MirBSD manpage: perlobj(1)

PERLOBJ(1)      Perl Programmers Reference Guide       PERLOBJ(1)


     perlobj - Perl objects


     First you need to understand what references are in Perl.
     See perlref for that.  Second, if you still find the follow-
     ing reference work too complicated, a tutorial on object-
     oriented programming in Perl can be found in perltoot and

     If you're still with us, then here are three very simple
     definitions that you should find reassuring.

     1.  An object is simply a reference that happens to know
         which class it belongs to.

     2.  A class is simply a package that happens to provide
         methods to deal with object references.

     3.  A method is simply a subroutine that expects an object
         reference (or a package name, for class methods) as the
         first argument.

     We'll cover these points now in more depth.

     An Object is Simply a Reference

     Unlike say C++, Perl doesn't provide any special syntax for
     constructors.  A constructor is merely a subroutine that
     returns a reference to something "blessed" into a class,
     generally the class that the subroutine is defined in.  Here
     is a typical constructor:

         package Critter;
         sub new { bless {} }

     That word "new" isn't special.  You could have written a
     construct this way, too:

         package Critter;
         sub spawn { bless {} }

     This might even be preferable, because the C++ programmers
     won't be tricked into thinking that "new" works in Perl as
     it does in C++. It doesn't.  We recommend that you name your
     constructors whatever makes sense in the context of the
     problem you're solving.  For example, constructors in the Tk
     extension to Perl are named after the widgets they create.

     One thing that's different about Perl constructors compared
     with those in C++ is that in Perl, they have to allocate
     their own memory.  (The other things is that they don't

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     automatically call overridden base-class constructors.)  The
     "{}" allocates an anonymous hash containing no key/value
     pairs, and returns it  The bless() takes that reference and
     tells the object it references that it's now a Critter, and
     returns the reference.  This is for convenience, because the
     referenced object itself knows that it has been blessed, and
     the reference to it could have been returned directly, like

         sub new {
             my $self = {};
             bless $self;
             return $self;

     You often see such a thing in more complicated constructors
     that wish to call methods in the class as part of the con-

         sub new {
             my $self = {};
             bless $self;
             return $self;

     If you care about inheritance (and you should; see "Modules:
     Creation, Use, and Abuse" in perlmodlib), then you want to
     use the two-arg form of bless so that your constructors may
     be inherited:

         sub new {
             my $class = shift;
             my $self = {};
             bless $self, $class;
             return $self;

     Or if you expect people to call not just "CLASS->new()" but
     also "$obj->new()", then use something like the following.
     (Note that using this to call new() on an instance does not
     automatically perform any copying.  If you want a shallow or
     deep copy of an object, you'll have to specifically allow
     for that.)  The initialize() method used will be of whatever
     $class we blessed the object into:

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         sub new {
             my $this = shift;
             my $class = ref($this) || $this;
             my $self = {};
             bless $self, $class;
             return $self;

     Within the class package, the methods will typically deal
     with the reference as an ordinary reference.  Outside the
     class package, the reference is generally treated as an
     opaque value that may be accessed only through the class's

     Although a constructor can in theory re-bless a referenced
     object currently belonging to another class, this is almost
     certainly going to get you into trouble.  The new class is
     responsible for all cleanup later.  The previous blessing is
     forgotten, as an object may belong to only one class at a
     time.  (Although of course it's free to inherit methods from
     many classes.)  If you find yourself having to do this, the
     parent class is probably misbehaving, though.

     A clarification:  Perl objects are blessed.  References are
     not.  Objects know which package they belong to.  References
     do not.  The bless() function uses the reference to find the
     object.  Consider the following example:

         $a = {};
         $b = $a;
         bless $a, BLAH;
         print "\$b is a ", ref($b), "\n";

     This reports $b as being a BLAH, so obviously bless()
     operated on the object and not on the reference.

     A Class is Simply a Package

     Unlike say C++, Perl doesn't provide any special syntax for
     class definitions.  You use a package as a class by putting
     method definitions into the class.

     There is a special array within each package called @ISA,
     which says where else to look for a method if you can't find
     it in the current package.  This is how Perl implements
     inheritance.  Each element of the @ISA array is just the
     name of another package that happens to be a class package.
     The classes are searched (depth first) for missing methods
     in the order that they occur in @ISA.  The classes accessi-
     ble through @ISA are known as base classes of the current

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     All classes implicitly inherit from class "UNIVERSAL" as
     their last base class.  Several commonly used methods are
     automatically supplied in the UNIVERSAL class; see "Default
     UNIVERSAL methods" for more details.

     If a missing method is found in a base class, it is cached
     in the current class for efficiency.  Changing @ISA or
     defining new subroutines invalidates the cache and causes
     Perl to do the lookup again.

