Larry Wall: Apocalypse Two

Editor’s Note: this Apocalypse is out of date and remains here for historical reasons. See Synopsis 02 for the latest information.

Perl 6 Apocalypse

The rest of the "Apocalypse" series is available on Larry Wall's author page.

Table Of Contents

Larry Wall will give his annual entertaining talk on the state of the Perl world, covering both Perl 5 and Perl 6 at this Year’s Open Source Convention. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to hear the creator of Perl, patch, and run share his insights.

Here’s Apocalypse 2, meant to be read in conjunction with Chapter 2 of the Camel Book. The basic assumption is that if Chapter 2 talks about something that I don’t discuss here, it doesn’t change in Perl 6. (Of course, it could always just be an oversight. One might say that people who oversee things have a gift of oversight.)

Before I go further, I would like to thank all the victims, er, participants in the RFC process. (I beg special forgiveness from those whose brains I haven’t been able to get inside well enough to incorporate their ideas). I would also like to particularly thank Damian Conway, who will recognize many of his systematic ideas here, including some that have been less than improved by my meddling.

Here are the RFCs covered:

    RFC  PSA  Title
    ---  ---  -----
    005  cdr  Multiline Comments for Perl
    102  dcr  Inline Comments for Perl

    161  adb  Everything in Perl Becomes an Object
    038  bdb  Standardise Handling of Abnormal Numbers Like Infinities and NaNs
    043  bcb  Integrate BigInts (and BigRats) Support Tightly With the Basic Scalars
    192  ddr  Undef Values ne Value
    212  rrb  Make Length(@array) Work
    218  bcc  C<my Dog $spot> Is Just an Assertion

    071  aaa  Legacy Perl $pkg'var Should Die
    009  bfr  Highlander Variable Types
    133  bcr  Alternate Syntax for Variable Names
    134  bcc  Alternative Array and Hash Slicing
    196  bcb  More Direct Syntax for Hashes
    201  bcr  Hash Slicing

    105  aaa  Remove "In string @ must be \@" Fatal Error
    111  aaa  Here Docs Terminators (Was Whitespace and Here Docs)
    162  abb  Heredoc Contents
    139  cfr  Allow Calling Any Function With a Syntax Like s///
    222  abb  Interpolation of Object Method Calls
    226  acr  Selective Interpolation in Single Quotish Context
    237  adc  Hashes Should Interpolate in Double-Quoted Strings
    251  acr  Interpolation of Class Method Calls
    252  abb  Interpolation of Subroutines
    327  dbr  C<\v> for Vertical Tab
    328  bcr  Single Quotes Don't Interpolate \' and \\

    034  aaa  Angle Brackets Should Not Be Used for File Globbing
    051  ccr  Angle Brackets Should Accept Filenames and Lists

    175  rrb  Add C<list> Keyword to Force List Context (like C<scalar>)

    010  rr  Filehandles Should Use C<*> as a Type Prefix If Typeglobs Are Eliminated
    103  rr  Fix C<$pkg::$var> Precedence Issues With Parsing of C<::>
    109  rr  Less Line Noise - Let's Get Rid of @%
    245  rr  Add New C<empty> Keyword to DWIM for Clearing Values
    263  rr  Add Null() Keyword and Fundamental Data Type


Perl 6 programs are notionally written in Unicode, and assume Unicode semantics by default even when they happen to be processing other character sets behind the scenes. Note that when we say that Perl is written in Unicode, we’re speaking of an abstract character set, not any particular encoding. (The typical program will likely be written in UTF-8 in the West, and in some 16-bit character set in the East.)


RFC 005: M ultiline Comments for Perl

I admit to being prejudiced on this one – I was unduly influenced at a tender age by the rationale for the design of Ada, which made a good case, I thought, for leaving multiline comments out of the language.

But even if I weren’t blindly prejudiced, I suspect I’d look at the psychology of the thing, and notice that much of the time, even in languages that have multiline comments, people nevertheless tend to use them like this:

     *  Natter, natter, natter.
     *  Gromish, gromish, gromish.

The counterargument to that is, of course, that people don’t always do that in C, so why should they have to do it in Perl? And if there were no other way to do multiline comments in Perl, they’d have a stronger case. But there already is another way, albeit one rejected by this RFC as ``a workaround.”

But it seems to me that, rather than adding another kind of comment or trying to make something that looks like code behave like a comment, the solution is simply to fix whatever is wrong with POD so that its use for commenting can no longer be considered a workaround. Actual design of POD can be put off till Apocalypse 26, but we can speculate at this point that the rules for switching back and forth between POD and Perl are suboptimal for use in comments. If so, then it’s likely that in Perl 6 we’ll have a rule like this: If a =begin MUMBLE transitions from Perl to POD mode then the corresponding =end MUMBLE should transition back (without a =cut directive).

Note that we haven’t defined our MUMBLEs yet, but they can be set up to let our program have any sort of programmatic access to the data that we desire. For instance, it is likely that comments of this kind could be tied in with some sort of literate (or at least, semiliterate) programming framework.

RFC 102: Inline Comments for Perl

I have never much liked inline comments – as commonly practiced they tend to obfuscate the code as much as they clarify it. That being said, ``All is fair if you predeclare.” So there should be nothing preventing someone from writing a lexer regex that handles them, provided we make the lexer sufficiently mutable. Which we will. (As it happens, the character sequence ``/*” will be unlikely to occur in standard Perl 6. Which I guess means it is likely to occur in nonstandard Perl 6. :-)

A pragma declaring nonstandard commenting would also allow people to use /* */ for multiline comments, if they like. (But I still think it’d be better to use POD directives for that, just to keep the text accessible to the program.)

