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Major problem officially discovered in Red Hat

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August 27, 2008

A critical bug in the officially distributed version of Perl on Red Hat Enterprise has led to a flood of loud complaints among Linux developers. The problem, which also manifests itself on some versions of the Fedora and CentOS Linux distributions, means that some programs will take more than one-hundred times longer to execute under Red Hat than other distributions.

A Red Hat spokesperson has indicated that the company will fix the problem in its next release (Red Hat Enterprise 5.3). However, Red Hat hasn't said when that update will be ready.

Perl is one of the best-known and most popular open-source scripting language there is, and has long been popular among Internet application developers. Its popularity in the early days of the Internet led it to be called "the duct tape of the Internet."

Perl's particular strengths -- text processing, network programming, and relational database access -- coupled with rapid coding and speedy execution, made it a natural fit for reporting, database, and Web applications.

Even today, many large companies, from Amazon to Goldman Sachs, use Perl extensively in their back-end operations.

The problem appears to come from a combination of the "bless" function, coupled with the "overload" programming directive. It isn't known at this time if the bug can cause a buffer overflow problem in some applications.

The combination occurs in many publicly distributed Perl modules. This means that even if a program doesn't use "bless" and "overload", a module that it includes might use them, thus causing the problem even in seemingly unaffected programs.

So it comes as a surprise to discover that the latest version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux includes a version of Perl that runs so poorly. This problem has been noted in Red Hat's bug tracker for some time, with the first mention occurring in November of last year.

The problem appears to be specific to Red Hat's compilation and distribution of Perl, rather than a particular Perl version itself, or a specific module of a specific distro.

Running the same program, with the same version of Perl, on Free BSD or even on Red Hat Enterprise version 4, apparently results in a speedup of nearly one-hundred times, according to various reports.

Source: E-Business News.

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