In this ever-changing world of software development it’s extremely important to keep up with current technologies, methodologies and trends. It can easily get out of hand though – simply there’s not enough time for anyone to learn all new stuff, work and live a normal life simultaneously. Selection is thus the key, being smartly selective about new things to learn so we won’t miss important stuff but also keep ‘junk’ or unimportant trends out.
Wondering why Ruby is so popular? Its fans call it a beautiful, artful language. And yet, they say it’s handy and practical. What gives?
The Ideals of Ruby’s Creator
Ruby is a language of careful balance. Its creator, Yukihiro “matz” Matsumoto, blended parts of his favorite languages (Perl, Smalltalk, Eiffel, Ada, and Lisp) to form a new language that balanced functional programming with imperative programming.
He has often said that he is “trying to make Ruby natural, not simple,” in a way that mirrors life.
Ruby is simple in appearance, but is very complex inside, just like our human body.
Seeing Everything as an Object
Initially, Matz looked at other languages to find an ideal syntax. Recalling his search, he said, “I wanted a scripting language that was more powerful than Perl, and more object-oriented than Python.”
In Ruby, everything is an object. Every bit of information and code can be given their own properties and actions. Object-oriented programming calls properties by the name instance variables and actions are known as methods. Ruby’s pure object-oriented approach is most commonly demonstrated by a bit of code which applies an action to a number.
In many languages, numbers and other primitive types are not objects. Ruby follows the influence of the Smalltalk language by giving methods and instance variables to all of its types. This eases one’s use of Ruby, since rules applying to objects apply to all of Ruby.
Ruby is seen as a flexible language, since it allows its users to freely alter its parts. Essential parts of Ruby can be removed or redefined, at will. Existing parts can be added upon. Ruby tries not to restrict the coder.
For example, addition is performed with the plus (+) operator. But, if you’d rather use the readable word plus, you could add such a method to Ruby’s built-in Numeric class.
y = 5.plus6
# y is now equal to 11
Ruby’s operators are syntactic sugar for methods. You can redefine them as well.
Blocks, a Truly Expressive Feature
Ruby’s block is also seen as a source of great flexibility. A programmer can attach a closure to any method, describing how that method should act. The closure is called a block and has become one of the most popular features for newcomers to Ruby from other imperative languages like PHP or Visual Basic.
Blocks are inspired by functional languages. Matz said, “In Ruby closures, I wanted to respect the Lisp culture.”
%w[Google Yahoo MSN].mapdo|engine|
"http://www." + engine.downcase+".com"
In the above code, the block is described inside the do ... end construct. The map method applies the block to the provided list of words. Many other methods in Ruby leave a whole open for a coder to write their own block to fill in the details of what that method should do.
Ruby and the Mixin
Unlike many object-oriented languages, Ruby features single inheritance only, on purpose. But Ruby knows the concept of modules (called Categories in Objective-C). Modules are collections of methods.
Classes can mixin a module and receive all its methods for free. For example, any class which implements the each method can mixin the Enumerable module, which adds a pile of methods that use each for looping.
Generally, Rubyists see this as a much clearer way than multiple inheritance, which is complex and can be too restrictive.
Ruby’s Visual Appearance
While Ruby often uses very limited punctuation and usually prefers English keywords, some punctuation is used to decorate Ruby. Ruby needs no variable declarations. It uses simple naming conventions to denote the scope of variables.
· var could be a local variable.
· @var is an instance variable.
· $var is a global variable.
These sigils enhance readability by allowing the programmer to easily identify the roles of each variable. It also becomes unnecessary to use a tiresome self. Pretended to every instance member.
Beyond the Basics
Ruby has a wealth of other features, among which are the following:
· Ruby has exception handling features, like Java or Python, to make it easy to handle errors.
· Ruby features a true mark-and-sweep garbage collector for all Ruby objects. No need to maintain reference counts in extension libraries. As Matz says, “This is better for your health.”
· Writing C extensions in Ruby is easier than in Perl or Python, with a very elegant API for calling Ruby from C. This includes calls for embedding Ruby in software, for use as a scripting language. A SWIG interface is also available.
· Ruby can load extension libraries dynamically if an OS allows.
· Ruby features OS independent threading. Thus, for all platforms on which Ruby runs, you also have multithreading, regardless of if the OS supports it or not, even on MS-DOS!
· Ruby is highly portable: it is developed mostly on GNU/Linux, but works on many types of UNIX, Mac OS X, Windows 95/98/Me/NT/2000/XP, DOS, BeOS, OS/2, etc.