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"Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"

by fauria (Deacon)
on Oct 18, 2005 at 23:12 UTC ( [id://501131]=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

Hi monks. This evening i recived an answer from the it manager of a company owned by a customer.

I was planning to use Perl for a web tracking application he requested, and this guy (the it manager) told me literally (translation from Spanish): "Despite Perl is powerful and eficient, it has become the Cobol of the WWW".

He continues telling me to use PHP, because literally again "The application needs to be written in a language with a future".

If he wants PHP, i will have to use it, he pays. But what whould you say to this person?

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: "Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"
by Ovid (Cardinal) on Oct 18, 2005 at 23:20 UTC

    But what would you say to this person?

    Me? Probably nothing. Those who've gone down the path of buying hype aren't likely to listen to reason. Now if the manager had said "sorry, we've evaluated Perl but PHP better fit our needs", I'd be more likely to agree with this person. Sometimes PHP is a better fit.

    If you have reason to believe that he's simply chosen a technology without clearly defining his needs, you could forward him this essay I wrote recently. At first it seems to only be peripherally related, but at the bottom I address that point. However, as I said at first, once people start to believe hype, they're not likely to stop. In fact, arguing with them may make your case worse. If you already know PHP, why not use that language?


    New address of my CGI Course.

Re: "Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"
by BrowserUk (Patriarch) on Oct 19, 2005 at 06:31 UTC

    Grab a copy of a existing project written in Perl that comes as close as possible to the customers requirements. Preferably one that makes heavy use of as many CPAN modules as possible. Skin it to have your customers name and colours. Ie. Spend 1 day doing a shallow mock-up.

    Then ask the customer to view this "quick mock-up written in Perl" to get his thoughts on layout, colors etc. Explain that you are just leveraging an old project to get something to talk about quickly.

    Then explain that the first thing you are going to do is have to re-write modules X,Y,Z & P,Q,R & A, B, C in PHP so that you can avoid having to write all the back-end code from scratch. Try and get him to visit CPAN himself.

    Fill an email with direct links to the modules that you would normally use for such a project in Perl, and ask him if he knows of any equivalent free modules in PHP, so that you can avoid re-inventing the wheel (at his expense).

    If he says "Yes", he's saved you some time, but he might stop to think about his pocket book rather than buzz phrases.

    Examine what is said, not who speaks -- Silence betokens consent -- Love the truth but pardon error.
    Lingua non convalesco, consenesco et abolesco. -- Rule 1 has a caveat! -- Who broke the cabal?
    "Science is about questioning the status quo. Questioning authority".
    The "good enough" maybe good enough for the now, and perfection maybe unobtainable, but that should not preclude us from striving for perfection, when time, circumstance or desire allow.
Re: "Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"
by swampyankee (Parson) on Oct 19, 2005 at 01:51 UTC

    He's paying you to do something? Just remember to add sufficient hours to your estimate to learn the language.

    I think the tactful (and Spanish language) equivalent "it's your nickel" may be an appropriate, and safe, response.

    The rather snarky "but isn't PHP the PL/1 of the WWW?" would probably a) go over his head and b) cause you to have need to look for other work.


    PL/1: IBM's answer to the question no one asked

Re: "Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"
by duff (Parson) on Oct 19, 2005 at 05:09 UTC

    I would ask him exactly what "having a future" means. In fact, every time I see someone write about how perl is dead or dying I really have no idea what they are talking about. Let's say all development on perl stopped today. Does that negate the usefulness of the tool? Will all of the binaries suddenly disappear? Will programs just stop working? No, no, and no. So even if there were no active development perl could still enjoy a relatively long afterlife.

    Yet perl continues to have an active developer community. Does he think otherwise? Point him at the perl5-porters mailing list, and all of the activity surrounding perl6. Point him at the perl foundation and at the YAPCs and at the annual Perl conference. Point him at and and the other major sites that continue to use perl. So, what constitutes "no future" exactly?

