[% setvar title Perl should support an interactive mode. %]

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Perl should support an interactive mode.


  Maintainer: Ariel Scolnicov <ariels+perl6@compugen.co.il>
  Date: 31 Aug 2000
  Last Modified: 22 Sep 2000
  Mailing List: perl6-language@perl.org
  Number:  184
  Version: 3
  Status: Frozen


Very little discussion was generated by this RFC. Several people noted that perl -de 42 and the Perl shell psh already provide some of what the RFC requests; this is noted in the RFC.

The RFC is not being withdrawn, since 2 other people expressed (mild) interest in it.

No changes have been made since the last posted version (version 2 of 3 Sep 2000), other than the addition of this "DISCUSSION".


Perl5 does not have an interactive mode. The debugger is fine for testing a single line, but it is inadequate for running a set of commands interactively. The Perl6 parser (and possibly the language) should contain hooks to allow full interactive environments to be written.


Perl does not have an interactive mode. It has perl -de 42, but that is not the same. An interactive mode is useful not only for a debugger, but also for exploring the capabilities of a module, or even for performing simple "one-off" programming tasks.

The most serious obstacle to easy interaction is the difficulty in typing multiple line commands to a Perl debugger (see below). However, the Perl debugger also limits this use in other ways, notably by evaluating each line in a separate eval. This too has unfortunate consequences.

Languages which include better interactive capabilities than Perl's include Python and zsh.


Observe an interaction with another language whose name begins with a `P':

    Python 1.5.1 (# 1, Jul 28 1998, 22:02:27)  [GCC] on sunos5
    Copyright 1991-1995 Stichting Mathematisch Centrum, Amsterdam
    >>> def fact(x):
    ...   if x <= 1:
    ...     return 1
    ...   else:
    ...     return x*fact(x-1)
    >>> fact(10)
    >>> ^D

Note in particular the definition of fact, which spans multiple lines.

With Perl5, it doesn't work:

    <bioserv 108 [13:31] ~ >perl -de 42

    Loading DB routines from perl5db.pl version 1.0402
    Emacs support available.

    Enter h or `h h' for help.

    main::(-e:1):   42
    DB<1> sub fact {
    Missing right bracket at (eval 5) line 4, at end of line
    syntax error at (eval 5) line 4, at EOF

[ oops... must fit it all on one line ]

    < shift; if ($x < 2) { return 1 } else { return $x*fact($x-1) } 

    Missing right bracket at (eval 12) line 4, at end of line
    syntax error at (eval 12) line 4, at EOF

[ can't see the beginning of the line I'm editing, and forgot a close brace; might as well forget about any indentation to help remind me ]

    <if ($x < 2) { return 1 } else { return $x*fact($x-1) } }

[ Finally! But I can't even see what I typed! ]

    DB<4> print fact(10)

Michael Maraist and Tom Christiansen point out that the debugger allows explicit marking of continuation lines by backslashes:

    <selena 150 [14:37] ~ >perl -de 42

    Loading DB routines from perl5db.pl version 1.0402
    Emacs support available.

    Enter h or `h h' for help.

    main::(-e:1):   42
    DB<1> sub fact {             \
    cont:   my $x = shift;       \
    cont:   if ($x < 2) {        \
    cont:     return 1           \
    cont:   } else {             \
    cont:     return $x*fact($x-1) \
    cont:   }                    \
    cont: }

    DB<2> x fact 10
    0  3628800

This is inconvenient. Syntax in an interactive mode should mirror normal Perl syntax as far as possible; perldoc perldebug goes so far as to say

             Note that this business of escaping a newline is
             specific to interactive commands typed into the

Separate eval()s

my and local variables don't work in the debugger as one would expect; their scope does not propagate between lines:

    <bioserv 112 [14:08] ~ >perl -de 42

    Loading DB routines from perl5db.pl version 1.0402
    Emacs support available.

    Enter h or `h h' for help.

    main::(-e:1):   42
    DB<1> $x = 17

    DB<2> my $x=5 

    DB<3> x $x
    0  17

The ability to be able to create variables is essential for serious interactive use of Perl.

What causes all this is that the debugger evaluates every line in a separate eval; this is not what is desired in an interactive environment.

This is another limitation on using the debugger for interactive work. For another example, it is impossible to change packages persistently:

    DB<3> package foo

    DB<4> $x = 2

    DB<5> x $foo::x
    0  undef
    DB<6> x $x
    0  2
    DB<7> x $main::x
    0  2

Possible uses


This would require considerable assistance from the parser, I think. At the very least, it should be possible to feed Perl multi-line input from the terminal. Perl should read whole lines, and respond only when it has parsed a complete statement at the end of a line or when it has read enough to identify a syntax error.

There are proposals to allow programmatic access to the Perl parser. Such access might allow "interactive Perl" (iPerl?) to be written in Perl.

User input will need to be interpreted in a "continuously interrupted" context of the Perl interpreter. Use of eval is insufficient, as the second example show. Being able to create, run and interrogate a secondary Perl interpreter (from within Perl) could help.

As much as possible of these interaction environments should be outside of the core, preferably written in Perl.