Perl 6 Is Dead, Long Live Raku — Perl 5's "Sister Language" Gets a Clean Break, Shiny New Name

A clean break for what has become a parallel language to Perl 5, Perl 6 will now go by the name Raku.

Gareth Halfacree
a month ago

The Perl 6 programming language is going to see its biggest shift away from "sister language" Perl 5 yet, but it's a cultural one rather than technical: it is set to be renamed Raku, with the blessing of original creator Larry Wall.

Developed by Wall and first released in 1987, the naming history of Perl is somewhat convoluted. The first release was, naturally enough, Perl 1.0 on its release to the comp.sources.misc newsgroup in December 1987. A year later, Perl 2 added an improved regular expression engine; a year after that, Perl 3 included the language's first support for binary data streams. Perl 4, though, added no major new features: The version bump was instead designed to mark it as being the subject of Programming Perl, known to fans as "The Camel Book" for the animal on the cover, by Wall and co-author Randal L. Schwartz.

1994 saw the release of Perl 5, and in 2000 Wall began accepting community suggestions for its successor Perl 6. By 2004, the resulting requests for comments had been turned into a specification for the language; it wasn't until 2007, however, that work on what has become the only actively-developed Perl 6 compiler would begin in earnest - and even then the first release wouldn't take place until early 2009.

Ten years on, that compiler — Rakudo Perl — has become the most complete implementation of the Perl 6 language. With Perl 5 continuing to rule the roost, however, the two languages have been developed in parallel as "sister languages" — and Perl 6 adherents are looking to make a clean break with a new name: Raku, in honour of Rakudo Perl, itself a contraction of the Japanese Rakuda-dō meaning "Way of the Camel" — or, with a short O-sound, "paradise."

The rebrand will see Perl 6 become Raku "very soon," according to project maintainer Alex Daniel - and it does so with the full approval of Wall himself. "I am in favour of this change," Wall wrote to the project's GitHub repository, "because it reflects an ancient wisdom: 'No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.'"

The full discussion leading to the change can be found on the Perl 6 - soon Raku — GitHub pull request.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin.
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