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perlsub (1)


perlsub - Perl subroutines


To declare subroutines:

sub NAME;                     # A "forward" declaration.
sub NAME(PROTO);              #  ditto, but with prototypes
sub NAME : ATTRS;             #  with attributes
sub NAME(PROTO) : ATTRS;      #  with attributes and prototypes

sub NAME BLOCK                # A declaration and a definition.
sub NAME(PROTO) BLOCK         #  ditto, but with prototypes
sub NAME : ATTRS BLOCK        #  with attributes
sub NAME(PROTO) : ATTRS BLOCK #  with prototypes and attributes

To define an anonymous subroutine at runtime:

$subref = sub BLOCK;                 # no proto
$subref = sub (PROTO) BLOCK;         # with proto
$subref = sub : ATTRS BLOCK;         # with attributes
$subref = sub (PROTO) : ATTRS BLOCK; # with proto and attributes

To import subroutines:


To call subroutines:

NAME(LIST);    # & is optional with parentheses.
NAME LIST;     # Parentheses optional if predeclared/imported.
&NAME(LIST);   # Circumvent prototypes.
&NAME;         # Makes current @_ visible to called subroutine.


Perl Programmers Reference Guide                       PERLSUB(1)

     perlsub - Perl subroutines

     To declare subroutines:

         sub NAME;                     # A "forward" declaration.
         sub NAME(PROTO);              #  ditto, but with prototypes
         sub NAME : ATTRS;             #  with attributes
         sub NAME(PROTO) : ATTRS;      #  with attributes and prototypes

         sub NAME BLOCK                # A declaration and a definition.
         sub NAME(PROTO) BLOCK         #  ditto, but with prototypes
         sub NAME : ATTRS BLOCK        #  with attributes
         sub NAME(PROTO) : ATTRS BLOCK #  with prototypes and attributes

     To define an anonymous subroutine at runtime:

         $subref = sub BLOCK;                 # no proto
         $subref = sub (PROTO) BLOCK;         # with proto
         $subref = sub : ATTRS BLOCK;         # with attributes
         $subref = sub (PROTO) : ATTRS BLOCK; # with proto and attributes

     To import subroutines:

         use MODULE qw(NAME1 NAME2 NAME3);

     To call subroutines:

         NAME(LIST);    # & is optional with parentheses.
         NAME LIST;     # Parentheses optional if predeclared/imported.
         &NAME(LIST);   # Circumvent prototypes.
         &NAME;         # Makes current @_ visible to called subroutine.

     Like many languages, Perl provides for user-defined
     subroutines.  These may be located anywhere in the main
     program, loaded in from other files via the "do", "require",
     or "use" keywords, or generated on the fly using "eval" or
     anonymous subroutines.  You can even call a function
     indirectly using a variable containing its name or a CODE

     The Perl model for function call and return values is
     simple: all functions are passed as parameters one single
     flat list of scalars, and all functions likewise return to
     their caller one single flat list of scalars.  Any arrays or
     hashes in these call and return lists will collapse, losing
     their identities--but you may always use pass-by-reference
     instead to avoid this.  Both call and return lists may
     contain as many or as few scalar elements as you'd like.
     (Often a function without an explicit return statement is

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     called a subroutine, but there's really no difference from
     Perl's perspective.)

     Any arguments passed in show up in the array @_.  Therefore,
     if you called a function with two arguments, those would be
     stored in $_[0] and $_[1].  The array @_ is a local array,
     but its elements are aliases for the actual scalar
     parameters.  In particular, if an element $_[0] is updated,
     the corresponding argument is updated (or an error occurs if
     it is not updatable).  If an argument is an array or hash
     element which did not exist when the function was called,
     that element is created only when (and if) it is modified or
     a reference to it is taken.  (Some earlier versions of Perl
     created the element whether or not the element was assigned
     to.)  Assigning to the whole array @_ removes that aliasing,
     and does not update any arguments.

     A "return" statement may be used to exit a subroutine,
     optionally specifying the returned value, which will be
     evaluated in the appropriate context (list, scalar, or void)
     depending on the context of the subroutine call.  If you
     specify no return value, the subroutine returns an empty
     list in list context, the undefined value in scalar context,
     or nothing in void context.  If you return one or more
     aggregates (arrays and hashes), these will be flattened
     together into one large indistinguishable list.

     If no "return" is found and if the last statement is an
     expression, its value is returned. If the last statement is
     a loop control structure like a "foreach" or a "while", the
     returned value is unspecified. The empty sub returns the
     empty list.

     Perl does not have named formal parameters.  In practice all
     you do is assign to a "my()" list of these.  Variables that
     aren't declared to be private are global variables.  For
     gory details on creating private variables, see "Private
     Variables via my()" and "Temporary Values via local()".  To
     create protected environments for a set of functions in a
     separate package (and probably a separate file), see
     "Packages" in perlmod.


         sub max {
             my $max = shift(@_);
             foreach $foo (@_) {
                 $max = $foo if $max < $foo;
             return $max;
         $bestday = max($mon,$tue,$wed,$thu,$fri);

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         # get a line, combining continuation lines
         #  that start with whitespace

         sub get_line {
             $thisline = $lookahead;  # global variables!
             LINE: while (defined($lookahead = <STDIN>)) {
                 if ($lookahead =~ /^[ \t]/) {
                     $thisline .= $lookahead;
                 else {
                     last LINE;
             return $thisline;

         $lookahead = <STDIN>;       # get first line
         while (defined($line = get_line())) {

     Assigning to a list of private variables to name your

         sub maybeset {
             my($key, $value) = @_;
             $Foo{$key} = $value unless $Foo{$key};

     Because the assignment copies the values, this also has the
     effect of turning call-by-reference into call-by-value.
     Otherwise a function is free to do in-place modifications of
     @_ and change its caller's values.

         upcase_in($v1, $v2);  # this changes $v1 and $v2
         sub upcase_in {
             for (@_) { tr/a-z/A-Z/ }

     You aren't allowed to modify constants in this way, of
     course.  If an argument were actually literal and you tried
     to change it, you'd take a (presumably fatal) exception.
     For example, this won't work:


     It would be much safer if the "upcase_in()" function were
     written to return a copy of its parameters instead of
     changing them in place:

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         ($v3, $v4) = upcase($v1, $v2);  # this doesn't change $v1 and $v2
         sub upcase {
             return unless defined wantarray;  # void context, do nothing
             my @parms = @_;
             for (@parms) { tr/a-z/A-Z/ }
             return wantarray ? @parms : $parms[0];

     Notice how this (unprototyped) function doesn't care whether
     it was passed real scalars or arrays.  Perl sees all
     arguments as one big, long, flat parameter list in @_.  This
     is one area where Perl's simple argument-passing style
     shines.  The "upcase()" function would work perfectly well
     without changing the "upcase()" definition even if we fed it
     things like this:

         @newlist   = upcase(@list1, @list2);
         @newlist   = upcase( split /:/, $var );

     Do not, however, be tempted to do this:

         (@a, @b)   = upcase(@list1, @list2);

     Like the flattened incoming parameter list, the return list
     is also flattened on return.  So all you have managed to do
     here is stored everything in @a and made @b empty.  See
     "Pass by Reference" for alternatives.

