Divine Meaning from Meaningless Numbers

perl5i is back on the CPAN. perl5i is important because it may help shape the future of Perl 5. (Perl 5 experts and CPAN cognoscenti already know how to add dozens of pragmas and utility modules to every Perl 5 file they write, but that's annoying even for us and inaccessible to the other six and a half billion people on the planet.)

When people writing about Perl 5 in 2010 can find better answers in the sparse Ruby documentation than the Perl 5 documentation, something is wrong... but that's a far different story.

perl5i is again available and you should experiment with it. Why was it gone so long? The old nemesis of confusing version numbers.

The obvious use of perl5i is:

use perl5i;

... but what does that mean? If it's difficult to discern the version of a language used without explicit notation, how much more difficult to discern the version of a pragma or CPAN distribution intended? A CPAN author could upload multiple versions of a distribution in a day, each one with a subtly different API or semantics. How do you know which version you have? How do you know which version your code needs?

How do you know when you should upgrade and when you should keep the existing version? How do you know when an upgrade will change the behavior of code in a positive or negative way?

How do you write reliable, redistributable software which depends on external components with their own ideas about stability of interface?

Schwern has posted some thoughts on perl5i version numbering, distribution, and use, but this all is an attempt to cram too much meaning in a single number.

I'm starting to believe that the best approach is to use a regular release cycle -- perhaps every three months -- and support only the most recent couple of releases. The interface may change with every quarterly release. Interim releases can fix bugs. Use a date modifier as the argument to import() for best reliability:

use perl5i as_of => '2010-01-25';

Stop fussing with the MAJOR.MINOR.PATCHLEVEL scheme and "What constitutes a major API change?" and "But I just incremented MAJOR last week, isn't it too sooooooon?" and "What if someone wants to use a really old version and reports a bug?" distractions. Let's stop trying to work around change. Instead, let's take advantage of change to produce improvements.

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This page contains a single entry by chromatic published on January 25, 2010 11:22 AM.

Essential Skills for Perl 5 Programmers was the previous entry in this blog.

Subtle Encouragement Toward Correctness is the next entry in this blog.

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