Cooking with Perl

Editor's note: The new edition of Perl Cookbook is about to hit store shelves, so to trumpet its release, we offer some recipes--new to the second edition--for your sampling pleasure. This week's excerpts include recipes from Chapter 6 ("Pattern Matching") and Chapter 8 ("File Contents"). And be sure to check back here in the coming weeks for more new recipes on topics such as using SQL without a database server, extracting table data, templating with HTML::Mason, and more.

Sample Recipe: Matching Nested Patterns


You want to match a nested set of enclosing delimiters, such as the arguments to a function call.


Use match-time pattern interpolation, recursively:

my $np;
$np = qr{
              (?> [^(  )]+ )    # Non-capture group w/o backtracking
              (??{ $np })     # Group with matching parens

Or use the Text::Balanced module's extract_bracketed function.


The $(??{ CODE }) construct runs the code and interpolates the string that the code returns right back into the pattern. A simple, non-recursive example that matches palindromes demonstrates this:

if ($word =~ /^(\w+)\w?(??{reverse $1})$/ ) {
    print "$word is a palindrome.\n";

Consider a word like "reviver", which this pattern correctly reports as a palindrome. The $1 variable contains "rev" partway through the match. The optional word character following catches the "i". Then the code reverse $1 runs and produces "ver", and that result is interpolated into the pattern.

For matching something balanced, you need to recurse, which is a bit tricker. A compiled pattern that uses (??{ CODE }) can refer to itself. The pattern given in the Solution matches a set of nested parentheses, however deep they may go. Given the value of $np in that pattern, you could use it like this to match a function call:

$text = "myfunfun(1,(2*(3+4)),5)";
$funpat = qr/\w+$np/;   # $np as above
$text =~ /^$funpat$/;   # Matches!

You'll find many CPAN modules that help with matching (parsing) nested strings. The Regexp::Common module supplies canned patterns that match many of the tricker strings. For example:

use Regexp::Common;
$text = "myfunfun(1,(2*(3+4)),5)";
if ($text =~ /(\w+\s*$RE{balanced}{-parens=>'(  )'})/o) {
  print "Got function call: $1\n";

Other patterns provided by that module match numbers in various notations and quote-delimited strings:


The standard (as of v5.8) Text::Balanced module provides a general solution to this problem.

use Text::Balanced qw/extract_bracketed/;
$text = "myfunfun(1,(2*(3+4)),5)";
if (($before, $found, $after)  = extract_bracketed($text, "(")) {
    print "answer is $found\n";
} else {
    print "FAILED\n";

See Also

The section on "Match-Time Pattern Interpolation" in Chapter 5, "Pattern Matching," of Programming Perl, 3rd Edition; the documentation for the Regexp::Common CPAN module and the standard Text::Balanced module.

Sample Recipe: Pretending a String Is a File


You have data in string, but would like to treat it as a file. For example, you have a subroutine that expects a filehandle as an argument, but you would like that subroutine to work directly on the data in your string instead. Additionally, you don't want to write the data to a temporary file.


Use the scalar I/O in Perl v5.8:

open($fh, "+<", \$string);   # read and write contents of $string


Perl's I/O layers include support for input and output from a scalar. When you read a record with <$fh>, you are reading the next line from $string. When you write a record with print, you change $string. You can pass $fh to a function that expects a filehandle, and that subroutine need never know that it's really working with data in a string.

Perl respects the various access modes in open for strings, so you can specify that the strings be opened as read-only, with truncation, in append mode, and so on:

open($fh, "<",  \$string);   # read only
open($fh, ">",  \$string);   # write only, discard original contents
open($fh, "+>", \$string);   # read and write, discard original contents
open($fh, "+<", \$string);   # read and write, preserve original contents

These handles behave in all respects like regular filehandles, so all I/O functions work, such as seek, truncate, sysread, and friends.

See Also

The open function in perlfunc(1) and in Chapter 29 ("Functions") of Programming Perl, 3rd Edition; "Using Random-Access I/O;" and "Setting the Default I/O Layers"

O'Reilly & Associates will soon release (August 2003) Perl Cookbook, 2nd Edition.

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