Built-In Data Types

The basic change here is that, rather than just supporting scalars, arrays and hashes, Perl 6 supports opaque objects as a fourth fundamental data type. (You might think of them as pseudo-hashes done right.) While a class can access its object attributes any way it likes, all external access to opaque objects occurs through methods, even for attributes. (This guarantees that attribute inheritance works correctly.)

While Perl 6 still defaults to typeless scalars, Perl will be able to give you more performance and safety as you give it more type information to work with. The basic assumption is that homogenous data structures will be in arrays and hashes, so you can declare the type of the scalars held in an array or hash. Heterogenous structures can still be put into typeless arrays and hashes, but in general Perl 6 will encourage you to use classes for such data, much as C encourages you to use structs rather than arrays for such data.

One thing we’ll be mentioning before we discuss it in detail is the notion of ``properties.” (In Perl 5, we called these ``attributes,” but we’re reserving that term for actual object attributes these days, so we’ll call these things ``properties.“) Variables and values can have additional data associated with them that is ``out of band” with respect to the ordinary typology of the variable or value. For now, just think of properties as a way of adding ad hoc attributes to a class that doesn’t support them. You could also think of it as a form of class derivation at the granularity of the individual object, without having to declare a complete new class.

RFC 161: Everything in Perl Becomes an Object.

This is essentially a philosophical RFC that is rather short on detail. Nonetheless, I agree with the premise that all Perl objects should act like objects if you choose to treat them that way. If you choose not to treat them as objects, then Perl will try to go along with that, too. (You may use hash subscripting and slicing syntax to call attribute accessors, for instance, even if the attributes themselves are not stored in a hash.) Just because Perl 6 is more object-oriented internally, does not mean you’ll be forced to think in object-oriented terms when you don’t want to. (By and large, there will be a few places where OO-think is more required in Perl 6 than in Perl 5. Filehandles are more object-oriented in Perl 6, for instance, and the special variables that used to be magically associated with the currently selected output handle are better specified by association with a specific filehandle.)

RFC 038: Standardise Handling Of Abnormal Numbers Like Infinities and NaNs

This is likely to slow down numeric processing in some locations. Perhaps it could be turned off when desirable. We need to be careful not to invent something that is guaranteed to run slower than IEEE floating point. We should also try to avoid defining a type system that makes translation of numeric types to Java or C# types problematic.

That being said, standard semantics are a good thing, and should be the default behavior.

RFC 043: Integrate BigInts (and BigRats) Support Tightly With the Basic Scalars

This RFC suggests that a pragma enables the feature, but I think it should probably be tied to the run-time type system, which means it’s driven more by how the data is created than by where it happens to be stored or processed. I don’t see how we can make it a pragma, except perhaps to influence the meaning of ``int” and ``num” in actual declarations further on in the lexical scope:

    use bigint;
    my int $i;

might really mean

    my bigint $i;

or maybe just

    my int $i is bigint;

since representation specifications might just be considered part of the ``fine print.” But the whole subject of lexically scoped variable properties specifying the nature of the objects they contain is a bit problematic. A variable is a sort of mini-interface, a contract if you will, between the program and the object in question. Properties that merely influence how the program sees the object are not a problem – when you declare a variable to be constant, you’re promising not to modify the object through that variable, rather than saying something intrinsically true about the object. (Not that there aren’t objects that are intrinsically constant.)

Other property declarations might need to have some say in how constructors are called in order to guarantee consistency between the variable’s view of the object, and the nature of the object itself. In the worst case we could try to enforce consistency at run time, but that’s apt to be slow. If every assignment of a Dog object to a Mammal variable has to check to see whether Dog is a Mammal, then the assignment is going to be a dog.

So we’ll have to revisit this when we’re defining the relationship between variable declarations and constructors. In any event, if we don’t make Perl’s numeric types automatically promote to big representations, we should at least make it easy to specify it when you want that to happen.

RFC 192: Undef Values ne Value

I’ve rejected this one, because I think something that’s undefined should be considered just that, undefined. I think the standard semantics are useful for catching many kinds of errors.

That being said, it’ll hopefully be easy to modify the standard operators within a particular scope, so I don’t think we need to think that our way to think is the only way to think, I think.

RFC 212: Make length(@array) Work

Here’s an oddity, an RFC that the author retracted, but that I accept, more or less. I think length(@array) should be equivalent to @array.length(), so if there’s a length method available, it should be called.

The question is whether there should be a length method at all, for strings or arrays. It almost makes more sense for arrays than it does for strings these days, because when you talk about the length of a string, you need to know whether you’re talking about byte length or character length. So we may split up the traditional length function into two, in which case we might end up with:


Or some such. Whatever the method names we choose, differentiating them would be more powerful in supplying context. For instance, one could envision calling @foo.bytes to return the byte length of all the strings. That wouldn’t fly if we overloaded the method name.

Even chars($foo) might not be sufficiently precise, since, depending on how you’re processing Unicode, you might want to know how long the string is in actual characters, not counting combining characters that don’t take extra space. But that’s a topic for later.

RF C 218: my Dog $spot Is Just an Assertion

I expect that a declaration of the form:

    my Dog $spot;

is merely an assertion that you will not use $spot inconsistently with it being a Dog. (But I mean something different by ``assertion” than this RFC does.) This assertion may or may not be tested at every assignment to $spot, depending on pragmatic context. This bare declaration does not call a constructor; however, there may be forms of declaration that do. This may be necessary so that the variable and the object can pass properties back and forth, and in general, make sure they’re consistent with each other. For example, you might declare an array with a multidimensional shape, and this shape property needs to be visible to the constructor, if we don’t want to have to specify it redundantly.

