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Builtin functions defaulting to $_

by ambrus (Abbot)
on Mar 23, 2007 at 13:52 UTC ( #606237=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

Here's a list of perl builtins that default to act on $_ when given no argument.

  • filetest operators (except for -t)
  • abs
  • alarm
  • chomp
  • chop
  • chr
  • chroot
  • cos
  • defined
  • eval
  • evalbytes
  • exp
  • glob
  • hex
  • int
  • lc
  • lcfirst
  • length
  • log
  • lstat
  • mkdir (since perl 5.10.0)
  • oct
  • ord
  • pos
  • print
  • quotemeta
  • readlink
  • ref
  • require
  • reverse (Update: only in scalar context)
  • rmdir
  • sin
  • split (actually defaults to $_ on its second argument, ' ' on first one)
  • sqrt
  • stat
  • study
  • uc
  • ucfirst
  • unlink (the scaryest)
  • unpack (since perl 5.10.0, the second argument defaults to $_)

There are other operations that use $_ implicitly. For example, regexps, substitutions, and transliterations (m, s, tr, y) act on $_ unless a different string is given by the =~ operator; map, grep, the for statement modifier, and for loops without explicit loop variable specified use $_ as the loop variable; a diamond operator in a while loop stores the line to $_.

Below are some functions that do not default to $_.

Note that a few functions behave differently if they are called with an empty pair of parenthesis (usually taken as an empty list).

  • -t (terminal) filetest: defaults to STDOUT
  • bless: requires an argument
  • caller: returns less information without argument
  • chdir: uses the home directory
  • die: defaults to $@ (to rethrow an exception caught with eval) or a generic message: "Died"
  • do: syntax error without parenthesis; with empty parenthesis, dies with "Null filename used"
  • eof: with empty parenthesis defaults to ARGV, without parenthesis defaults to the last file read (but detects the ends of individual files read by ARGV)
  • exec: it seems that the call just returns failure, I can't find anything in the docs
  • exit: defaults to zero
  • gethostbyname, getnetbyname, getprotobyname: requires an argument
  • getpgrp: uses zero, meaning the current process
  • getpwnam, getgrname: requires an argument
  • getpwuid, getgrgid: requries an argument
  • gmtime: uses current time
  • local: syntax error without parenthesis; with empty parenthesis, is a no-op (localizing $_ could be useful, but this way is more consistent with localizing lists of variables)
  • localtime: uses the current time
  • lock: requires an argument
  • mkdir: required an argument before perl 5.10.0
  • my: requires an argument (even empty parenthesis don't suffice)
  • our: requires an argument
  • pack: requires an argument
  • prototype: seems to just return undef, I've found nothing in the docs
  • rand: uses 1
  • readpipe: no idea, but it can produce segfaults
  • reset: resets only question-mark searches, no variables
  • return: returns empty list in list context, undef in scalar context
  • scalar: requires an argument
  • sleep: sleeps forever
  • sort: gives a funny error message without parenthesis; with parenthesis, sorts the empty list
  • sprintf: requires an argument
  • srand: uses some reasonable seed
  • syscall: requires an argument
  • system: seems to just return an exit code 255, I've found nothing relevant in the docs
  • tied: requires an argument
  • umask: returns the current umask without changing it
  • undef: returns undef without undefining anything
  • untie: requires an argument
  • waitpid: requires two arguments
  • warn: uses $@ suffixed with "\t...caught", or a sensible message "Warning: something's wrong" if $@ is unset.
  • write: uses the currently selected filehandle

The following functions accept a filehandle, directory handle, label, or bareword as an argument, and thus don't default to $_. (I do not list those functions that need an array or hash argument, like pop.)

