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What is Perl Hosting?

Although Perl is often described as a programming language, it is in fact a relatively large family of general-purpose, dynamic programming languages, which traces its roots back to 1987. The most common language in the family is Perl 5 which launched in 1994.

Perl was originally created as a Unix scripting language to simplify reporting processing, but over the years it has expanded to include numerous features that have little to do with its roots.

Thanks to its parsing abilities, Perl 5 became a popular CGI scripting language in the nineties and it continued to evolve and encompass more features and modules for a wide variety of uses and industries. Perl 5 is now used for network programming, system administration and it has numerous applications in finance and graphics development. The current version, Perl 5.21, was introduced in June 2014 and all post-5.10 versions are considered 'modern Perl'.

Although the design process for Perl 6 started in 2000, the programming language is still in development. It fundamentally differs from Perl 5 and is supposed to improve eliminate or reduce the learning curve and streamline development. Nevertheless, development of is progressing and multiple incomplete implementations of Perl 6 target different niches, with virtualisation being the most common one.

Server support for Perl 5.20

Due to its age, Perl runs on a wide range of platforms, including all known derivatives of Unix, Perl's native platform. Support on major platforms such as Windows and OS X is a non-issue. Perl also runs on VMS, OS/2, BeOS, QNX, even DOS and Amiga.

However, hosting must be compatible and offer support for a variety of different modules and scripts. The extensive choice of distributions, modules and platforms may create issues when migrating, but most problems can be addressed using the 'make install' feature, which sorts out libraries, library paths and makes sure everything ends up in the right place.

As far as hosts go, most of them offer numerous Perl modules and CGI scripts, so unless you need something relatively exotic, the average Perl host should suffice in terms of module support. Most power users are already aware of these limitations, so they usually do not pose a problem.

CPAN, which stands for Comprehensive Perl Archive Network, is a multi-gigabyte archive replicated on numerous servers around the world. It contains thousands of commonly used modules, extensions, source code and documentation for all of the above. The Task::Kensho module contained in CPAN features a list of recommended modules, making it a valuable resource for hosts and developers.

Perl hosting limitations

Perl hosts offer loads of commonly used Perl modules that will allow you to run various Perl and CGI scripts. These modules are pre-installed by the host and most hosts do not allow users to add additional Perl modules to their servers. The available, pre-installed modules are usually listed by the host.

One thing to look for in Perl hosting is the ability to run Perl scripts from any account directory rather than being restricted to running them from a cgi-bin folder. When using different directories, it is important to set all file permissions properly and follow guidelines provided by the host.

Security is another concern, so you also want to choose a host that will employ sound security practices. Aside from the most obvious security considerations, it is necessary to check how the host handles updates for Perl and Perl modules, i.e. whether the pre-installed modules are the latest available versions and how frequently are they updated.

Demand timely Perl updates from your host

Unpatched vulnerabilities provide malicious actors with a good attack vector that can be employed to compromise security, regardless of what you do on your own – only the host can address this problem. The sheer number of Perl modules offered by hosts and used by developers poses a risk that a few vulnerable components may linger on the server for a while before they are patched.

In a January 2013 survey, Security firm Sophos found that 80% of malicious sites are the "innocent victims of a compromise," which is a diplomatic way of saying that untimely updates are to blame for many successful attacks. Make sure that your site does not become another Sophos statistic by choosing a host that regularly updates Perl, PHP, MySQL and other software.

In addition, a good Perl host also needs to offer a range of other services and standards that may be needed, including support for MySQL, PHP4, and PHP5, so you're able to host web applications written in either Perl or PHP.

Perl Frequently Asked Questions

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