     If neither the current class, its named base classes, nor
     the UNIVERSAL class contains the requested method, these
     three places are searched all over again, this time looking
     for a method named AUTOLOAD().  If an AUTOLOAD is found,
     this method is called on behalf of the missing method, set-
     ting the package global $AUTOLOAD to be the fully qualified
     name of the method that was intended to be called.

     If none of that works, Perl finally gives up and complains.

     If you want to stop the AUTOLOAD inheritance say simply

             sub AUTOLOAD;

     and the call will die using the name of the sub being

     Perl classes do method inheritance only.  Data inheritance
     is left up to the class itself.  By and large, this is not a
     problem in Perl, because most classes model the attributes
     of their object using an anonymous hash, which serves as its
     own little namespace to be carved up by the various classes
     that might want to do something with the object. The only
     problem with this is that you can't sure that you aren't
     using a piece of the hash that isn't already used.  A rea-
     sonable workaround is to prepend your fieldname in the hash
     with the package name.

         sub bump {
             my $self = shift;
             $self->{ __PACKAGE__ . ".count"}++;

     A Method is Simply a Subroutine

     Unlike say C++, Perl doesn't provide any special syntax for
     method definition.  (It does provide a little syntax for
     method invocation though.  More on that later.)  A method
     expects its first argument to be the object (reference) or
     package (string) it is being invoked on.  There are two ways
     of calling methods, which we'll call class methods and
     instance methods.

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     A class method expects a class name as the first argument.
     It provides functionality for the class as a whole, not for
     any individual object belonging to the class.  Constructors
     are often class methods, but see perltoot and perltooc for
     alternatives. Many class methods simply ignore their first
     argument, because they already know what package they're in
     and don't care what package they were invoked via.  (These
     aren't necessarily the same, because class methods follow
     the inheritance tree just like ordinary instance methods.)
     Another typical use for class methods is to look up an
     object by name:

         sub find {
             my ($class, $name) = @_;

     An instance method expects an object reference as its first
     argument. Typically it shifts the first argument into a
     "self" or "this" variable, and then uses that as an ordinary

         sub display {
             my $self = shift;
             my @keys = @_ ? @_ : sort keys %$self;
             foreach $key (@keys) {
                 print "\t$key => $self->{$key}\n";

     Method Invocation

     For various historical and other reasons, Perl offers two
     equivalent ways to write a method call.  The simpler and
     more common way is to use the arrow notation:

         my $fred = Critter->find("Fred");
         $fred->display("Height", "Weight");

     You should already be familiar with the use of the "->"
     operator with references.  In fact, since $fred above is a
     reference to an object, you could think of the method call
     as just another form of dereferencing.

     Whatever is on the left side of the arrow, whether a refer-
     ence or a class name, is passed to the method subroutine as
     its first argument. So the above code is mostly equivalent

         my $fred = Critter::find("Critter", "Fred");
         Critter::display($fred, "Height", "Weight");

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     How does Perl know which package the subroutine is in?  By
     looking at the left side of the arrow, which must be either
     a package name or a reference to an object, i.e. something
     that has been blessed to a package.  Either way, that's the
     package where Perl starts looking.  If that package has no
     subroutine with that name, Perl starts looking for it in any
     base classes of that package, and so on.

     If you need to, you can force Perl to start looking in some
     other package:

         my $barney = MyCritter->Critter::find("Barney");
         $barney->Critter::display("Height", "Weight");

     Here "MyCritter" is presumably a subclass of "Critter" that
     defines its own versions of find() and display().  We
     haven't specified what those methods do, but that doesn't
     matter above since we've forced Perl to start looking for
     the subroutines in "Critter".

     As a special case of the above, you may use the "SUPER"
     pseudo-class to tell Perl to start looking for the method in
     the packages named in the current class's @ISA list.

         package MyCritter;
         use base 'Critter';    # sets @MyCritter::ISA = ('Critter');

         sub display {
             my ($self, @args) = @_;
             $self->SUPER::display("Name", @args);

     It is important to note that "SUPER" refers to the
     superclass(es) of the current package and not to the
     superclass(es) of the object. Also, the "SUPER" pseudo-class
     can only currently be used as a modifier to a method name,
     but not in any of the other ways that class names are nor-
     mally used, eg:

         something->SUPER::method(...);      # OK
         SUPER::method(...);                 # WRONG
         SUPER->method(...);                 # WRONG

     Instead of a class name or an object reference, you can also
     use any expression that returns either of those on the left
     side of the arrow. So the following statement is valid:

         Critter->find("Fred")->display("Height", "Weight");

     and so is the following:

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         my $fred = (reverse "rettirC")->find(reverse "derF");

     The right side of the arrow typically is the method name,
     but a simple scalar variable containing either the method
     name or a subroutine reference can also be used.

