PERLREFTUT(1)    Perl Programmers Reference Guide   PERLREFTUT(1)

       perlreftut - Mark's very short tutorial about references

       One of the most important new features in Perl 5 was the
       capability to manage complicated data structures like
       multidimensional arrays and nested hashes.  To enable
       these, Perl 5 introduced a feature called `references',
       and using references is the key to managing complicated,
       structured data in Perl.  Unfortunately, there's a lot of
       funny syntax to learn, and the main manual page can be
       hard to follow.  The manual is quite complete, and
       sometimes people find that a problem, because it can be
       hard to tell what is important and what isn't.

       Fortunately, you only need to know 10% of what's in the
       main page to get 90% of the benefit.  This page will show
       you that 10%.

WWhhoo NNeeeeddss CCoommpplliiccaatteedd DDaattaa SSttrruuccttuurreess??
       One problem that came up all the time in Perl 4 was how to
       represent a hash whose values were lists.  Perl 4 had
       hashes, of course, but the values had to be scalars; they
       couldn't be lists.

       Why would you want a hash of lists?  Let's take a simple
       example: You have a file of city and country names, like

               Chicago, USA
               Frankfurt, Germany
               Berlin, Germany
               Washington, USA
               Helsinki, Finland
               New York, USA

       and you want to produce an output like this, with each
       country mentioned once, and then an alphabetical list of
       the cities in that country:

               Finland: Helsinki.
               Germany: Berlin, Frankfurt.
               USA:  Chicago, New York, Washington.

       The natural way to do this is to have a hash whose keys
       are country names.  Associated with each country name key
       is a list of the cities in that country.  Each time you
       read a line of input, split it into a country and a city,
       look up the list of cities already known to be in that
       country, and append the new city to the list.  When you're
       done reading the input, iterate over the hash as usual,
       sorting each list of cities before you print it out.

       If hash values can't be lists, you lose.  In Perl 4, hash
       values can't be lists; they can only be strings.  You
       lose.  You'd probably have to combine all the cities into
       a single string somehow, and then when time came to write
       the output, you'd have to break the string into a list,
       sort the list, and turn it back into a string.  This is
       messy and error-prone.  And it's frustrating, because Perl
       already has perfectly good lists that would solve the
       problem if only you could use them.

TThhee SSoolluuttiioonn
       By the time Perl 5 rolled around, we were already stuck
       with this design: Hash values must be scalars.  The
       solution to this is references.

       A reference is a scalar value that refers to an entire
       array or an entire hash (or to just about anything else).
       Names are one kind of reference that you're already
       familiar with.  Think of the President: a messy,
       inconvenient bag of blood and bones.  But to talk about
       him, or to represent him in a computer program, all you
       need is the easy, convenient scalar string "Bill Clinton".

       References in Perl are like names for arrays and hashes.
       They're Perl's private, internal names, so you can be sure
       they're unambiguous.  Unlike "Bill Clinton", a reference
       only refers to one thing, and you always know what it
       refers to.  If you have a reference to an array, you can
       recover the entire array from it.  If you have a reference
       to a hash, you can recover the entire hash.  But the
       reference is still an easy, compact scalar value.

       You can't have a hash whose values are arrays; hash values
       can only be scalars.  We're stuck with that.  But a single
       reference can refer to an entire array, and references are
       scalars, so you can have a hash of references to arrays,
       and it'll act a lot like a hash of arrays, and it'll be
       just as useful as a hash of arrays.

       We'll come back to this city-country problem later, after
       we've seen some syntax for managing references.

       There are just two ways to make a reference, and just two
       ways to use it once you have it.

       MMaakkiinngg RReeffeerreenncceess

       MMaakkee RRuullee 11

       If you put a \ in front of a variable, you get a reference
       to that variable.

           $aref = \@array;         # $aref now holds a reference to @array
           $href = \%hash;          # $href now holds a reference to %hash

       Once the reference is stored in a variable like $aref or
       $href, you can copy it or store it just the same as any
       other scalar value:

           $xy = $aref;             # $xy now holds a reference to @array
           $p[3] = $href;           # $p[3] now holds a reference to %hash
           $z = $p[3];              # $z now holds a reference to %hash

       These examples show how to make references to variables
       with names.  Sometimes you want to make an array or a hash
       that doesn't have a name.  This is analogous to the way
       you like to be able to use the string "\n" or the number
       80 without having to store it in a named variable first.

       MMaakkee RRuullee 22

       [ ITEMS ] makes a new, anonymous array, and returns a
       reference to that array. { ITEMS } makes a new, anonymous
       hash. and returns a reference to that hash.