     A subroutine may be called using an explicit "&" prefix.
     The "&" is optional in modern Perl, as are parentheses if
     the subroutine has been predeclared.  The "&" is not
     optional when just naming the subroutine, such as when it's
     used as an argument to defined() or undef().  Nor is it
     optional when you want to do an indirect subroutine call
     with a subroutine name or reference using the "&$subref()"
     or "&{$subref}()" constructs, although the "$subref->()"
     notation solves that problem.  See perlref for more about
     all that.

     Subroutines may be called recursively.  If a subroutine is
     called using the "&" form, the argument list is optional,
     and if omitted, no @_ array is set up for the subroutine:
     the @_ array at the time of the call is visible to
     subroutine instead.  This is an efficiency mechanism that
     new users may wish to avoid.

         &foo(1,2,3);        # pass three arguments
         foo(1,2,3);         # the same

         foo();              # pass a null list
         &foo();             # the same

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         &foo;               # foo() get current args, like foo(@_) !!
         foo;                # like foo() IFF sub foo predeclared, else "foo"

     Not only does the "&" form make the argument list optional,
     it also disables any prototype checking on arguments you do
     provide.  This is partly for historical reasons, and partly
     for having a convenient way to cheat if you know what you're
     doing.  See Prototypes below.

     Subroutines whose names are in all upper case are reserved
     to the Perl core, as are modules whose names are in all
     lower case.  A subroutine in all capitals is a loosely-held
     convention meaning it will be called indirectly by the run-
     time system itself, usually due to a triggered event.
     Subroutines that do special, pre-defined things include
     "AUTOLOAD", "CLONE", "DESTROY" plus all functions mentioned
     in perltie and PerlIO::via.

     The "BEGIN", "UNITCHECK", "CHECK", "INIT" and "END"
     subroutines are not so much subroutines as named special
     code blocks, of which you can have more than one in a
     package, and which you can not call explicitly.  See "BEGIN,
     UNITCHECK, CHECK, INIT and END" in perlmod

  Private Variables via my()

         my $foo;            # declare $foo lexically local
         my (@wid, %get);    # declare list of variables local
         my $foo = "flurp";  # declare $foo lexical, and init it
         my @oof = @bar;     # declare @oof lexical, and init it
         my $x : Foo = $y;   # similar, with an attribute applied

     WARNING: The use of attribute lists on "my" declarations is
     still evolving.  The current semantics and interface are
     subject to change.  See attributes and Attribute::Handlers.

     The "my" operator declares the listed variables to be
     lexically confined to the enclosing block, conditional
     ("if/unless/elsif/else"), loop
     ("for/foreach/while/until/continue"), subroutine, "eval", or
     "do/require/use"'d file.  If more than one value is listed,
     the list must be placed in parentheses.  All listed elements
     must be legal lvalues.  Only alphanumeric identifiers may be
     lexically scoped--magical built-ins like $/ must currently
     be "local"ized with "local" instead.

     Unlike dynamic variables created by the "local" operator,
     lexical variables declared with "my" are totally hidden from
     the outside world, including any called subroutines.  This
     is true if it's the same subroutine called from itself or
     elsewhere--every call gets its own copy.

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     This doesn't mean that a "my" variable declared in a
     statically enclosing lexical scope would be invisible.  Only
     dynamic scopes are cut off.   For example, the "bumpx()"
     function below has access to the lexical $x variable because
     both the "my" and the "sub" occurred at the same scope,
     presumably file scope.

         my $x = 10;
         sub bumpx { $x++ }

     An "eval()", however, can see lexical variables of the scope
     it is being evaluated in, so long as the names aren't hidden
     by declarations within the "eval()" itself.  See perlref.

     The parameter list to my() may be assigned to if desired,
     which allows you to initialize your variables.  (If no
     initializer is given for a particular variable, it is
     created with the undefined value.)  Commonly this is used to
     name input parameters to a subroutine.  Examples:

         $arg = "fred";        # "global" variable
         $n = cube_root(27);
         print "$arg thinks the root is $n\n";
      fred thinks the root is 3

         sub cube_root {
             my $arg = shift;  # name doesn't matter
             $arg **= 1/3;
             return $arg;

     The "my" is simply a modifier on something you might assign
     to.  So when you do assign to variables in its argument
     list, "my" doesn't change whether those variables are viewed
     as a scalar or an array.  So

         my ($foo) = <STDIN>;                # WRONG?
         my @FOO = <STDIN>;

     both supply a list context to the right-hand side, while

         my $foo = <STDIN>;

     supplies a scalar context.  But the following declares only
     one variable:

         my $foo, $bar = 1;                  # WRONG

     That has the same effect as

         my $foo;
         $bar = 1;

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     The declared variable is not introduced (is not visible)
     until after the current statement.  Thus,

         my $x = $x;

     can be used to initialize a new $x with the value of the old
     $x, and the expression

         my $x = 123 and $x == 123

     is false unless the old $x happened to have the value 123.

     Lexical scopes of control structures are not bounded
     precisely by the braces that delimit their controlled
     blocks; control expressions are part of that scope, too.
     Thus in the loop

         while (my $line = <>) {
             $line = lc $line;
         } continue {
             print $line;

     the scope of $line extends from its declaration throughout
     the rest of the loop construct (including the "continue"
     clause), but not beyond it.  Similarly, in the conditional

         if ((my $answer = <STDIN>) =~ /^yes$/i) {
         } elsif ($answer =~ /^no$/i) {
         } else {
             chomp $answer;
             die "'$answer' is neither 'yes' nor 'no'";

     the scope of $answer extends from its declaration through
     the rest of that conditional, including any "elsif" and
     "else" clauses, but not beyond it.  See "Simple statements"
     in perlsyn for information on the scope of variables in
     statements with modifiers.

