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Learning Perl, Second Edition by Randal L. Schwartz, Tom Christiansen

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17.5. Variable-Length ( Text) Databases

Many UNIX system databases (and quite a few user-created databases) are a series of human-readable text lines, with one record per line. For example, the password file consists of one line per user on the system, and the hosts file contains one line per hostname.

Most often, these databases are updated with simple text editors. Updating such a database consists of reading it all into a temporary area (either memory or another disk file), making the necessary changes, and then either writing the result back to the original file or creating a new file with the same name after deleting or renaming the old version. You can think of this as a copy pass: the data is copied from the original database to a new version of the database, making changes during the copy.

Perl supports a copy-pass-style edit on line-oriented databases using inplace editing. Inplace editing is a modification of the way the diamond operator (<>) reads data from the list of files specified on the command line. Most often, this editing mode is accessed by setting the -i command-line argument, but we can also trigger the inplace editing mode from within a program, as shown in the examples that follow.

To trigger the inplace editing mode, set a value into the $^I scalar variable. The value of this variable is important and will be discussed in a moment.

When the <> construct is used and $^I has a value other than undef, the steps marked ##INPLACE## in the following code are ...

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