Perl 6 To Become Raku?
Written by Mike James   
Friday, 30 August 2019

Rumours of a name change for Perl 6 seem to have been correct - or are they? Perl 6 could probably go down in history as the most dithery language of all time.

Perl was originally developed by Larry Wall in 1987 as a scripting language, but it quickly gained a more general user base. To those not within the Perl community, it is a strange language -easy to use, but containing so many syntactic "widgets" that it is capable of being written in a very compressed form. Indeed Perl one-liners are a great sport or pastime, only exceeded by the sport of "what does this Perl program do!?"

You can see what sort of postion Perl used to occupy from this famous xkcd cartoon - and remember Lisp is the langauge we all like to pretend we would perfer to use:


 More cartoon fun at xkcd a webcomic of romance,sarcasm, math, and language

Perl's creator Larry Wall is something of a maverick, a lingust rather than a computer scientist and something of a joker. In 2000 a movement to create a new language started and this eventually became Perl 6. It was a difficult birth because the specification was the main product and implementations trailed behind. So much so that there was much confusion over what was Perl 6 and what was some approximation to it. The main compiler was, and is, called Rakudo for example which isolates it somewhat from the label Perl 6. The biggest problem is that Perl 6 isn't backward compatible with Perl 5 in any meaningful way and many don't even consider it to be in the same language family.

There is a sense in which Perl 6 is "squatting" on Perl 5's upgrade path. You won't hear many Perl supporters saying this outright but you can tell it's what they are thinking. I'm not into marketing, but I can see the sense in calling the new language Perl 6 when it was first released. After all, there are lots of new languages every week and who is going to pay any attention to a new language called Raku, say? Making use of Perl's "brand" to leverage the new language's visibility is what the naming game is all about. Now, however, things look a little different. Perl isn't as well thought of as it once was and the Perl community could do with a new version - but, as I already said, the space is being occupied by Perl 6, an arguably different language!

A blog post, by Curtis “Ovid” Poe the author of Beginning Perl, intended to focus the community's mind on the problem puts the issues very nicely and summarizes the current feeling in the community - or should that be two communities. The whole thing was stirred up again by a post by Elizabeth Mattijsen (lizmat) to the Perl 6 GitHub site. The suggestion is that the language be renamed Camelia or Raku - neither of which in my mind mean "new hot powerful language":

"The far, far too terse backstory: the Perl 6 community seems to be split between those who view Perl 6 as a sister language to Perl 5 and those who view Perl 6 as a successor to Perl 5."

And the upgrade problem is described as:

"Over time, it became clear that though Perl 6 was in the same family as Perl 5, a straightforward migration path was unlikely. One only needs to look at the problems with Python 2 and Python 3 and the upgrade obstacles with their minor syntactic differences to understand that an upgrade from Perl 5 to Perl 6 isn't trivial."

Yes, there really is no sense in trying to quote Python's experience of revamping the languages where the superficial syntactic differences really are small, even if the behind the scenes reorganization is much larger. Even in this case inertia and clinging to the existing language nearly killed the project. In this case the existence of Python 3 really does mean that Python 2 is dead.

Perl 6 claiming to have killed Perl 5 has had consequences in terms of the language's use:

Not only have many Perl 5 developers been offended by effectively being told by some Perl 6 developers that their language is dead or dying, but it had real-world financial consequences. I can't tell you how many times I've talked to potential clients who've told me "yeah, our Perl 5 codebase is old and we want to upgrade, but we have to wait for the next version (Perl 6) because any upgrade will be throwing money away."

And it seems to cut the other way as well. Perl 6 programmers are reported as saying that being associated with a dead and dying language isn't good for business.

The blog post ends:

So that's where we are. We have a very confusing issue which, it appears, that much of the Perl 6 community agrees needs to be sorted. Much of the Perl 5 community appears to feel the same way.

Obviously the time has come for change... but no decision has been made.

More Information

"Perl" in the name "Perl 6" is confusing and irritating

Is Perl 6 Being Renamed?

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Are Perl Programmers Different?

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Last Updated ( Friday, 30 August 2019 )