     The "foreach" loop defaults to scoping its index variable
     dynamically in the manner of "local".  However, if the index
     variable is prefixed with the keyword "my", or if there is
     already a lexical by that name in scope, then a new lexical
     is created instead.  Thus in the loop

         for my $i (1, 2, 3) {

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     the scope of $i extends to the end of the loop, but not
     beyond it, rendering the value of $i inaccessible within

     Some users may wish to encourage the use of lexically scoped
     variables.  As an aid to catching implicit uses to package
     variables, which are always global, if you say

         use strict 'vars';

     then any variable mentioned from there to the end of the
     enclosing block must either refer to a lexical variable, be
     predeclared via "our" or "use vars", or else must be fully
     qualified with the package name.  A compilation error
     results otherwise.  An inner block may countermand this with
     "no strict 'vars'".

     A "my" has both a compile-time and a run-time effect.  At
     compile time, the compiler takes notice of it.  The
     principal usefulness of this is to quiet "use strict
     'vars'", but it is also essential for generation of closures
     as detailed in perlref.  Actual initialization is delayed
     until run time, though, so it gets executed at the
     appropriate time, such as each time through a loop, for

     Variables declared with "my" are not part of any package and
     are therefore never fully qualified with the package name.
     In particular, you're not allowed to try to make a package
     variable (or other global) lexical:

         my $pack::var;      # ERROR!  Illegal syntax

     In fact, a dynamic variable (also known as package or global
     variables) are still accessible using the fully qualified
     "::" notation even while a lexical of the same name is also

         package main;
         local $x = 10;
         my    $x = 20;
         print "$x and $::x\n";

     That will print out 20 and 10.

     You may declare "my" variables at the outermost scope of a
     file to hide any such identifiers from the world outside
     that file.  This is similar in spirit to C's static
     variables when they are used at the file level.  To do this
     with a subroutine requires the use of a closure (an
     anonymous function that accesses enclosing lexicals).  If
     you want to create a private subroutine that cannot be

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     called from outside that block, it can declare a lexical
     variable containing an anonymous sub reference:

         my $secret_version = '1.001-beta';
         my $secret_sub = sub { print $secret_version };

     As long as the reference is never returned by any function
     within the module, no outside module can see the subroutine,
     because its name is not in any package's symbol table.
     Remember that it's not REALLY called
     $some_pack::secret_version or anything; it's just
     $secret_version, unqualified and unqualifiable.

     This does not work with object methods, however; all object
     methods have to be in the symbol table of some package to be
     found.  See "Function Templates" in perlref for something of
     a work-around to this.

  Persistent Private Variables
     There are two ways to build persistent private variables in
     Perl 5.10.  First, you can simply use the "state" feature.
     Or, you can use closures, if you want to stay compatible
     with releases older than 5.10.

     Persistent variables via state()

     Beginning with perl 5.9.4, you can declare variables with
     the "state" keyword in place of "my". For that to work,
     though, you must have enabled that feature beforehand,
     either by using the "feature" pragma, or by using "-E" on
     one-liners. (see feature)

     For example, the following code maintains a private counter,
     incremented each time the gimme_another() function is

         use feature 'state';
         sub gimme_another { state $x; return ++$x }

     Also, since $x is lexical, it can't be reached or modified
     by any Perl code outside.

     When combined with variable declaration, simple scalar
     assignment to "state" variables (as in "state $x = 42") is
     executed only the first time.  When such statements are
     evaluated subsequent times, the assignment is ignored.  The
     behavior of this sort of assignment to non-scalar variables
     is undefined.

     Persistent variables with closures

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     Just because a lexical variable is lexically (also called
     statically) scoped to its enclosing block, "eval", or "do"
     FILE, this doesn't mean that within a function it works like
     a C static.  It normally works more like a C auto, but with
     implicit garbage collection.

     Unlike local variables in C or C++, Perl's lexical variables
     don't necessarily get recycled just because their scope has
     exited.  If something more permanent is still aware of the
     lexical, it will stick around.  So long as something else
     references a lexical, that lexical won't be freed--which is
     as it should be.  You wouldn't want memory being free until
     you were done using it, or kept around once you were done.
     Automatic garbage collection takes care of this for you.

     This means that you can pass back or save away references to
     lexical variables, whereas to return a pointer to a C auto
     is a grave error.  It also gives us a way to simulate C's
     function statics.  Here's a mechanism for giving a function
     private variables with both lexical scoping and a static
     lifetime.  If you do want to create something like C's
     static variables, just enclose the whole function in an
     extra block, and put the static variable outside the
     function but in the block.

             my $secret_val = 0;
             sub gimme_another {
                 return ++$secret_val;
         # $secret_val now becomes unreachable by the outside
         # world, but retains its value between calls to gimme_another

     If this function is being sourced in from a separate file
     via "require" or "use", then this is probably just fine.  If
     it's all in the main program, you'll need to arrange for the
     "my" to be executed early, either by putting the whole block
     above your main program, or more likely, placing merely a
     "BEGIN" code block around it to make sure it gets executed
     before your program starts to run:

         BEGIN {
             my $secret_val = 0;
             sub gimme_another {
                 return ++$secret_val;

     See "BEGIN, UNITCHECK, CHECK, INIT and END" in perlmod about
     the special triggered code blocks, "BEGIN", "UNITCHECK",
     "CHECK", "INIT" and "END".

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     If declared at the outermost scope (the file scope), then
     lexicals work somewhat like C's file statics.  They are
     available to all functions in that same file declared below
     them, but are inaccessible from outside that file.  This
     strategy is sometimes used in modules to create private
     variables that the whole module can see.

  Temporary Values via local()
     WARNING: In general, you should be using "my" instead of
     "local", because it's faster and safer.  Exceptions to this
     include the global punctuation variables, global filehandles
     and formats, and direct manipulation of the Perl symbol
     table itself.  "local" is mostly used when the current value
     of a variable must be visible to called subroutines.