           $aref = [ 1, "foo", undef, 13 ];
           # $aref now holds a reference to an array

           $href = { APR => 4, AUG => 8 };
           # $href now holds a reference to a hash

       The references you get from rule 2 are the same kind of
       references that you get from rule 1:

               # This:
               $aref = [ 1, 2, 3 ];

               # Does the same as this:
               @array = (1, 2, 3);
               $aref = \@array;

       The first line is an abbreviation for the following two
       lines, except that it doesn't create the superfluous array
       variable @array.

       UUssiinngg RReeffeerreenncceess

       What can you do with a reference once you have it?  It's a
       scalar value, and we've seen that you can store it as a
       scalar and get it back again just like any scalar.  There
       are just two more ways to use it:

       UUssee RRuullee 11

       If $aref contains a reference to an array, then you can
       put {$aref} anywhere you would normally put the name of an
       array.  For example, @{$aref} instead of @array.

       Here are some examples of that:


               @a              @{$aref}                An array
               reverse @a      reverse @{$aref}        Reverse the array
               $a[3]           ${$aref}[3]             An element of the array
               $a[3] = 17;     ${$aref}[3] = 17        Assigning an element

       On each line are two expressions that do the same thing.
       The left-hand versions operate on the array @a, and the
       right-hand versions operate on the array that is referred
       to by $aref, but once they find the array they're
       operating on, they do the same things to the arrays.

       Using a hash reference is exactly the same:

               %h              %{$href}              A hash
               keys %h         keys %{$href}         Get the keys from the hash
               $h{'red'}       ${$href}{'red'}       An element of the hash
               $h{'red'} = 17  ${$href}{'red'} = 17  Assigning an element

       UUssee RRuullee 22

       ${$aref}[3] is too hard to read, so you can write
       $aref->[3] instead.

       ${$href}{red} is too hard to read, so you can write
       $href->{red} instead.

       Most often, when you have an array or a hash, you want to
       get or set a single element from it.  ${$aref}[3] and
       ${$href}{'red'} have too much punctuation, and Perl lets
       you abbreviate.

       If $aref holds a reference to an array, then $aref->[3] is
       the fourth element of the array.  Don't confuse this with
       $aref[3], which is the fourth element of a totally
       different array, one deceptively named @aref.  $aref and
       @aref are unrelated the same way that $item and @item are.

       Similarly, $href->{'red'} is part of the hash referred to
       by the scalar variable $href, perhaps even one with no
       name.  $href{'red'} is part of the deceptively named %href
       hash.  It's easy to forget to leave out the ->, and if you
       do, you'll get bizarre results when your program gets
       array and hash elements out of totally unexpected hashes
       and arrays that weren't the ones you wanted to use.

AAnn EExxaammppllee
       Let's see a quick example of how all this is useful.

       First, remember that [1, 2, 3] makes an anonymous array
       containing (1, 2, 3), and gives you a reference to that

       Now think about

               @a = ( [1, 2, 3],
                      [4, 5, 6],
                      [7, 8, 9]

       @a is an array with three elements, and each one is a
       reference to another array.

       $a[1] is one of these references.  It refers to an array,
       the array containing (4, 5, 6), and because it is a
       reference to an array, UUSSEE RRUULLEE 22 says that we can write
       $a[1]->[2] to get the third element from that array.
       $a[1]->[2] is the 6.  Similarly, $a[0]->[1] is the 2.
       What we have here is like a two-dimensional array; you can
       write $a[ROW]->[COLUMN] to get or set the element in any
       row and any column of the array.

       The notation still looks a little cumbersome, so there's
       one more abbreviation:

AArrrrooww RRuullee
       In between two ssuubbssccrriippttss, the arrow is optional.

       Instead of $a[1]->[2], we can write $a[1][2]; it means the
       same thing.  Instead of $a[0]->[1], we can write $a[0][1];
       it means the same thing.

       Now it really looks like two-dimensional arrays!

       You can see why the arrows are important.  Without them,
       we would have had to write ${$a[1]}[2] instead of
       $a[1][2].  For three-dimensional arrays, they let us write
       $x[2][3][5] instead of the unreadable ${${$x[2]}[3]}[5].

       Here's the answer to the problem I posed earlier, of
       reformatting a file of city and country names.

           1   while (<>) {
           2     chomp;
           3     my ($city, $country) = split /, /;
           4     push @{$table{$country}}, $city;
           5   }
           7   foreach $country (sort keys %table) {
           8     print "$country: ";
           9     my @cities = @{$table{$country}};
          10     print join ', ', sort @cities;
          11     print ".\n";
          12   }

       The program has two pieces:  Lines 1--5 read the input and
       build a data structure, and lines 7--12 analyze the data
       and print out the report.