    The only reasoning I can think of why people think PHP has a future and Perl doesn't is that Perl has implemented most (if not all) of the useful features extant while PHP still has yet to implement some language features. Ergo, PHP has a future (there's still stuff to be done) and perl doesn't (we've already done it all). :-)

      Isn't done with PHP?


Re: "Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"
by GrandFather (Saint) on Oct 18, 2005 at 23:36 UTC

    Browse the wikipedia PHP entry. In particular look at the security issues posed by PHP.

    Perl is Huffman encoded by design.
Re: "Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"
by dragonchild (Archbishop) on Oct 18, 2005 at 23:46 UTC
    Thanks for your business?

    My criteria for good software:
    1. Does it work?
    2. Can someone else come in, make a change, and be reasonably certain no bugs were introduced?
Re: "Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"
by aufflick (Deacon) on Oct 19, 2005 at 06:45 UTC
    If Perl is the COBOL of the WWW then why aren't people paying me unreasonably large amounts of cash to insert an additional two digits at the start of every date in their CGIs?
Re: "Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"
by adrianh (Chancellor) on Oct 19, 2005 at 13:19 UTC
    Despite Perl is powerfull and eficient, it has become the Cobol of the WWW

    I'd agree with him.

    I'd consider it a compliment.

    The application needs to be written in a language with a future

    Depends on the estimated lifetime of the application. Perl 5 isn't going to disappear in the next few years. Well before it does we'll have much more information on whether PHP N>5, Ruby 2, Perl 6 or some other interesting language is going to get the most market share and/or be most useful.

    (Personally I think Perl 6 vs Ruby 2 is going to be interesting.)

    But what whould you say to this person?

    If it were me I'd be advising him to pick whichever language gives him the most bang for his buck now. The way that PHP is evolving it's not going to be any easier to maintain than Perl 5 in a few years time - so I don't think he'll save anything long term. I just don't think we have enough information to make a good guess on what (if any) "dynamic" language is going to be dominant in five years time.

    Update: Spooling mistook fixed. Thanks demerphq

Re: "Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"
by chromatic (Archbishop) on Oct 19, 2005 at 03:06 UTC

    COBOL had namespaces?

      Yeah, one big one called "Working Storage" ;-)
Re: "Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"
by CountZero (Bishop) on Oct 19, 2005 at 10:08 UTC
    All Unix / Linux installations come with Perl installed. I don't think they come with PHP installed as PHP is only useful in its narrow niche of writing dynamic web-pages (and there we all agree that mixing code and HTML is a Bad Thing) and PErl has a much larger audience.

    In a few years there will still be a lot of Perl programmers around, but see if you can find someone who can still program in that particular version of PHP that was the hype when the page was written.


    "If you have four groups working on a compiler, you'll get a 4-pass compiler." - Conway's Law

      " All Unix / Linux installations come with Perl installed. "

      Not true.

        They don't? They should!


        "If you have four groups working on a compiler, you'll get a 4-pass compiler." - Conway's Law

Re: "Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"
by Roy Johnson (Monsignor) on Oct 19, 2005 at 15:02 UTC
    I'd quote Re: Perl Programmer -> J2EE Convert?:
    If people question you about the scalability of Perl, you might mention to them some of the companies that make extensive use of Perl: Amazon, Yahoo, Overture, TicketMaster, CitySearch, IMDB...
    Are these companies the dinosaurs of the web? Are PHP-based web apps eating their lunch? See also Re^2: Perl/CGI Vs PHP Vs ASP.

    There are reasons that businesses moved away from Cobol. Those are not the same reasons that businesses are glomming onto the buzzword development environments. And the businesses that are focused on getting the job done are not moving away from Perl.

    Caution: Contents may have been coded under pressure.
Re: "Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"
by halley (Prior) on Oct 19, 2005 at 12:12 UTC
    "So, five years from now, when Perl still works but has no future, and PHP still works but has no future, will you continue to spend extra money on the next hot thing, just because you think it has a future?"

    [ e d @ h a l l e y . c c ]

Re: "Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"
by samizdat (Vicar) on Oct 19, 2005 at 13:37 UTC
    I've used both extensively. I've also done some Ruby and am exploring RoR.