         # localization of values

         local $foo;                 # make $foo dynamically local
         local (@wid, %get);         # make list of variables local
         local $foo = "flurp";       # make $foo dynamic, and init it
         local @oof = @bar;          # make @oof dynamic, and init it

         local $hash{key} = "val";   # sets a local value for this hash entry
         delete local $hash{key};    # delete this entry for the current block
         local ($cond ? $v1 : $v2);  # several types of lvalues support
                                     # localization

         # localization of symbols

         local *FH;                  # localize $FH, @FH, %FH, &FH  ...
         local *merlyn = *randal;    # now $merlyn is really $randal, plus
                                     #     @merlyn is really @randal, etc
         local *merlyn = 'randal';   # SAME THING: promote 'randal' to *randal
         local *merlyn = \$randal;   # just alias $merlyn, not @merlyn etc

     A "local" modifies its listed variables to be "local" to the
     enclosing block, "eval", or "do FILE"--and to any subroutine
     called from within that block.  A "local" just gives
     temporary values to global (meaning package) variables.  It
     does not create a local variable.  This is known as dynamic
     scoping.  Lexical scoping is done with "my", which works
     more like C's auto declarations.

     Some types of lvalues can be localized as well : hash and
     array elements and slices, conditionals (provided that their
     result is always localizable), and symbolic references.  As
     for simple variables, this creates new, dynamically scoped

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     If more than one variable or expression is given to "local",
     they must be placed in parentheses.  This operator works by
     saving the current values of those variables in its argument
     list on a hidden stack and restoring them upon exiting the
     block, subroutine, or eval.  This means that called
     subroutines can also reference the local variable, but not
     the global one.  The argument list may be assigned to if
     desired, which allows you to initialize your local
     variables.  (If no initializer is given for a particular
     variable, it is created with an undefined value.)

     Because "local" is a run-time operator, it gets executed
     each time through a loop.  Consequently, it's more efficient
     to localize your variables outside the loop.

     Grammatical note on local()

     A "local" is simply a modifier on an lvalue expression.
     When you assign to a "local"ized variable, the "local"
     doesn't change whether its list is viewed as a scalar or an
     array.  So

         local($foo) = <STDIN>;
         local @FOO = <STDIN>;

     both supply a list context to the right-hand side, while

         local $foo = <STDIN>;

     supplies a scalar context.

     Localization of special variables

     If you localize a special variable, you'll be giving a new
     value to it, but its magic won't go away.  That means that
     all side-effects related to this magic still work with the
     localized value.

     This feature allows code like this to work :

         # Read the whole contents of FILE in $slurp
         { local $/ = undef; $slurp = <FILE>; }

     Note, however, that this restricts localization of some
     values ; for example, the following statement dies, as of
     perl 5.9.0, with an error Modification of a read-only value
     attempted, because the $1 variable is magical and read-only

         local $1 = 2;

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     Similarly, but in a way more difficult to spot, the
     following snippet will die in perl 5.9.0 :

         sub f { local $_ = "foo"; print }
         for ($1) {
             # now $_ is aliased to $1, thus is magic and readonly

     See next section for an alternative to this situation.

     WARNING: Localization of tied arrays and hashes does not
     currently work as described.  This will be fixed in a future
     release of Perl; in the meantime, avoid code that relies on
     any particular behaviour of localising tied arrays or hashes
     (localising individual elements is still okay).  See
     "Localising Tied Arrays and Hashes Is Broken" in perl58delta
     for more details.

     Localization of globs

     The construct

         local *name;

     creates a whole new symbol table entry for the glob "name"
     in the current package.  That means that all variables in
     its glob slot ($name, @name, %name, &name, and the "name"
     filehandle) are dynamically reset.

     This implies, among other things, that any magic eventually
     carried by those variables is locally lost.  In other words,
     saying "local */" will not have any effect on the internal
     value of the input record separator.

     Notably, if you want to work with a brand new value of the
     default scalar $_, and avoid the potential problem listed
     above about $_ previously carrying a magic value, you should
     use "local *_" instead of "local $_".  As of perl 5.9.1, you
     can also use the lexical form of $_ (declaring it with "my
     $_"), which avoids completely this problem.

     Localization of elements of composite types

     It's also worth taking a moment to explain what happens when
     you "local"ize a member of a composite type (i.e. an array
     or hash element).  In this case, the element is "local"ized
     by name. This means that when the scope of the "local()"
     ends, the saved value will be restored to the hash element
     whose key was named in the "local()", or the array element
     whose index was named in the "local()".  If that element was
     deleted while the "local()" was in effect (e.g. by a

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     "delete()" from a hash or a "shift()" of an array), it will
     spring back into existence, possibly extending an array and
     filling in the skipped elements with "undef".  For instance,
     if you say

         %hash = ( 'This' => 'is', 'a' => 'test' );
         @ary  = ( 0..5 );
              local($ary[5]) = 6;
              local($hash{'a'}) = 'drill';
              while (my $e = pop(@ary)) {
                  print "$e . . .\n";
                  last unless $e > 3;
              if (@ary) {
                  $hash{'only a'} = 'test';
                  delete $hash{'a'};
         print join(' ', map { "$_ $hash{$_}" } sort keys %hash),".\n";
         print "The array has ",scalar(@ary)," elements: ",
               join(', ', map { defined $_ ? $_ : 'undef' } @ary),"\n";

     Perl will print

         6 . . .
         4 . . .
         3 . . .
         This is a test only a test.
         The array has 6 elements: 0, 1, 2, undef, undef, 5

     The behavior of local() on non-existent members of composite
     types is subject to change in future.

     Localized deletion of elements of composite types

     You can use the "delete local $array[$idx]" and "delete
     local $hash{key}" constructs to delete a composite type
     entry for the current block and restore it when it ends.
     They return the array/hash value before the localization,
     which means that they are respectively equivalent to

         do {
             my $val = $array[$idx];
             local  $array[$idx];
             delete $array[$idx];


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         do {
             my $val = $hash{key};
             local  $hash{key};
             delete $hash{key};

     except that for those the "local" is scoped to the "do"
     block. Slices are also accepted.

         my %hash = (
          a => [ 7, 8, 9 ],
          b => 1,

          my $a = delete local $hash{a};
          # $a is [ 7, 8, 9 ]
          # %hash is (b => 1)

           my @nums = delete local @$a[0, 2]
           # @nums is (7, 9)
           # $a is [ undef, 8 ]

           $a[0] = 999; # will be erased when the scope ends
          # $a is back to [ 7, 8, 9 ]

         # %hash is back to its original state

  Lvalue subroutines
     WARNING: Lvalue subroutines are still experimental and the
     implementation may change in future versions of Perl.