On the other hand, we might be able to get assignment sufficiently overloaded to accomplish the same goal, so I’m deferring judgment on that. All I’m deciding here is that a bare declaration without arguments as above does not invoke a constructor, but merely tells the compiler something.

Other Decisions About Types

Built-in object types will be in all uppercase: INTEGER, NUMBER, STRING, REF, SCALAR, ARRAY, HASH, REGEX and CODE. Corresponding to at least some of these, there will also be lowercase intrinsic types, such as int, num, str and ref. Use of the lowercase typename implies you aren’t intending to do anything fancy OO-wise with the values, or store any run-time properties, and thus Perl should feel free to store them compactly. (As a limiting case, objects of type bit can be stored in one bit.) This distinction corresponds roughly to the boxed/unboxed distinction of other computer languages, but it is likely that Perl 6 will attempt to erase the distinction for you to the extent possible. So, for instance, an int may still be used in a string context, and Perl will convert it for you, but it won’t cache it, so the next time you use it as a string, it will have to convert again.

The declared type of an array or hash specifies the type of each element, not the type of an array or hash as a whole. This is justified by the notion that an array or hash is really just a strange kind of function that (typically) takes a subscript as an argument and returns a value of a particular type. If you wish to associate a type with the array or hash as a whole, that involves setting a tie property. If you find yourself wishing to declare different types on different elements, it probably means that you should either be using a class for the whole heterogenous thing, or at least declare the type of array or hash that will be a base class of all the objects it will contain.

Of course, untyped arrays and hashes will be just as acceptable as they are currently. But a language can only run so fast when you force it to defer all type checking and method lookup till run time.

The intent is to make use of type information where it’s useful, and not require it where it’s not. Besides performance and safety, one other place where type information is useful is in writing interfaces to other languages. It is postulated that Perl 6 will provide enough optional type declaration syntax that it will be unnecessary to write XS-style glue in most cases.


RFC 0 71: Legacy Perl $pkg’var Should Die

I agree. I was unduly influenced by Ada syntax here, and it was a mistake. And although we’re adding a properties feature into Perl 6 that is much like Ada’s attribute feature, we won’t make the mistake of reintroducing a syntax that drives highlighting editors nuts. We’ll try to make different mistakes this time.

RFC 009: Hig hlander Variable Types

I basically agree with the problem this RFC is trying to solve, but I disagree with the proposed solution. The basic problem is that, while the idiomatic association of $foo[$bar] with @foo rather than $foo worked fine in Perl 4, when we added recursive data structures to Perl 5, it started getting in the way notationally, so that initial funny character was trying to do too much in both introducing the ``root” of the reference, as well as the context to apply to the final subscript. This necessitated odd looking constructions like:


This RFC proposes to solve the dilemma by unifying scalar variables with arrays and hashes at the name level. But I think people like to think of $foo, @foo and %foo as separate variables, so I don’t want to break that. Plus, the RFC doesn’t unify &foo, while it’s perfectly possible to have a reference to a function as well as a reference to the more ordinary data structures.

So rather than unifying the names, I believe all we have to do is unify the treatment of variables with respect to references. That is, all variables may be thought of as references, not just scalars. And in that case, subscripts always dereference the reference implicit in the array or hash named on the left.

This has two major implications, however. It means that Perl programmers must learn to write @foo[1] where they used to write $foo[1]. I think most Perl 5 people will be able to get used to this, since many of them found the current syntax a bit weird in the first place.

The second implication is that slicing needs a new notation, because subscripts no longer have their scalar/list context controlled by the initial funny character. Instead, the context of the subscript will need to be controlled by some combination of:

  1. Context of the entire term.

  2. Appearance of known list operators in the subscript, such as comma or range.

  3. Explicit syntax casting the inside of the subscript to list or scalar context.

  4. Explicit declaration of default behavior.

One thing that probably shouldn’t enter into it is the run-time type of the array object, because context really needs to be calculated at compile time if at all possible.

In any event, it’s likely that some people will want subscripts to default to scalars, and other people will want them to default to lists. There are good arguments for either default, depending on whether you think more like an APL programmer or a mere mortal.

There are other larger implications. If composite variables are thought of as scalar references, then the names @foo and %foo are really scalar variables unless explicitly dereferenced. That means that when you mention them in a scalar context, you get the equivalent of Perl 5’s \@foo and \%foo. This simplifies the prototyping system greatly, in that an operator like push no longer needs to specify some kind of special reference context for its first argument – it can merely specify a scalar context, and that’s good enough to assume the reference generation on its first argument. (Of course, the function signature can always be more specific if it wants to. More about that in future installments.)

There are also implications for the assignment operator, in that it has to be possible to assign array references to array variables without accidentally invoking list context and copying the list instead of the reference to the list. We could invent another assignment operator to distinguish the two cases, but at the moment it looks as though bare variables and slices will behave as lvalues just as they do in Perl 5, while lists in parentheses will change to a binding of the right-hand arguments more closely resembling the way Perl 6 will bind formal arguments to actual arguments for function calls. That is to say,

    @foo = (1,2,3);

will supply an unbounded list context to the right side, but

    (@foo, @bar) = (@bar, @foo)

will supply a context to the right side that requests two scalar values that are array references. This will be the default for unmarked variables in an lvalue list, but there will be an easy way to mark formal array and hash parameters to slurp the rest of the arguments with list context, as they do by default in Perl 5.

