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Comprehensive set of aliasing operations

Data::Alias - Comprehensive set of aliasing operations


Data::Alias - Comprehensive set of aliasing operations


    use Data::Alias;

    alias {

            # aliasing instead of copying whenever possible


    alias $x = $y;              # alias $x to $y

    alias @x = @y;              # alias @x to @y

    alias $x[0] = $y;           # similar for array and hash elements

    alias push @x, $y;          # push alias to $y onto @x

    $x = alias [ $y, $z ];      # construct array of aliases

    alias my ($x, $y) = @_;     # named aliases to arguments

    alias { ($x, $y) = ($y, $x) };              # swap $x and $y

    alias { my @t = @x; @x = @y; @y = @t };     # swap @x and @y

    use Data::Alias qw/ alias copy /;

    alias { copy $x = $y };     # force copying inside alias-BLOCK

    use Data::Alias qw/ deref /;

    my @refs = (\$x, \@y, \%z);

    foo(deref @refs)            # same as foo($x, @y, %z)


Aliasing is the phenomenon where two different expressions actually refer to the same thing. Modifying one will modify the other, and if you take a reference to both, the two values are the same.

Aliasing occurs in Perl for example in for-loops and sub-calls:

    for $var ($x) {

            # here $var is an alias to $x



    sub foo {

            # here $_[0] is an alias to $y


Data::Alias is a module that allows you to apply ``aliasing semantics'' to a section of code, causing aliases to be made whereever Perl would normally make copies instead. You can use this to improve efficiency and readability, when compared to using references.

The exact details of aliasing semantics are below under DETAILS.


alias EXPR | alias BLOCK

Exported by default.

Enables aliasing semantics within the expression or block. Returns an alias to the expression, or the block's return value.

alias is context-transparent, meaning that whichever context it is placed in (list, scalar, void), the expression/block is evaluated in the same context.

copy EXPR | copy BLOCK

Restores normal (copying) semantics within the expression or block, and makes a copy of the result value (unless in void context).

Like alias, copy is context-transparent.

deref LIST

Accepts a list of references to scalars, arrays, or hashes. Applies the applicable dereferencing operator to each. This means that:

    deref $scalarref, $arrayref, $hashref

behaves like:

    $$scalarref, @$arrayref, %$hashref


A common usage of aliasing is to make an abbreviation for an expression, to avoid having to repeat that (possibly verbose or ugly) expression over and over:

    alias my $fi = $self->{FrobnitzIndex};

    $fi = $fi > 0 ? $fi - $adj : $fi + $adj;

    sub rc4 {

            alias my ($i, $j, $S) = @_;

            my $a = $S->[($i += 1) &= 255];

            my $b = $S->[($j += $S->[$i]) &= 255];

            $S->[(($S->[$j] = $a) + ($S->[$i] = $b)) & 255]


In the second example, the rc4 function updates its first two arguments (two state values) in addition to returning a value.

Aliasing can also be used to avoid copying big strings. This example would work fine without alias but would be much slower when passed a big string:

    sub middlesection ($) {

            alias my $s = shift;

            substr $s, length($s)/4, length($s)/2


You can also apply aliasing semantics to an entire block. Here this is used to swap two arrays in O(1) time:

    alias {

            my @temp = @x;

            @x = @y;

            @y = @temp;


The copy function is typically used to temporarily reinstate normal semantics, but can also be used to explicitly copy a value when perl would normally not do so:

    my $ref = \copy $x;


This section describes exactly what the aliasing semantics are of operations. Anything not listed below has unaltered behaviour.

scalar assignment to variable or element.
Makes the left-side of the assignment an alias to the right-side expression, which can be anything.

    alias my $lexvar = $foo;

    alias $pkgvar = $foo;

    alias $array[$i] = $foo;

    alias $hash{$k} = $foo;

An attempt to do alias-assignment to an element of a tied (or ``magical'') array or hash will result in a ``Can't put alias into tied array/hash'' error.

scalar assignment to dereference
If $ref is a reference or undef, this simply does $ref = \$foo. Otherwise, the indicated package variable (via glob or symbolic reference) is made an alias to the right-side expression.

    alias $$ref = $foo;

scalar assignment to glob
Works mostly the same as normal glob-assignment, however it does not set the import-flag. (If you don't know what this means, you probably don't care)

    alias *glob = $reference;

scalar assignment to anything else
Not supported.

    alias substr(...) = $foo;   # ERROR!

    alias lvalsub() = $foo;     # ERROR!

conditional scalar assignment
Here $var (and $var2) are aliased to $foo if the applicable condition is satisfied. $bool and $foo can be any expression. $var and $var2 can be anything that is valid on the left-side of an alias-assignment.

    alias $bool ? $var : $var2 = $foo;

    alias $var &&= $foo;

    alias $var ||= $foo;

    alias $var //= $foo; # (perl 5.9.x or later)

whole aggregate assignment
These alias entire aggregates (arrays or hashes), not merely their contents. This means for example that \@lexarray == \@foo.

    alias my @lexarray = @foo;

    alias my %lexhash = %foo;

    alias @pkgarray = @foo;

    alias %pkghash = %foo;

Making the left-side a dereference is also supported:

    alias @$ref = @foo;

    alias %$ref = %foo;

and analogously to assignment to scalar dereference, these will change $ref to reference the aggregate, if $ref was undef or already a reference. If $ref is a string or glob, the corresponding package variable is aliased.