     It is possible to return a modifiable value from a
     subroutine.  To do this, you have to declare the subroutine
     to return an lvalue.

         my $val;
         sub canmod : lvalue {
             # return $val; this doesn't work, don't say "return"
         sub nomod {

         canmod() = 5;   # assigns to $val
         nomod()  = 5;   # ERROR

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     The scalar/list context for the subroutine and for the
     right-hand side of assignment is determined as if the
     subroutine call is replaced by a scalar. For example,

         data(2,3) = get_data(3,4);

     Both subroutines here are called in a scalar context, while

         (data(2,3)) = get_data(3,4);

     and in:

         (data(2),data(3)) = get_data(3,4);

     all the subroutines are called in a list context.

     Lvalue subroutines are EXPERIMENTAL
         They appear to be convenient, but there are several
         reasons to be circumspect.

         You can't use the return keyword, you must pass out the
         value before falling out of subroutine scope. (see
         comment in example above).  This is usually not a
         problem, but it disallows an explicit return out of a
         deeply nested loop, which is sometimes a nice way out.

         They violate encapsulation.  A normal mutator can check
         the supplied argument before setting the attribute it is
         protecting, an lvalue subroutine never gets that chance.

             my $some_array_ref = [];    # protected by mutators ??

             sub set_arr {               # normal mutator
                 my $val = shift;
                 die("expected array, you supplied ", ref $val)
                    unless ref $val eq 'ARRAY';
                 $some_array_ref = $val;
             sub set_arr_lv : lvalue {   # lvalue mutator

             # set_arr_lv cannot stop this !
             set_arr_lv() = { a => 1 };

  Passing Symbol Table Entries (typeglobs)
     WARNING: The mechanism described in this section was
     originally the only way to simulate pass-by-reference in
     older versions of Perl.  While it still works fine in modern

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     versions, the new reference mechanism is generally easier to
     work with.  See below.

     Sometimes you don't want to pass the value of an array to a
     subroutine but rather the name of it, so that the subroutine
     can modify the global copy of it rather than working with a
     local copy.  In perl you can refer to all objects of a
     particular name by prefixing the name with a star: *foo.
     This is often known as a "typeglob", because the star on the
     front can be thought of as a wildcard match for all the
     funny prefix characters on variables and subroutines and

     When evaluated, the typeglob produces a scalar value that
     represents all the objects of that name, including any
     filehandle, format, or subroutine.  When assigned to, it
     causes the name mentioned to refer to whatever "*" value was
     assigned to it.  Example:

         sub doubleary {
             local(*someary) = @_;
             foreach $elem (@someary) {
                 $elem *= 2;

     Scalars are already passed by reference, so you can modify
     scalar arguments without using this mechanism by referring
     explicitly to $_[0] etc.  You can modify all the elements of
     an array by passing all the elements as scalars, but you
     have to use the "*" mechanism (or the equivalent reference
     mechanism) to "push", "pop", or change the size of an array.
     It will certainly be faster to pass the typeglob (or

     Even if you don't want to modify an array, this mechanism is
     useful for passing multiple arrays in a single LIST, because
     normally the LIST mechanism will merge all the array values
     so that you can't extract out the individual arrays.  For
     more on typeglobs, see "Typeglobs and Filehandles" in

  When to Still Use local()
     Despite the existence of "my", there are still three places
     where the "local" operator still shines.  In fact, in these
     three places, you must use "local" instead of "my".

     1.  You need to give a global variable a temporary value,
         especially $_.

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         The global variables, like @ARGV or the punctuation
         variables, must be "local"ized with "local()".  This
         block reads in /etc/motd, and splits it up into chunks
         separated by lines of equal signs, which are placed in

                 local @ARGV = ("/etc/motd");
                 local $/ = undef;
                 local $_ = <>;
                 @Fields = split /^\s*=+\s*$/;

         It particular, it's important to "local"ize $_ in any
         routine that assigns to it.  Look out for implicit
         assignments in "while" conditionals.

     2.  You need to create a local file or directory handle or a
         local function.

         A function that needs a filehandle of its own must use
         "local()" on a complete typeglob.   This can be used to
         create new symbol table entries:

             sub ioqueue {
                 local  (*READER, *WRITER);    # not my!
                 pipe    (READER,  WRITER)     or die "pipe: $!";
                 return (*READER, *WRITER);
             ($head, $tail) = ioqueue();

         See the Symbol module for a way to create anonymous
         symbol table entries.

         Because assignment of a reference to a typeglob creates
         an alias, this can be used to create what is effectively
         a local function, or at least, a local alias.

                 local *grow = \&shrink; # only until this block exists
                 grow();                 # really calls shrink()
                 move();                 # if move() grow()s, it shrink()s too
             grow();                     # get the real grow() again

         See "Function Templates" in perlref for more about
         manipulating functions by name in this way.

     3.  You want to temporarily change just one element of an
         array or hash.

         You can "local"ize just one element of an aggregate.

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         Usually this is done on dynamics:

                 local $SIG{INT} = 'IGNORE';
                 funct();                            # uninterruptible
             # interruptibility automatically restored here

         But it also works on lexically declared aggregates.
         Prior to 5.005, this operation could on occasion

  Pass by Reference
     If you want to pass more than one array or hash into a
     function--or return them from it--and have them maintain
     their integrity, then you're going to have to use an
     explicit pass-by-reference.  Before you do that, you need to
     understand references as detailed in perlref.  This section
     may not make much sense to you otherwise.

     Here are a few simple examples.  First, let's pass in
     several arrays to a function and have it "pop" all of then,
     returning a new list of all their former last elements:

         @tailings = popmany ( \@a, \@b, \@c, \@d );

         sub popmany {
             my $aref;
             my @retlist = ();
             foreach $aref ( @_ ) {
                 push @retlist, pop @$aref;
             return @retlist;

     Here's how you might write a function that returns a list of
     keys occurring in all the hashes passed to it:

         @common = inter( \%foo, \%bar, \%joe );
         sub inter {
             my ($k, $href, %seen); # locals
             foreach $href (@_) {
                 while ( $k = each %$href ) {
             return grep { $seen{$_} == @_ } keys %seen;

     So far, we're using just the normal list return mechanism.
     What happens if you want to pass or return a hash?  Well, if
     you're using only one of them, or you don't mind them

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     concatenating, then the normal calling convention is ok,
     although a little expensive.

