Why Ruby is so sexy-awesome, part XXXIV

I use Ruby whenever I can. Not specifically with Rails – Rails extends the language and adds some nifty things, but the beauty is all Ruby’s.

Today I was using Ruby (in a Rails app, as it happens), and I had this “API” that returns generic hash data. I want to be able to take data from any source (Oracle, flat text, web service) and return data that’s in a very simple and easy-to-use format, so I chose to just convert data to a hash on a per-source basis.

But how do I handle typos in hash keys? What if somebody asks for “person[:name]” when they’re supposed to ask for “person[:full_name]”? They just get blank data and wonder WTF happened…. I can’t live with this situation, because it’s just too easy to forget a key’s name, or make a simple typo. I could return default data from the hash, such as “YOU FUCKED UP WITH YOUR KEY, SIRS”, but that could find its way into production and then I’m out a job.

So after a tiny bit of digging, I discovered that a Hash can not only have a default value, but also call a default block when a nonexistent key is requested:

irb(main):001:0> a = Hash.new {|hash, key| raise "#{key} not found!"}
=> {}
irb(main):005:0> a[1] = :foo
=> :foo
irb(main):006:0> a[1]
=> :foo
irb(main):007:0> a[2]
RuntimeError: 2 not found!
irb(main):008:0> a.default = nil
=> nil
irb(main):009:0> a[2]
=> nil

Normally I’m good with non-strict default data, but in this case it’s great to know I can actually validate data in a way that makes it hard to miss typos.

It’s not as safe as C++ (edge cases are only caught at runtime), but it’s far better than Perl (and nicer to read or write than both, IMO).

If you’re not smart enough to program, don’t write a programming guide

I can’t believe this. Simply amazing.

I really can’t.

I’m not even sure this is good enough to fall under my usual “Awesome Software Discovery” banner.

So I work at a place where we use Ruby and Perl a lot, right? The above site is supposedly a “conversion” of O’Rielly’s Perl Cookbook into Ruby. Good idea. But here’s the thing – if you don’t know your ass from a hole in the ground, maybe you shouldn’t be writing a programming guide. Maybe. I don’t know. Am I being too harsh?

The introduction shows this example:

# $defout (or its synonym '$>') is the destination of output
# for Kernel#print, Kernel#puts, and family functions
logfile = File.new("log.txt", "w")
old = $defout
$defout = logfile                 # switch to logfile for output
puts "Countdown initiated ..."
$defout = old                     # return to original output
puts "You have 30 seconds to reach minimum safety distance."

There is no fucking excuse for this kind of programming style. Even a total noob should look at this and say, “What the fuck?”

  1. Yes, sometimes you need to redirect output or errors to a file… but the introduction doesn’t explain that this is an exception rather than a rule.
  2. Redirecting $defout is very dangerous if the developer doesn’t fully understand 100% of what they’re writing, and the libraries they’re using. (And if they need a perl-to-ruby cookbook, chances are they don’t understand 100% of what they’re writing)
  3. Maybe I’m misreading something, but isn’t it significantly safer in an app more than 3 lines long to call .dup on $stdout / $defout when saving the old value? (The answer is “yes,” for my less astute readers)

In any case, here’s how you write to a file in Ruby without making the guy who reviews your code cringe and then stab you in the fucking eye (note that it’s not only safer, but also easier to read and generally doesn’t make you look like a moron):

# $defout, $stdout, and other magic variables are NOT TOUCHED!
logfile = File.new("log.txt", "w")
logfile.puts "Countdown initiated..."
puts "You have 30 seconds blah blah I'm a monkey licker."