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1.2 Purpose of Perl

Well, you've made it through the Perl hype. You might be wondering why you'd ever use Perl. This section provides a couple of ideas.

You can use Perl for World Wide Web (WWW) programming. You've probably heard that Perl has become a sort of lingua franca for the Web (actually, you may have heard that statement for more than one language, but we'll say it again here). Perl cannot only be used as a CGI language (for which there are wonderful modules available), but it can be used as an ISAPI extension (an in-process extension to your web server), or even as an ActiveX scripting language. You can also use Perl to validate HTML syntax, to verify that web hyperlinks are still correct, and to fetch URLs from the Internet.

You can use Perl for many system administration chores. Not only will Perl let you manipulate the Registry, the Event Log, and Windows NT user account information, it's also the best tool going for processing log files of nearly any format.

You can use Perl to drive your favorite word processor or spreadsheet using OLE Automation. You can use the freely available Win32::ODBC module or Active Data Objects (ADO) to access your favorite local or enterprise database.

You can use Perl to retrieve (and filter) your email and Usenet news. You can use Perl to send email, interact with FTP and HTTP servers, and be a client for nearly any other type of Internet server you can dream up.

You can use Perl to process textual or numerical data, to prototype projects, to do quick search and replace functions in text files, to drive the execution of a sequence of commands, and much, much more.

In short, Perl can do zillions of thing to help you do your job faster and get back to doing things that are fun (many of which you can also use Perl to do). And along the way, you might find that the journey itself can be a lot of fun.

Like any language, Perl can be "write only"; it's possible to write programs that are impossible to read. But with proper care, you can avoid this common accusation. Yes, sometimes Perl looks like line noise to the uninitiated, but to the seasoned Perl programmer, it looks like checksummed line noise with a mission in life. If you follow the guidelines of this book, your programs should be easy to read and easy to maintain, but they probably won't win any obfuscated Perl contests.