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Larry Wall began work on Perl in 1987, while working as a programmer at Unisys, and released version 1.0 to the comp.sources.misc newsgroup on December 18, 1987. The language expanded rapidly over the next few years.
Perl 2, released in 1988, featured a better regular expression engine. Perl 3, released in 1989, added support for binary data streams.
Originally the only documentation for Perl was a single (increasingly lengthy) man page. In 1991, Programming Perl (known to many Perl programmers as the "Camel Book" because of its cover) was published and became the de facto reference for the language. At the same time, the Perl version number was bumped to 4—not to mark a major change in the language but to identify the version that was documented by the book.
Early Perl 5
Perl 4 went through a series of maintenance releases, culminating in Perl 4.036 in 1993. At that point, Wall abandoned Perl 4 to begin work on Perl 5. Initial design of Perl 5 continued into 1994. The perl5-porters mailing list was established in May 1994 to coordinate work on porting Perl 5 to different platforms. It remains the primary forum for development, maintenance, and porting of Perl 5.
Perl 5.000 was released on October 17, 1994. It was a nearly complete rewrite of the interpreter, and it added many new features to the language, including objects, references, lexical (my) variables, and modules. Importantly, modules provided a mechanism for extending the language without modifying the interpreter. This allowed the core interpreter to stabilize, even as it enabled ordinary Perl programmers to add new language features. Perl 5 has been in active development since then.
Perl 5.001 was released on March 13, 1995. Perl 5.002 was released on February 29, 1996 with the new prototypes feature. This allowed module authors to make subroutines that behaved like Perl builtins. Perl 5.003 was released June 25, 1996, as a security release.
One of the most important events in Perl 5 history took place outside of the language proper and was a consequence of its module support. On October 26, 1995, the Comprehensive Perl Archive Network (CPAN) was established as a repository for Perl modules and Perl itself. As of January 2011, it carries over 19,000 modules by more than 8,000 authors.
Perl 5.004 was released on May 15, 1997, and included among other things the UNIVERSAL package, giving Perl a base object to which all classes were automatically derived and the ability to require versions of modules. Another significant development was the inclusion of the CGI.pm module, which contributed to Perl's popularity as a CGI scripting language.
Perl also now supported running under Microsoft Windows and several other operating systems.
Perl 5.005 was released on July 22, 1998. This release included several enhancements to the regex engine, new hooks into the backend through the B::* modules, the qr// regex quote operator, a large selection of other new core modules, and added support for several more operating systems, including BeOS.
Perl 5.6 was released on March 22, 2000. Major changes included 64 bit support, unicode string representation, large file support (e.g., files > 2 GiB) and the "our" keyword. When developing Perl 5.6, the decision was made to switch the versioning scheme to one more similar to other open source projects; after 5.005_63, the next version became 5.5.640, with plans for development versions to have odd numbers and stable versions to have even numbers.
In 2000, Larry Wall put forth a call for suggestions for a new version of Perl from the community. The process resulted in 361 RFCs (Request for Comments) documents which were to be used in guiding development of Perl 6. In 2001, work began on the apocalypses for Perl 6, a series of documents meant to summarize the change requests and present the design of the next generation of Perl. They were presented as a digest of the RFCs, rather than a formal document. At this point, Perl 6 existed only as a description of a language.
Perl 5.8 was first released on July 18, 2002, and had nearly yearly updates since then. The latest version of Perl 5.8 is 5.8.9, released December 14, 2008. Perl 5.8 improved unicode support, added a new IO implementation, added a new thread implementation, improved numeric accuracy, and added several new modules.
In 2004, work began on the Synopses – originally documents that summarized the Apocalypses, but which became the specification for the Perl 6 language. In February 2005, Audrey Tang began work on Pugs, a Perl 6 interpreter written in Haskell. This was the first concerted effort towards making Perl 6 a reality. This effort stalled in 2006.
On December 18, 2007, the 20th anniversary of Perl 1.0, Perl 5.10.0 was released. Perl 5.10.0 included notable new features, which brought it closer to Perl 6. These included a switch statement (called "given"/"when"), regular expressions updates, and the smart match operator, "~~". Around this same time, development began in earnest on another implementation of Perl 6 known as Rakudo Perl, developed in tandem with the Parrot virtual machine. As of November 2009, Rakudo Perl has had regular monthly releases and now is the most complete implementation of Perl 6.
A major change in the development process of Perl 5 occurred with Perl 5.11; the development community has switched to a monthly release cycle, with planned release dates three months ahead.
On April 12, 2010, Perl 5.12.0 was released. Notable core enhancements include new package NAME VERSION syntax, the Yada Yada operator (intended to mark placeholder code that is not yet implemented), implicit strictures, full Y2038 compliance, regex conversion overloading, DTrace support, and Unicode 5.2. On January 21, 2011, Perl 5.12.3 was released; it contains updated modules and some documentation changes. The latest development release of Perl 5 is 5.13.9, released by Jesse Vincent on January 21, 2011.
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