Thursday, March 27, 2014

Ruby Gotchas

Most Ruby on Rails beginners get excited by the framework and start crafting applications without any knowledge of the language. And there’s nothing wrong about it. At least, unless those beginners persist in such approach and become senior developers without any knowledge of the language.

Anyway, sooner or later, beginners or experienced programmers, we all run into so-called Ruby Gotchas – those small subtleties that hide from our sight for hours of hardcore debugging (logger.debug "*** #{object} ****") and then we go Ohh..That was that??! Really, this time I WILL read that book with a hammer on the cover! Or, rather, we go shit! and fall asleep.

Here is a list of popular Ruby gotchas and curiosities that developers should be aware of. For each case, there’s an example of confusing and/or error-prone code.

and / or is NOT the same as && / ||

 surprise = true and false # => surprise is true
 surprise = true && false  # => surprise is false

Good practice
 Use only && / || operators.

In detail
  • and / or operators have lower precedence than && / ||
  • and / or have lower precedence than = assignment operator, while && / || are of higher precedence
  • and and or have the same precedence, while && has higher precedence than ||
The first example becomes clearer when we add parentheses that illustrate how using `and` differs from `&&`:

(surprise = true) and false # => surprise is true
surprise = (true && false)  # => surprise is false

Some say: use and / or for flow control and && / || for boolean operations. I will say: don’t use keyword versions (and / or / not) at all (and go with more verbose ifs and unlesses). Less ambiguity, less confusion, less bugs.
More: Difference between “or” and || in Ruby?

eql? is NOT the same as == (and NOT the same as equal? or ===)

1 == 1.0   # => true
1.eql? 1.0 # => false

Good practice
 Use only == operator.

In detail

 ==, ===, eql? and equal? are all different operators, meant for different usage in different situations.  You should always use == operator for comparing things, unless you have some specific needs (like  you really need to differ 1.0 from 1) or manually override one of the equality operators for whatever  reason.

 Yes, the eql? version may look smarter than plain old == comparison, but does it really do what you meant it to do, like, just compare some things?
More: What’s the difference between equal?, eql?, ===, and ==?

a ||= b is not a = a || b

A common misconception is that a ||= b is equivalent to a = a || b, but it behaves like a || a = b

In a = a || b, `a` is set to something by the statement on every run, whereas with a = || a = b, `a` is only set if `a` is logically false (i.e. if it's nil or false) because || is 'short circuiting'. That is, if the left hand side of the || comparison is true, there's no need to check the right hand side.

An example goes here: 

h = {}

def h.[]=(k, v)
  puts "Setting hash key #{k} with #{v.inspect}"

# 1. The standard ||= approach
h[:x] ||= 10
h[:x] ||= 20

# 2. The a = a || b approach
h[:y] = h[:y] || 10
h[:y] = h[:y] || 20

# 3. The a || a = b approach
h[:z] || h[:z] = 10
h[:z] || h[:z] = 20


Setting hash key x with 10
Setting hash key y with 10
Setting hash key y with 10
Setting hash key z with 10
here y is unnecessarily set twice because of the general approach we consider.

Note : Do not confuse [op]= with anything related to ||= or &&=. They're entirely different ideas and are implemented entirely different[ly].

super is NOT the same as super()

class Foo
  def show
    puts 'Foo#show'

class Bar < Foo
  def show(text)

    puts text
end'test') # ArgumentError: wrong number of arguments (1 for 0)

Good practice
 This is one of the places where omitting the parentheses is not only a matter of taste (or conventions),  but actually changes the program logic.

In detail
  • super (without parentheses) will call parent method with exactly the same arguments that were passed to the original method (so super inside Bar#show becomes super('test') here, causing an error, because parent method does not take any arguments).
  • super() (with parentheses) will call parent method without any arguments, just as expected.
More: Super keyword in Ruby

Your exception must not be an Exception

class MyException < Exception

  raise MyException
  puts 'Caught it!'

