This Week on p5p 2001/02/12


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I've been having mail problems this week, so it's possible that I've missed one or two important things. Even so, it seems to be looking relatively quiet out there.

Perl FAQ updates

A number of bug reports and suggested fixes came in regarding the Perl FAQ this week; the most contentuous one was a bug in the regular expression for matching email addresses given in perlfaq9. Everyone agreed that there was no point trying to be completely correct, since the RFC822 grammar for an email address is not easily reduced into a regular expression. There are complete regular expressions, such as the one in Abigail's RFC::RFC822::Address module, and the one given in Jeffery Friedl's "Mastering Regular Expressions". However, the current one required some slight tweaking.

This, combined with the other bug reports both on P5P and perl-friends, led Jarkko to set up a working group to look after the FAQ. If you're interested in helping out, see the list's home page.

Namespace for IO Layers

Nicholas Clark asked three difficult questions about IO layers:

1: How is it proposed to avoid namespace clashes with layers?

2: Is there a suggested namespace (eg Layer:: ?) for modules implementing layers?

3: Is there a standard (memorable) way of passing arguments to layers?

The other Nick said that he wanted the layer names ( :gzip and the like) to behave like (and possibly even converge with) attribute names, and so generalised the problem to "how do we avoid namespace clashes with attributes?". As for question two, he suggested the PerlIO:: or perlio:: namespaces. The final question caused more consternation. Nicholas wanted to avoid problems where an argument to a layer could have meaning to the layer system in general. It wouldn't be good, for instance, to say

    open (FOO, ':layer(name="(test1),:gzip")', $file)

He first proposed a system similar to URL encoding, using %XX to escape significant characters. Nick Ing-Simmons got a little worried at this point:

I have a feeling that putting too much in the one string is a mistake. I think we may need something akin to ioctl() which can call "method(s)" on the "layer object" to allow a more extensible approach.

Surprisingly, this is what Ilya was saying nearly a year ago.

Memory Leak Plumbing

Alan has been working exceptionally hard of late on what he called the "south end of the camel": memory leaks. He's been using a software tool called "Purify" that checks for leaks and illegal memory accesses.

Firstly, he discovered something awry in Perl_pmtrans, part of the regular expression engine. This led him to issue the following plea:

The fact that there isn't even a comment explaining what it is supposed to do isn't helping - it is virtually impossible to figure out if it is working correctly if I have no idea of what is correct behaviour.

A heartfelt plea - *please* comment your code. Take pity on those of us following at the south end of the camel, carrying the shovel and bucket.

Next, he produced evidence of a leak in another part of the RE engine, along with some code which is probably doing something exceptionally evil indeed: it saves a way a pointer, sets it to zero, saves it again and then re-allocates some memory for it. Obviously, when it's time for the saved-away values to be restored, Bad Things happen. Alan says that before he started work on Perl_pmtrans it was leaking 96% of available memory - a far cry from the usual call that "the only thing that leaks memory is failed evals".

That was, however, the next area that Alan planned to take on but it's a very hard problem. Nick Ing-Simmons is going to take a look at it, and Nicholas Clark came up with his favourite memory leak, which Alan duly fixed.

He also found a rather major memory leak in the Perl destruction process; his fixes to the SV allocation process were coming up with strange errors about "unbalanced reference counts". He thought this was initially a problem in his patch, but eventually it became clear that strings in environment variables or parser tokens weren't being properly freed, because they weren't been allocated from designated blocks of memory. ("arenas") Worse, everything in stashes had problems with circular references: the variable would contain a reference to its parent stash, and vice versa. Just for fun, %main:: refers to itself, because as it's set up, it declares itself to be its own parent. (That's why you can do $main::main::main::c)

Hopefully, Perl will be a lot less leaky in the very near future - and you have Alan to thank for that.

Shared functions

Last week, I mentioned Doug MacEachern's experiments with shared subs. This week, he's produced a complete patch which allows you to say (in an XSUB):


      ATTRS: shared

and the resulting sub will be shared between interpreters. Apache::* module authors, listen up. This one could be useful for you.

There was a little concern that there was no locking provided on the shared subroutine code, but Doug countered that the GvSHARED test combined with the SvREADONLY flag meant that if anyone messed around with the GV, they basically had to take responsibility for their actions...

Perl 6 Is Alive!

Rumours of Perl 6's death have been greatly exaggerated, and devotees of this weekly summary will be overjoyed to learn that I (together with my merry band of volunteers) will be putting together summaries of the Perl 6 mailing lists.

Later on this week and from next week, the summaries will be appearing on the front page of; this week's issue is temporarily located at


Quite a few bug reports annd a few quick fixes, but nothing else of major note.

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

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