     Indirect Object Syntax

     The other way to invoke a method is by using the so-called
     "indirect object" notation.  This syntax was available in
     Perl 4 long before objects were introduced, and is still
     used with filehandles like this:

        print STDERR "help!!!\n";

     The same syntax can be used to call either object or class

        my $fred = find Critter "Fred";
        display $fred "Height", "Weight";

     Notice that there is no comma between the object or class
     name and the parameters.  This is how Perl can tell you want
     an indirect method call instead of an ordinary subroutine

     But what if there are no arguments?  In that case, Perl must
     guess what you want.  Even worse, it must make that guess at
     compile time. Usually Perl gets it right, but when it
     doesn't you get a function call compiled as a method, or
     vice versa.  This can introduce subtle bugs that are hard to

     For example, a call to a method "new" in indirect notation
     -- as C++ programmers are wont to make -- can be miscompiled
     into a subroutine call if there's already a "new" function
     in scope.  You'd end up calling the current package's "new"
     as a subroutine, rather than the desired class's method.
     The compiler tries to cheat by remembering bareword
     "require"s, but the grief when it messes up just isn't worth
     the years of debugging it will take you to track down such
     subtle bugs.

     There is another problem with this syntax: the indirect
     object is limited to a name, a scalar variable, or a block,
     because it would have to do too much lookahead otherwise,
     just like any other postfix dereference in the language.
     (These are the same quirky rules as are used for the
     filehandle slot in functions like "print" and "printf".)
     This can lead to horribly confusing precedence problems, as
     in these next two lines:

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         move $obj->{FIELD};                 # probably wrong!
         move $ary[$i];                      # probably wrong!

     Those actually parse as the very surprising:

         $obj->move->{FIELD};                # Well, lookee here
         $ary->move([$i]);                   # Didn't expect this one, eh?

     Rather than what you might have expected:

         $obj->{FIELD}->move();              # You should be so lucky.
         $ary[$i]->move;                     # Yeah, sure.

     To get the correct behavior with indirect object syntax, you
     would have to use a block around the indirect object:

         move {$obj->{FIELD}};
         move {$ary[$i]};

     Even then, you still have the same potential problem if
     there happens to be a function named "move" in the current
     package.  The "->" notation suffers from neither of these
     disturbing ambiguities, so we recommend you use it
     exclusively.  However, you may still end up having to read
     code using the indirect object notation, so it's important
     to be familiar with it.

     Default UNIVERSAL methods

     The "UNIVERSAL" package automatically contains the following
     methods that are inherited by all other classes:

         "isa" returns true if its object is blessed into a sub-
         class of "CLASS"

         You can also call "UNIVERSAL::isa" as a subroutine with
         two arguments.  Of course, this will do the wrong thing
         if someone has overridden "isa" in a class, so don't do

         If you need to determine whether you've received a valid
         invocant, use the "blessed" function from Scalar::Util:

             if (blessed($ref) && $ref->isa( 'Some::Class')) {
                 # ...

         "blessed" returns the name of the package the argument
         has been blessed into, or "undef".


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         "can" checks to see if its object has a method called
         "METHOD", if it does then a reference to the sub is
         returned, if it does not then undef is returned.

         "UNIVERSAL::can" can also be called as a subroutine with
         two arguments.  It'll always return undef if its first
         argument isn't an object or a class name. The same
         caveats for calling "UNIVERSAL::isa" directly apply
         here, too.

     VERSION( [NEED] )
         "VERSION" returns the version number of the class (pack-
         age).  If the NEED argument is given then it will check
         that the current version (as defined by the $VERSION
         variable in the given package) not less than NEED; it
         will die if this is not the case.  This method is nor-
         mally called as a class method.  This method is called
         automatically by the "VERSION" form of "use".

             use A 1.2 qw(some imported subs);
             # implies:

     NOTE: "can" directly uses Perl's internal code for method
     lookup, and "isa" uses a very similar method and cache-ing
     strategy. This may cause strange effects if the Perl code
     dynamically changes @ISA in any package.

     You may add other methods to the UNIVERSAL class via Perl or
     XS code. You do not need to "use UNIVERSAL" to make these
     methods available to your program (and you should not do


     When the last reference to an object goes away, the object
     is automatically destroyed.  (This may even be after you
     exit, if you've stored references in global variables.)  If
     you want to capture control just before the object is freed,
     you may define a DESTROY method in your class.  It will
     automatically be called at the appropriate moment, and you
     can do any extra cleanup you need to do.  Perl passes a
     reference to the object under destruction as the first (and
     only) argument.  Beware that the reference is a read-only
     value, and cannot be modified by manipulating $_[0] within
     the destructor.  The object itself (i.e. the thingy the
     reference points to, namely "${$_[0]}", "@{$_[0]}",
     "%{$_[0]}" etc.) is not similarly constrained.

