Chapter 5. Hashes

In this chapter, we will see one of Perl’s features that makes Perl one of the world’s truly great programming languages—hashes. [1] Although hashes are a powerful and useful feature, you may have used other powerful languages for years without ever hearing of hashes. But you’ll use hashes in nearly every Perl program you’ll write from now on; they’re that important.

What Is a Hash?

A hash is a data structure, not unlike an array in that it can hold any number of values and retrieve them at will. But instead of indexing the values by number, as we did with arrays, we’ll look up the values by name. That is, the indices (here, we’ll call them keys ) aren’t numbers, but instead they are arbitrary unique strings (see Figure 5-1).

Hash keys and values
Figure 5-1. Hash keys and values

The keys are strings, first of all, so instead of getting element number 3 from an array, we’ll be accessing the hash element named wilma.

These keys are arbitrary strings—you can use any string expression for a hash key. And they are unique strings—just as there’s only one array element numbered 3, there’s only one hash element named wilma.

Another way to think of a hash is that it’s like a barrel of data, where each piece of data has a tag attached. You can reach into the barrel and pull out any tag and see what piece of data is attached. But there’s no “first” item in the barrel; it’s just a jumble. In an ...

Get Learning Perl, 3rd Edition now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.