I acknowledge that my comments here come over a decade later, but still, ought to be made. This article was great, and I found it useful today (2014) for some work I am doing while bit-banging with perl. I found this article as a result of a very specific search with Google for what I am trying to do. These comments are my reply to the comments made just above here. In numbered order....
1. I think that more people will know what "word" means, than what "willy-nilly" means. Remember the audience here: people wanting to use the pack/unpack functions.
2. Bytes are almost eight bits, since the word "byte" is a contraction of "by eight", as in describing hardware design of memory. The context was while saying that there are a hundred or a thousand or a zillion memory addresses, BY EIGHT bits wide. In the old, old days, like magnetic core, there was a single bit of memory per location, or per cell. As things progressed, it was common to bring out a 'parallel' load or store, by eight bits. So yeah, eight bits.
3. Captain obvious here... but this is exactly the point he was making. The most significant byte is often placed at the 'opposite' end in some systems compared to others. It's still the most significant but not always in the location where you would find the most significant byte.
4. Obfuscatory unless someone is trying to read or write a memory-mapped location in memory, very typical of someone using perl to do this. Picking an arbitrary starting point like 0x1000 is better than starting at "byte 0", which implies that it has some special significance. It doesn't.
5. White space in contrast to what, maybe a zero-fill? It's called white space because it doesn't show up on paper. Nulls, on the other hand, are often used to indicate end-of-string, which is something very different. Whitespace is printable; NUL is not.
6. See #2 above for some clarification, although this is beyond the scope of this pack/unpack tutorial.
Thank you again to the original author -- this was just the refresher I needed to use these awesome functions of perl.
2018-07-08 Athanasius added paragraph tags