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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?

    Perl is a programming language. It is general purpose, high-level, dynamic, interpreted language. It was created in the late eighties, but since then it has evolved to encompass a number of new features.

  • It Perl a family of languages?

    Perl is often referred to as a family of languages. In a sense, this is true. In particular, Perl 5 and Perl 6 are forks of the original Perl 5. Although the languages are still quite similar, they are distinct.

  • What is Perl used for?

    The number of use-cases for Perl has been growing since it was first released. Today, Perl is used for a range of different tasks, including graphics, networking, system administration, finance applications and much more. Perl is flexible and can be used for a wide range of different applications.

  • Does my server need to have Perl?

    Perl support on web hosting servers is practically a must at this point. You may not use it, but it is very likely that some program that you use does.

    Due to Perl's numerous industrial applications, widespread use, and popularity, most hosting packages support Perl. All post-version-5.10 versions are usually dubbed "Modern Perl" and that is what you are most likely to get on your server.

  • What hardware and operating systems support Perl?

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

  • Are there server restrictions on Perl?

    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. The installed modules should suffice, however, as long as you don't have some truly exotic requirements.

  • What do I do if I need a Perl module that my host doesn't provide?

    This is usually not an option for entry-level hosting packages. So if you need a special Perl modules, you may need to upgrade to VPS or dedicated hosting.

  • How important are Perl updates?

    From a security standpoint, you should always use the most up-to-date software. Perl is no exception. If Perl is critical to your website, check with your host to make sure they are running the up-to-date language and modules. If you already have hosting and its Perl installation is out of date, ask your host to update it. If it becomes an issue, you may need to change hosts.

  • Is Perl part of the LAMP stack?

    Originally, LAMP stood for Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP. However, nowadays the "P" in LAMP often refers to Perl or Python.

  • How widely is Perl used?

    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, and DuckDuckGo.

  • How is Perl licensed?

    Perl 5 is licensed under either the GNU General Public License 1.0 and above or the Artistic License. Perl 6 is licensed under either the GNU General Public License 1.0 and above or the Artistic License 2.0.

  • Are Perl 5 and Perl 6 compatible?

    No. They are similar in that if you know one you will have no trouble reading the other. But as far as computers go, they are not compatible.

  • 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 usually 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, some argue that Perl is more versatile and powerful than Python.

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