This Week on p5p 2000/10/30


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This was a bit of a Unicode-heavy week; maybe it's because that's what I particularly notice, or maybe it's because it's the most broken bit.

sprintf Parameter Re-ordering

Jarkko got around to implementing a sprintf which lets you reorder the parameters, so that you can now say:

        printf "%2\$d %1\$d\n", 12, 34;           
        # will print "34 12\n"

There was some discussion as to whether that's the right way to do it, but that's the way libc seems to do it, so we should too. Read about it.

The Dangers (and bugs) of Unicode

Jarkko mentioned an article about Unicode security in Bruce Schneier's Counterpoint. It's a load of scaremongering about how Unicode can never be secure, apparently.

Now, I have to admit that I think this is bogus, but Jarkko also pointed out Markus Kuhn's Unicode information which is really worth reading. There was some discussion about exactly how bogus it was.

[ Dominus here: I didn't think Bruce was scaremongering. To understand Bruce's point, consider a CGI program written in Perl and running in taint mode. It gets a user input, which it plans to use as a filename, and it wants to untaint the input. The usual advice you get is to have a list of acceptable characters, say [0-9A-Za-z] and to reject the input if it contains some other sort of character.

[ Now, as I understand it, Bruce's point is that this strategy is going to be a lot more dangeous in the Unicode world, because there will be many occasions on which restricting inputs to be just [A-Za-z0-9] will be unacceptable. Restricting input to "just letters and digits" is much, much more complicated under Unicode, because there are thousands of different characters that could be letters or digits. Bruce also points out that although we have decades of experience in dealing with the (relatively few) oddities and escape codes that are found in ASCII, we have little experience with the much more complicated semnatics of Unicode, which includes issues like byte ordering and normalization. I now return you to Simon Cozens. ]

In other Unicode news, Jarkko also noted that \x{some number} should always produce a UTF8 string, no matter whether or not use utf8 is in effect. I had a horrible feeling of deja vu, and churned out a patch. There was some discussion from Jarkko and Andreas about the use of the use utf8 pragma; basically, it's supposed to become a no-op, so we shouldn't be adding any more functionality to it right now.

Self-Tying Is Broken

Steffen Beyer has noticed that removing the capacity to tie an object to itself breaks his Data::Locations module: he was using it to make filehandles which were also objects. (A really cool idea, but undocumented and unsupported.)

There followed a long and fairly acrimonious thread, but a sensible conclusion: Jarkko reallowed self-ties on scalars. Marc Lehmann tried to stir up trouble by asking what should be done about pseudohashes. Jarkko got it right:

Yes. They should die. How's that for a polemic statement? :-)

Unsurprisingly, nobody disagreed.

Configure Confused By Changing Architectures

Nicholas Clarke found that if you reuse your between updating your source tree, things break. Doctor, it hurts when I do that.

He also noted that if you change your architecture (for instance, from using threads to not using threads) then sometimes Configure doesn't pick up the change. Don't reuse your if you do this.

On a vaguely similar note, Merijn Brand found that doing a make okfile would cause Perl to be rebuilt; he and Nicholas Clark did some debugging, and Nicholas eventually found the problem and fixed it - a little problem with auto-generated files and dependencies.


Work on the Encode module to convert character sets continues, and it's really looking good now. (Everyone say "thank you" to Nick, who's also doing superb work on line disciplines!)

[ Dominus again: What Nick is doing is so interesting that I thought it deserved special mention. Nick wrote a replacement standard I/O package and embedded it into Perl. This continues Perl's trend towards providing its own functionality in areas traditionally covered by the C library, and removing dependence on the various broken libraries that are provided by vendors. This has happened already with sprintf and qsort. Last week's item about the limit of 256 open files under Solaris shows that even basic functions on major platforms can be impaired.

[ In any case, it became clear a while ago that to support Unicode properly, Perl was going to have to have a custom stdio package, and Nick's work is a big first step in that direction. Read more. -- D. ]

Peter Prymmer's did an excellent job and created an EBCDIC->Unicode mapping with it; Nick came up with a POD translation of the documentation on how Encode's mapping files work. (We stole them from Tcl! Ha!)

The thread wandered off into discussion of what the Unicode characters 0x0000 and 0xFFFF mean. Don't just guess, see the Unicode FAQ!


Jarkko considered adding Damian Conway's switch module into core; the module simulates the switch statement you'll see in many other languages. Damian's old version is available from CPAN, but he should be working on a new version in line with his Perl 6 RFC. Tim worried about Perl 5 appearing to bless a particular switch semanting before Larry had decided anything - Jarkko said that Damian would get it right anyway, and Andy pointed out that it would encourage people to play with it.

As he mentioned, there are three ways we could do it: use the Perl module and a source filter, convert the module to XS and use a source filter, or hack at the tokeniser and parser. Nobody wanted to do the latter option, since Hugo pointed out that it probably wouldn't be worth it due to the emergence of Perl 6. It might not happen, but if it does, it'll probably happen with an XS module.


There was one flame this week. It was from me. Oops. Sorry, Steffen!

Oh, and I messed up last week - I said that sysopen used fopen, but as Mark-Jason Dominus explains:

Contrary to what you say, sysopen() doesn't call fopen(). It calls through Perl_do_open9, and the real open()ing occurs at doio.c:161 in the PerlLIO_open3 call, which is a macro that (on unix systems) invokes the true open(), not fopen(). This open() call succeeds, and returns a file descriptor. The problem behavior occurs later, at line 188, when Perl calls fdopen() to associate a standard I/O stream with the open descriptor. This is the call that fails.

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

Simon Cozens
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