In general, Perl is easier to learn and faster to code in than the more structured C and C++ languages. Perl programs can, however, be quite sophisticated. It is often used for developing common gateway interface (CGI) programs because it has good text manipulation facilities, although it also handles binary files.
Perl includes a number of popular UNIX facilities such as sed, awk, and tr. It can be compiled just before execution into either C code or cross-platform bytecode. When compiled, a Perl program is almost as fast as a fully precompiled C language program. A plug-in can be installed for some servers, such as Apache, so that Perl is loaded permanently in memory, thus reducing compile time and resulting in faster execution of CGI Perl scripts.
The first version of Perl was created in 1987 by programmer Larry Wall. The name was originally said to stand for "Practical Extraction and Reporting Language," but that name is no longer used. Wall prefers the usage of an upper-case "Perl" for the language itself and lower-case "perl" for any interpreter or compiler of Perl.
As of May 2017, Perl is in its fifth release, Perl 5, which was first made available in 1994. The current version is 5.24, released in May 2016.
Perl 6, while stemming from the same ancestor language, is a completely separate programming language from Perl 5, and is developed by a separate organization. The project began after the 2000 Perl Conference, but the first official version of the language, version 6.c, was not made available until December 2015.