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Ruby Programming
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Some Basic Ruby

Not many people like to read heaps of boring syntax rules when they're picking up a new language. So we're going to cheat. In this section we'll hit some of the highlights, the stuff you'll just have to know if you're going to write Ruby programs. Later, in Chapter 18, which begins on page 199, we'll go into all the gory details.

Let's start off with a simple Ruby program. We'll write a method that returns a string, adding to that string a person's name. We'll then invoke that method a couple of times.

def sayGoodnight(name)
  result = "Goodnight, " + name
  return result

# Time for bed... puts sayGoodnight("John-Boy") puts sayGoodnight("Mary-Ellen")

First, some general observations. Ruby syntax is clean. You don't need semicolons at the ends of statements as long as you put each statement on a separate line. Ruby comments start with a # character and run to the end of the line. Code layout is pretty much up to you; indentation is not significant.

Methods are defined with the keyword def, followed by the method name (in this case, ``sayGoodnight'') and the method's parameters between parentheses. Ruby doesn't use braces to delimit the bodies of compound statements and definitions. Instead, you simply finish the body with the keyword end. Our method's body is pretty simple. The first line concatenates the literal string ``Goodnight,[visible space]'' to the parameter name and assigns the result to the local variable result. The next line returns that result to the caller. Note that we didn't have to declare the variable result; it sprang into existence when we assigned to it.

Having defined the method, we call it twice. In both cases we pass the result to the method puts, which simply outputs its argument followed by a newline.

Goodnight, John-Boy
Goodnight, Mary-Ellen

The line ``puts sayGoodnight("John-Boy")'' contains two method calls, one to sayGoodnight and the other to puts. Why does one call have its arguments in parentheses while the other doesn't? In this case it's purely a matter of taste. The following lines are all equivalent.

puts sayGoodnight "John-Boy"
puts sayGoodnight("John-Boy")
puts(sayGoodnight "John-Boy")

However, life isn't always that simple, and precedence rules can make it difficult to know which argument goes with which method invocation, so we recommend using parentheses in all but the simplest cases.

This example also shows some Ruby string objects. There are many ways to create a string object, but probably the most common is to use string literals: sequences of characters between single or double quotation marks. The difference between the two forms is the amount of processing Ruby does on the string while constructing the literal. In the single-quoted case, Ruby does very little. With a few exceptions, what you type into the string literal becomes the string's value.

In the double-quoted case, Ruby does more work. First, it looks for substitutions---sequences that start with a backslash character---and replaces them with some binary value. The most common of these is ``\n'', which is replaced with a newline character. When a string containing a newline is output, the ``\n'' forces a line break.

puts "And Goodnight,\nGrandma"
And Goodnight,

The second thing that Ruby does with double-quoted strings is expression interpolation. Within the string, the sequence #{ expression } is replaced by the value of expression. We could use this to rewrite our previous method.

def sayGoodnight(name)
  result = "Goodnight, #{name}"
  return result

When Ruby constructs this string object, it looks at the current value of name and substitutes it into the string. Arbitrarily complex expressions are allowed in the #{...} construct. As a shortcut, you don't need to supply the braces when the expression is simply a global, instance, or class variable. For more information on strings, as well as on the other Ruby standard types, see Chapter 5, which begins on page 47.

Finally, we could simplify this method some more. The value returned by a Ruby method is the value of the last expression evaluated, so we can get rid of the return statement altogether.

def sayGoodnight(name)
  "Goodnight, #{name}"

We promised that this section would be brief. We've got just one more topic to cover: Ruby names. For brevity, we'll be using some terms (such as class variable) that we aren't going to define here. However, by talking about the rules now, you'll be ahead of the game when we actually come to discuss instance variables and the like later.

Ruby uses a convention to help it distinguish the usage of a name: the first characters of a name indicate how the name is used. Local variables, method parameters, and method names should all start with a lowercase letter or with an underscore. Global variables are prefixed with a dollar sign ($), while instance variables begin with an ``at'' sign (@). Class variables start with two ``at'' signs (@@). Finally, class names, module names, and constants should start with an uppercase letter. Samples of different names are given in Table 2.1 on page 10.

Following this initial character, a name can be any combination of letters, digits, and underscores (with the proviso that the character following an @ sign may not be a digit).

Example variable and class names
Variables Constants and
Local Global Instance Class Class Names
name $debug @name @@total PI
fishAndChips $CUSTOMER @point_1 @@symtab FeetPerMile
x_axis $_ @X @@N String
thx1138 $plan9 @_ @@x_pos MyClass
_26 $Global @plan9 @@SINGLE Jazz_Song

Ruby Programming
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