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my() Scoped Variable in Nested Subroutines - Perl

In this article we continue to talk about the essential Perl basics,that you should know before starting to program for mod_perl.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:
  1. Introduction to mod_perl (part 5): More Perl Basics
  2. my() Scoped Variable in Nested Subroutines
  3. When You Cannot Get Rid of The Inner Subroutine
  4. perldoc's Rarely Known But Very Useful Options
  5. References
By: Stas Bekman
Rating: starstarstarstarstar / 5
March 12, 2003

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Before we proceed let's make the assumption that we want to developthe code under the strict pragma. We will use lexically scopedvariables (with help of the my() operator) whenever it's possible.

The Poison

Let's look at this code:

nested.pl
-----------
#!/usr/bin/perl
use strict;
sub print_power_of_2 {
my $x = shift;
sub power_of_2 {
return $x ** 2; 
}
my $result = power_of_2();
print "$x^2 = $result\n";
}
print_power_of_2(5);
print_power_of_2(6);

Don't let the weird subroutine names fool you, the print_power_of_2()subroutine should print the square of the number passed to it. Let'srun the code and see whether it works:

% ./nested.pl
5^2 = 25
6^2 = 25

Ouch, something is wrong. May be there is a bug in Perl and it doesn'twork correctly with the number 6? Let's try again using 5 and 7:

print_power_of_2(5);
print_power_of_2(7);

And run it:

% ./nested.pl
5^2 = 25
7^2 = 25

Wow, does it works only for 5? How about using 3 and 5:

print_power_of_2(3);
print_power_of_2(5);

and the result is:

% ./nested.pl
3^2 = 9
5^2 = 9

Now we start to understand--only the first call to theprint_power_of_2() function works correctly. Which makes us think thatour code has some kind of memory for the results of the firstexecution, or it ignores the arguments in subsequent executions.

The Diagnosis

Let's follow the guidelines and use the -w flag:

#!/usr/bin/perl -w

Under Perl version 5.6.0+ we use the warnings pragma:

#!/usr/bin/perl
use warnings;

Now execute the code:

% ./nested.pl
Variable "$x" will not stay shared at ./nested.pl line 9.
5^2 = 25
6^2 = 25

We have never seen such a warning message before and we don't quiteunderstand what it means. The diagnostics pragma will certainlyhelp us. Let's prepend this pragma before the strict pragma in ourcode:

#!/usr/bin/perl -w
use diagnostics;
use strict;

And execute it:

% ./nested.pl
Variable "$x" will not stay shared at ./nested.pl line 10 (#1)
(W) An inner (nested) named subroutine is referencing a lexical
variable defined in an outer subroutine.
When the inner subroutine is called, it will probably see the value of
the outer subroutine's variable as it was before and during the
*first* call to the outer subroutine; in this case, after the first
call to the outer subroutine is complete, the inner and outer
subroutines will no longer share a common value for the variable.  In
other words, the variable will no longer be shared.
Furthermore, if the outer subroutine is anonymous and references a
lexical variable outside itself, then the outer and inner subroutines
will never share the given variable.
This problem can usually be solved by making the inner subroutine
anonymous, using the sub {} syntax.  When inner anonymous subs that
reference variables in outer subroutines are called or referenced,
they are automatically rebound to the current values of such
variables.
5^2 = 25
6^2 = 25

Well, now everything is clear. We have the inner subroutinepower_of_2() and the outer subroutine print_power_of_2() in ourcode.

When the inner power_of_2() subroutine is called for the first time,it sees the value of the outer print_power_of_2() subroutine's $xvariable. On subsequent calls the inner subroutine's $x variablewon't be updated, no matter what new values are given to $x in theouter subroutine. There are two copies of the $x variable, nolonger a single one shared by the two routines.

The Remedy

The diagnostics pragma suggests that the problem can be solved bymaking the inner subroutine anonymous.

An anonymous subroutine can act as a closure with respect tolexically scoped variables. Basically this means that if you define asubroutine in a particular lexical context at a particular moment,then it will run in that same context later, even if called fromoutside that context. The upshot of this is that when the subroutineruns, you get the same copies of the lexically scoped variableswhich were visible when the subroutine was defined. So you canpass arguments to a function when you define it, as well as when youinvoke it.

Let's rewrite the code to use this technique:

anonymous.pl
--------------
#!/usr/bin/perl
use strict;
sub print_power_of_2 {
my $x = shift;
my $func_ref = sub {
return $x ** 2;
};
my $result = &$func_ref();
print "$x^2 = $result\n";
}
print_power_of_2(5);
print_power_of_2(6);

Now $func_ref contains a reference to an anonymous function, whichwe later use when we need to get the power of two. (In Perl, afunction is the same thing as a subroutine.) Since it is anonymous,the function will automatically be rebound to the new value of theouter scoped variable $x, and the results will now be as expected.

Let's verify:

% ./anonymous.pl
5^2 = 25
6^2 = 36

So we can see that the problem is solved.



 
 
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