In a dynamic language like Ruby, few pieces are static. Classes can grow new methods and lose the ones they had before. Methods can be defined manually, or automatically with well-written code.
Probably the most interesting aspect of the Ruby programming philosophy is its use of reflection and metaprogramming to save the programmer from having to write repetitive code. In this chapter, we will teach you the ways and the joys of these techniques.
Reflection lets you treat classes and methods as objects. With reflection you can see which methods you can call on an object (Recipes 10.2 and 10.3). You can grab one of its methods as an object (Recipe 10.4), and call it or pass it in to another method as a code block. You can get references to the class an object implements and the modules it includes, and print out its inheritance structure (Recipe 10.1). Reflection is especially useful when you're interactively examining an unfamiliar object or class structure.
Metaprogramming is to programming as programming is to doing a task by hand. If you need to sort a file of a hundred lines, you don't open it up in a text editor and start shuffling the lines: you write a program to do the sort. By the same token, if you need to give a Ruby class a hundred similar methods, you shouldn't just start writing the methods one at a time. You should write Ruby code that defines the methods for you (Recipe 10.10). Or you should make your class capable of intercepting calls to those methods: this way, you can implement the methods without ever defining them at all (Recipe 10.8).
Methods you've seen already, like attr_reader, use metaprogramming to define custom methods according to your specifications. Recipe 8.2 created a few more of these "decorator" methods; Recipe 10.16 in this chapter shows a more complex example of the same principle.
You can metaprogram in Ruby either by writing normal Ruby code that uses a lot of reflection, or by generating a string that contains Ruby code, and evaluating the string. Writing normal Ruby code with reflection is generally safer, but sometimes the reflection just gets to be too much and you need to evaluate a string. We provide a demonstration recipe for each technique (Recipes 10.10 and 10.11).
Date and Time
Files and Directories
Code Blocks and Iteration
Objects and Classes8
Modules and Namespaces
Reflection and Metaprogramming
XML and HTML
Graphics and Other File Formats
Databases and Persistence
Web Development Ruby on Rails
Web Services and Distributed Programming
Testing, Debugging, Optimizing, and Documenting
Packaging and Distributing Software
Automating Tasks with Rake
Multitasking and Multithreading
Extending Ruby with Other Languages