Count digits

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Given a file like this, that has line, and each line has numbers separated by a space. Our task is to count digits. Not numbers, but digits.


23 34 9512341
3 34 2452345 5353 67 22
42 5 65 64 

So basically we need to have 10 counters. One for counting 0-s, one for counting 1-s etc. up till the counter of 9-s. The natural way to hold such counters is to use an array. An array of counters.

So that's what we have here. We have an array called @count which is empty at the beginning.

  • At the index 0 we are going to count how many times 0 has appeared in the file.
  • At the index 1 we are going to count how many times 1 has appeared in the file.
  • ...
  • At the index 9 we are going to count how many times 9 has appeared in the file.

The first thing we do is we get the filename from the command line using shift so we will run this script as perl count_digits.txt, or die, so if the user does not provide a filename we explain how the program should be used, and exit.

Then we open the file or die, this is just a standard thing we have been doing earlier, and then we loop over the file line-by-line using a while loop. Inside we deal with just one line.

First we chomp of the newline at the end of the line as we don't want to count that. The we use split with //, the empty regex to cut up the string into characters. We could have done a number of different things to go over the string character-by-character, this is juts one of the possibilities. Using split with an empty regex is thought as sepcial form of split, though it is just splitting the string every place where there is an empty string, meaning along each character. What we get back and assign to @chars is a list of characters.

Based on the input file each character is going to be either a digit, or a space.

Then we use a foreach loop to go over the characters one-by-one. On every iteration $c will hold one of the characters which is either a digit or a space. Inside the foreach loop we check if $c is not equal (ne) to an empty space, which means it is a digit.

In that case we increase the counter at that index using $count[$c]++.

After iterating over all the lines and all the characters in every line we have a full count.


use strict;
use warnings;

my $filename = shift or die "Usage: $0 filename\n";

my @count;

open(my $fh, "<", $filename)
    or die "Could not open '$filename': $!";

while (my $line = <$fh>) {
    chomp $line;
    my @chars = split //, $line;
    foreach my $c (@chars) {
        if ($c ne " ") {

foreach my $i (0..9) {
    print "$i ", ($count[$i] ? $count[$i] : 0), "\n";

Automatically converting strings to numbers

However you might be wondering how this $count[$c]++ really works. First of all, unlike in many other programming languages perl will automatically convert a string to a number when it is needed. So although $c is a string holding a digit in it, when it is used as an index of an array, perl will automatically convert it to the corresponding number.


The other thing that might be strange is that when we first encounter a digit, its place in the @count array does not exists yet. So how could we access it as a number and increment it with ++?

When we start the iteration the @count array is empty. Using our input file the first digit we are going to encounter will be 2. When executing $count[$c]++, perl is actually executing $count[2]++. Perl will try to look up the value of $count[$c] It does not exist hence, because we are attempting a numeric operation on a value that does not exist, Perl will default to act as if there was a number 0. Incerementing it with ++ it will turn into a 1 and will be assigned back to $count[2].

In oreder to be able to store 1 in $count[2] perl will allocate space for 3 elements of the array @count: indexes 0, 1, and 2. Index 2 will get the value 1, and indexes 0, and 1, will have undef in them. Creating:

@count = (undef, undef, 1)

This is one form of autovivification.

The next digit is 3. After that iteration the array will look like this:

@count = (undef, undef, 1, 1)

Then comes a space which will not be counted.

Another 3 will get us to this: @count = (undef, undef, 1, 2) The 4 after that will get us here: @count = (undef, undef, 1, 2, 1), and then the 9, will cause the array to be further enlarged to this: @count = (undef, undef, 1, 2, 1, undef, undef, undef, undef, 1).

Display the results

The last 3 lines in the program will show the results. We have a foreach loop there that iterates over the digits from 0 to 9. On each iteration it will print out the content of $i, the current digit, and then we use the ternary operator to print out the content of the @count array in that place. In the ternary operator, we check if $c[$i], the counter containing the number of occurances of the digit currently in $i, has any value. If it has, it means we have encountered that digit at least once, so we print $count[$i]. Otherwise, if we have not encountered this digit we print out 0.

If we did not have this ternary operator, and if just printed the content of $count[$i] we might encounter some issues in case one of digit did not appear in our file. In that case $count[$i] would be still undef which if printed will do two things: It will act as en empty stirng and will print nothing, but becasue we have use warnings we are also going to get a Use of uninitialized value warning.

That warning will certainly alarm any viewer of the results.

Even if we turn off warnings, which I don't recommend, we'd get an output in which we have holes. Rows that show the digit, but no number showing the frequency of that digit. Any casual viewer will immediately think that it is a bug. So it is better that we put a 0 in there.

The result:

0 1
1 5
2 9
3 11
4 9
5 8
6 4
7 2
8 0
9 1