    I use Perl hands down when I want to do anything complicated. I'd ask him if he ever will want to create any charts in is site, or talk to another system, or feed users Excel spreadsheets on command.

    PHP has lots of plusses -- it definitely easier, and, yes, I mix code and HTML -- but the module collection on CPAN brings me back to Perl every time.

    Ask him if he wants to make money from his web site now or "in the future". :D
        Cute! I was looking at the rubygem-that-calls-perl-that-calls-GD module, and that's when I sighed and went back to Perl.

        While more and more functions will be implemented in Ruby, it does have a ways to go. Time will tell.
Re: "Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"
by pg (Canon) on Oct 19, 2005 at 04:14 UTC

    Take what he said in this way: Perl has been around for long time with WWW application, just like COBOL in some other areas. However this does not mean that Perl will fade away any time soon like COBOL did.

    As for the project, if he is the person to decide the language, just let him decide. Most likely not much you can do.

      Just recently I talked to someone who was not only maintaining COBOL programs, but actually still writing new ones.. So, "faded away" ? (And I know of at least one other company that uses it)


      However this does not mean that Perl will fade away any time soon like COBOL did.

      Fade away? Surely some mistake :-) You'll be amazed at the amount of COBOL out there at the moment, and the amount of new COBOL that's still being written.

      We should hope that Perl will still be used as much as COBOL is more than forty years after it was created.

      My company still uses COBOL and we are constantly writing new programs and improving older ones. COBOL is a language that has been around for a long time, and I don't quite see it falling dead by the side of the road yet.

      The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing -- Edmund Burke
Re: "Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"
by castaway (Parson) on Oct 19, 2005 at 08:20 UTC
    You say "Thank you for agreeing that Perl will need many programmers and maintainers still for many years to come" ?

    Seriously though, it depends on what you want to achieve. It doesn't sound like he wants to be persuaded, so either take the job (and bill for learning/converting things to PHP), or don't. The customer is always right, even when they're wrong. After all, if you're just doing a contract job, they have to maintain it, or find people to, so it's their problem.


Re: "Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"
by sh1tn (Priest) on Oct 19, 2005 at 00:15 UTC
    What can I say to person who does not have the slightest idea what's language and what's future?
    P.S. Yes I like the toys, called programming languages ... sometimes, they recall me easily why my choice is Perl.

Re: "Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"
by CharlesClarkson (Curate) on Oct 20, 2005 at 11:15 UTC

    There seems to be a common misconception that all new technology must replace exisiting technology. In many applications twisted pair wires make more sense than fiber optics and the old technology lives next to the new technology. Radio didn't kill print. Television didn't kill radio.

    We see this in economics. Many people are convinced that wealth creation means more poor people. But modern economies are not zero sum systems. Wealth creation creates a larger pie from which many enjoy larger portions than before. New software languages are often similar.

    PHP didn't come in and replace applications. Like may other technologies had done before, it widened the use of programming as a solution to web site authors. Many people used PHP where they would have once stuck with HTML. The programming solutions pie got bigger. Everyone benefitted.

    The customer is always right. If its PHP he wants and you are good at writing PHP programs, give him what he wants. Explain the limitations of PHP, but don't fall in love with Perl if it leads you to the poor house. It is okay to tell him he's wrong about Perl, just be careful not to maneuver him into a situation where you can say "I told you so." Perhaps you could introduce a PHP/Perl solution. Using each language where it is strongest.

Re: "Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"
by DrHyde (Prior) on Oct 19, 2005 at 10:00 UTC
    I would tell him how much extra you expect the work to cost if done in PHP, including the extra development time, time taken for you to learn PHP if necessary, extra maintenance time, a vague guesstimate at how much the PHP hole du jour is going to cost, ...
      That's quite dangerous.
      <scene> You cannot do it in PHP? We'll find someone who can... </scene>

      holli, /regexed monk/
        "OK, here's my card, call me when you find that the PHP version is getting too expensive"
Re: "Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"
by CountZero (Bishop) on Oct 19, 2005 at 16:33 UTC
    "Despite Perl is powerfull and eficient, it has become the Cobol of the WWW"

    Two out of three ain't bad!"