(Alternately, we might end up leaving the ordinary list assignment operator with Perl 5 semantics, and define a new assignment operator such as := that does signatured assignment. I can argue that one both ways.)

Just as arrays and hashes are explicitly dereferenced via subscripting (or implicitly dereferenced in list context), so too functions are merely named but not called by &foo, and explicitly dereferenced with parentheses (or by use as a bare name without the ampersand (or both)). The Perl 5 meanings of the ampersand are no longer in effect, in that ampersand will no longer imply that signature matching is suppressed – there will be a different mechanism for that. And since &foo without parens doesn’t do a call, it is no longer possible to use that syntax to automatically pass the @_ array – you’ll have to do that explicitly now with foo(@_).

Scalar variables are special, in that they may hold either references or actual ``native” values, and there is no special dereference syntax as there is for other types. Perl 6 will attempt to hide the distinction as much as possible. That is, if $foo contains a native integer, calling the $ method will call a method on the built-in type. But if $foo contains a reference to some other object, it will call the method on that object. This is consistent with the way we think about overloading in Perl 5, so you shouldn’t find this behavior surprising. It may take special syntax to get at any methods of the reference variable itself in this case, but it’s OK if special cases are special.

RFC 133: Alternate Syntax for Variable Names

This RFC has a valid point, but in fact we’re going to do just the opposite of what it suggests. That is, we’ll consider the funny characters to be part of the name, and use the subscripts for context. This works out better, because there’s only one funny character, but many possible forms of dereferencing.

R FC 134: Alternative Array and Hash Slicing

We’re definitely killing Perl 5’s slice syntax, at least as far as relying on the initial character to determine the context of the subscript. There are many ways we could reintroduce a slicing syntax, some of which are mentioned in this RFC, but we’ll defer the decision on that till Apocalypse 9 on Data Structures, since the interesting parts of designing slice syntax will be driven by the need to slice multidimensional arrays.

For now we’ll just say that arrays can have subscript signatures much like functions have parameter signatures. Ordinary one-dimensional arrays (and hashes) can then support some kind of simple slicing syntax that can be extended for more complicated arrays, while allowing multidimensional arrays to distinguish between simple slicing and complicated mappings of lists and functions onto subscripts in a manner more conducive to numerical programming.

On the subject of hash slices returning pairs rather than values, we could distinguish this with special slice syntax, or we could establish the notion of a hashlist context that tells the slice to return pairs rather than just values. (We may not need a special slice syntax for that if it’s possible to typecast back and forth between pair lists and ordinary lists.)

RFC 19 6: More Direct Syntax for Hashes

This RFC makes three proposals, which we’ll consider separately.

Proposal 1 is ``that a hash in scalar context evaluate to the number of keys in the hash.” (You can find that out now, but only by using the keys() function in scalar context.) Proposal 1 is OK if we change ``scalar context” to ``numeric context,” since in scalar context a hash will produce a reference to the hash, which just happens to numify to the number of entries.

We must also realize that some implementations of hash might have to go through and count all the entries to return the actual number. Fortunately, in boolean context, it suffices to find a single entry to determine whether the hash contains anything. However, on hashes that don’t keep track of the number of entries, finding even one entry might reset any active iterator on the hash, since some implementations of hash (in particular, the ones that don’t keep track of the number of entries) may only supply a single iterator.

Proposal 2 is ``that the iterator in a hash be reset through an explicit call to the reset() function.” That’s fine, with the proviso that it won’t be a function, but rather a method on the HASH class.

Proposal 3 is really about sort recognizing pairs and doing the right thing. Defaulting to sorting on $^a[0] cmp $^b[0] is likely to be reasonable, and that’s where a pair’s key would be found. However, it’s probable that the correct solution is simply to provide a default string method for anonymous lists that happens to produce a decent key to sort on when cmp requests a string representation of either of its arguments. The sort itself should probably just concentrate on memoizing the returned strings so they don’t have to be recalculated.

RFC 201: Hash Slicing

This RFC proposes to use % as a marker for special hash slicing in the subscript. Unfortunately, the % funny character will not be available for this use, since all hash refs will start with %. Concise list comprehensions will require some other syntax within the subscript, which will hopefully generalize to arrays as well.

Other Decisions About Variables

Various special punctuation variables are gone in Perl 6, including all the deprecated ones. (Non-deprecated variables will be replaced by some kind of similar functionality that is likely to be invoked through some kind of method call on the appropriate object. If there is no appropriate object, then a named global variable might provide similar functionality.)

Freeing up the various bracketing characters allows us to use them for other purposes, such as interpolation of expressions:

    "$(expr)"           # interpolate a scalar expression
    "@(expr)"           # interpolate a list expression

$#foo is gone. If you want the final subscript of an array, and [-1] isn’t good enough, use @foo.end instead.

Other special variables (such as the regex variables) will change from dynamic scoping to lexical scoping. It is likely that even $_ and @_ will be lexically scoped in Perl 6.


In Perl 5, lexical scopes are unnamed and unnameable. In Perl 6, the current lexical scope will have a name that is visible within the lexical scope as the pseudo class MY, so that such a scope can, if it so chooses, delegate management of its lexical scope to some other module at compile time. In normal terms, that means that when you use a module, you can let it import things lexically as well as packagely.

Typeglobs are gone. Instead, you can get at a variable object through the symbol table hashes that are structured much like Perl 5’s. The variable object for $MyPackage::foo is stored in:


Note that the funny character is part of the name. There is no longer any structure in Perl that associates everything with the name ``foo”.