     Where people get into trouble is here:

         (@a, @b) = func(@c, @d);
         (%a, %b) = func(%c, %d);

     That syntax simply won't work.  It sets just @a or %a and
     clears the @b or %b.  Plus the function didn't get passed
     into two separate arrays or hashes: it got one long list in
     @_, as always.

     If you can arrange for everyone to deal with this through
     references, it's cleaner code, although not so nice to look
     at.  Here's a function that takes two array references as
     arguments, returning the two array elements in order of how
     many elements they have in them:

         ($aref, $bref) = func(\@c, \@d);
         print "@$aref has more than @$bref\n";
         sub func {
             my ($cref, $dref) = @_;
             if (@$cref > @$dref) {
                 return ($cref, $dref);
             } else {
                 return ($dref, $cref);

     It turns out that you can actually do this also:

         (*a, *b) = func(\@c, \@d);
         print "@a has more than @b\n";
         sub func {
             local (*c, *d) = @_;
             if (@c > @d) {
                 return (\@c, \@d);
             } else {
                 return (\@d, \@c);

     Here we're using the typeglobs to do symbol table aliasing.
     It's a tad subtle, though, and also won't work if you're
     using "my" variables, because only globals (even in disguise
     as "local"s) are in the symbol table.

     If you're passing around filehandles, you could usually just
     use the bare typeglob, like *STDOUT, but typeglobs
     references work, too.  For example:

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         sub splutter {
             my $fh = shift;
             print $fh "her um well a hmmm\n";

         $rec = get_rec(\*STDIN);
         sub get_rec {
             my $fh = shift;
             return scalar <$fh>;

     If you're planning on generating new filehandles, you could
     do this.  Notice to pass back just the bare *FH, not its

         sub openit {
             my $path = shift;
             local *FH;
             return open (FH, $path) ? *FH : undef;

     Perl supports a very limited kind of compile-time argument
     checking using function prototyping.  If you declare

         sub mypush (\@@)

     then "mypush()" takes arguments exactly like "push()" does.
     The function declaration must be visible at compile time.
     The prototype affects only interpretation of new-style calls
     to the function, where new-style is defined as not using the
     "&" character.  In other words, if you call it like a built-
     in function, then it behaves like a built-in function.  If
     you call it like an old-fashioned subroutine, then it
     behaves like an old-fashioned subroutine.  It naturally
     falls out from this rule that prototypes have no influence
     on subroutine references like "\&foo" or on indirect
     subroutine calls like "&{$subref}" or "$subref->()".

     Method calls are not influenced by prototypes either,
     because the function to be called is indeterminate at
     compile time, since the exact code called depends on

     Because the intent of this feature is primarily to let you
     define subroutines that work like built-in functions, here
     are prototypes for some other functions that parse almost
     exactly like the corresponding built-in.

         Declared as                 Called as

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         sub mylink ($$)          mylink $old, $new
         sub myvec ($$$)          myvec $var, $offset, 1
         sub myindex ($$;$)       myindex &getstring, "substr"
         sub mysyswrite ($$$;$)   mysyswrite $buf, 0, length($buf) - $off, $off
         sub myreverse (@)        myreverse $a, $b, $c
         sub myjoin ($@)          myjoin ":", $a, $b, $c
         sub mypop (\@)           mypop @array
         sub mysplice (\@$$@)     mysplice @array, 0, 2, @pushme
         sub mykeys (\%)          mykeys %{$hashref}
         sub myopen (*;$)         myopen HANDLE, $name
         sub mypipe (**)          mypipe READHANDLE, WRITEHANDLE
         sub mygrep (&@)          mygrep { /foo/ } $a, $b, $c
         sub myrand (;$)          myrand 42
         sub mytime ()            mytime

     Any backslashed prototype character represents an actual
     argument that absolutely must start with that character.
     The value passed as part of @_ will be a reference to the
     actual argument given in the subroutine call, obtained by
     applying "\" to that argument.

     You can also backslash several argument types simultaneously
     by using the "\[]" notation:

         sub myref (\[$@%&*])

     will allow calling myref() as

         myref $var
         myref @array
         myref %hash
         myref &sub
         myref *glob

     and the first argument of myref() will be a reference to a
     scalar, an array, a hash, a code, or a glob.

     Unbackslashed prototype characters have special meanings.
     Any unbackslashed "@" or "%" eats all remaining arguments,
     and forces list context.  An argument represented by "$"
     forces scalar context.  An "&" requires an anonymous
     subroutine, which, if passed as the first argument, does not
     require the "sub" keyword or a subsequent comma.

     A "*" allows the subroutine to accept a bareword, constant,
     scalar expression, typeglob, or a reference to a typeglob in
     that slot.  The value will be available to the subroutine
     either as a simple scalar, or (in the latter two cases) as a
     reference to the typeglob.  If you wish to always convert
     such arguments to a typeglob reference, use
     Symbol::qualify_to_ref() as follows:

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         use Symbol 'qualify_to_ref';

         sub foo (*) {
             my $fh = qualify_to_ref(shift, caller);

     A semicolon (";") separates mandatory arguments from
     optional arguments.  It is redundant before "@" or "%",
     which gobble up everything else.

     As the last character of a prototype, or just before a
     semicolon, you can use "_" in place of "$": if this argument
     is not provided, $_ will be used instead.

     Note how the last three examples in the table above are
     treated specially by the parser.  "mygrep()" is parsed as a
     true list operator, "myrand()" is parsed as a true unary
     operator with unary precedence the same as "rand()", and
     "mytime()" is truly without arguments, just like "time()".
     That is, if you say

         mytime +2;

     you'll get "mytime() + 2", not mytime(2), which is how it
     would be parsed without a prototype.