     Since DESTROY methods can be called at unpredictable times,
     it is important that you localise any global variables that
     the method may update.  In particular, localise $@ if you

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     use "eval {}" and localise $? if you use "system" or back-

     If you arrange to re-bless the reference before the destruc-
     tor returns, perl will again call the DESTROY method for the
     re-blessed object after the current one returns.  This can
     be used for clean delegation of object destruction, or for
     ensuring that destructors in the base classes of your choos-
     ing get called.  Explicitly calling DESTROY is also possi-
     ble, but is usually never needed.

     Do not confuse the previous discussion with how objects CON-
     TAINED in the current one are destroyed.  Such objects will
     be freed and destroyed automatically when the current object
     is freed, provided no other references to them exist else-


     That's about all there is to it.  Now you need just to go
     off and buy a book about object-oriented design methodology,
     and bang your forehead with it for the next six months or

     Two-Phased Garbage Collection

     For most purposes, Perl uses a fast and simple, reference-
     based garbage collection system.  That means there's an
     extra dereference going on at some level, so if you haven't
     built your Perl executable using your C compiler's "-O"
     flag, performance will suffer.  If you have built Perl with
     "cc -O", then this probably won't matter.

     A more serious concern is that unreachable memory with a
     non-zero reference count will not normally get freed.
     Therefore, this is a bad idea:

             my $a;
             $a = \$a;

     Even thought $a should go away, it can't.  When building
     recursive data structures, you'll have to break the self-
     reference yourself explicitly if you don't care to leak.
     For example, here's a self-referential node such as one
     might use in a sophisticated tree structure:

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         sub new_node {
             my $class = shift;
             my $node  = {};
             $node->{LEFT} = $node->{RIGHT} = $node;
             $node->{DATA} = [ @_ ];
             return bless $node => $class;

     If you create nodes like that, they (currently) won't go
     away unless you break their self reference yourself.  (In
     other words, this is not to be construed as a feature, and
     you shouldn't depend on it.)


     When an interpreter thread finally shuts down (usually when
     your program exits), then a rather costly but complete mark-
     and-sweep style of garbage collection is performed, and
     everything allocated by that thread gets destroyed.  This is
     essential to support Perl as an embedded or a multithread-
     able language.  For example, this program demonstrates
     Perl's two-phased garbage collection:

         package Subtle;

         sub new {
             my $test;
             $test = \$test;
             warn "CREATING " . \$test;
             return bless \$test;

         sub DESTROY {
             my $self = shift;
             warn "DESTROYING $self";

         package main;

         warn "starting program";
             my $a = Subtle->new;
             my $b = Subtle->new;
             $$a = 0;  # break selfref
             warn "leaving block";

         warn "just exited block";
         warn "time to die...";

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     When run as /foo/test, the following output is produced:

         starting program at /foo/test line 18.
         CREATING SCALAR(0x8e5b8) at /foo/test line 7.
         CREATING SCALAR(0x8e57c) at /foo/test line 7.
         leaving block at /foo/test line 23.
         DESTROYING Subtle=SCALAR(0x8e5b8) at /foo/test line 13.
         just exited block at /foo/test line 26.
         time to die... at /foo/test line 27.
         DESTROYING Subtle=SCALAR(0x8e57c) during global destruction.

     Notice that "global destruction" bit there?  That's the
     thread garbage collector reaching the unreachable.

     Objects are always destructed, even when regular refs
     aren't.  Objects are destructed in a separate pass before
     ordinary refs just to prevent object destructors from using
     refs that have been themselves destructed.  Plain refs are
     only garbage-collected if the destruct level is greater than
     0.  You can test the higher levels of global destruction by
     setting the PERL_DESTRUCT_LEVEL environment variable,
     presuming "-DDEBUGGING" was enabled during perl build time.
     See "PERL_DESTRUCT_LEVEL" in perlhack for more information.

     A more complete garbage collection strategy will be imple-
     mented at a future date.

     In the meantime, the best solution is to create a non-
     recursive container class that holds a pointer to the self-
     referential data structure. Define a DESTROY method for the
     containing object's class that manually breaks the circular-
     ities in the self-referential structure.


     A kinder, gentler tutorial on object-oriented programming in
     Perl can be found in perltoot, perlboot and perltooc.  You
     should also check out perlbot for other object tricks,
     traps, and tips, as well as perlmodlib for some style guides
     on constructing both modules and classes.

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