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perlform (1)


perlform - Perl formats


Please see following description for synopsis


Perl Programmers Reference Guide                      PERLFORM(1)

     perlform - Perl formats

     Perl has a mechanism to help you generate simple reports and
     charts.  To facilitate this, Perl helps you code up your
     output page close to how it will look when it's printed.  It
     can keep track of things like how many lines are on a page,
     what page you're on, when to print page headers, etc.
     Keywords are borrowed from FORTRAN: format() to declare and
     write() to execute; see their entries in perlfunc.
     Fortunately, the layout is much more legible, more like
     BASIC's PRINT USING statement.  Think of it as a poor man's

     Formats, like packages and subroutines, are declared rather
     than executed, so they may occur at any point in your
     program.  (Usually it's best to keep them all together
     though.) They have their own namespace apart from all the
     other "types" in Perl.  This means that if you have a
     function named "Foo", it is not the same thing as having a
     format named "Foo".  However, the default name for the
     format associated with a given filehandle is the same as the
     name of the filehandle.  Thus, the default format for STDOUT
     is named "STDOUT", and the default format for filehandle
     TEMP is named "TEMP".  They just look the same.  They

     Output record formats are declared as follows:

         format NAME =

     If the name is omitted, format "STDOUT" is defined. A single
     "." in column 1 is used to terminate a format.  FORMLIST
     consists of a sequence of lines, each of which may be one of
     three types:

     1.  A comment, indicated by putting a '#' in the first

     2.  A "picture" line giving the format for one output line.

     3.  An argument line supplying values to plug into the
         previous picture line.

     Picture lines contain output field definitions, intermingled
     with literal text. These lines do not undergo any kind of
     variable interpolation.  Field definitions are made up from
     a set of characters, for starting and extending a field to
     its desired width. This is the complete set of characters

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Perl Programmers Reference Guide                      PERLFORM(1)

     for field definitions:

        @    start of regular field
        ^    start of special field
        <    pad character for left justification
        |    pad character for centering
        >    pad character for right justification
        #    pad character for a right justified numeric field
        0    instead of first #: pad number with leading zeroes
        .    decimal point within a numeric field
        ...  terminate a text field, show "..." as truncation evidence
        @*   variable width field for a multi-line value
        ^*   variable width field for next line of a multi-line value
        ~    suppress line with all fields empty
        ~~   repeat line until all fields are exhausted

     Each field in a picture line starts with either "@" (at) or
     "^" (caret), indicating what we'll call, respectively, a
     "regular" or "special" field.  The choice of pad characters
     determines whether a field is textual or numeric. The tilde
     operators are not part of a field.  Let's look at the
     various possibilities in detail.

  Text Fields
     The length of the field is supplied by padding out the field
     with multiple "<", ">", or "|" characters to specify a non-
     numeric field with, respectively, left justification, right
     justification, or centering.  For a regular field, the value
     (up to the first newline) is taken and printed according to
     the selected justification, truncating excess characters.
     If you terminate a text field with "...", three dots will be
     shown if the value is truncated. A special text field may be
     used to do rudimentary multi-line text block filling; see
     "Using Fill Mode" for details.

           format STDOUT =
           @<<<<<<   @||||||   @>>>>>>
           "left",   "middle", "right"
           left      middle    right

  Numeric Fields
     Using "#" as a padding character specifies a numeric field,
     with right justification. An optional "." defines the
     position of the decimal point. With a "0" (zero) instead of
     the first "#", the formatted number will be padded with
     leading zeroes if necessary.  A special numeric field is
     blanked out if the value is undefined.  If the resulting
     value would exceed the width specified the field is filled
     with "#" as overflow evidence.

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Perl Programmers Reference Guide                      PERLFORM(1)

           format STDOUT =
           @###   @.###   @##.###  @###   @###   ^####
            42,   3.1415,  undef,    0, 10000,   undef
             42   3.142     0.000     0   ####

  The Field @* for Variable Width Multi-Line Text
     The field "@*" can be used for printing multi-line,
     nontruncated values; it should (but need not) appear by
     itself on a line. A final line feed is chomped off, but all
     other characters are emitted verbatim.

  The Field ^* for Variable Width One-line-at-a-time Text
     Like "@*", this is a variable width field. The value
     supplied must be a scalar variable. Perl puts the first line
     (up to the first "\n") of the text into the field, and then
     chops off the front of the string so that the next time the
     variable is referenced, more of the text can be printed.
     The variable will not be restored.

