Paradoxically, the way in which Perl helps you the most has almost nothing to do with Perl itself, and everything to do with the people who use Perl. While people start using Perl because they need it, they continue using Perl because they love it.
The result is that the Perl community is one of the most helpful in the world. When Perl programmers aren’t writing their own programs, they spend their time helping others write theirs. They discuss common problems and help devise solutions. They develop utilities and modules for Perl, and give them away to the world at large.
The central meeting place for Perl aficionados is Usenet. If you’re not familiar with Usenet, it’s a collection of special-interest groups (called newsgroups) on the Internet. For most anyone using a modern browser, Usenet access is as simple as a selecting a menu option on the browser. Perl programmers should consider subscribing to the following newsgroups:
A moderated newsgroup with announcements about new utilities or products related to Perl.
The general-purpose newsgroup devoted to non-CGI-related Perl programming questions.
A moderated newsgroup intended to be a forum for more controlled, restrained discussions about Perl.
A newsgroup devoted to using and developing Perl modules.
A newsgroup concentrating on Perl/Tk, the graphical extension to Perl.
A newsgroup for CGI questions in general, but mostly Perl-related ones.
At some point, it seems like every Perl programmer subscribes to news://comp.lang.perl.misc. You may eventually abandon it if the discussion becomes too detailed, too belligerent, or too bizarre for your taste. But you’ll likely find yourself coming back from time to time, either to ask a question or just to check out the latest buzz.
One bit of advice, however: before posting questions to news://comp.lang.perl.misc (or any newsgroup, for that matter), you should read the group for a few days and read the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions list—see the next section). The news://comp.lang.perl.* newsgroups are a wonderful resource if you have an interesting or unusual question, but no one can save you if you ask something that’s covered in the FAQ.
By the way, if you’re a first-time poster to news://comp.lang.perl.misc, you shouldn’t be surprised if you receive an email message listing various resources on Perl that you may not know about. This is done via an “auto-faq” service, which scans all postings and sends this helpful email to anyone who hasn’t posted earlier.
A FAQ is a Frequently Asked Questions list, with answers. FAQs are traditionally associated with Usenet newsgroups, but the term has since been adopted by web sites, technical support departments, and even health care pamphlets. In general, FAQs are written and maintained on a volunteer basis by dedicated (and generous) members of the community. The news://comp.lang.perl.misc FAQ (also known as the Perl FAQ) is maintained by Tom Christiansen and Nathan Torkington.
The Perl FAQ was created to minimize traffic on the news://comp.lang.perl.misc newsgroup, when it became clear that the same questions were being asked over and over again. However, the FAQ has transcended into a general-purpose starting point for learning anything about Perl.
The FAQ is distributed in several different formats, including HTML, PostScript, and plain ASCII text. You can find the FAQ at several places:
In addition to the news://comp.lang.perl.misc FAQ, there are also several niche FAQs that are Perl-related. They are:
- Perl CGI Programming FAQ
- Perl/TK FAQ
- Perl for Win32 FAQ
- Perl for the Mac FAQ
Several mailing lists are focused on more specialized aspects of Perl. Like Usenet newsgroups, mailing lists are discussion groups, but the discussion takes place over email. In general, mailing lists aren’t as convenient as newsgroups, since a few hundred mail messages a day about Perl can become intrusive to any but the most obsessive Perl hackers. However, because mailing lists tend to have much smaller and more focused distributions, you’ll find that they can sometimes be much more interesting and helpful than newsgroups.
There are tons of mailing lists for Perl users and developers alike. Some are specific to a particular module or distribution, such as the mailing lists for users of CGI.pm, LWP, DBI, or mod_perl. Other mailing lists discuss using Perl on non-Unix platforms such as Windows, Macintosh or VMS. Still more mailing lists are devoted to the development and advocacy of Perl in general. To find a mailing list for your topic, look in the documentation or README of a module distribution, look in the Perl FAQ, or just ask someone.
Many of these mailing lists also have a “digest” version, which means that instead of receiving individual email messages all day long, you receive a few “digests” of the messages on a regular basis. Digests of a mailing list might be preferable to the minute-by-minute onslaught of email throughout the day, depending on how involved you are in the discussion.
There are countless web pages devoted to Perl, but probably the most useful entry site to Perl resources is http://www.perl.com. Formerly maintained by Tom Christiansen, http://www.perl.com is now maintained by Tom with help from O’Reilly & Associates (the publisher of this book). From http://www.perl.com, you can access Perl documentation, news, software, FAQs, articles, and (of course) Perl itself.
Although the URLs are similar, don’t confuse http://www.perl.com with the Perl Institute, http://www.perl.org. The Perl Institute is a member-supported organization for Perl programmers to help drive Perl development and improve Perl’s visibility. Membership dues range from $32 for students to $4096 for corporate sponsors (yes, all membership fees are a power of $2).
User groups for Perl call themselves “Perl Mongers,” and have been sprouting up in major cities over the past few years. They range from small groups of Perl aficionados socializing at cafes, to large organizations sponsoring guest speakers. Cities with Perl Mongers groups currently include New York, London, Amsterdam, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boulder.
The Perl Journal, published by Jon Orwant, is a quarterly publication with articles and news about Perl. You can find the Perl Journal in some technical bookstores. You can also subscribe by sending email to email@example.com or by visiting http://www.tpj.com.
For years, Usenix has devoted tracks of its conferences to Perl. However, starting in 1997, O’Reilly & Associates has been hosting conferences dedicated entirely to Perl. You can learn more about Perl conferences from http://www.perl.com.
There are many books written on Perl. In fact, the current popularity of Perl is often credited to the original publication of Programming Perl, also known as “The Camel” (because of the animal on its cover), by Larry Wall and Randal Schwartz. The Camel is also published by O’Reilly & Associates. The Camel isn’t the best place to start if you’re just learning Perl from scratch, but it’s essential if you want to really understand Perl and not just dabble in it.
Other Perl books published by O’Reilly & Associates are Learning Perl (“The Llama”), Advanced Perl Programming, Perl Cookbook, Managing Regular Expressions, Learning Perl on Win32 Systems, Learning Perl/Tk, Web Client Programming with Perl, and CGI Programming with Perl.
See http://www.perl.com/ for an archive of reviews of Perl-related books.
 The first edition of Programming Perl is also known as the Pink Camel, because of the color of the spine. The second edition is known as the Blue Camel, and is written by Larry Wall, Tom Christiansen, and Randal Schwartz.