    "If you have four groups working on a compiler, you'll get a 4-pass compiler." - Conway's Law

Re: "Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"
by sauoq (Abbot) on Oct 20, 2005 at 01:50 UTC
    "Despite Perl is powerful and eficient, it has become the Cobol of the WWW".

    It seems to me he might really be confusing CGI with Perl. Many people associate the two. CGI, of course, has a limited usefulness. Maybe he doesn't know about mod_perl?

    "My two cents aren't worth a dime.";
Re: "Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"
by kiat (Vicar) on Oct 21, 2005 at 16:05 UTC
    Hi fauria,

    I've used both for developing websites, though I'm no expert at either.

    I started with Perl in around 2001 and I'm still using it for web stuff. I explored recently with using PHP.

    I find that my experience with PHP is rather like my experience with Perl at the beginning, when I tended to freely mix code and html. I only know PHP superficially, so maybe that's why I haven't found a more elegant way to separate the logic from the presentation.

    For small sites (a couple of static pages with limited interactive features), I would go with PHP. PHP is rather like Javascript, so it makes adding logic to the html page much easier.

    For a larger web project, Perl will still be my choice of programming language. I find that I'm more organised when coding in Perl. Besides, I'm familiar with using a number of very useful modules such as EncryptForm, DBI and HTML::Template, so it makes sense to tap on that knowledge.

Re: "Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"
by mattr (Curate) on Oct 21, 2005 at 10:06 UTC
    I don't get why he would agree that Perl is powerful and efficient and still ask you to do the job in another language. And didn't you tell him that PHP was built by people looking at perl? PHP is barely even a language. Python, ruby, and other languages have neat stuff but Perl has the best balance of existing modules and being proven in the field while allowing you to do whatever you want in - as the customer says - in the most efficient way. In comparison with Perl or other real programming languages PHP is a toy, only fit for small jobs which is the opposite of what one normally thinks of as "having a future".

    If it's a simple PHP job and you need the money fine but if it's a big project with little money I would say quit. I've done it and hated every step wishing I had perl. The customer specified PHP mainly because they wanted to be sure subpar engineers could edit the simple-looking PHP files. To be specific, the customer was a former coworker and project manager who cannot read perl and he wanted to be able to edit it. I am willing to bet that you are in the exact same situation. No sane client otherwise will say PHP is a language with a future.

Re: "Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"
by tmiklas (Hermit) on Oct 21, 2005 at 13:25 UTC
    Hi Monks!

    My oppinion/answer - "Who cares?!"

    Perl works and always worked as it should. I don't care for the tool, i think in category of problem-solution and the process that comes between. Being "trendy" in usage of technology has at leas two major pitfalls:
    1. higher costs
    2. security issues, etc.

    Drifting away from the subject - i live in Poland. Situation here is a bit strange (at leas as for me) :-( I've found that Perl is my way of thinking - i can't switch to Java... i always come back to Perl, even if the company want's something else... But... about the market and professionals for hire - most adverts about vacancies concern Java programmers, database related stuff (but in Java), mobile technology, etc. I've found one (only ONE) job offer where Perl was just *mentioned*. Why?! Are companies trying to use "trendy" techniques? In my oppinion YES.
    As an opposite - i looked at the job offers abroad (mostly in UK) and there is a lot of effers for sysadmins/programmes/system engineers and all of them require at least "very good knowledge od Perl/Bash scripting languages". That's what i like (that's why i'm moving to the UK in a few weeks). So what's the diference between Poland and UK? Are the people diferent? NO! Are the problem diferent? NO!

    Anybody knows?

    BTW. Yesterday i've found that ticket reservation system for one of the "cheap airlines" is written in Perl... everything would work much better if it was running on *NIX and not Windows (during reservation i had at least 6 CGI crashes caused by the OS itself). Sorry for being OT

    Greetz, Tom.
Re: "Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"
by radiantmatrix (Parson) on Oct 24, 2005 at 18:32 UTC

    That depends a lot on my relationship with the customer. Generally, I am being hired directly as a contractor, and so I'm a bit more direct than I would recommend if you are an employee somewhere along the line. I also don't know the background of this.