Perl’s special global names are stored in a special package named ``*” because they’re logically in every scope that does not hide them. So the unambiguous name of the standard input filehandle is $*STDIN, but a package may just refer to $STDIN, and it will default to $*STDIN if no package or lexical variable of that name has been declared.

Some of these special variables may actually be cloned for each lexical scope or each thread, so just because a name is in the special global symbol table doesn’t mean it always behaves as a global across all modules. In particular, changes to the symbol table that affect how the parser works must be lexically scoped. Just because I install a special rule for my cool new hyperquoting construct doesn’t mean everyone else should have to put up with it. In the limiting case, just because I install a Python parser, it shouldn’t force other modules into a maze of twisty little whitespace, all alike.

Another way to look at it is that all names in the ``*” package are automatically exported to every package and/or outer lexical scope.


Underscores in Numeric Literals

Underscores will be allowed between any two digits within a number.

RFC 105: Remove ``In string @ must be \@” Fatal Error


RFC 111: Here Docs Terminators (Was Whitespace and Here Docs)


RFC 162: Heredoc co ntents

I think I like option (e) the best: remove whitespace equivalent to the terminator.

By default, if it has to dwim, it should dwim assuming that hard tabs are 8 spaces wide. This should not generally pose a problem, since most of the time the tabbing will be consistent throughout anyway, and no dwimming will be necessary. This puts the onus on people using nonstandard tabs to make sure they’re consistent so that Perl doesn’t have to guess.

Any additional mangling can easily be accomplished by a user-defined operator.

RFC 139: Allow Calling Any Function With a Syntax Like s///

Creative quoting will be allowed with lexical mutataion, but we can’t parse foo(bar) two different ways simultaneously, and I’m unwilling to prevent people from using parens as quote characters. I don’t see how we can reasonably have new quote operators without explicit declaration. And if the utility of a quote-like operator is sufficient, there should be little relative burden in requiring such a declaration.

The form of such a declaration is left to the reader as an exercise in function property definition. We may revisit the question later in this series. It’s also possible that a quote operator such as qx// could have a corresponding function name like quote:qx that could be invoked as a function.

RFC 222: Interpolation of Object Method Calls

I’ve been hankering for methods to interpolate for a long time, so I’m in favor of this RFC. And it’ll become doubly important as we move toward encouraging people to use accessor methods to refer to object attributes outside the class itself.

I have one ``but,” however. Since we’ll switch to using . instead of ->, I think for sanity’s sake we may have to require the parentheses, or ``$file.$ext” is going to give people fits. Not to mention ``$file.ext”.

RFC 226: Selective Interpolation in Single Quotish Context.

This proposal has much going for it, but there are also difficulties, and I’ve come close to rejecting it outright simply because the single-quoting policy of Perl 5 has been successful. And I think the proposal in this RFC for \I\E is ugly. (And I’d like to kill \E anyway, and use bracketed scopings.)

However, I think there is a major ``can’t get there from here” that we could solve by treating interpolation into single quotes as something hard, not something easy. The basic problem is that it’s too easy to run into a \$ or \@ (or a \I for that matter) that wants to be taken literally. I think we could allow the interpolation of arbitrary expressions into single-quoted strings, but only if we limit it to an unlikely sequence where three or more characters are necessary for recognition. The most efficient mental model would seem to be the idea of embedding one kind of quote in another, so I think this:


will embed single-quoted stuff, while this:


will embed double-quoted stuff. A variable could then be interpolated into a single-quoted string by saying:


RFC 237: Hashes Should Interpolate in Double-Quoted Strings

I agree with this RFC in principle, but we can’t define the default hash stringifier in terms of variables that are going away in Perl 6, so the RFC’s proposal of using $" is right out.

All objects should have a method by which they produce readable output. How this may be overridden by user preference is open to debate. Certainly, dynamic scoping has its problems. But lexical override of an object’s preferences is also problematic. Individual object properties appear to give a decent way out of this. More on that below.

On printf formats, I don’t see any way to dwim that %d isn’t an array, so we’ll just have to put formats into single quotes in general. Those format strings that also interpolate variables will be able to use the new \qq{$var} feature.

Note for those who are thinking we should just stick with Perl 5 interpolation rules: We have to allow % to introduce interpolation now because individual hash values are no longer named with $foo{$bar}, but rather %foo{$bar}. So we might as well allow interpolation of complete hashes.

RFC 251: Interpolation of Class Method Calls

Class method calls are relatively rare (except for constructors, which will be rarely interpolated). So rather than scanning for identifiers that might introduce a class, I think we should just depend on expression interpolation instead:

    "There are $(Dog.numdogs) dogs."

RFC 252 : Interpolation of Subroutines

I think subroutines should interpolate, provided they’re introduced with the funny character. (On the other hand, how hard is $(sunset $date) or @(sunset $date)? On the gripping hand, I like the consistency of & with $, @ and %.)

I think the parens are required, since in Perl 6, scalar &sub will just return a reference, and require parens if you really want to deref the sub ref. (It’s true that a subroutine can be called without parens when used as a list operator, but you can’t interpolate those without a funny character.)

For those worried about the use of & for signature checking suppression, we should point out that & will no longer be the way to suppress signature checking in Perl 6, so it doesn’t matter.

RFC 327: \ v for Vertical Tab

I think the opportunity cost of not reserving \v for future use is too high to justify the small utility of retaining compatibility with a feature virtually nobody uses anymore. For instance, I almost used \v and \V for switching into and out of verbatim (single-quote) mode, until I decided to unify that with quoting syntax and use \qq{} and \q{} instead.