       In the first part, line 4 is the important one.  We're
       going to have a hash, %table, whose keys are country
       names, and whose values are (references to) arrays of city
       names.  After acquiring a city and country name, the
       program looks up $table{$country}, which holds (a
       reference to) the list of cities seen in that country so
       far.  Line 4 is totally analogous to

               push @array, $city;

       except that the name array has been replaced by the
       reference {$table{$country}}.  The push adds a city name
       to the end of the referred-to array.

       In the second part, line 9 is the important one.  Again,
       $table{$country} is (a reference to) the list of cities in
       the country, so we can recover the original list, and copy
       it into the array @cities, by using @{$table{$country}}.
       Line 9 is totally analogous to

               @cities = @array;

       except that the name array has been replaced by the
       reference {$table{$country}}.  The @ tells Perl to get the
       entire array.

       The rest of the program is just familiar uses of chomp,
       split, sort, print, and doesn't involve references at all.

       There's one fine point I skipped.  Suppose the program has
       just read the first line in its input that happens to
       mention Greece.  Control is at line 4, $country is
       'Greece', and $city is 'Athens'.  Since this is the first
       city in Greece, $table{$country} is undefined---in fact
       there isn't an 'Greece' key in %table at all.  What does
       line 4 do here?

        4      push @{$table{$country}}, $city;

       This is Perl, so it does the exact right thing.  It sees
       that you want to push Athens onto an array that doesn't
       exist, so it helpfully makes a new, empty, anonymous array
       for you, installs it in the table, and then pushes Athens
       onto it.  This is called `autovivification'.

TThhee RReesstt
       I promised to give you 90% of the benefit with 10% of the
       details, and that means I left out 90% of the details.
       Now that you have an overview of the important parts, it
       should be easier to read the the perlref manpage manual
       page, which discusses 100% of the details.

       Some of the highlights of the perlref manpage:

       o   You can make references to anything, including
           scalars, functions, and other references.

       o   In UUSSEE RRUULLEE 11, you can omit the curly brackets
           whenever the thing inside them is an atomic scalar
           variable like $aref.  For example, @$aref is the same
           as @{$aref}, and $$aref[1] is the same as ${$aref}[1].
           If you're just starting out, you may want to adopt the
           habit of always including the curly brackets.

       o   To see if a variable contains a reference, use the
           `ref' function.  It returns true if its argument is a
           reference.  Actually it's a little better than that:
           It returns HASH for hash references and ARRAY for
           array references.

       o   If you try to use a reference like a string, you get
           strings like

                   ARRAY(0x80f5dec)   or    HASH(0x826afc0)

           If you ever see a string that looks like this, you'll
           know you printed out a reference by mistake.

           A side effect of this representation is that you can
           use eq to see if two references refer to the same
           thing.  (But you should usually use == instead because
           it's much faster.)

       o   You can use a string as if it were a reference.  If
           you use the string "foo" as an array reference, it's
           taken to be a reference to the array @foo.  This is
           called a soft reference or symbolic reference.

       You might prefer to go on to the perllol manpage instead
       of the perlref manpage; it discusses lists of lists and
       multidimensional arrays in detail.  After that, you should
       move on to the perldsc manpage; it's a Data Structure
       Cookbook that shows recipes for using and printing out
       arrays of hashes, hashes of arrays, and other kinds of

       Everyone needs compound data structures, and in Perl the
       way you get them is with references.  There are four
       important rules for managing references: Two for making
       references and two for using them.  Once you know these
       rules you can do most of the important things you need to
       do with references.

       Author: Mark-Jason Dominus, Plover Systems (mjd-perl-

       This article originally appeared in The Perl Journal
       ( volume 3, #2.  Reprinted with permission.

       The original title was Understand References Today.

       DDiissttrriibbuuttiioonn CCoonnddiittiioonnss

       Copyright 1998 The Perl Journal.

       When included as part of the Standard Version of Perl, or
       as part of its complete documentation whether printed or
       otherwise, this work may be distributed only under the
       terms of Perl's Artistic License.  Any distribution of
       this file or derivatives thereof outside of that package
       require that special arrangements be made with copyright

       Irrespective of its distribution, all code examples in
       these files are hereby placed into the public domain.  You
       are permitted and encouraged to use this code in your own
       programs for fun or for profit as you see fit.  A simple
       comment in the code giving credit would be courteous but
       is not required.

27/Mar/1999            perl 5.005, patch 03                     1