     The interesting thing about "&" is that you can generate new
     syntax with it, provided it's in the initial position:

         sub try (&@) {
             my($try,$catch) = @_;
             eval { &$try };
             if ($@) {
                 local $_ = $@;
         sub catch (&) { $_[0] }

         try {
             die "phooey";
         } catch {
             /phooey/ and print "unphooey\n";

     That prints "unphooey".  (Yes, there are still unresolved
     issues having to do with visibility of @_.  I'm ignoring
     that question for the moment.  (But note that if we make @_
     lexically scoped, those anonymous subroutines can act like
     closures... (Gee, is this sounding a little Lispish?  (Never

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     And here's a reimplementation of the Perl "grep" operator:

         sub mygrep (&@) {
             my $code = shift;
             my @result;
             foreach $_ (@_) {
                 push(@result, $_) if &$code;

     Some folks would prefer full alphanumeric prototypes.
     Alphanumerics have been intentionally left out of prototypes
     for the express purpose of someday in the future adding
     named, formal parameters.  The current mechanism's main goal
     is to let module writers provide better diagnostics for
     module users.  Larry feels the notation quite understandable
     to Perl programmers, and that it will not intrude greatly
     upon the meat of the module, nor make it harder to read.
     The line noise is visually encapsulated into a small pill
     that's easy to swallow.

     If you try to use an alphanumeric sequence in a prototype
     you will generate an optional warning - "Illegal character
     in prototype...".  Unfortunately earlier versions of Perl
     allowed the prototype to be used as long as its prefix was a
     valid prototype.  The warning may be upgraded to a fatal
     error in a future version of Perl once the majority of
     offending code is fixed.

     It's probably best to prototype new functions, not retrofit
     prototyping into older ones.  That's because you must be
     especially careful about silent impositions of differing
     list versus scalar contexts.  For example, if you decide
     that a function should take just one parameter, like this:

         sub func ($) {
             my $n = shift;
             print "you gave me $n\n";

     and someone has been calling it with an array or expression
     returning a list:

         func( split /:/ );

     Then you've just supplied an automatic "scalar" in front of
     their argument, which can be more than a bit surprising.
     The old @foo which used to hold one thing doesn't get passed
     in.  Instead, "func()" now gets passed in a 1; that is, the
     number of elements in @foo.  And the "split" gets called in

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     scalar context so it starts scribbling on your @_ parameter
     list.  Ouch!

     This is all very powerful, of course, and should be used
     only in moderation to make the world a better place.

  Constant Functions
     Functions with a prototype of "()" are potential candidates
     for inlining.  If the result after optimization and constant
     folding is either a constant or a lexically-scoped scalar
     which has no other references, then it will be used in place
     of function calls made without "&".  Calls made using "&"
     are never inlined.  (See for an easy way to
     declare most constants.)

     The following functions would all be inlined:

         sub pi ()           { 3.14159 }             # Not exact, but close.
         sub PI ()           { 4 * atan2 1, 1 }      # As good as it gets,
                                                     # and it's inlined, too!
         sub ST_DEV ()       { 0 }
         sub ST_INO ()       { 1 }

         sub FLAG_FOO ()     { 1 << 8 }
         sub FLAG_BAR ()     { 1 << 9 }
         sub FLAG_MASK ()    { FLAG_FOO | FLAG_BAR }

         sub OPT_BAZ ()      { not (0x1B58 & FLAG_MASK) }

         sub N () { int(OPT_BAZ) / 3 }

         sub FOO_SET () { 1 if FLAG_MASK & FLAG_FOO }

     Be aware that these will not be inlined; as they contain
     inner scopes, the constant folding doesn't reduce them to a
     single constant:

         sub foo_set () { if (FLAG_MASK & FLAG_FOO) { 1 } }

         sub baz_val () {
             if (OPT_BAZ) {
                 return 23;
             else {
                 return 42;

     If you redefine a subroutine that was eligible for inlining,
     you'll get a mandatory warning.  (You can use this warning
     to tell whether or not a particular subroutine is considered
     constant.)  The warning is considered severe enough not to

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     be optional because previously compiled invocations of the
     function will still be using the old value of the function.
     If you need to be able to redefine the subroutine, you need
     to ensure that it isn't inlined, either by dropping the "()"
     prototype (which changes calling semantics, so beware) or by
     thwarting the inlining mechanism in some other way, such as

         sub not_inlined () {
             23 if $];

  Overriding Built-in Functions
     Many built-in functions may be overridden, though this
     should be tried only occasionally and for good reason.
     Typically this might be done by a package attempting to
     emulate missing built-in functionality on a non-Unix system.

     Overriding may be done only by importing the name from a
     module at compile time--ordinary predeclaration isn't good
     enough.  However, the "use subs" pragma lets you, in effect,
     predeclare subs via the import syntax, and these names may
     then override built-in ones:

         use subs 'chdir', 'chroot', 'chmod', 'chown';
         chdir $somewhere;
         sub chdir { ... }

     To unambiguously refer to the built-in form, precede the
     built-in name with the special package qualifier "CORE::".
     For example, saying "CORE::open()" always refers to the
     built-in "open()", even if the current package has imported
     some other subroutine called "&open()" from elsewhere.  Even
     though it looks like a regular function call, it isn't: you
     can't take a reference to it, such as the incorrect
     "\&CORE::open" might appear to produce.

     Library modules should not in general export built-in names
     like "open" or "chdir" as part of their default @EXPORT
     list, because these may sneak into someone else's namespace
     and change the semantics unexpectedly.  Instead, if the
     module adds that name to @EXPORT_OK, then it's possible for
     a user to import the name explicitly, but not implicitly.
     That is, they could say

         use Module 'open';

     and it would import the "open" override.  But if they said

         use Module;

     they would get the default imports without overrides.

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     The foregoing mechanism for overriding built-in is
     restricted, quite deliberately, to the package that requests
     the import.  There is a second method that is sometimes
     applicable when you wish to override a built-in everywhere,
     without regard to namespace boundaries.  This is achieved by
     importing a sub into the special namespace "CORE::GLOBAL::".
     Here is an example that quite brazenly replaces the "glob"
     operator with something that understands regular

         package REGlob;
         require Exporter;
         @ISA = 'Exporter';
         @EXPORT_OK = 'glob';

         sub import {
             my $pkg = shift;
             return unless @_;
             my $sym = shift;
             my $where = ($sym =~ s/^GLOBAL_// ? 'CORE::GLOBAL' : caller(0));
             $pkg->export($where, $sym, @_);

         sub glob {
             my $pat = shift;
             my @got;
             if (opendir my $d, '.') {
                 @got = grep /$pat/, readdir $d;
                 closedir $d;
             return @got;

     And here's how it could be (ab)used:

         #use REGlob 'GLOBAL_glob';      # override glob() in ALL namespaces
         package Foo;
         use REGlob 'glob';              # override glob() in Foo:: only
         print for <^[a-z_]+\.pm\$>;     # show all pragmatic modules

     The initial comment shows a contrived, even dangerous
     example.  By overriding "glob" globally, you would be
     forcing the new (and subversive) behavior for the "glob"
     operator for every namespace, without the complete
     cognizance or cooperation of the modules that own those
     namespaces.  Naturally, this should be done with extreme
     caution--if it must be done at all.

