Perl in a Nutshell

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10. The Module

HTML Tag Generation
Importing Method Groups
Maintaining State
Named Parameters
Using JavaScript Features
Debugging Reference is a Perl module for creating and parsing CGI forms. It is distributed with core Perl as of Perl 5.004, but you can also retrieve from CPAN, and you can get the very latest version at any time from

CGI is an object-oriented module. Don't let the object-oriented nature scare you off, though; is very easy to use, as evidenced by its overwhelming popularity among all levels of Perl programmers. To give you an idea of how easy it is to use, let's take a scenario in which a user fills out and submits a form containing her birthday. Without, the script would have to translate the URL-encoded input by hand (probably using a series of regular expressions) and assign it to a variable. For example, you might try something like this:

# cgi script without

$size_of_form_info = $ENV{'CONTENT_LENGTH'};
read ($STDIN, $form_info, $size_of_form_info);

# Split up each pair of key=value pairs
foreach $pair (split (/&/, $form_info)) {

   # For each pair, split into $key and $value variables
   ($key, $value) = split (/=/, $pair);

   # Get rid of the pesky %xx encodings
   $key =~ s/%([\dA-Fa-f][\dA-Fa-f])/pack ("C", hex ($1))/eg;
   $value =~ s/%([\dA-Fa-f][\dA-Fa-f])/pack ("C", hex ($1))/eg;

   # Use $key as index for $parameters hash, $value as value
   $parameters{$key} = $value;

# Print out the obligatory content-type line
print "Content-type: text/plain\n\n";

# Tell the user what they said
print "Your birthday is on " . $parameters{birthday} . ".\n";
Regardless of whether this code actually works, you must admit it's ugly. With, the script could be written:
#!/usr/bin/perl -w
# cgi script with

use CGI;

$query = CGI::new();
$bday = $query->param("birthday");
print $query->header();
print $query->p("Your birthday is $bday.");
Even for this tiny program, you can see that can alleviate many of the headaches associated with CGI programming.

As with any Perl module, the first thing you do is call the module with use. You then call the constructor (new()), creating a new CGI object called $query. Next, get the value of the birthday parameter from the CGI program using the param method. Note that does all the work of determining whether the CGI program is being called by the GET or POST methods, and it also does all the URL decoding for you. To generate output, use the header method to return the content type header, and the p method to generate a paragraph marker <P> tag.

However, this is only the tip of the iceberg as far as what can do for you. There are three basic categories of methods: CGI handling, creating forms, and retrieving environment variables. (A fourth category is creating HTML tags, but we don't cover those in detail.) Table 10.1 lists most of these methods. They are also covered in more detail later in this chapter.

Table 10.1: Methods
CGI Handling
keywordsGets keywords from an <ISINDEX> search.
paramGets (or sets) the value of parameters.
appendAppends to a parameter.
import_namesImports variables into a namespace.
deleteDeletes a parameter.
delete_allDeletes all parameters.
saveSaves all parameters to a file.
self_urlCreates self-referencing URL.
urlGets URL of current script without query information.
headerCreates HTTP header.
redirectCreates redirection header.
cookieGets (or sets) a cookie.
nphDeclares this to be a NPH script.
dumpPrints all name/value pairs.
Form Generation
start_htmlGenerates an <HTML> tag.
end_htmlGenerates an </HTML> tag.
autoEscapeSets whether to use automatic escaping.
isindexGenerates an <ISINDEX> tag.
startformGenerates a <FORM> tag.
start_multipart_formGenerates a <FORM> tag for multipart/ form-data encoding.
textfieldGenerates an <INPUT TYPE=TEXT> tag.
textareaGenerates an <TEXTAREA> tag.
password_fieldGenerates an <INPUT TYPE=PASSWORD> tag.
filefieldGenerates an <INPUT TYPE=FILE> tag.
popup_menuGenerates a popup menu via <SELECT SIZE=1> and <OPTION> tags.
scrolling_listGenerates a scrolling list via <SELECT> and <OPTION> tags.
checkbox_groupGenerates a group of checkboxes via multiple <INPUT TYPE=CHECKBOX> tags.
checkboxGenerates a single checkbox via a <INPUT TYPE=CHECKBOX> tag.
radio_groupGenerates a group of radio buttons via <INPUT TYPE=RADIO> tags.
submitGenerates a <SUBMIT> tag.
resetGenerates a <RESET> tag.
defaultsGenerates a <DEFAULTS> tag.
hiddenGenerates an <INPUT TYPE=HIDDEN> tag.
image_buttonGenerates a clickable image button via a <SELECT> tag.
buttonGenerates a JavaScript button.
Handling Environment Variables
acceptGets accept types from ACCEPT header.
user_agentGets value of USER_AGENT header.
path_infoGets value of EXTRA_PATH_INFO header.
path_translatedGets value of PATH_TRANSLATED header.
remote_hostGets value of REMOTE_HOST header.
raw_cookieGets value of HTTP_COOKIE header.
script_nameGets value of SCRIPT_NAME header.
refererGets value of REFERER header.
auth_typeGets value of AUTH_TYPE header.
remote_userGets value of REMOTE_USER header.
user_nameGets user name (not via headers).
request_methodGets value of REQUEST_METHOD header.

Each of these methods is covered later in this chapter, in alphabetical order.

10.1 HTML Tag Generation

In addition to the form-generation methods, also includes a group of methods for creating HTML tags. The names of the HTML tag methods generally follow the HTML tag name (e.g., p for <P>) and take named parameters that are assumed to be valid attributes for the tag (e.g., img(src=>'camel.gif') becomes <IMG SRC="camel.gif">). We do not list all tags in this book; see the manpage for more information, or the book Official Guide to Programming with by Lincoln Stein (John Wiley & Sons, 1998).

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9.4 CGI Environment VariablesBook Index10.2 Importing Method Groups