  • binmode: requires an argument
  • close: defaults to the selected filehandle
  • closedir: requires an argument
  • dump: defaults to the top of the program
  • fileno: requires an argument
  • getc: uses STDIN
  • getpeername, getsockname: requires an argument
  • goto: requires an argument
  • last, next: uses the innermost loop
  • no: requires an argument
  • open: requires an argument
  • package: without argument, declares that there is no current package, but this usage is strongly depreciated
  • readdir: requires an argument
  • readline: no idea, I could even get a segfault (the diamond shortcut, however, defaults to the special ARGV filehandle)
  • redo: uses the innermost loop
  • rewinddir: requires an argument
  • select: returns the current selected filehandle without changing it
  • tell: uses the filehandle last read
  • telldir: requires an argument
  • use: requires an argument

I've compiled these lists using both the perldoc perlfunc and testing how the functions actually behave with perl (5.8.8 i686-linux). For this reason, there can be errors and omissions in this list. If you know about any omission, please contact me.

Update: added readmore.

Update 2012-12-27: added the new evalbytes function.

Update 2014-01-29: added changes to mkdir and unpack.

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: Builtin functions defaulting to $_
by ikegami (Pope) on Mar 23, 2007 at 15:51 UTC

    How to make your own function that defaults to $_:

    sub myfunc { my $arg = @_ ? $_[0] : $_; for ($arg) { ... } }

    The for is a convenient way to alias $_. (local $_ is buggy. It doesn't work well if $_ is tied or aliased to someting that's tied, and it doesn't protect pos($_).) Of course, you could just work with $arg directly instead of aliasing $_ to it.

    The use of a lexical ($arg) allows us to modify $_ without affecting the argument in the caller. If you don't modify $_, the above can be simplified to

    sub myfunc { for (@_ ? $_[0] : $_) { ... } }
Re: Builtin functions defaulting to $_
by brian_d_foy (Abbot) on Mar 24, 2007 at 03:04 UTC

    I went through perlfunc during a plane trip and tried to sort the functions and classify them. This is as far as I ever got, and I didn't go back over it to make sure I got it right or to see if I could sort them into better categories.

    No default

    different action without arg



    optional args

    brian d foy <>
    Subscribe to The Perl Review
Re: Builtin functions defaulting to $_
by Mutant (Priest) on Mar 23, 2007 at 14:56 UTC
    Some things in this list might change in 5.10 (at least mkdir() will). Who knows when that might come out tho :)
      The list will certainly change for Perl 6, insofar as it will be an empty list. If you want to default a function call to $_ you use the "unary dot" form:
      for 1..10 { .say }
      Of course, pattern matching and topicalizers still implicitly deal with $_, but you no longer have to memorize a long list of functions, nor worry about the difference between
      rand > 0.5 # means rand($_) > 0.5 rand < 0.5 # parse error looking for fileglob
      since in Perl 6 that is unambiguously
      .rand < 0.5 # always means rand($_) < 0.5
      You don't have to memorize which symbols are true globals either. As for Perl 5's magical use of $a and $b, the less said the better... :-)
        You don't have to memorize which symbols are true globals either.
        which will relieve a lot of grief. Like with $! and $@ which may get overwritten if not dealt with in a timely manner. If I well remember, $! will be just a reference to what the current error looks like; therefore the question: what's $@ in Perl 6, if it exists at all? I could think of that as a list of messages of what things blew up from there to here (ie some "exception stack trace excerpt") - but then, that would be more appropriately @$! (in perl5 syntax, that is)...

        update: reading again, not "have(ing) to memorize which symbols are true globals" means: there are no true global symbols, right?


        _($_=" "x(1<<5)."?\n".q·/)Oo.  G°\        /
                                      /\_¯/(q    /
        ----------------------------  \__(m.====·.(_("always off the crowd"))."·
        ");sub _{s./.($e="'Itrs `mnsgdq Gdbj O`qkdq")=~y/"-y/#-z/;$e.e && print}
Re: Builtin functions defaulting to $_
by Steve_p (Priest) on Mar 25, 2007 at 13:49 UTC

    Actually, just yesterday there was a new addition to the list, readpipe.

    Change 30747 by rgs@benny on 2007/03/24 16:46:02 Make readpipe default to $_

    Of course, you'll need to wait a bit for Perl 5.10 before you can use it.

    Test your modules with bleadperl!

      rsync -avz rsync:// .
      ./Configure -des -Dusedevel -Dprefix=/path/to/test/perl
      make test
      make install

    Now, please test you modules! If you have test failures that don't happen with Perl 5.8.8, send a simplified test case to

    perlbug at

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