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4.9. Notes on Lexical (my) Variables

Those lexical variables can actually be used in any block, not merely in a subroutine's block. For example, they can be used in the block of an if, while, or foreach:

foreach (1..10) {
  my($square) = $_ * $_;  # private variable in this loop
  print "$_ squared is $square.\n";

The variable $square is private to the enclosing block; in this case, that's the block of the foreach loop. If there's no block, the variable is private to the entire source file. For now, your programs aren't going to use more than one source file, so this isn't an issue. But the important concept is that the scope of a lexical variable's name is limited to the smallest enclosing block or file. The only code that can say $square and mean that variable is the code inside that textual scope. This is a big win for maintainability -- if the wrong value is found in $square, the culprit will be found within a limited amount of source code. As experienced programmers have learned (often the hard way), limiting the scope of a variable to a page of code, or even to a few lines of code, really speeds along the development and testing cycle.

Note also that the my operator doesn't change the context of an assignment:

my($num) = @_;  # list context, same as ($num) = @_;
my $num  = @_;  # scalar context, same as $num = @_;

In the first one, $num gets the first parameter, as a list-context assignment; in the second, it gets the number of parameters, in a scalar context. Either line of code could be what the programmer wanted; we can't tell from that one line alone, and so Perl can't warn you if you use the wrong one. (Of course, you wouldn't have both of those lines in the same subroutine, since you can't have two lexical variables with the same name declared in the same scope; this is just an example.) So, when reading code like this, you can always tell the context of the assignment by seeing what the context would be without the word my.

Of course, you can use my to create new, private arrays as well:[114]

[114]Or hashes, which we'll see in the next chapter.

my @phone_number;

Any new variable will start out empty -- undef for scalars, or the empty list for arrays.

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