We know that in Perl the names Function and Subroutine are interchangeable. But what is really the difference between a function and a method?

On the surface there are no differences. They are both declared using the sub keyword. The differences are mainly in the way they are used.

A method is always called using the arrow notation. Either on the object: $p->do_something($value) or on a class: Class::Name->new.

A function is always called directly: Either with its fully qualified name: Module::Name::func_something($param) or, if the functions is part of the current name-space, then with the short name: func_something($param).

If a method cannot be found in the class of the object on which it was called, Perl will go to the parent class and look for a method with the same name there. It will do it recursively using its built-in method resolution algorithm. It will only give up (or call AUTOLOAD) if the method could not be found at all. On the other hand, Perl will only look for a function in a single place, (and then AUTOLOAD, if it is available).

A method will always get the current object (or class name) as the first parameter of its call. A function will never get the object. (Well, unless you manually pass it as a parameter.) Therefore a method normally acts on an instance (object), and sometimes it acts on the whole class (and then we call it class-method). A function on the other hand, never acts on an object. Though it might act on the class.

Examples - an object-method

A regular or object-method:

Methods always get the current object as the first parameter, therefore we need a way to assign that to a variable that is easily recognizable. That's what $self is. When we declare a method (a subroutine that is expected to be used as $p->do_something($value), we assign the first parameter received in @_ to $self. That will contain the current object. Using the name $self is a mere tradition, but one that makes it easier to the reader to recognize which variable holds the current object. (There are actually some people who use $me instead, but I think that is just confusing.)

sub a_method {
  my ($self, $param) = @_;

It is called by the user as:


Behind the scenes, perl will run

a_method($p, $value);

Examples - an class-method

A class-method looks exactly like an object-method. The only difference is in the usage and that perl passes the class-name upon which method was called as the first parameter. (After all no specific object is related to this call.)

Because the first parameter received is not an object, it might be better not to use $self as the variable name holding it. Using $class as the variable name will make this clearer:

sub a_class_method {
  my ($class, $param) = @_;

It is usually used as:


For which perl will actually call

a_class_method('Some::Class::Name', $value);

There are some cases, when the code needs to be even more flexible when there is something like this:

my $module = 'Some::Class::Name';  # or some other module name

This will make the code a lot more flexible, but of course it should be only used when that kind of flexibility is needed.

Examples - a plain function

A function has not special parameter passing:

sub a_function {
  my ($param) = @_;

And it is used as


and perl will execute the same:


Methods are only used in Object Oriented Perl code.

Functions are rarely used in Object Oriented Programming.

Where is this relevant?

To the untrained eyes it might seem that Perl has a number of different Object Orientation system. such as Moose, Moo, blessed references and a few more. In fact they are all the same underneath and thus the above applies to all of them.