Dive Deep Into Python Vs Perl Debate – What Should I Learn Python or Perl?

Often when a new programming language is introduced, there is a debate that starts amongst some of the genius minds in the industry wherein the language is compared with the one already spreading its roots. A kind of buzz often spreads in the IT industry and the new one is often compared on every aspect may it then be features, syntax or core CPU and memory aspects including GC time and all, with the existing one of its kind.

Many examples of such cases can be picked up and investigated from the past including the debate between Java and C#, C++, etc. One such case which drew a significant amount of attention was the debate between two languages which came out one after the other in a short span i.e. Python and Perl.

Whereas Python was invented initially as a successor to ABC language merely as a “hobby” programming project (which would attract Unix/C hackers) for the author who named it after the series of his biggest star Monty Python.

Suggested Read: Getting Started with Python Programming and Scripting in Linux

Perl was just nearly around 2 years earlier as a Unix scripting language which intended to make report processing easier. It was a mixture of a combination of many languages including C, awk, sed, and shell script.

The thing which is worth noting is that these languages which evolved of different intentions are being constantly compared, which has made me study and figure out the reasons, of which some important ones are listed as below:

  1. Both targeted Unix Operating System, one for hackers and others to process reports.
  2. Both are object-oriented (Python being the more) and interpreted, with one being strongly typed and clear when it comes to coding i.e. Python, and other allowing ugly typing with braces for representing a block i.e. Perl
  3. Both are opposite in principle when we say, Perl has many ways of doing a single task while python focuses on one and only one way of doing things.

Python vs Perl – Features Compared

Let’s dive deep into this debate and try to figure out the overall aspects where these two languages differentiate from one another. Also, let’s try finding out the source of truth for many cliches which can be heard in the industry saying “Python is Perl with training wheels” or “Python is similar to Perl but different” so that we can try and conclude with an accurate solution to this never-ending debate.

1. Python’s Clean vs Perl’s Complex Syntax

Python takes a huge advantage over Perl when it comes to code readability. Python’s code is a lot clearer to understand than that of Perl even when reading code after years.

With indentation representing the block of code, and proper structuring, Python’s code is a lot cleaner. On the other hand, Perl borrows its syntax from various programming languages like C, shell scripting and even awk and sed filters when it comes to regular expressions.

Suggested Read: 15 Useful ‘sed’ Commands for Daily Linux System Administration Tasks

Apart from this, with ‘{‘ and ‘}’ representing a block of code and unnecessary addition of ‘;’ at the end of each line, code in Perl could become a problem to understand if you read it after months or years because of its allowance of ugly scripting.

2. Perl’s Built-in Vs Python’s 3rd Party Regex and OS Operations Support

Perl language borrows its syntax from C and other UNIX commands like sed, awk, etc. due to which it has way powerful and built-in regex support without importing any third-party modules.

Also, Perl can handle OS operations using built-in functions. On the other hand, Python has third-party libraries for both the operations i.e. re for regex and os, sys for os operations which need to be ensured before doing such operations.

Perl’s regex operations have ‘sed’ like syntax which makes it easy not only for search operations but also replace, substitute and other operations on a string can be done easily and swiftly than python where a person needs to know and remember the functions which cater to the need.

Example: Consider a program to search for a digit in the string in Perl and Python.

Import re
str = ‘hello0909there’
result = re.findall(‘\d+’,str)
print result
$string =  ‘hello0909there’;
$string =~ m/(\d+)/;
print “$& \n”

You see the syntax for Perl is way easy and inspired by sed command which takes advantage over Python’s syntax which imports third party module ‘re’.

3. Python’s Advanced OO Programming vs Perl’s One-Liners

One feature where Python overshadows Perl is its advanced OO programming. Python has extensive object-oriented programming support with clean and consistent syntax while the object OOP in Perl being outdated where the package is used as a substitute for classes.

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Also, writing OO code in Perl will add a lot more complexity to the code, which would eventually make code difficult to understand, even subroutines in Perl are very difficult to program and eventually difficult to understand later.

On the other hand, Perl is best for its one-liners which can be used on the command line for performing the various tasks. Also, Perl code can eventually do various tasks in fewer lines of code than python.

A shortcode example of both languages which highlights Perl ability to do more in less LOC:

with open(“data.csv”) as f:
for line in f:
print line,
except Exception as e:
print "Can't open file - %s"%e
open(FILE,”%lt;inp.txt”) or die “Can’t open file”;
while(<FILE>) {
print “$_”; } 

Pros and Cons – Python vs Perl

In this section, we will discuss the Pros and Cons of Python and Perl.

