Vitamin C

Ruby Language Metaprogramming


Metaprogramming can be described in two ways:

“Computer programs that write or manipulate other programs (or themselves) as their data, or that do part of the work at compile time that would otherwise be done at runtime”.

More simply put: Metaprogramming is writing code that writes code during runtime to make your life easier.

Implementing "with" using instance evaluation

Many languages feature a with statement that allows programmers to omit the receiver of method calls.

with can be easily emulated in Ruby using instance_eval:

def with(object, &block)
  object.instance_eval &block

The with method can be used to seamlessly execute methods on objects:

hash =

with hash do
  store :key, :value
  has_key? :key       # => true
  values              # => [:value]

Defining methods dynamically

With Ruby you can modify the structure of the program in execution time. One way to do it, is by defining methods dynamically using the method method_missing.

Let's say that we want to be able to test if a number is greater than other number with the syntax 777.is_greater_than_123?.

# open Numeric class
class Numeric
  # override `method_missing`
  def method_missing(method_name,*args)
    # test if the method_name matches the syntax we want
    if method_name.to_s.match /^is_greater_than_(\d+)\?$/
      # capture the number in the method_name
      the_other_number = $1.to_i
      # return whether the number is greater than the other number or not
      self > the_other_number
      # if the method_name doesn't match what we want, let the previous definition of `method_missing` handle it

One important thing to remember when using method_missing that one should also override respond_to? method:

class Numeric
   def respond_to?(method_name, include_all = false) 
     method_name.to_s.match(/^is_greater_than_(\d+)\?$/) || super

Forgetting to do so leads to a inconsistent situation, when you can successfully call 600.is_greater_than_123, but 600.respond_to(:is_greater_than_123) returns false.

Defining methods on instances

In ruby you can add methods to existing instances of any class. This allows you to add behavior to and instance of a class without changing the behavior of the rest of the instances of that class.

class Example
  def method1(foo)
    puts foo

#defines method2 on object exp
exp =
exp.define_method(:method2) {puts "Method2"}

#with method parameters
exp.define_method(:method3) {|name| puts name}

send() method

send() is used to pass message to object. send() is an instance method of the Object class. The first argument in send() is the message that you're sending to the object - that is, the name of a method. It could be string or symbol but symbols are preferred. Then arguments those need to pass in method, those will be the remaining arguments in send().

class Hello
  def hello(*args)
    puts 'Hello ' + args.join(' ')
h =
h.send :hello, 'gentle', 'readers'   #=> "Hello gentle readers"
# h.send(:hello, 'gentle', 'readers') #=> Here :hello is method and rest are the arguments to method.

Here is the more descriptive example

class Account
  attr_accessor :name, :email, :notes, :address

  def assign_values(values)
    values.each_key do |k, v|
      # How send method would look a like
      # = value[k]
      self.send("#{k}=", values[k])

user_info = {
  name: 'Matt',
  email: '[email protected]',
  address: '132 random st.',
  notes: "annoying customer"

account =
If attributes gets increase then we would messup the code
#--------- Bad way -------------- = user_info[:name]
account.address = user_info[:address] = user_info[:email]
account.notes = user_info[:notes]

# --------- Meta Programing way --------------
account.assign_values(user_info) # With single line we can assign n number of attributes

puts account.inspect

Note: send() itself is not recommended anymore. Use __send__() which has the power to call private methods, or (recommended) public_send()

Got any Ruby Language Question?