Perl Gets a Ponie
The Perl Journal August, 2003
It's one of life's little ironies that sometimes you have to go backward in order to go forward. At the recent Open Source Conference in Portland, OR, Larry Wall announced the Ponie Project, an effort to port Perl 5 to run on Parrot. It's a huge undertaking, but a tremendously necessary one. An abrupt shift to Perl 6 would break millions of lines of Perl 5 code out there that are, right now, performing just fine.
So we need an interim solution like Ponie that allows Parrot adoption, but will allow backward compatibility. But the Perl 5 internals are quite a house of cards. Running on Parrot will require digging around in there without bring it down around our ears. Any code base of any appreciable age (and Perl 5 surely qualifies) inevitably accumulates a healthy crust of weirdly interdependent code. Sometimes, you can't fix one thing without breaking about five things. Even the most cleverly designed systems seem not to escape this rule. So while we can pat ourselves on the back for Perl's adaptability, flexibility, and yes, cleverness, I don't envy the Ponie developers their task. It ain't gonna be pretty.
To ensure Perl's future, the Ponie developers will need to exhume a few skeletons. It will be a lot of work, and all of it just to get Perl past what might be termed a transitional phase. In reality though, I'd bet that quite a bit of Perl 5 code will continue to be run via Ponie for many years to come. If Ponie works, and all that old Perl 5 code still does its job, rewriting it to take advantage of Perl 6 features may become the ultimate back-burner project. Still, having the freedom to not update that old code seems like just another reason to use a language like Perl that's so committed to flexibility.
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The Perl Journal