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Customer Review

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars There and Back Again, March 23, 2003
This review is from: Extending and Embedding Perl (Paperback)
Extending and Embedding Perl is as it boldly states on the cover: "The definitive guide to XS, embedding, and the Perl internals". This book is well organized and information dense. One could spend days sifting through the available perlapi, perlcall, perlembed, perlguts perlxs, perlxstut, and h2xs documentation. After which you'll probably understand very well references to nethack's "You are in a maze of twisty little passages all alike". Or you could get yourself a copy of this book and find your way out of the maze.
Most of the available documentation on extending and embedding perl is written from the prospective of the core perl developers for core perl developers. This book is written for advanced Perl programmers who for whatever reason need or wish to peer into that netherworld between Perl, C, and the glue that interface Perl with other languages. It is a deliberate thorough guide led by authors that are both extremely knowledgeable and also capable of communicating that knowledge.
While it would greatly reduce the learning curve, no prior knowledge of C is required to read this book. This is a surprising claim and while it won't be easy, this reader is proof that someone with little true knowledge of C can in fact read and for the most part comprehend what the authors wish to convey.
There are clearly areas for improvement. Things like NULL being used throughout chapter 3, only to finally be defined later in a footnote in chapter 4. And other cases of terms being used before they are explained. Things that leave the reader juggling unnecessarily until the information is provided that lets understanding fall into place. But for the most part, if you are a competent juggler and are patient your questions will eventually be answered. You won't walk away a C programmer, but you will learn enough to solve the problems which led you to consider reading this book in the first place.
One thing I liked very much about the layout of the book is how it switches back between presenting sections on C programming and Perl. The authors revisit C each time it is necessary to understand the next Perl internals topic. Those that are learning C or need the review receive the relevant information just before it is required.
Over the course of the book, you'll learn about interfacing from Perl to C and C back to Perl. For those that must plug references to Tolkien in things Perl... you can go back and rephase that into an appropriate reference to Bilbo's book "There and Back Again". You'll also learn the perl api, data structures for core variable types, and how to work with scalars, arrays, hashes, strings, regular expressions, file handles, typeglobs, objects, callbacks and PDL with C and C++. And there is even mention of working with Fortran, Java, and more esoteric alternatives.
The book finishes with an in depth look at Perl internals: the parser, tokenizer, op code trees, execution, and compiler. And closes with a discussion of the Perl development process: How it may be monitored and participated in.
What's missing? Detailed coverage of the I/O subsystem and the regular expression engine. I.e., topics which might themselves make for a good book. There was also light coverage on things like scratchpads. There were times while reading when I didn't know whether the issue being discussed was fully covered or curtailed. But you will certainly find better coverage of the issues in this book than elsewhere. This is an impressive book. I hope it will greatly influence the way Perl6 internals are documented.
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Location: Mission, KS USA

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