

Sure, we can talk about fewer Perl developers or fewer companies starting new projects in Perl, but those are symptoms. Instead, I want to focus on one problem that Perl has and I think it’s both important and solvable.

Perl 5 was released in October of 1994 and there’s a misconception that Perl hasn’t changed much since then. I still remember a Linux conference in Prague where a programmer was telling me that Perl hasn’t been updated in decades and this is a widespread misconception that hurts Perl (we suck at marketing).

Just looking at the stable releases in the last decades:

Pumpking Version Release Date
Ricardo 5.16.0 2012-May-20
Ricardo 5.18.0 2013-May-18
Ricardo 5.20.0 2014-May-27
Ricardo 5.22.0 2015-Jun-01
Ricardo 5.24.0 2016-May-09
Sawyer X 5.26.0 2017-May-30
Sawyer X 5.28.0 2018-Jun-22
Sawyer X 5.30.0 2019-May-22
Sawyer X 5.32.0 2020-Jun-20
Sawyer X 5.34.0 2021-May-20
Ricardo 5.36.0 2022-May-27

As you can see, Perl gets a regular, major release every year. Some of the new features introduced into Perl include native try/catch blocks. Function signatures are now on by default. Unicode 14.0 is supported. True booleans are supported. Some older misfeatures, such as indirect object syntax and multidimensional are disabled (they’re still available, but if you don’t know what they are, don’t worry). There are some amazing improvements to the regular expression engine, widely considered the best in the programming world .

There’s much more, but many issues are very Perl-specific and even many Perl programmers are not aware of the work done by the porters. The Perl 5.36.0 release alone represents approximately a year of development since Perl 5.34.0 and contains approximately 250,000 lines of changes across 2,000 files from 82 authors (taken from the perldelta file for 5.36.0).

Note that 82 developers might seem like a lot, but it’s also incomplete. Many people who’ve contributed haven’t done so by committing directly to the Perl repository.

So Perl is still under heavy development, but it’s hard to argue that we’ve done a great job communicating that, so how can we communicate that?

Perl 7

The excellent Raku Programming Language was known as “Perl 6” for many years, but it diverged far enough from its Perl roots to merit a separate name. So when there was much excitement about a new release of Perl called Perl 7, there was great news coverage of it .

In short, even with a fresh Perl install, to use Perl effectively today, you often get the behavior of an older version of Perl and you have to ask for the modern features. If you’re new to Perl, there’s good chance you wouldn’t know that.

Unfortunately, that work was halted amidst disagreements over direction and the Perl Steering Council (PSC) later released a discussion of about what it would take to get to Perl 7 . Is Corinna going to be part of Perl 7? The PSC recently announced that it might . I think it should, but asking my opinion is like asking a parent if their newborn is cute, so you can ignore me.

But on the off chance you don’t want to ignore me (you’re reading this, right?), Perl 7 will likely be a newsworthy release, showing the world that Perl is still in active development, but the features in the language are rather marginal in value, in the eyes of many. Corinna is the single-largest change to the Perl language in three decades, and that might make a splash, but again, I’m biased. Nonetheless, releasing Perl 7 is not trivial and Corinna might not be the top priority of the developers who will actually get the work done. I can live with that.

At the risk of offending a few people, barring Corinna, any release of Perl 7 is likely to be much of what we have in Perl right now, but with easier defaults. It will simply make it easier to write Perl, but not offer much “new” to current developers, beyond a message to the programming world.

For technical and political reasons, Perl 7 without Corinna might be exactly what Perl needs. But even then, Perl 7 will be a far cry from the Perl released back in 1994. Perl’s been evolving rapidly over the years, but without people hearing about it.

But how can we push this further? That’s what I’ve been thinking about.

Perl 8

Perl’s regular expression engine is world-class, but it’s hardly the reason to choose a language. Or to keep it. What else does Perl offer? With Corinna, Perl will have one of the nicest OOP systems of popular dynamic languages (er, I may be biased, but when I look at other “popular” dynamic languages, I wince). So that can be two killer features. But we need more, but to get to “more,” we need to address the fact that the Perl core is missing a few features that other languages provide. We need to fix that.

Installation Manager

Recently, I hit an issue with a client. My code was correct, but failed in the test environment due to a “Can’t locate object method” error. As it turns out, the actively maintained CPAN module I was using was last updated in 2022, but the version the client had was released over two decades ago! Worse, my attempt to locally debug this was frustrated by some particulars in the client setup which caused me to find a current local version of the module and not the archaic version the client had. Fortunately, it was a trivial fix, but spending time debugging this issue cost our client money they should not have had to spend.

