2018 twenty-four merry days of Perl Feed

Perl in the Browser

WebPerl - 2018-12-02

"Busted Presents!", Tinsle Gumdrop complained. "I hate re-writing code."

It was Tinsle's job to port a whole bunch of backend validation logic code from their Perl based internet web app to the JavaScript front end so the validation could run client side too.

"I bet those Valentine's cherubs who code in Node don't have this problem", she thought to herself. "At least they can run the same code on the server and in the browser."

If only there was a way to run Perl code within the browser also...


The JavaScript engines in modern web browsers are crazy powerful optimized insanity - even on occasion shipping an entire LLVM compiler to just in time compile the JavaScript code down into native instructions in order to get native performance.

In order to help get this level of performance you can use asm.js - a specialist subset of JavaScript to represent low level operations that the JavaScript engine can easily compile down to native code. Or, if your modern browser supports it (like recent versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari and IE do) you can skip the JavaScript representation entirely and use a machine independent binary format to describe operations the JavaScript engine should run with WebAssembly.

It's possible to compile C code using Emscripten to produce JavaScript code or WebAssembly that (when further automatically compiled for JIT performance in the browser) will run at near-native speed. Of course, Tinsel doesn't want to run any C based code in the browser - she wants to run Perl code. What you need to run Perl code is perl - the Perl interpreter - which, as luck would have it, is itself a C based program. So using Enscripten we can compile a version of perl that can be used, with a bunch of shims and bridges, to execute Perl code embedded in our HTML source code.

This all sounds like a lot of work - or would be, if Hauke Dämpfling's WebPerl project hadn't done all the hard work for us already. All we need to do to run Perl code is include a single script tag in our HTML linking to a JavaScript file containing the precompiled perl interpreter and suddenly we're able to write Perl code directly in our webpages.

A working example

For fun, let's write some code to generate Fibonacci numbers in our browser...in Perl.



<script src="https://webperlcdn.zero-g.net/v0.07-beta/webperl.js"
<script src="https://code.jquery.com/jquery-3.3.1.min.js"
            <input id="in" type="number" min="1" max="49">
        ) = <span id="out"></span>

        <script type="text/perl">
use Memoize qw( memoize );
sub fib {
return 1 if $_[0] <= 2;
return fib($_[0] - 1) + fib($_[0] - 2);

my $jq = js('jQuery');
$jq->('#in')->on('change', sub {
fib( $jq->('#in')->val )


Assuming you're reading this article with a recent web browser then this code is entirely runnable directly in the browser.

There's a lot to unpack in this dense example:

  • At the very top of the script we load the webperl code from the webperl CDN. We don't even have to host this on our own server.

  • Once we've done that we're able to use a special form of the <script> tag to write Perl code in our webpage by using the type="text/perl" attribute.

  • We're even able to load core modules from within our embedded Perl code. In the example above we load Memoize to cache the output of the fib function so our code runs efficiently.

  • It's possible to run JavaScript within our Perl code using the js(...) function. In the above example we're just evaluating jQuery to get a reference to the jQuery function we can then use to access jQuery within Perl.

  • The bridge between Perl and JavaScript is pretty flexible. Here we're executing the jQuery function from within Perl, calling a further method on the result on what it returns, and then we're even passing an anonymous Perl subroutine to jQuery as a callback it should execute whenever the input field changes. Remember, jQuery has no idea that it's being called from and itself is calling Perl code at all!

Alls Well That Ends Well

In the end Tinsel was able to copy and paste the more complex logic from the backend Perl code without having to rewrite any of it (and avoiding adding additional logic bugs along the way.)

With the extra time she had saved, she was able to take advantage of another Enscripten project - a compile of Quake 3 to run in the browser.

Gravatar Image This article contributed by: Mark Fowler <mark@twoshortplanks.com>