Python PROS:

  1. It has a clean and elegant syntax which makes this language a great choice as the first programming language for novices who want to have hands-on on any programming language.
  2. Has very advanced and inherent OO Programming, also thread programming in Python is way better than Perl.
  3. There are many application areas where Python is preferred and even it outperforms Perl. Like: Perl is preferred for CGI scripting but nowadays Python’s Django and web2py like web scripting languages are becoming more popular and have a huge attraction from the industry.
  4. Has several SWIG wrappers for different programming languages like CPython, IronPython and Jython and development of these has preceded the development of SWIG wrappers for Perl.
  5. Python code is always well indented and easy to read and understand even if you are reading someone else’s code or even your code after years.
  6. Python is good for various applications like Big Data, Infra Automation, Machine Learning, NLP, etc, it has huge support of active communities because of being Open Source.

Python CONS:

  1. There are few areas where execution in Python is usually slower than that of Perl including regex and string-based operations.
  2. Sometimes it is difficult to get the type of variable in Python as in cases of very large code, you have to go till the end to get a type of variable that gets hectic and complex.

Perl PROS:

  1. Perl has powerful one-liners and even ensures UNIX piping like syntax which can be used on the command line to perform various tasks, also it is influenced by Unix and its command-line programming so integrates many UNIX influenced commands in its coding.
  2. Perl is known for its powerful regex and string comparison operations as it is influenced by sed and awk like powerful UNIX tools. In the case of regex and string operations like substitution, matching, replacement, Perl outperforms python which would take a few lines of code to achieve the same. Also many file I/O operations, exception handling is done faster on Perl.
  3. When it comes to a language for report generation, Perl has always been in fame since its introduction as one of the main reasons for the author to develop language like Perl was for report generation.
  4. Many application areas where Perl finds its use are Network Programming, System Administration, CGI Scripting (here Python is overcoming Perl with Django and web2py), etc.
  5. It is easy to identify the type of variable with the symbols that Perl uses before them, like: ‘@’ identifies arrays and ‘%’ identifies hashes.

Perl CONS:

  1. Perl has a very complex code which makes it difficult to understand for a novice. Subroutines, and even other symbols like: ‘$`’, ‘$&’ etc are hard to understand and program for a less experienced programmer. Also, Perl code when read would be difficult and complex to understand unless you have a quality experience.
  2. OO Programming in Perl is a bit out of date as it has never been known for OO programming and many operations like threading are also less pronounced on Perl.


As seen above where both languages are good on their regard as per the applications they target, Python takes a bit of advantage over Perl as a first choice for a novice due to its clean and easy to understand code, whereas on other hand Perl outperforms Python when it comes to string manipulation operations and some advanced one-liners for UNIX like OS and various other operations it is known for.

So, in the end, it’s all upon the specific area you target. All your comments on this article are welcome and would request you to give your views on the topic if according to you Python wins or Perl.

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Gunjit Khera
Currently a Computer Science student and a geek when it comes to Operating System and its concepts. Have 1+ years of experience in Linux and currently doing a research on its internals along with developing applications for Linux on python and C.

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71 thoughts on “Dive Deep Into Python Vs Perl Debate – What Should I Learn Python or Perl?”

  1. I was put off by python’s exact indentation as a block requirement. I love the braces and they make for a clear block marking. It is hard for me to know which code block is aligned with which without exerting the extra effort of counting spaces (which is difficult to do if you don’t have characters immediately above and also don’t use fixed space font – another unnecessary requirement.)

    I want to use a font that is easier on the eyes and saves my eyes from the extra unnecessary effort of counting spaces.

    My codes are always clean with braces. I understand that it allows you to create messy blocks, but that is your problem, not the languages.

    I don’t like Perl either, I think its syntax is twisted. It seems like whoever wrote Perl gets schadenfreude making things difficult and twisted at the expense of making them readable and clear or a very bad communicator or both.

    How are you supposed to read print "hello0909there"=~/\d+/g

    print hellow0909there equal tilde slash digit slash g and understand it to mean print the string after removing the digits? WTF.

  2. The code examples in places leave off the ; at the end of Perl statements.

    Also, the Python examples don’t have proper indenting.

    Not impressed.

  3. Python:

        print re.findall('\d+','hello0909there')


        print "hello0909there"=~/\d+/g

    The first is plain to read and understand, and there is probably just one way to make it right.
    The second is harder to read and error-prone, requiring some knowledge of what’s going on.

    I find Perl more fun and interesting to write because it gives you so many ways to do things, each with its own subtle differences and implications. I feel more proud when I write a concise expression, where each character has been thought over than with writing code that tastes plain and foreseeable. On the other hand, I would prefer the latter if the code needed to be shared because I’d feel like I’d be pouring less of my personality into it.

    • Easier to read, really?! They both need you to learn regex in the first place.

      But even if it is easier to read you have to

      1. Import the regex lib and
      2. Those Python regexes are not even remotely as powerful as the Perl ones.


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