# MyException: MyException
#       from (irb):17
#       from /Users/amit/.rbenv/versions/2.1.0/bin/irb:11:in `<main>'
(This code will not catch MyException and the message 'Caught it!' will not be displayed.)

Good practice
  • When defining your own exception class, inherit from StandardError or any of its descendants (the more specific, the better). Never use Exception for the parent.
  • Never rescue Exception. If you want to do some general rescue, leave rescue statement empty (or use rescue => e to access the error).
In detail
  • When you leave rescue statement empty, it means it will catch exceptions that inherit from StandardError, not Exception.
  • When you rescue Exception (which you should not), you’ll catch errors you won’t be able to recover from (like out of memory error). Also, you’ll catch system signals like SIGTERM, and in effect you won’t be able to terminate your script using CTRL-C.
More: Why is it bad style to `rescue Exception => e` in Ruby?

class Foo::Bar is NOT the same as module Foo; class Bar

MY_SCOPE = 'Global'

module Foo
  MY_SCOPE = 'Foo Module'

  class Bar
    def scope1
      puts MY_SCOPE

class Foo::Bar
  def scope2
    puts MY_SCOPE
end # => "Foo Module" # => "Global"

Good practice
 Always use longer, more verbose version with classes wrapped by modules:
 module Foo
   class Bar

In detail
  • module keyword (as well as class and def) will create new lexical scope for all the things you put inside. So, our module Foo creates the scope 'Foo' in which our MY_SCOPE constant with 'Foo Module' value resides.
  • Inside this module, we declare class Bar, which creates new lexical scope (named 'Foo::Bar'), which has access to its parent scope ('Foo') and all constants declared in it.
  • However, when you declare Foo::Bar with this :: “shortcut”: class Foo::Bar, it creates another lexical scope, which is also named 'Foo::Bar', but here, it has no parent, and thus, no access to things from 'Foo' scope.
  • Therefore, inside class Foo::Bar, we have only access to MY_SCOPE constant declared at the beginning of the script (without any module) with value 'Global'.
More: Ruby – Lexical scope vs Inheritance

Most bang! methods return nil when they do nothing

'foo'.upcase! # => "FOO"
'FOO'.upcase! # => nil

Good practice
 Never depend on built-in bang! methods return value, e.g. in conditional statements or in control flow:
 @name.upcase! and render :show
 Above code can cause some unpredictable behaviour (or, to be more specific, very predictable failure  when @name is already in uppercase). Also, it is another example why you should not use and / or  for control-flow shortcuts. No trees will be cut if you add those two enters there:

 render :show

attribute=(value) method always returns passed value, regardless of method return value

class Foo
    @foo = value

    return 'OK'
end = 3 # => 3
(Note that the assignment method bar= returns 3 even though we explicitly return 'OK' at the end of its body.)

Good practice
 Never rely on anything that happens inside assignment method, eg. in conditional statements like this:
 puts 'Assigned' if ( = 3) == 'OK' # => nil
 This will obviously not work.
 More: ruby, define []= operator, why can’t control return value?

private will NOT make your self.method private

class Foo

    puts 'Not-so-private class method called'

end # => "Not-so-private class method called"
(Note that if the method were private, would raise NoMethodError.)

Good practice
 In order to make your class method private, you have to use private_class_method :method_name  or put your private class method inside class << self block:

 class Foo

  class << self
    def bar
      puts 'Class method called'

  def self.baz
    puts 'Another class method called'
  private_class_method :baz

 end # => NoMethodError: private method `bar' called for Foo:Class
Foo.baz # => NoMethodError: private method `baz' called for Foo:Class
More: creating private class method

I ain’t afraid of no Ruby Gotchas

Ruby gotchas listed above may not look like a big deal, and at first sight they may seem they are simple matter of aesthetics or conventions.

Trust me – if you don’t deal with them, eventually they will lead to some nasty headaches during Ruby on Rails development. And will cause heartbreak. Because you’ll fall out of love with Ruby. And then you’ll stay alone. Forever... ;)