The future of Perl or what happened at the Perl Reunification Summit?

People are concerned. Is there a future for Perl?

I started to write this post back in August 2012, right after PRS and YAPC::EU, but then ... you know, I got distracted. Due to the recent discussions I just felt it might be a good time to clean up what I have, add my new thoughts and publish the article. I have to admit, I don't exactly remember how was the summit. Luckily there were others who posted about it.

All the articles about the summit

See a list of all the articles about the Perl Reunification Summit.

TL;DR

My understanding is, that there was a consensus to stop saying that "Perl 5 and Perl 6 are two different languages", and make Perl 5 and Perl 6 grow closer together, from both direction, eventually to reach the point where every perl executable will be able to run code written in either syntax.

There might be the beginning of the understanding, that there are no two languages. Whatever Perl 6 will end up will be able to execute existing Perl 5 code. One way or another.

Background

In early summer 2012 Liz already mentioned her concerns regarding the gap between Perl 5 and Perl 6. As I understood back then, she was concerned both with technical issues, and with the two communities drifting apart.

Later on she sent an invitation which can be seen in her first report about the Perl Reunification Summit. I was happy and proud to have been invited, but I also had serious concerns.

Personal background

I am not involved in the work of the Perl 5 Porters, the group of people who are maintaining and developing the core of Perl 5. Nor am I involved in the development of Perl 6. I prefer to leave that to people more clever than I am. I blindly trust them. I trust they will solve the technical issues. It might take some time, but given enough support, they will be able to do it.

I am a user and teacher of Perl 5 and while I ran some Perl 6 courses, there isn't enough interest in it yet to keep me busy. I write quite a lot of Perl 5, both open source and proprietary, and some Perl 6. I think I was invited as I have one of the best ways to reach Perl developers, and in general I write a lot and talk a lot. Maybe even too much.

Expectations

Regarding the social aspects, I did not have high hopes.

I can understand some people who like Perl 5 concerned by the fact that after 13 years Perl 6 still has not been officially released. I think I can understand their frustration. I think I understand their reasons to want rename get Perl 6 renamed, or more recently to paint it as a failure by releasing the next version of Perl 5 as Perl 7. I don't agree, but I think I understand.

In retrospective, it might have been a better idea the thing we call "Perl 6" was called something else and not Perl, or if it did not have a specific version number attached to it.

When it was conceived in 2000, it seemed that the few years of development can fit in between the increase from 5 to 6. Now, 13 years later it seems too little space. Maybe it was better if it was called "Perl Next Generation" allowing major version number changes from 5 to 6 and 7 etc., and attaching a version number only once it can be really released as a replacement of the current production perl. I think that train is already long gone.

Before the summit, I hoped the others will reach some kind of a consensus how to work together and I can happily write about Perl. Without saying if it is Perl 5 or Perl 6.

Perl Reunification Summit

There were about 25 people in the town of Perl, near Schengen. At first each one of us had a few minutes to say what are we doing nowadays with and for Perl, and what are our expectations from this meeting.

Then we had a mix of hack-a-thon and talk-a-thon. Some people worked on code, others, like me, just talked to each other.

A little history of the gap

If I understood things correctly, a few years ago there was a clear promise, that the perl executable will be able to run perl 5 code, even when perl -v will say v6.xx.

In other words, the perl 6 executable will be able to understand and execute perl 5.

There were a couple of failed or abandoned attempts to do this, and at one point the Perl 6 developers decided they'd better focus their very limited resources to first implement the most awesome Perl 6 and then build the bridge between 5 and 6.

As time was passing many Perl 5 developers felt the negatively towards the Perl 6 effort. The "Perl is d..." meme got them uneasy, and they wanted to blame someone. That was the Perl 6 effort.

At one point, a few years ago, some people came up with the idea to say "Perl 5 and Perl 6 are different languages", to try to reduce this tension. Today, I think many people already understand that this just created further confusion.

The result of the summit?

Seeing the recent discussion about Perl 7, I am not sure if there are any visible results from the summit. I am not sure how much others have followed-up on the ideas raised there.

I think the only thing I promised there was to write about it which I neglected for a long time, but has done now. It might be useful to see what the other participants of the first PRS think about it 6 months after the summit.

Published on 2013-02-08 by Gabor Szabo

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