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Wed, 09 Aug 2017

My Ten Years of Perl 6

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Time for some old man's reminiscence. Or so it feels when I realize that I've spent more than 10 years involved with the Perl 6 community.

How I Joined the Perl 6 Community

It was February 2007.

I was bored. I had lots of free time (crazy to imagine that now...), and I spent some of that answering (Perl 5) questions on perlmonks. There was a category of questions where I routinely had no good answers, and those were related to threads. So I decided to play with threads, and got frustrated pretty quickly.

And then I remember that a friend in school had told me (about four years earlier) that there was this Perl 6 project that wanted to do concurrency really well, and even automatically parallelize some stuff. And this was some time ago, maybe they had gotten anywhere?

So I searched the Internet, and found out about Pugs, a Perl 6 compiler written in Haskell. And I wanted to learn more, but some of the links to the presentations were dead. I joined the #perl6 IRC channel to report the broken link.

And within three minutes I got a "thank you" for the report, the broken links were gone, and I had an invitation for a commit bit to the underlying SVN repo.

I stayed.

The Early Days

Those were they wild young days of Perl 6 and Pugs. Audrey Tang was pushing Pugs (and Haskell) very hard, and often implemented a feature within 20 minutes after somebody mentioned it. Things were unstable, broken often, and usually fixed quickly. No idea was too crazy to be considered or even implemented.

We had bots that evaluated Perl 6 and Haskell code, and gave the result directly on IRC. There were lots of cool (and sometimes somewhat frightening) automations, for example for inviting others to the SVN repo, to the shared hosting system (called feather), for searching SVN logs and so on. Since git was still an obscure and very unusable, people tried to use SVK, an attempt to implement a decentralized version control system on top of of the SVN protocol.

Despite some half-hearted attempts, I didn't really make inroads into compiler developments. Having worked with neither Haskell nor compilers before proved to be a pretty steep step. Instead I focused on some early modules, documentation, tests, and asking and answering questions. When the IRC logger went offline for a while, I wrote my own, which is still in use today.

I felt at home in that IRC channel and the community. When the community asked for mentors for the Google Summer of Code project, I stepped up. The project was a revamp of the Perl 6 test suite, and to prepare for mentoring task, I decided to dive deeper. That made me the maintainer of the test suite.

Pet Projects

I can't recount a full history of Perl 6 projects during that time range, but I want to reflect on some projects that I considered my pet projects, at least for some time.

  • In early 2008 I started to contribute some patches to Over time I became frustrated with the outdated content on many Perl 6 websites, so I created, which only contained links to up-to-date resources. Over time, people with an actual sense of design contribute a nice layout. Later we switched over to the content from Its structure today is still mostly that of a link collection.
  • In September 2008 I started with the Perl 5 to 6 blog series, which was the de facto resource for learning Perl 6 for some years.
  • In 2009 I wrote JSON::Tiny, the first pure-Perl 6 JSON parser. I mostly did it to become familiar with grammars, and because the book "Real World Haskell" also developed a JSON module.
  • May 2010 kicked off a program to make contributing to Perl 6 more accessible.
  • September 2010: the Pugs SVN repository became unmaintainable. It had accumulated the official Perl 6 test suite, some documentation, modules, at least one IRC bot and a proverbial metric ton of other stuff. In coordination with #perl6, I split it up into a collection of git repositories and put them on GitHub. A decision we haven't regretted yet.
  • In 2012 and 2016 I was part of the organization team of the German Perl Workshop in Erlangen and Nürnberg, which both featured several Perl 6 talks.
  • 2012 saw the birth of the documentation project. Initially I was nearly the sole contributor, and I'm very happy that, over time, others have taken over.
  • Between 2014 and 2015, our community server "feather" EOLed, so the Perl 6 community funded a new server, which my employer, noris network AG kindly hosts for free in their data center in Nürnberg, Germany.
  • In 2016 I started writing Perl 6 by Example, which Apress later adopted and published as Perl 6 Fundamentals.
  • Currently I'm working on a treatise on Perl 6 Regexes and Grammars, which Apress will also publish.

It is not quite clear from this (very selected) timeline, but my Perl 6 related activity dropped around 2009 or 2010. This is when I started to work full time, moved in with my girlfriend (now wife), and started to plan a family.


The technologies and ideas in Perl 6 are fascinating, but that's not what kept me. I came for the technology, but stayed for the community.

There were and are many great people in the Perl 6 community, some of whom I am happy to call my friends. Whenever I get the chance to attend a Perl conference, workshop or hackathon, I find a group of Perl 6 hackers to hang out and discuss with, and generally have a good time.

Four events stand out in my memory. In 2010 I was invited to the Open Source Days in Copenhagen. I missed most of the conference, but spent a day or two with (if memory serve right) Carl Mäsak, Patrick Michaud, Jonathan Worthington and Arne Skjærholt. We spent some fun time trying to wrap our minds around macros, the intricacies of human and computer language, and Japanese food. (Ok, the last one was easy). Later the same year, I attended my first YAPC::EU in Pisa, and met most of the same crowd again -- this time joined by Larry Wall, and over three or four days. I still fondly remember the Perl 6 hallway track from that conference. And 2012 I flew to Oslo for a Perl 6 hackathon, with a close-knit, fabulous group of Perl 6 hackers. Finally, the Perl Reunification Summit in the beautiful town of Perl in Germany, which brought together Perl 5 and Perl 6 hackers in a very relaxed atmosphere.

For three of these four events, different private sponsors from the Perl and Perl 6 community covered travel and/or hotel costs, with their only motivation being meeting folks they liked, and seeing the community and technology flourish.

The Now

The Perl 6 community has evolved a lot over the last ten years, but it is still a very friendly and welcoming place. There are lots of "new" folks (where "new" is everybody who joined after me, of course :D), and a surprising number of the old guard still hang around, some more involved, some less, all of them still very friendly and supportive

The Future

I anticipate that my family and other projects will continue to occupy much of my time, and it is unlikely that I'll be writing another Perl 6 book (after the one about regexes) any time soon. But the Perl 6 community has become a second home for me, and I don't want to miss it.

In the future, I see myself supporting the Perl 6 community through infrastructure (community servers, IRC logs, running IRC bots etc.), answering questions, writing a blog article here and there, but mostly empowering the "new" guard to do whatever they deem best.

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