           $text = "line 1\nline 2\nline 3";
           format STDOUT =
           Text: ^*
           ~~    ^*
           Text: line 1
                 line 2
                 line 3

  Specifying Values
     The values are specified on the following format line in the
     same order as the picture fields.  The expressions providing
     the values must be separated by commas.  They are all
     evaluated in a list context before the line is processed, so
     a single list expression could produce multiple list
     elements.  The expressions may be spread out to more than
     one line if enclosed in braces.  If so, the opening brace
     must be the first token on the first line.  If an expression
     evaluates to a number with a decimal part, and if the
     corresponding picture specifies that the decimal part should
     appear in the output (that is, any picture except multiple
     "#" characters without an embedded "."), the character used
     for the decimal point is always determined by the current
     LC_NUMERIC locale.  This means that, if, for example, the
     run-time environment happens to specify a German locale, ","
     will be used instead of the default ".".  See perllocale and

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Perl Programmers Reference Guide                      PERLFORM(1)

     "WARNINGS" for more information.

  Using Fill Mode
     On text fields the caret enables a kind of fill mode.
     Instead of an arbitrary expression, the value supplied must
     be a scalar variable that contains a text string.  Perl puts
     the next portion of the text into the field, and then chops
     off the front of the string so that the next time the
     variable is referenced, more of the text can be printed.
     (Yes, this means that the variable itself is altered during
     execution of the write() call, and is not restored.)  The
     next portion of text is determined by a crude line breaking
     algorithm. You may use the carriage return character ("\r")
     to force a line break. You can change which characters are
     legal to break on by changing the variable $: (that's
     $FORMAT_LINE_BREAK_CHARACTERS if you're using the English
     module) to a list of the desired characters.

     Normally you would use a sequence of fields in a vertical
     stack associated with the same scalar variable to print out
     a block of text. You might wish to end the final field with
     the text "...", which will appear in the output if the text
     was too long to appear in its entirety.

  Suppressing Lines Where All Fields Are Void
     Using caret fields can produce lines where all fields are
     blank. You can suppress such lines by putting a "~" (tilde)
     character anywhere in the line.  The tilde will be
     translated to a space upon output.

  Repeating Format Lines
     If you put two contiguous tilde characters "~~" anywhere
     into a line, the line will be repeated until all the fields
     on the line are exhausted, i.e. undefined. For special
     (caret) text fields this will occur sooner or later, but if
     you use a text field of the at variety, the  expression you
     supply had better not give the same value every time
     forever! ("shift(@f)" is a simple example that would work.)
     Don't use a regular (at) numeric field in such lines,
     because it will never go blank.

  Top of Form Processing
     Top-of-form processing is by default handled by a format
     with the same name as the current filehandle with "_TOP"
     concatenated to it.  It's triggered at the top of each page.
     See "write" in perlfunc.


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Perl Programmers Reference Guide                      PERLFORM(1)

      # a report on the /etc/passwd file
      format STDOUT_TOP =
                              Passwd File
      Name                Login    Office   Uid   Gid Home
      format STDOUT =
      @<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< @||||||| @<<<<<<@>>>> @>>>> @<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
      $name,              $login,  $office,$uid,$gid, $home

      # a report from a bug report form
      format STDOUT_TOP =
                              Bug Reports
      @<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<     @|||         @>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
      $system,                      $%,         $date
      format STDOUT =
      Subject: @<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
      Index: @<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< ^<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
             $index,                       $description
      Priority: @<<<<<<<<<< Date: @<<<<<<< ^<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
                $priority,        $date,   $description
      From: @<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< ^<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
            $from,                         $description
      Assigned to: @<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< ^<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
                   $programmer,            $description
      ~                                    ^<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
      ~                                    ^<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
      ~                                    ^<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
      ~                                    ^<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
      ~                                    ^<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<...

     It is possible to intermix print()s with write()s on the
     same output channel, but you'll have to handle "$-"
     ($FORMAT_LINES_LEFT) yourself.

  Format Variables
     The current format name is stored in the variable $~
     ($FORMAT_NAME), and the current top of form format name is
     in $^ ($FORMAT_TOP_NAME).  The current output page number is
     stored in $% ($FORMAT_PAGE_NUMBER), and the number of lines
     on the page is in $= ($FORMAT_LINES_PER_PAGE).  Whether to

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Perl Programmers Reference Guide                      PERLFORM(1)

     autoflush output on this handle is stored in $|
     ($OUTPUT_AUTOFLUSH).  The string output before each top of
     page (except the first) is stored in $^L ($FORMAT_FORMFEED).
     These variables are set on a per-filehandle basis, so you'll
     need to select() into a different one to affect them:

                 $~ = "My_Other_Format",
                 $^ = "My_Top_Format"

     Pretty ugly, eh?  It's a common idiom though, so don't be
     too surprised when you see it.  You can at least use a
     temporary variable to hold the previous filehandle: (this is
     a much better approach in general, because not only does
     legibility improve, you now have intermediary stage in the
     expression to single-step the debugger through):

         $ofh = select(OUTF);
         $~ = "My_Other_Format";
         $^ = "My_Top_Format";

     If you use the English module, you can even read the
     variable names:

         use English '-no_match_vars';
         $ofh = select(OUTF);
         $FORMAT_NAME     = "My_Other_Format";
         $FORMAT_TOP_NAME = "My_Top_Format";

     But you still have those funny select()s.  So just use the
     FileHandle module.  Now, you can access these special
     variables using lowercase method names instead:

         use FileHandle;
         format_name     OUTF "My_Other_Format";
         format_top_name OUTF "My_Top_Format";

     Much better!