RFC 328: Single quotes don’t interpolate \’ and \

I think hyperquotes will be possible with a declaration of your quoting rules, so we’re not going to change the basic single-quote rules (except for supporting \q).

Other Decisions About Literals

Scoping of \L et al.

I’d like to get rid of the gratuitously ugly \E as an end-of-scope marker. Instead, if any sequence such as \L, \U or \Q wishes to impose a scope, then it must use curlies around that scope: \L{stuff}, \U{stuff} or \Q{stuff}. Any literal curlies contained in stuff must be backslashed. (Curlies as syntax (such as for subscripts) should nest correctly.)

Bareword Policy

There will be no barewords in Perl 6. Any bare name that is a declared package name will be interpreted as a class object that happens to stringify to the package name. All other bare names will be interpreted as subroutine or method calls. For nonstrict applications, undefined subroutines will autodefine themselves to return their own name. Note that in ${name} and friends, the name is considered autoquoted, not a bareword.

Weird brackets

Use of brackets to disambiguate




will no longer be supported. Instead, the expression parser will always grab as much as it can, and you can make it quit at a particular point by interpolating a null string, specified by \Q:


Special tokens

Special tokens will turn into either POD directives or lexically scoped OO methods under the MY pseudo-package:

    Old                 New
    ---                 ---
    __LINE__            MY.line
    __FILE__            MY.file
    __PACKAGE__         MY.package
    __END__             =begin END      (or remove)
    __DATA__            =begin DATA

Heredoc Syntax

I think heredocs will require quotes around any identifier, and we need to be sure to support << qq(END) style quotes. Space is now allowed before the (required) quoted token. Note that custom quoting is now possible, so if you define a fancy qh operator for your fancy hyperquoting algorithm, then you could say <<qh(END).

It is still the case that you can say <<"" to grab everything up to the next blank line. However, Perl 6 will consider any line containing only spaces, tabs, etc., to be blank, not just the ones that immediately terminate with newline.


In Perl 5, a lot of contextual processing was done at run-time, and even then, a given function could only discover whether it was in void, scalar or list context. In Perl 6, we will extend the notion of context to be more amenable to both compile-time and run-time analysis. In particular, a function or method can know (theoretically even at compile time) when it is being called in:

    Void context
    Scalar context
        Boolean context
        Integer context
        Numeric context
        String context
        Object context
    List context
        Flattening list context (true list context).
        Non-flattening list context (list of scalars/objects)
        Lazy list context (list of closures)
        Hash list context (list of pairs)

(This list isn’t necessarily exhaustive.)

Each of these contexts (except maybe void) corresponds to a way in which you might declare the parameters of a function (or the left side of a list assignment) to supply context to the actual argument list (or right side of a list assignment). By default, parameters will supply object context, meaning individual parameters expect to be aliases to the actual parameters, and even arrays and hashes don’t do list context unless you explicitly declare them to. These aren’t cast in stone yet (or even Jello), but here are some ideas for possible parameter declarations corresponding to those contexts:

    Scalar context
        Boolean context                 bit $arg
        Integer context                 int $arg
        Numeric context                 num $arg
        String context                  str $arg
        Object context                  $scalar, %hash, Dog @canines, &foo
    List context
        Flattening list context         *@args
        Non-flattening list context     $@args
        Lazy list context               &@args
        Hash list context               *%args

(I also expect unary * to force flattening of arrays in rvalue contexts. This is how we defeat the type signature in Perl 6, instead of relying on the initial ampersand. So instead of Perl 5’s &push(@list), you could just say push *@list, and it wouldn’t matter what push’s parameter signature said.)

It’s also possible to define properties to modify formal arguments, though that can get clunky pretty quickly, and I’d like to have a concise syntax for the common cases, such as the last parameter slurping a list in the customary fashion. So the signature for the built-in push could be

    sub push (@array, *@pushees);

Actually, the signature might just be (*@pushees), if push is really a method in the ARRAY class, and the object is passed implicitly:

    class ARRAY;
    sub .push (*@pushees);
    sub .pop (;int $numtopop);
    sub .splice (int $offset, int $len, *@repl);

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

By the way, all function and method parameters (other than the object itself) will be considered read-only unless declared with the rw property. (List assignments will default the other way.) This will prevent a great deal of the wasted motion current Perl implementations have to go through to make sure all function arguments are valid lvalues, when most of them are in fact never modified.

Hmm, we’re still getting ahead of ourselves. Back to contexts.

References are now transparent to b oolean context

References are no longer considered to be ``always true” in Perl 6. Any type can overload its bit() casting operator, and any type that hasn’t got a bit() of its own inherits one from somewhere else, if only from class UNIVERSAL. The built-in bit methods have the expected boolean semantics for built-in types, so arrays are still true if they have something in them, strings are true if they aren’t "" or &qu ot;0", etc.


RFC 175: Add list keyword to force list context (like scalar)

Another RFC rescued from the compost pile. In Perl 6, type names will identify casting functions in general. (A casting function merely forces context – it’s a no-op unless the actual context is different.) In Perl 6, a list used in a scalar context will automatically turn itself into a reference to the list rather than returning the last element. (A subscript of [-1] can always be used to get the last element explicitly, if that’s actually desired. But that’s a rarity, in practice.) So it works out that the explicit list composer:


is syntactic sugar for something like:


Depending on whether we continue to make a big deal of the list/array distinction, that might actually be spelled:


Other casts might be words like hash (supplying a pairlist context) and objlist (supplying a scalar context to a list of expressions). Maybe even the optional sub keyword could be considered a cast on a following block that might not otherwise be considered a closure in context. Perhaps sub is really spelled lazy. In which case, we might even have a lazylist context to supply a lazy context to a list of expressions.

