UNIVERSAL: The Root of All Objects

Wouldn't it be convenient if all objects were rooted at some ultimate base class? That way you could give every object common methods without having to go and add it to each and every @ISA. Well, it turns out that you can. You don't see it, but Perl tacitly and irrevocably assumes that there's an extra element at the end of @ISA: the class UNIVERSAL. In version 5.003, there were no predefined methods there, but you could put whatever you felt like into it.

However, as of version 5.004 (or some subversive releases, like 5.003_08), UNIVERSAL has some methods in it already. These are built-in to your Perl binary, so they don't take any extra time to load. Predefined methods include isa, can, and VERSION. isa tells you whether an object or class ``is'' another one without having to traverse the hierarchy yourself:

   $has_io = $fd->isa("IO::Handle");
   $itza_handle = IO::Socket->isa("IO::Handle");

The can method, called against that object or class, reports back whether its string argument is a callable method name in that class. In fact, it gives you back a function reference to that method:

   $his_print_method = $obj->can('as_string');

Finally, the VERSION method checks whether the class (or the object's class) has a package global called $VERSION that's high enough, as in:

    $his_vers = $ob->VERSION();

However, we don't usually call VERSION ourselves. (Remember that an all upper-case function name is a Perl convention that indicates that the function will be automatically used by Perl in some way.) In this case, it happens when you say

    use Some_Module 3.0;

If you wanted to add version checking to your Person class explained above, just add this to Person.pm:

    use vars qw($VERSION);
    $VERSION = '1.1';

and then in Employee.pm could you can say

    use Employee 1.1;

And it would make sure that you have at least that version number or higher available. This is not the same as loading in that exact version number. No mechanism currently exists for concurrent installation of multiple versions of a module. Lamentably.