     The "REGlob" example above does not implement all the
     support needed to cleanly override perl's "glob" operator.
     The built-in "glob" has different behaviors depending on

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     whether it appears in a scalar or list context, but our
     "REGlob" doesn't.  Indeed, many perl built-in have such
     context sensitive behaviors, and these must be adequately
     supported by a properly written override.  For a fully
     functional example of overriding "glob", study the
     implementation of "File::DosGlob" in the standard library.

     When you override a built-in, your replacement should be
     consistent (if possible) with the built-in native syntax.
     You can achieve this by using a suitable prototype.  To get
     the prototype of an overridable built-in, use the
     "prototype" function with an argument of
     "CORE::builtin_name" (see "prototype" in perlfunc).

     Note however that some built-ins can't have their syntax
     expressed by a prototype (such as "system" or "chomp").  If
     you override them you won't be able to fully mimic their
     original syntax.

     The built-ins "do", "require" and "glob" can also be
     overridden, but due to special magic, their original syntax
     is preserved, and you don't have to define a prototype for
     their replacements.  (You can't override the "do BLOCK"
     syntax, though).

     "require" has special additional dark magic: if you invoke
     your "require" replacement as "require Foo::Bar", it will
     actually receive the argument "Foo/" in @_.  See
     "require" in perlfunc.

     And, as you'll have noticed from the previous example, if
     you override "glob", the "<*>" glob operator is overridden
     as well.

     In a similar fashion, overriding the "readline" function
     also overrides the equivalent I/O operator "<FILEHANDLE>".
     Also, overriding "readpipe" also overrides the operators
     "``" and "qx//".

     Finally, some built-ins (e.g. "exists" or "grep") can't be

     If you call a subroutine that is undefined, you would
     ordinarily get an immediate, fatal error complaining that
     the subroutine doesn't exist.  (Likewise for subroutines
     being used as methods, when the method doesn't exist in any
     base class of the class's package.)  However, if an
     "AUTOLOAD" subroutine is defined in the package or packages
     used to locate the original subroutine, then that "AUTOLOAD"
     subroutine is called with the arguments that would have been
     passed to the original subroutine.  The fully qualified name

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     of the original subroutine magically appears in the global
     $AUTOLOAD variable of the same package as the "AUTOLOAD"
     routine.  The name is not passed as an ordinary argument
     because, er, well, just because, that's why.  (As an
     exception, a method call to a nonexistent "import" or
     "unimport" method is just skipped instead.)

     Many "AUTOLOAD" routines load in a definition for the
     requested subroutine using eval(), then execute that
     subroutine using a special form of goto() that erases the
     stack frame of the "AUTOLOAD" routine without a trace.  (See
     the source to the standard module documented in AutoLoader,
     for example.)  But an "AUTOLOAD" routine can also just
     emulate the routine and never define it.   For example,
     let's pretend that a function that wasn't defined should
     just invoke "system" with those arguments.  All you'd do is:

         sub AUTOLOAD {
             my $program = $AUTOLOAD;
             $program =~ s/.*:://;
             system($program, @_);
         who('am', 'i');

     In fact, if you predeclare functions you want to call that
     way, you don't even need parentheses:

         use subs qw(date who ls);
         who "am", "i";
         ls '-l';

     A more complete example of this is the standard Shell
     module, which can treat undefined subroutine calls as calls
     to external programs.

     Mechanisms are available to help modules writers split their
     modules into autoloadable files.  See the standard
     AutoLoader module described in AutoLoader and in AutoSplit,
     the standard SelfLoader modules in SelfLoader, and the
     document on adding C functions to Perl code in perlxs.

  Subroutine Attributes
     A subroutine declaration or definition may have a list of
     attributes associated with it.  If such an attribute list is
     present, it is broken up at space or colon boundaries and
     treated as though a "use attributes" had been seen.  See
     attributes for details about what attributes are currently
     supported.  Unlike the limitation with the obsolescent "use
     attrs", the "sub : ATTRLIST" syntax works to associate the

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     attributes with a pre-declaration, and not just with a
     subroutine definition.

     The attributes must be valid as simple identifier names
     (without any punctuation other than the '_' character).
     They may have a parameter list appended, which is only
     checked for whether its parentheses ('(',')') nest properly.

     Examples of valid syntax (even though the attributes are

         sub fnord (&\%) : switch(10,foo(7,3))  :  expensive;
         sub plugh () : Ugly('\(") :Bad;
         sub xyzzy : _5x5 { ... }

     Examples of invalid syntax:

         sub fnord : switch(10,foo(); # ()-string not balanced
         sub snoid : Ugly('(');        # ()-string not balanced
         sub xyzzy : 5x5;              # "5x5" not a valid identifier
         sub plugh : Y2::north;        # "Y2::north" not a simple identifier
         sub snurt : foo + bar;        # "+" not a colon or space

     The attribute list is passed as a list of constant strings
     to the code which associates them with the subroutine.  In
     particular, the second example of valid syntax above
     currently looks like this in terms of how it's parsed and

         use attributes __PACKAGE__, \&plugh, q[Ugly('\(")], 'Bad';

     For further details on attribute lists and their
     manipulation, see attributes and Attribute::Handlers.

     See attributes(5) for descriptions of the following

     |Availability   | runtime/perl-512 |
     |Stability      | Uncommitted      |
     See "Function Templates" in perlref for more about
     references and closures.  See perlxs if you'd like to learn
     about calling C subroutines from Perl.  See perlembed if
     you'd like to learn about calling Perl subroutines from C.
     See perlmod to learn about bundling up your functions in

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     separate files.  See perlmodlib to learn what library
     modules come standard on your system.  See perltoot to learn
     how to make object method calls.

     This software was built from source available at  The original
     community source was downloaded from

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

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