And of course, you could use standard casts like int(), num(), and str(), when you want to be explicit about such contexts at compile time. (Perl 5 already has these contexts, but only at run time.) Note also that, due to the relationship between unary functions and methods, $, $foo.num, and $foo.str will be just a different way to write the same casts.

Lest you worry that your code is going to be full of casts, I should point out that you won’t need to use these casts terribly often because each of these contexts will typically be implied by the signature of the function or method you’re calling. (And Perl will still be autoconverting for you whenever it makes sense.) More on that in Apocalypse 6, Subroutines. If not sooner.

So, while boolean context might be explicitly specified by writing:

    if (bit $foo)


    if ($foo.bit)

you’d usually just write it as in Perl 5:

    if ($foo)

Other Decisions about Lists

Based on some of what we’ve said, you can see that we’ll have the ability to define various kinds of lazily generated lists. The specific design of these operators is left for subsequent Apocalypses, however. I will make one observation here, that I think some of the proposals for how array subscripts are generated should be generalized to work outside of subscripts as well. This may place some constraints on the general use of the : character in places where an operator is expected, for instance.

As mentioned above, we’ll be having several different kinds of list context. In particular, there will be a hash list context that assumes you’re feeding it pairs, and if you don’t feed it pairs, it will assume the value you feed it is a key, and supply a default value. There will likely be ways to get hashes to default to interesting values such as 0 or 1.

In order to do this, the => operator has to at least mark its left operand as a key. More likely, it actually constructs a pair object in Perl 6. And the { foo => $bar } list composer will be required to use => (or be in a hashlist context), or it will instead be interpreted as a closure without a sub. (You can always use an explicit sub or hash to cast the brackets to the proper interpretation.)

I’ve noticed how many programs use qw() all over the place (much more frequently than the input operator, for instance), and I’ve always thought qw() was kind of ugly, so I’d like to replace it with something prettier. Since the input operator is using up a pair of perfectly good bracketing characters for little syntactic gain, we’re going to steal those and make them into a qw-like list composer. In ordinary list context, the following would be identical:

    @list = < foo $bar %baz blurch($x) >;
    @list = qw/ foo $bar %baz blurch($x) /;                     # same as this
    @list = ('foo', '$bar', '%baz', 'blurch($x)');              # same as this

But in hashlist context, it might be equivalent to this:

    %list = < foo $bar %baz blurch($x) >;
    %list = (foo => 1, '$bar' => 1, '%baz' = 1, blurch => $x);  # same as this


Basically, file handles are just objects that can be used as iterators, and don’t belong in this chapter anymore.

RFC 034: Angle Brackets Should Not Be Used for File Globbing

Indeed, they won’t be. In fact, angle brackets won’t be used for input at all, I suspect. See below. Er, above.

RFC 051: Angle Brackets Should Accept Filenames and Lists

There is likely to be no need for an explicit input operator in Perl 6, and I want the angles for something else. I/O handles are a subclass of iterators, and I think general iterator variables will serve the purpose formerly served by the input operator, particularly since they can be made to do the right Thing in context. For instance, to read from standard input, it will suffice to say

    while ($STDIN) { ... }

and the iterator will know it should assign to $_, because it’s in a Boolean context.

I read this RFC more as requesting a generic way to initialize an iterator according to the type of the iterator. The trick in this case is to prevent the re-evaluation of the spec every time – you don’t want to reopen the file every time you read a line from it, for instance. There will be standard ways to suppress evaluation in Perl 6, both from the standpoint of the caller and the callee. In any case, the model is that an anonymous subroutine is passed in, and called only when appropriate. So an iterator syntax might prototype its argument to be an anonymous sub, or the user might explicitly pass an anonymous sub, or both. In any event, the sub keyword will be optional in Perl 6, so things like:

    while (file {LIST}) { ... }

can be made to defer evaluation of LIST to the appropriate moment (or moments, if LIST is in turn generating itself on the fly). For appropriate parameter declarations I suppose even the brackets could be scrapped.


Variables and values of various types have various kinds of data attributes that are naturally associated with them by virtue of their type. You know a dog comes equipped with a wag, hopefully attached to a tail. That’s just part of doghood.

Many times, however, you want the equivalent of a Post-It® note, so you can temporarily attach bits of arbitrary information to some unsuspecting appliance that (though it wasn’t designed for it) is nevertheless the right place to put the note. Similarly, variables and values in Perl 6 allow you to attach arbitrary pieces of information known as ``properties.” In essence, any object in Perl can have an associated hash containing these properties, which are named by the hash key.

Some of these properties are known at compile time, and don’t actually need to be stored with the object in question, but can actually be stored instead in the symbol table entry for the variable in question. (Perl still makes it appear as though these values are attached to the object.) Compile-time properties can therefore be attached to variables of any type.

Run-time properties really are associated with the object in question, which implies some amount of overhead. For that reason, intrinsic data types like int and num may or may not allow run-time properties. In cases where it is allowed, the intrinsic type must generally be promoted to its corresponding object type (or wrapped in an object that delegates back to the original intrinsic for the actual value). But you really don’t want to promote an array of a million bits to an array of a million objects just because you had the hankering to put a sticky note on one of those bits, so in those cases it’s likely to be disallowed, or the bit is likely to be cloned instead of referenced, or some such thing.