Per the nodejs blog :

CPAN and RubyGems have blurred the lines between development tools and system package managers. With npm we wish to draw a clear line: it is not a system package manager. It is not for installing firefox or ffmpeg or OpenSSL; it is for rapidly downloading, building, and setting up Node packages. npm is a development tool. When a program written in Node becomes sufficiently mature it should be distributed as a tarball, .deb, .rpm, or other package system. It should not be distributed to end users with npm.

Out of the box, Perl has a cpan client which lets you install Perl modules. It’s great for developing libraries, but we don’t offer great support for developing applications. When I cd into a client directory, I want to run something like perl-local . and have it pick up the version of Perl for this project and use this project’s CPAN modules. Having this completely isolated from other Perl projects which might have different needs. We have many Perl tools designed to solve various parts of the problem, but it’s time to put them into the core. There’s now a discussion on the P5P mailing list about addressing this .

To put this as a simplistic user story:

  1. As a developer
  2. I want to easily set up multiple isolated Perl environments
  3. So I can support multiple isolated clients/projects
  4. Because my work shouldn’t have the fragility of picking up the wrong dependencies

There’s a lot of work there, but a developer installing Perl for the first time should be able to solve this, just as developers downloading other languages for the first time can.


<snark>Promises, promises.</snark>

Much of the programming world today is dealing with concurrency in some form. There are serious problems this solves, including:

  1. CPU-intensive work can be split across multiple CPUs (or GPUs!).
  2. Don’t wait on code that might block due to external resource constraints.

P5P has long preferred that new ideas for Perl be tested on the CPAN before incorporating these ideas into the core. This allows us to see what is and isn’t working (or in some cases, just to better understand the syntax people prefer). There are multiple attempts to solve the concurrency issue on the CPAN and given that this feature is being used more and more, and becoming a default feature in many languages, I think the core needs to support his.

Data Constraints

As with an installation manager and concurrency, the CPAN offers many solutions for constraining your data. You might notice I avoided the word “type.” Computer scientists have reasonable disagreements about types and type systems. Computer programmers have shouting matches.

I know what I want from types. Others strongly disagree. However, a very workable compromise has emerged in Perl. This is largely based on Type::Tiny and similar modules. For Moose, for example, I can define an attribute like this:

has expires_at => (
    is  => 'rw',
    isa => InstanceOf ['DateTime' ],

With that, I can read and write the expires_at value and know that the value must be a DateTime instance or a subclass (er, or anything that overloaded the isa method to lie and say it’s a DateTime class, but we’ll ignore that because it opens up a fascinating discussion well beyond the scope of this post).

For a subroutine, I might do this:

sub reset_totals ($count, $totals) {
    state $check = compile(Int, HashRef[Int]);
    ($count, $totals) = $check->($count, $totals);

    $count = constrain($count);

    foreach my $key (keys $totals->%*) {
        $totals->{$key} = $count;

Unlike the attribute approach, the sub solution only guarantees the kind of data you have in variables at the time of the $check->(). In the above subroutine, if constrain returned an array reference instead of an integer, the above code would not only continue to run, but it would do so without warning, to the point of corrupting the data in the code calling this function!

Note that the above is not a hypothetical problem. It happens, but we kid ourselves that our test suite will protect us. In reality, attaching a data constraint to variables instead of statements would fix the above. TypeScript isn’t perfect, but I’ve enjoyed the fact that many of these errors simply don’t occur (though TypeScript handles this differently).

We are not, however, there yet. Type::Tiny and related tools are great ways of minimizing the issue, but their syntax is clumsy and their features are limited, largely because they’re working within the limitations of Perl. This is not a criticism of these modules, though. We have to start somewhere. However, our company is finding more and more clients relying on Type::Tiny due to the safety it provides. More work is needed here.


I think Perl needs native exceptions. It needs native stack traces. Native constants, including deep structures. Copy-on-write would be useful, but it’s not clear how feasible this is. There’s a lot more, but what I’ve written might already be controversial enough that stopping is probably good.


We need a vision of Perl’s future. Many of the things we need in the Perl core are things we’ve re-implemented many times on the CPAN. Not having them in core means developers have to learn their current environment’s way of handling this, and makes it easier to choose a module that might be inappropriate, or worse, unmaintained. This increases the cognitive burden on all developers who, I’m sure, are more interested in building solutions than arguing over them.

Perl 7 is going to be wonderful, but it’s time to start thinking about Perl 8.

If you have ideas about what Perl needs for the future, please leave a comment below.

Please leave a comment below!

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Copyright © 2018-2023 by Curtis “Ovid” Poe.