If the right-side expression is not an aggregate (of the same type), then a new one is implicitly constructed. This means:

    alias my @array = ($x, $y, $z);

    alias my %hash = (x => $x, y => $y);

is translated to:

    alias my @array = @{ [$x, $y, $z] };

    alias my %hash = %{ {x => $x, y => $y} };

If you want to merely replace the contents of the aggregate with aliases to the contents of another aggregate, but not alias the aggregates themselves, you can force list-assignment by parenthesizing the left side, see below.

list assignment
List assignment is any assignment where the left-side is an array-slice, hash-slice, or list in parentheses. This behaves essentially like many scalar assignments in parallel.

    alias my (@array) = ($x, $y, $z);

    alias my (%hash) = (x => $x, y => $y);

    alias my ($x, $y, @rest) = @_;

    alias @x[0, 1] = @x[1, 0];

Any scalars that appear on the left side must be valid targets for scalar assignment. When an array or hash appears on the left side, normally as the last item, its contents are replaced by the list of all remaining right-side elements. undef can also appear on the left side to skip one corresponding item in the right-side list.

Beware when putting a parenthesized list on the left side. Just like Perl parses print (1+2)*10 as (print(1+2))*10, it would parse alias ($x, $y) = ($y, $x) as (alias($x, $y)) = ($y, $x) which does not do any aliasing, and results in the ``Useless use of alias'' warning, if warnings are enabled.

To circumvent this issue, you can either one of the following:

    alias +($x, $y) = ($y, $x);

    alias { ($x, $y) = ($y, $x) };

Anonymous aggregate constructors
Return a reference to a new anonymous array or hash, populated with aliases. This means that for example \$hashref->{x} == \$x.

    my $arrayref = alias [$x, $y, $z];

    my $hashref = alias {x => $x, y => $y};

Note that this also works:

    alias my $arrayref = [$x, $y, $z];

    alias my $hashref = {x => $x, y => $y};

but this makes the lhs an alias to the temporary, and therefore read-only, reference made by [] or {}. Therefore later attempts to assign to $arrayref or $hashref results in an error. The anonymous aggregate that is referenced behaves the same in both cases obviously.

Array insertions
These work as usual, except the inserted elements are aliases.

    alias push @array, $foo;

    alias unshift @array, $foo;

    alias splice @array, 1, 2, $foo;

An attempt to do any of these on tied (or ``magical'') array will result in a ``Can't push/unshift/splice alias onto tied array'' error.

Returning an alias
Returns aliases from the current sub or eval. Normally this only happens for lvalue subs, but alias return can be used in any sub.

Subroutines and evaluations
Placing a subroutine or eval STRING inside alias causes it to be compiled with aliasing semantics entirely. Additionally, the return from such a sub or eval, whether explicit using return or implicitly the last statement, will be an alias rather than a copy.

    alias { sub foo { $x } };

    my $subref = alias sub { $x };


    my $xref1 = \foo;

    my $xref2 = \alias eval '$x';

    my $xref3 = \$subref->();

Explicitly returning an alias can also be done using alias return inside any subroutine or evaluation.

    sub foo { alias return $x; }

    my $xref = \foo;

Use of local inside alias usually behaves the same as local does in general, however there is a difference if the variable is tied: in this case, Perl doesn't localize the variable at all but instead preserves the tie by saving a copy of the current value, and restoring this value at end of scope.

    alias local $_ = $string;

The aliasing semantics of local avoids copying by always localizing the variable itself, regardless of whether it is tied.


This module does not use a source filter, and is therefore safe to use within eval STRING. Instead, Data::Alias hooks into the Perl parser, and replaces operations within the scope of alias by aliasing variants.

For those familiar with perl's internals: it triggers on a ck_rv2cv which resolves to the imported alias sub, and does a parser hack to allow the alias BLOCK syntax. When the ck_entersub is triggered that corresponds to it, the op is marked to be found later. The actual work is done in a peep-hook which is installed on the ck_rv2cv trigger, and processes the marked entersub and its children, replacing the pp_addrs with aliasing replacements. The peep hook will also take care of any subs defined within the lexical (but not dynamical) scope between the ck_rv2cv and the ck_entersub. When no marked entersubs remain, the Data::Alias-peeper stops and is deinstalled.


Lexical variables
When aliasing existing lexical variables, the effect is limited in scope to the current subroutine and any closures create after the aliasing is done, even if the variable itself has wider scope. While partial fixes are possible, it cannot be fixed in any reliable or consistent way, and therefore I'm keeping the current behaviour.

When aliasing a lexical that was declared outside the current subroutine, a compile-time warning is generated ``Aliasing of outer lexical variable has limited scope'' (warnings category ``closure'').


Specials thanks go to Elizabeth Mattijsen, Juerd Waalboer, and other members of the Amsterdam Perl Mongers, for their valuable feedback.


Matthijs van Duin <>


Copyright (C) 2003-2007 Matthijs van Duin. All rights reserved. This program is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the same terms as Perl itself.