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Recipe 1.7 Reversing a String by Word or Character

1.7.1 Problem

You want to reverse the words or characters of a string.

1.7.2 Solution

Use the reverse function in scalar context for flipping characters:

$revchars = reverse($string);

To flip words, use reverse in list context with split and join:

$revwords = join(" ", reverse split(" ", $string));

1.7.3 Discussion

The reverse function is two different functions in one. Called in scalar context, it joins together its arguments and returns that string in reverse order. Called in list context, it returns its arguments in the opposite order. When using reverse for its character-flipping behavior, use scalar to force scalar context unless it's entirely obvious.

$gnirts   = reverse($string);       # reverse letters in $string

@sdrow    = reverse(@words);        # reverse elements in @words

$confused = reverse(@words);        # reverse letters in join("", @words)

Here's an example of reversing words in a string. Using a single space, " ", as the pattern to split is a special case. It causes split to use contiguous whitespace as the separator and also discard leading null fields, just like awk. Normally, split discards only trailing null fields.

# reverse word order
$string = 'Yoda said, "can you see this?"';
@allwords    = split(" ", $string);
$revwords    = join(" ", reverse @allwords);
print $revwords, "\n";
this?" see you "can said, Yoda

We could remove the temporary array @allwords and do it on one line:

$revwords = join(" ", reverse split(" ", $string));

Multiple whitespace in $string becomes a single space in $revwords. If you want to preserve whitespace, use this:

$revwords = join("", reverse split(/(\s+)/, $string));

One use of reverse is to test whether a word is a palindrome (a word that reads the same backward or forward):

$word = "reviver";
$is_palindrome = ($word eq reverse($word));

We can turn this into a one-liner that finds big palindromes in /usr/dict/words:

% perl -nle 'print if $_ eq reverse && length > 5' /usr/dict/words
deedeed
degged
deified
denned
hallah
kakkak
murdrum
redder
repaper
retter
reviver
rotator
sooloos
tebbet
terret
tut-tut

1.7.4 See Also

The split, reverse, and scalar functions in perlfunc(1) and Chapter 29 of Programming Perl; Recipe 1.8

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