Recipe 11.12 Copying Data Structures

11.12.1 Problem

You need to copy a complex data structure.

11.12.2 Solution

Use the dclone function from the standard Storable module:

use Storable;

$r2 = dclone($r1);

11.12.3 Discussion

Two types of "copy" are sometimes confused. A surface copy (also known as shallow copy) simply copies references without creating copies of the data behind them:

@original = ( \@a, \@b, \@c );
@surface = @original;

A deep copy creates an entirely new structure with no overlapping references. This copies references to one layer deep:

@deep = map { [ @$_ ] } @original;

If @a, @b, and @c themselves contain references, the preceding map is no longer adequate. Writing your own code to deep-copy structures is laborious and rapidly becomes tiresome.

The Storable module provides a function called dclone that recursively copies its argument:

use Storable qw(dclone);
$r2 = dclone($r1);

This only works on references or blessed objects of type SCALAR, ARRAY, HASH, or CODE;[2] references of type GLOB, IO, and the more esoteric types are not supported. The safeFreeze function from the FreezeThaw module supports even these types when used in the same address space by using a reference cache that could interfere with garbage collection and object destructors under some circumstances.

[2] Believe it or not, it's true. Storable can even serialize closures. See its manpage for how to unthaw these using a Safe compartment.

Because dclone takes and returns references, you must add extra punctuation if you have a hash or arrays to copy:

%newhash = %{ dclone(\%oldhash) };

11.12.4 See Also

The documentation for the standard Storable and Data::Dumper modules, and for the FreezeThaw CPAN module.