    Confronted with this situation in the past, I responded this way:

    I'd be more than happy to develop this in PHP for you. However, you should be aware of a few things before you finalize your decision. First, since PHP does not provide the comprehensive CPAN library, this solution will take more time to create: my quoted price will increase. Second, since PHP does not provide adequate unit-testing facilities, I will require a signed limitation of liability from you which indicates that you understand the risk; additionally, I cannot offer you flat-rate support for PHP, it is hourly only. Third, given PHP's security record and the lack of adequate testing I mentioned above, I am unable to offer you my standard warranty.

    I will be happy to meet with you to discuss the details of why I must take these precautions with PHP and not with Perl, and perhaps I can address your concerns about choosing Perl for your project. Also, I would be pleased to work with you to select an alternative language if neither PHP nor Perl are appropriate for you.

    I had one customer choose not to work with me ("Your PHP requirements are unreasonable." he said. His project went 250% over budget. :P). The others I've taken this approach with have typically met with me to discuss the issues. They all came away with a much higher level of comfort about Perl, even though many of them chose to take a different approach.

    Ultimately, if you feel that PHP is a risk to the project, you need to go on record as saying so -- if you must use PHP despite your objections, be sure to make it the best you can, but document the problems thoroughly.

    A collection of thoughts and links from the minds of geeks
    The Code that can be seen is not the true Code
    "In any sufficiently large group of people, most are idiots" - Kaa's Law
Re: "Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"
by artist (Parson) on Oct 19, 2005 at 16:07 UTC
    Everyone has right to decide their own path. The ultimate answer might be same for you and him. You or him don't have to discuss about the roads taken. You should talk more about the task to be completed. Path will be chosen automatically.
Re: "Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"
by Perl Mouse (Chaplain) on Oct 24, 2005 at 10:12 UTC
    But what whould you say to this person?
    Well, I would tell him that he's hiring me for the expertise, and that when it comes to technical issues, my expertise surpasses his, and that according to my judgement, Perl certainly isn't worse than PHP. And that if Perl becomes the "Cobol of the WWW", I'd consider that an honour, and that I doubt PHP would ever reach the status of it being compared with Cobol. I'd also say I'd write it in PHP, but I'll need time to get myself familiarized with the language, so the project will take longer then when I'd do it in Perl. And I doubt I'll like PHP, so when it comes to maintaining the application, it'll rank lower on my todo list than non-PHP tasks. (I won't tell him that it'll probably rank higher than the Java jobs which somehow always have my lowest priority).

    But that's just me. I'm senior enough and around long enough that I can say that to most of the managers I've had the last decade or so.

    Don't take it as a blanket recommendation to tell it to your manager.

    Of course, a manager can have non- technical issues to favour PHP over Perl. And he will have the last say in it. But I'm hired for my technical expertise - and I will voice my opinions and objections. That's part of my job. (I don't think singing I told you so is part of the job, but I've done so in the past).

    Perl --((8:>*
Re: "Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"
by blackadder (Hermit) on Oct 21, 2005 at 15:10 UTC
    Well please just ask your Boss "Is there a site called PhPMonks?".......I Don't think so

    Therefore my choise will always be Perl...Thanks

Re: "Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"
by techcode (Hermit) on Oct 24, 2005 at 10:50 UTC
    There are so many nice comments already given. And I think that by combaining them with folowing site would be enough to make him think again if nothing else.

    News Factor - New Technology for Business and Pleasure. Perl mentioned often!

    Have you tried freelancing? Check out Scriptlance - I work there.
Re: "Perl is the Cobol of the WWW"
by Dru (Hermit) on Oct 31, 2005 at 16:21 UTC
    Tell him to perform the following searches at this job site: Indeed

    1. Perl - 29,090
    2. PHP - 7,458
    3. Cobol - 9,663

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