     See attributes(5) for descriptions of the following

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Perl Programmers Reference Guide                      PERLFORM(1)

     |Availability   | runtime/perl-512 |
     |Stability      | Uncommitted      |
     Because the values line may contain arbitrary expressions
     (for at fields, not caret fields), you can farm out more
     sophisticated processing to other functions, like sprintf()
     or one of your own.  For example:

         format Ident =

     To get a real at or caret into the field, do this:

         format Ident =
         I have an @ here.

     To center a whole line of text, do something like this:

         format Ident =
                 "Some text line"

     There is no builtin way to say "float this to the right hand
     side of the page, however wide it is."  You have to specify
     where it goes.  The truly desperate can generate their own
     format on the fly, based on the current number of columns,
     and then eval() it:

         $format  = "format STDOUT = \n"
                  . '^' . '<' x $cols . "\n"
                  . '$entry' . "\n"
                  . "\t^" . "<" x ($cols-8) . "~~\n"
                  . '$entry' . "\n"
                  . ".\n";
         print $format if $Debugging;
         eval $format;
         die $@ if $@;

     Which would generate a format looking something like this:

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Perl Programmers Reference Guide                      PERLFORM(1)

      format STDOUT =

     Here's a little program that's somewhat like fmt(1):

      format =
      ^<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< ~~


      $/ = '';
      while (<>) {
          s/\s*\n\s*/ /g;

     While $FORMAT_TOP_NAME contains the name of the current
     header format, there is no corresponding mechanism to
     automatically do the same thing for a footer.  Not knowing
     how big a format is going to be until you evaluate it is one
     of the major problems.  It's on the TODO list.

     Here's one strategy:  If you have a fixed-size footer, you
     can get footers by checking $FORMAT_LINES_LEFT before each
     write() and print the footer yourself if necessary.

     Here's another strategy: Open a pipe to yourself, using
     "open(MYSELF, "|-")" (see "open()" in perlfunc) and always
     write() to MYSELF instead of STDOUT.  Have your child
     process massage its STDIN to rearrange headers and footers
     however you like.  Not very convenient, but doable.

  Accessing Formatting Internals
     For low-level access to the formatting mechanism.  you may
     use formline() and access $^A (the $ACCUMULATOR variable)

     For example:

         $str = formline <<'END', 1,2,3;
         @<<<  @|||  @>>>

         print "Wow, I just stored `$^A' in the accumulator!\n";

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Perl Programmers Reference Guide                      PERLFORM(1)

     Or to make an swrite() subroutine, which is to write() what
     sprintf() is to printf(), do this:

         use Carp;
         sub swrite {
             croak "usage: swrite PICTURE ARGS" unless @_;
             my $format = shift;
             $^A = "";
             return $^A;

         $string = swrite(<<'END', 1, 2, 3);
      Check me out
      @<<<  @|||  @>>>
         print $string;

     The lone dot that ends a format can also prematurely end a
     mail message passing through a misconfigured Internet mailer
     (and based on experience, such misconfiguration is the rule,
     not the exception).  So when sending format code through
     mail, you should indent it so that the format-ending dot is
     not on the left margin; this will prevent SMTP cutoff.

     Lexical variables (declared with "my") are not visible
     within a format unless the format is declared within the
     scope of the lexical variable.  (They weren't visible at all
     before version 5.001.)

     Formats are the only part of Perl that unconditionally use
     information from a program's locale; if a program's
     environment specifies an LC_NUMERIC locale, it is always
     used to specify the decimal point character in formatted
     output.  Perl ignores all other aspects of locale handling
     unless the "use locale" pragma is in effect.  Formatted
     output cannot be controlled by "use locale" because the
     pragma is tied to the block structure of the program, and,
     for historical reasons, formats exist outside that block
     structure.  See perllocale for further discussion of locale

     Within strings that are to be displayed in a fixed length
     text field, each control character is substituted by a
     space. (But remember the special meaning of "\r" when using
     fill mode.) This is done to avoid misalignment when control
     characters "disappear" on some output media.

     This software was built from source available at  The original

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     community source was downloaded from

     Further information about this software can be found on the
     open source community website at

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