Properties may also be attached to subroutines.

In general, you don’t set or clear properties directly – instead you call an accessor method to do it for you. If there is no method of that name, Perl will assume there was one that just sets or clears a property with the same name as the method. However, using accessor methods to set or clear properties allows us to define synthetic properties. For instance, there might be a real constant property that you could attach to a variable. Certain variables (such as those in a function prototype) might have constant set by default. In that case, setting a synthetic property such as rw might clear the underlying constant property.

A property may be attached to the foregoing expression by means of the ``is” keyword. Here’s a compile-time property set on a variable:

    my int $pi is constant = 3;

Here’s a run-time property set on a return value:

    return 0 is true;

Whether a property is applied to a variable at compile time or a value at run-time depends on whether it’s in lvalue or rvalue context. (Variable declarations are always in lvalue context even when you don’t assign anything to them.)

The ``is” works just like the ``.” of a method call, except that the return value is the object on the left, not the return value of the method, which is discarded.

As it happens, the ``is” is optional in cases where an operator is already expected. So you might see things like:

    my int $pi constant = 3;
    return 0 true;

In this case, the methods are actually being parsed as postfix operators. (However, we may make it a stricture that you may omit the is only for predeclared property methods.)

Since these actually are method calls, you can pass arguments in addition to the object in question:

    my int @table is dim(366,24,60);

Our examples above are assuming an argument of (1):

    my int $pi is constant(1) = 3;
    return 0 is true(1);

Since the ``is” is optional in the common cases, you can stack multiple properties without repeating the ``is.”

    my int $pi is shared locked constant optimize($optlevel) = 3;

(Note that these methods are called on the $pi variable at compile time, so it behooves you to make sure everything you call is defined. For instance, $optlevel needs to be known at compile-time.)

Here are a list of property ideas stolen from Damian. (I guess that makes it intellectual property theft.) Some of the names have been changed to protect the (CS) innocent.

    # Subroutine attributes...
    sub name is rw { ... }                      # was lvalue

    my sub rank is same { ... }                 # was memoized

    $snum = sub is optimize(1) { ... };         # "is" required here

    # Variable attributes...
    our $age is constant = 21;                  # was const

    my %stats is private;
    my int @table is dim(366,24,60);

    $arrayref = [1..1000000] is computed Purpose('demo of anon var attrs');

    sub choose_rand (@list is lazy) { return $list[rand @list] }
                                                # &@list notation is likely

    $self = $class.bless( {name=>$name, age=>$age} is Initialized );

    # Reference attributes...
    $circular = \$head is weak;

    # Literal attributes...
    $name = "Damian" is Note("test data only");
    $iohandle = open $filename is dis(qw/para crlf uni/) or die;
    $default = 42 is Meaning(<<OfLife);
                             The Answer

    package Pet is interface;

    class Dog inherits('Canine') { ... }

    print $data{key is NoteToSelf('gotta get a better name for this key')};

(I don’t agree with using properties for all of these things, but it’s pretty amazing how far into the ground you can drive it.)

Property names should start with an identifier letter (which includes Unicode letters and ideographs). The parsing of the arguments (if any) is controlled by the signature of the method in question. Property method calls without a ``.” always modify their underlying property.

If called as an ordinary method (with a ``.“), the property value is returned without being modified. That value could then be modified by a run-time property. For instance, $pi.constant would return 1 rather than the value of $pi, so we get:

    return $pi.constant is false;       # "1 but false" (not possible in Perl 5)

On the other hand, if you omit the dot, something else happens:

    return $pi constant is false;       # 3 but false (and 3 is now very constant)

Here are some more munged Damian examples:

    if (& { ... }

    $age++ unless $age.constant;

    $elements = return reduce $^ * $^, *@table.dim;

    last if ${self}.Initialized;

    print "$arrayref.Purpose() is not $default.Meaning()\n";

    print %{$self.X};    # print hash referred to by X attribute of $self
    print %{$self}.X;    # print X attribute of hash referred to by $self
    print %$self.X;      # print X attribute of hash referred to by $self

As with the dotless form, if there is no actual method corresponding to the property, Perl pretends there’s a rudimentary one returning the actual property.

Since these methods return the properties (except when overridden by dotless syntax), you can temporize a property just as you can any method, provided the method itself allows writing:

    temp $self.X = 0;

Note that

    temp $self is X = 0;

would assign to 0 to $self instead. (Whether it actually makes sense to set the compile-time X property at run time on the $self variable is anybody’s guess.)

Note that by virtue of their syntax, properties cannot be set by interpolation into a string. So, happily:

    print "My $variable is foobar\n";

does not attempt to set the foobar property on $variable.

The ``is” keyword binds with the same precedence as ``.“, even when it’s not actually there.

Note that when you say $, you get $foo’s compile-time property if there is one (which is known at compile time, duh). Otherwise it’s an ordinary method call on the value (which looks for a run-time property only if a method can’t be found, so it shouldn’t impact ordinary method call overhead.)

To get to the properties directly without going through the method interface, use the special btw method, which returns a hash ref to the properties hash.


Note that synthetic properties won’t show up there!

None of the property names in this Apocalypse should be taken as final. We will decide on actual property names as we proceed through the series.

Well, that’s it for Apocalypse 2. Doubtless there are some things I should have decided here that I didn’t yet, but at least we’re making progress. Well, at least we’re moving in some direction or other. Now it’s time for us to dance the Apocalypso, in honor of Jon Orwant and his new wife.



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