This Week on p5p 2001/01/28



Notes

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There were 317 messages this week, not including test results.

5.6.x delayed

People seemed to think that this was monumental and catastrophic; it's not, but I mention it anyway: Alan asked what was happening to 5.6.1 - we've seen one trial release, and another one is eagerly expected. Sarathy replied that he probably won't have time to do anything much with it for the next few weeks, and offered to hand over maintainance of 5.6.x to anyone who wants it. People get busy; it's not the end of the world.

Still, it does look like 5.6.1 is going to take a while to get out there. Hold on tight, though; my crystal ball tells me that Jarkko's been doing some work merging bleadperl patches into the 5.6 maintainance branch.

Test::Harness again

Michael Schwern's valiant efforts with Test::Harness are beginning to bear fruit, as he produced another megapatch this week. This seemed to make a lot of people happier, but there were still some small problems with it; notably that it would choke if some output arrived before the first "ok" or "1..N", and that it failed its own test suite. The irony! But it's looking a lot closer to going in, and it's looking a lot cleaner code. Nicholas Clark also noticed that you can overwrite the runtests function to build several different perls and runs the tests on each o of them.

Lots of test results

But this process - building Perl with lots of different options and sending in the results - is one that a few people (Notably Alan, Merijn and Abigail) have already been doing, and P5P has been near innundated with OK and Not OK reports. Jarkko suggested that some kind of summarizing program should be run over the results, and Merijn provided one. (The link is actually to an updated version he posted later in the week.) It tests Perl in lots of different configurations in all of the different possible IO subsystems. If you've got any kind of non-obvious operating system, lots of spare cycles, and you're following the rsync Perl, it would be great if you could play with it!

The hashing function

When Perl stores an element in a hash, it creates a ``hash value'' for the key, and then does the moral equivalent of

    $hashvalue = hash_it($key);
    push @{$hash[$hashvalue % 8]}, {key => $key, value => $element};

distributing the keys over 8 ``buckets''. The key, if you'll pardon the pun, to good hashing is to get the elements evenly distributed in the buckets. If you get eight elements in eight different buckets, your element is guaranteed to be the first thing in the bucket, and you can fetch it back quickly - if you get them all in the same bucket, you may have to skip over seven other elements to find yours. Hence a good hashing function is essential for efficient hash access.

The one Perl uses at the moment looks like this:

        while (i_PeRlHaSh--)
             hash_PeRlHaSh = hash_PeRlHaSh * 33 + *s_PeRlHaSh++;
        (hash) = hash_PeRlHaSh + (hash_PeRlHaSh>>5);

(In Perl, that would be something like

    $hash = $hash * 33 + ord($_) for split //, $key;
    $hash += $hash >> 5;

)

Nick Clark found that by applying Duff's device to the hashing function he could get a 2% speedup; this led to Yet Another Benchmarking Argument, and Nick Ing-Simmons rightly pointing out that you can usually get a 2% speedup in the test suite merely by running the test suite again with no changes. Still, it was fun while it lasted - Nick's implementation is here.

Next up was Mark Leighton Fisher, who provided a patch to make Perl use Bob Jenkins' ``One-at-a-time'' hash function. There was no noticable speedup in the Perl benchmarking suite, but it did cause a lot of otherwise sensible programmers to write a lot of assembly code for no apparent reason.

chop examples

Michael Schwern has been cleaning up the perlfunc documentation, and putting in useful examples; unfortunately, he's stuck on finding useful examples for chop. Some people have surmised that this is because chop is fundamentally useless, and there's a proposal that it should be outlawed in Perl 6. Well, who knows, but we all certainly had a hard time thinking of handy things to do with it. Can you come up with anything better?

PerlIO programming documentation

Thanks to Nick Ing-Simmons, PerlIO (remember that?) has now got some documentation about how to program it; the original perlapio.pod (which has actually been there for years but nobody reads it) has been updated, and if you look in snapshots from now on, you'll find perliol.pod which is all about how IO layers work.

By the way, the module authors amongst you out there are using the PerlIO abstraction layer instead of assuming FILE*, right? Good.

<<< and >>> ops

John Allen suggested that Perl should have two new bit-twiddling operators: >>> would be a right shift without sign extension under use integer, and <<< would be a left roll.

Several people pointed out that this was horribly assymetrical, that it made evil assumptions about integer size, and that it probably wouldn't win that much anyway. Which is a shame, because we all do so much low-level bit-twiddling in Perl...

Feature testing and our()

MJD inquired as to why h2xs was producing code that wanted Perl 5.005_62. It transpired that this was when our variables were introduced, and now h2xs declares variables like $VERSION to be our variables.

Jarkko said it would be a lot cleaner to be able to say use feature 'our' to defend against people doing things like backporting our to earlier Perls. Tom Hughes provided a sample implementation of the pragma that wasn't quite right, and further discussion was needed as to what Jarkko intended. One way of doing it would be to have a module which has a hash of feature names and the version numbers in which they were introduced, and checks that the program requesting a given set of features is running on a Perl that can supply them. I don't know if that'd be a good idea, but if it's your idea of fun, by all means implement it and send it in...

Win32 and ActiveState Perl Configuration

Indy Singh noted that the defaults you get when you're building your own perl on Win32 don't allow you to use pre-compiled binary modules from the various repositories such as ActiveState's, and sent in a patch to correct this by making the defaults the same as AS use.

Sarathy objected, on the grounds that the current options are a lot faster and ask less of compilers, and that:

I think 99% of the people relying on module repositories don't build their own perl, and the ones that do are smart enough to enable the options they need. OTOH, I suspect most people building perl on their own on Windows need maximal efficiency and compatibility with Unix.

So I think the older defaults make more sense than the newer ones.

His compromise would be an `ActiveState compatibility flag' that people building their own perls could set, which would turn on the same options that ActiveState use at a stroke. Indy objected to Sarathy's objection, but Sarathy pointed out that he did not actually want people to pessimize the default Win32 configuration:

Wearing my ActiveState hat, I'd be more than happy if the defaults set all the options to what ActiveState uses now or will be using in future, but I thought I should point out the downsides regardless.

Tim Jenness then raised another ActiveState config point: ActiveState's build of Perl on Solaris uses Perl's own implementation of malloc. People had reported problems using this in conjunction with PDL, and there have been other known `issues' with Perl's malloc, especially when dealing with 64-bit systems. Sarathy said that it should be considered for 5.7.x, but not in the 5.6.x builds to avoid breaking binary compatibility.

Various

Ilya's mad patch of the week was to allow overloading of int(); shame he didn't look at lvalue overloading while he was at it. Peter Prymmer provided MVS users with dynamic loading on OS/390. (as well as lots of other useful OS/390 fixes.) There was another debate about the meaninglessness of benchmarking. Yes, floating point arithmetic is still imprecise. We know.

Unicode. There, I've mentioned it.

Until next week I remain, your humble and obedient servant,


Simon Cozens
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