Ruby's Specification Problem09 Feb 2017
I'm start a series of post about Ruby's Dark Corners. Here I would like to talk about the reason for these posts: that despite its popularity, Ruby is thoroughly under-documented.
Here is a look at some questions I'm answering in my dark corners series:
- What combination of parameters are legal in method definition?
- How are arguments assigned to parameters when calling a method?
- How are ancestors ordered when using
- How do we know what name refers to?
It looks like stuff that should be well-understood, but it isn't. The official documentation doesn't cover these topics and doesn't do so in enough depth. Sometimes, it is even downright misleading. For each these topics them, I couln't find any blog article that was even remotely close from telling the whole story.
The behaviour of Ruby is very much implementation-defined. An ISO standard is
available, but it covers Ruby 1.8, which is at this point rather old (the
current version is 2.4). For each of the three topics I'm covering, new versions
change the semantics and/or bring new details to the story. Another artifact of
importance is the Ruby Spec Suite, a test suite that is used by alternative
implementations to verify they comply with the official implementation. A test
suite is just what it is however, I haven't found it very useful as a tool to
understand how things work (e.g. try to understand linearization by reading
include_spec.rb). Popular books like Ruby under a
Microscope and Metaprogramming in Ruby don't have the answers either.
Ultimately, there are two sources of truth: dive in the source code of MRI (Matz' Ruby Implementation — the official implementation) or experiment with the interpreter. I chose the later, more as a matter of fact than as a well-planned strategy. It is entirely possible I made some mistake in the way I interpreted the rules, but it will put you closer to the truth than anything you can find online.
As a concluding remark, I want to emphasize that I'm not picking on Ruby. It's a language I really like, and the situation is much the same in many other languages. Nevertheless that's not a reason to be satisfied with the status quo, and my Ruby's Dark Corner series is my humble contribution to that.