Downloading and Installing Perl in 2021

[This article is part of our Popular articles project to update for contemporary practices]

If you’re reading this article, you’re likely looking for a simple way to download and install the Perl programming language. Or you already have Perl installed as part of your operating system, but it’s older than the currently-supported versions (5.32.1 or 5.30.3) and you’d like to use the latest and greatest features. The download options may seem daunting, especially if you’re new to computers or programming. We’ll take things step by step, and soon you’ll be on your way to writing your first Perl program.

A word of warning, though: Several of these steps (and usually Perl itself) require using your computer’s command-line or terminal interface.

The first step: Download pre-built

If you’re getting started in Perl development, you may only need a pre-built binary distribution. Further on, though, you might want to consider building your own, especially if you need to juggle different versions to support different environments or want to use a later version than is available pre-made.

For now, though, let’s consider the pre-built options. You have several, depending on what computer operating system you’re using.

Microsoft Windows

The two main “flavors” of Perl for Windows are ActiveState Perl and Strawberry Perl. Which one you choose depends on what you plan to use it for.

ActiveState provides a free community edition of ActivePerl licensed only for development purposes. If you intend to do commercial work or want technical support beyond community forums, you’ll need to subscribe to a team plan or higher.

The free community edition is also 64-bit only, and as of this writing, only the earlier versions 5.28 (2018) and 5.26 (2017) are available, with an experimental 5.32 (2020) release licensed for any purpose. The latter is also currently only installable via the Windows command line; earlier versions use a standard Windows setup wizard.

Strawberry Perl is a Perl environment for Windows that strives to be as close as possible to Perl on Unix and Linux systems, where the language got its start. Besides the Perl binaries, it also includes a compiler, related tools, external libraries, and database clients. This is important as many modules for extending Perl’s functionality need a compiler. It’s also available in both 64-bit and 32-bit editions of the current 5.32 version.

What do I recommend? There’s no escaping Perl’s Unix heritage, so you’ll have an easier time with Strawberry Perl. That said, if you think you’ll be taking advantage of ActiveState’s commercial offerings of support and their ActiveState Platform for managing different language runtimes, you may want to give them a try.

Windows also has two Linux-like environments in the form of Cygwin and Windows Subsystem for Linux. Follow the Linux directions below to install Perl in one of these.

There is also the Chocolatey package manager for Windows, which provides an option for installing either ActiveState or Strawberry Perl.

Apple macOS

macOS comes with Perl pre-installed: version 5.18 (2013) on macOS Catalina 10.15 and 5.28 (2018) on Big Sur 11. But, Apple has said that scripting language runtimes are deprecated, and are only “included … for compatibility with legacy software.” You should consider installing your own.

Like Windows, ActiveState has a free community edition for developers. The Windows caveats above apply, except for a current Perl version 5.32—it’s “coming soon” as of this writing.

Your best bet is to install the Homebrew package manager in the macOS Terminal application (after installing its requirements), and then issue the command brew install perl. This will install the latest version of Perl, as well as give you instructions for making sure that installed Perl modules stay that way across updates by Homebrew.

Linux or another Unix-like system

Like macOS, most Linux and Unix systems come with Perl pre-installed, or installable using the operating system’s software package manager. Also like macOS, these are usually older versions provided for compatibility with other software provided by the OS.

To install your own on Linux, you can go the ActiveState route as above, or also use the Homebrew package manager. There are several requirements to install first, and then you can follow the directions for installing Homebrew and issue the command brew install perl.

For other Unix systems with an older version of Perl, I’m afraid you’re going to have to build from source as detailed below.

Next steps: Building your own with perlbrew or plenv

Perl’s source code (the instructions that build a program) is freely available and compiles on over 100 platforms. You can download it directly and build a version yourself, after installing any prerequisite packages used to build software on your operating system (see below). However, most Perl developers choose to use a tool to automate that process and manage different versions of Perl side-by-side. Enter perlbrew.

Perlbrew requires an already-installed system version of Perl, but it can be as old as 5.8 (2002), which should cover most Linux and Unix systems in use today. Once you’ve installed your operating system’s build tools and followed the directions on the perlbrew home page, typing perlbrew install 5.32.1 followed by perlbrew switch 5.32.1 will install and switch to the latest version of Perl as of this writing. Installing older versions of Perl and switching between them use the same steps, e.g.:

perlbrew install 5.30.3 --as older-perl
perlbrew switch older-perl

I use an alternative, plenv, which uses a different mechanism to manage versions of Perl using the bash command shell. It also enables you to use different versions of Perl depending on which file system directory you’re working in. It’s set up using either Homebrew or git.

Windows users have the option of berrybrew, which acts much like perlbrew for Strawberry Perl with slightly different options.

Building from the source directly

If you feel you don’t need to manage multiple installations of Perl or you want to do things old-school, you can always download and build directly from the source code. Select “Download Latest Stable Source” from the Perl Download web page, then unarchive it into a directory.

You should always check the included README files for information on how to build on your system; there’s a generic one as well as specific READMEs for various platforms (README.linux, README.macosx, README.win32, etc.). Note that the README.macosx document applies to current versions of macOS, which was previously called Mac OS X; README.macos is for the “Classic” Macintosh operating system, unsupported since 2004.

On most Unix-like systems (including macOS), you can then configure, build, test, and install Perl by issuing the following commands:

./Configure -des -Dprefix=/usr/local/
make test
sudo make install

This will build Perl with all default options for your system and install it in the /usr/local directory.

Up and running

Regardless of whether you’ve chosen to install a pre-built package or roll your own, you should now be able to issue the following at your command line:

perl -v

…and receive a reply that looks something like this:

This is perl 5, version 32, subversion 1 (v5.32.1) built for darwin-2level
(with 1 registered patch, see perl -V for more detail)

Copyright 1987-2021, Larry Wall

Perl may be copied only under the terms of either the Artistic License or the
GNU General Public License, which may be found in the Perl 5 source kit.

Complete documentation for Perl, including FAQ lists, should be found on
this system using "man perl" or "perldoc perl".  If you have access to the
Internet, point your browser at, the Perl Home Page.

Congratulations, you’re now using the latest version of Perl on your computer! Now head on over to and start learning!


Mark Gardner

Mark helps professional Perl developers to engineer modern, disciplined applications in the cloud so that they can become experts that write easy-to-maintain code with confidence. He blogs at and works for HostGator as a software engineer.

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