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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 Hosting Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is Perl? Just another programming language?

    Perl is not just another programming language, it is actually a family of programming languages. Perl languages are general purpose, high-level, dynamic programming languages. They are interpreted and implemented in C. Perl was created in the late eighties, but since then it has evolved to encompass a number of new features.

  • What is Perl used for? Who uses it?

    The number of use-cases for Perl has been growing for more than two decades. Today, Perl languages are used for a range of different tasks, including graphics programming, network programming, system administration, finance applications and much more. Perl is flexible and can be used for a wide range of different applications.

  • How relevant is Perl support on web hosting servers? Which versions are the most important?

    Perl support on web hosting servers is practically a must at this point. Due to Perl’s numerous industrial applications, widespread use and popularity, most hosting packages support Perl. All post 5.10 versions are usually dubbed “Modern Perl” and that is what you are most likely to get on your server.

  • What sorts of hardware supports Perl? What about operating systems?

    Perl is relatively old, so it is compatible with a lot of different hardware platforms, anything from legacy 16-bit platforms to cutting edge 16-core server chips. The same is true of operating systems – Perl can be used on Windows, OS X, OS/2, BeOS, DOS, QNX and other platforms. Of course, since it was designed for Unix, Perl also runs on all Unix-like platforms, including all flavors of Linux.

  • So my server supports Perl and I can do just about anything with it?

    Not quite. While most hosts offer Perl support across all hosting packages, many shared packages impose a few restrictions. For example, you get a range of Perl modules and CGI scripts, but you can’t install any of your own. This is usually not a problem, since very few users actually need to install them. These modules should suffice if case you don't have some truly exotic requirements. They will run the majority of Perl and CGI scripts.

  • What if I need to install additional Perl modules?

    Installing additional Perl modules simply aren't necessary for most users. However, power users may need them for development and some niche applications, but power users already know how to do this anyway. This is usually not an option for entry-level hosting packages, so if you need to play around with Perl modules, you will have to get a professional hosting plan.

  • Is there anything I need to look out for in terms of Perl support?

    You might want to check whether your host will let you run Perl scripts from any directory on your server, rather than a cgi-bin folder. This may be very welcome feature in some situations, and you will also have to know how to set proper file permissions. This usually depends on your host, so you will have to follow their official guidelines to the letter.

  • I am a bit concerned about updates. How important are they?

    It is always a good idea to check whether or not your host updates various components on a regular basis. Perl is no exception, so you need to check whether or not the Perl modules offered by the host are the latest available versions. If not, this should be a red flag. Outdated modules and unpatched vulnerabilities can cause a lot of security problems.

  • If my host doesn’t update Perl on a regular basis, is there anything I could do?

    Why should you? You're paying them to do it. If you are using shared hosting, there’s not much you can do. That is why it is important to find hosts running the latest Linux distributions and up to date. If you plan to manage and use your own dedicated server, it’s up to you to make sure everything is routinely updated (including programming and scripting languages).

  • Is Perl part of the LAMP stack?

    There is some debate about this, since LAMP stands for Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP. However, nowadays the LAMP stack tends to include Perl, Python, and Ruby in addition to PHP – the acronym is the same, since “LAMPPPR” doesn’t sound quite as good. Perl can be used in lieu of Python or even PHP in the LAMP stack.

  • I know Perl is widely used, but how widely? Which popular sites and software projects are written in Perl?

    A number of very popular websites and software projects were written in Perl. These include cPanel, Movable Type, Bugzilla, as well as major websites like IMDb, Craigslist, Slashdot, Ticketmaster and Priceline.com.

  • How is Perl licensed?

    Perl is licensed under the GNU General Public License, as well as Artistic License. It is widely used and no license issues should be expected.

  • What about Perl 6 compatibility?

    Perl 6 is expected to be a major overhaul and is not supposed to be backward compatible with Perl 5. Perl 6 has been in development since 2000 and is expected to launch by the end of 2015.

  • Are there any downsides to using Perl?

    Many programmers complain about untidy code, because there are a lot of ways to get to the same result. Perl is not portable, there is no interpreted shell and while it’s object-oriented, the implementation leaves much to be desired.

  • How does Perl compare to Python?

    Both scripting languages are used for similar purposes, but they are very different. Unlike Perl, Python practically forces developers to respect a number of standards, so the resulting code is considered tidier than in Perl. This greater level of standardization also makes Python more suitable for beginners, as it’s more intuitive. However, Perl is much older, so it has a lot more modules available. In addition to being more mature, it is often argued that Perl is a lot more versatile and powerful than Python.

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