Perl Array

Summary: in this tutorial, you’ll learn about Perl array and how to use arrays effectively in your program.

Introduction to Perl array

Perl Array

A list is immutable so you cannot change it directly. In order to change a list, you need to store it in an array variable.

By definition, an array is a variable that provides dynamic storage for a list.

In Perl, the terms array and list are used interchangeably, but you have to note an important difference: a list is immutable whereas an array is mutable. In other words, you can modify the array’s elements, grow or shrink the array, but not a list.

A scalar variable begins with the dollar sign ( $), however, an array variable begins with an at-sign ( @).

The following example illustrates how to declare an array variable:

#!/usr/bin/perl use warnings; use strict; my @days = qw(Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun); print("@days" ,"\n");
Code language: Perl (perl)

The $ sign looks like S in the word scalar. And @ looks like a in the word array, which is a simple trick to remember what type of variables you are working with.

Accessing Perl array elements

Like a list, you can access array elements using square brackets [] and indices as shown in the following example:

#!/usr/bin/perl use warnings; use strict; my @days = qw(Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun); print($days[0]); print("\n");
Code language: Perl (perl)

If you take a look at the code carefully, you will see that we used $days[0] instead of @days[0].

This is because an array element is a scalar, you have to use the scalar prefix ( $). In Perl, the rule is that the prefix represents what you want to get, not what you’ve got.

Perl also allows you to access array elements using negative indices. Perl returns element referred to by a negative index from the end of the array. For example, $days[-1] returns the last element of the array @days.

You can access multiple array elements at a time using the same technique as the list slice.

#!/usr/bin/perl use warnings; use strict; my @days = qw(Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun); my @weekend = @days[-2..-1]; # SatSun print(“@weekend”); print("\n");
Code language: Perl (perl)

Counting Perl array elements

If you treat an array as a scalar, you will get the number of elements in the array. Take a look at the following code:

my $count = @days;
Code language: Perl (perl)

However, this code causes an error in case you don’t really want to count it but accidentally assign an array to a scalar. To be safe, use the scalar() function as follows:

my @days = qw(Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun); my $count = scalar @days; print($count, "\n");
Code language: Perl (perl)

The operator $# returns the highest index of an array. See the following example:

my @days = qw(Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun); my $last = $#days; print($last, "\n"); #" 6
Code language: Perl (perl)

Modifying Perl array elements

To change the value of an element, you access the element using the index and assign it the new value. Perl also allows you to change values of multiple elements at a time.

See the following example:

#!/usr/bin/perl use warnings; use strict; my @days = qw(Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun); $days[0] = 'Monday'; @days[1..6] = qw(Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday); print("@days","\n");
Code language: Perl (perl)

Perl array operations

Perl provides several useful functions and operators to help you manipulate array effectively. We will cover the most important ones in the following sections.

Perl array as a stack with push() and pop() functions

Both functions treat an array as a stack. A stack works based on last in first out (LIFO) philosophy. It works exactly the same as a stack of books. The push() function appends one or more elements to the end of the array, while the pop() function removes the last element from the end of the array.

The following example demonstrates how to use push() and pop() functions:

#!/usr/bin/perl use warnings; use strict; my @stack = (); # empty array print("push 1 to array\n"); push(@stack,1); print("push 2 to array\n"); push(@stack,2); print("push 3 to array\n"); push(@stack,3); print(“@stack”, "\n"); my $elem = pop(@stack); print("element: $elem\n"); $elem = pop(@stack); print("element: $elem\n"); $elem = pop(@stack); print("element: $elem\n");
Code language: Perl (perl)

Perl array as a queue with unshift() and pop() functions

If the push() and pop() treat an array as a stack, the unshift() and pop() functions treat an array as a queue. A queue works based on the first in first out (FIFO) philosophy. It works like a queue of visitors. The unshift() function adds one or more elements to the front of the array, while the pop() function removes the last element of the array.

The following example demonstrates how to use the unshift() and pop() functions:

#!/usr/bin/perl use warnings; use strict; my @queue = (); # empty queue print("enqueue 1 to array\n"); unshift(@queue,1); print("enqueue 2 to array\n"); unshift(@queue,2); printf("enqueue 3 to array\n"); unshift(@queue,3); print("@queue", "\n"); # 3 2 1 my $elem = pop(@queue); print("element: $elem\n"); $elem = pop(@queue); print("element: $elem\n"); $elem = pop(@queue); print("element: $elem\n");
Code language: Perl (perl)

Sorting Perl arrays

Perl provides the sort()function that allows you to sort an array in alphabetical or numerical order. Here is an example of sorting an array of strings alphabetically.

#!/usr/bin/perl use warnings; use strict; my @fruits = qw(oranges apples mango cucumber); my @sorted = sort @fruits; print("@sorted","\n"); # apples cucumber mango oranges
Code language: Perl (perl)

The sort() function also accepts a block of code that allows you to change the sort algorithm. If you want to sort an array in numerical order, you need to change the default sorting algorithm.

Let’s take a look at the example below:

#!/usr/bin/perl use warnings; use strict; my @a = qw(3 2 1 4 7 6); print("unsorted: ", "@a","\n"); # unsorted: 3 2 1 4 7 6 @a = sort {$a <=> $b} @a; print("sorted:","@a","\n"); # sorted:1 2 3 4 6 7
Code language: Perl (perl)

In this example above:

  • First, we had an unsorted array @a, and we displayed the @a array to make sure that it is unsorted.
  • Second, we used the sort() function to sort the @a array. We passed a block of code {$a <=>$b} and the @a array to the sort function. The $a and $b are global variables defined by the sort() function for sorting. The operator <=> is used to compare two numbers. The code block {$a <=> $b} returns -1 if $a < $b, 0 if $a = $b, and 1 if $a > $b.
  • Third, we displayed the elements of the sorted array @a.

For more information on the sort() function, check it out the Perl sort function.

In this tutorial, we’ve introduced you to Perl array and shown you some useful techniques to manipulate array’s elements effectively.

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