TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Apple, Meet Ruby

Volume Number: 25
Issue Number: 11
Column Tag: Programming

Apple, Meet Ruby

A gentle introduction

by Rich Morin

Welcome

Mac OS X is very popular with Ruby developers, but most Mac OS X developers are unfamiliar with Ruby. This is unfortunate, because the Ruby language, ecosystem, and community have a lot to offer. If you've been curious about Ruby, read on...

The Ruby Language

The Ruby language was developed by Yukihiro Matsumoto (Matz), as a way to "make programmers happy". It does this by providing powerful features, an elegant syntax, and a very accommodating attitude. The following description, while terse, covers most of the specifics:

Ruby is a dynamic programming language with a complex but expressive grammar and a core class library with a rich and powerful API. Ruby draws inspiration from Lisp, Smalltalk, and Perl, but uses a grammar that is easy for C and Java programmers to learn. Ruby is a pure object-oriented language, but it is also suitable for procedural and functional programming styles. It includes powerful metaprogramming capabilities and can be used to create domain-specific languages or DSLs.

-- "The Ruby Programming Language"

Possibly because the term "scripting language" didn't get enough respect, purveyors of these tools now call them "dynamic programming languages". So, Ruby has all of the convenience (ie, expressive syntax, low overhead, good OS integration) you'd expect to find in a scripting language. However, because it is a "pure object-oriented language", it is capable of handling much larger programming tasks than you might otherwise expect.

Ruby's grammar and dynamic nature (eg, metaprogramming, DSLs) combine to make it very expressive. So, Ruby code tends to be surprisingly small. Even a simple transliteration of Objective-C into Ruby can yield a substantial reduction in code size (a 5x reduction in character counts is quite plausible). This means a lot less code to write, read, and debug.

Ruby supports convenient interactive modes for debugging and general experimentation. As a stand-alone program, Interactive Ruby (irb) allows programmers to try out arbitrary code. Used in the context of a running program (eg, as a Rails "console"), it can allow developers to examine data, try out method calls, etc. Here's a sample irb session, to give you a small taste:

% irb -simple-prompt
>> 2+2
=> 4
>> s = "a string"
=> "a string"
>> s.reverse
=> "gnirts a"
>> ^D

Ruby is easy and pleasant to use, while providing a rich (and quite extensible) set of features. Although Ruby's origins are eclectic, Matz has excellent taste in language design. Consequently, Ruby offers (IMHO) a smooth integration of concepts and syntax. For details, see my weblog entry, "How I arrived at Ruby".

However, if Ruby is such a great language, who's using it? A few years ago, there wasn't a very good answer to this. Although Ruby was reputed to be "big in Japan", it was mostly used by system administrators, language aficionados, etc. The scripting API for Google SketchUp, although useful and fun to play with, did not exactly put Ruby in the big leagues.

Ruby rose to prominence, however, as the foundation for David Heinemeier Hansson's web development framework, Ruby on Rails. As Rails became popular, many web developers also learned Ruby. Other Ruby-based web frameworks (eg, Merb, Rack, Sinatra, Waves) have since been developed, making Ruby an important player in web development.

Any substantial web site uses a mixture of technologies: databases, routers, servers, etc. So, web developers have to be facile in a variety of languages and tools. Ruby is important as the "glue language", but the heavy lifting may well be done by tools written in C, Erlang, Java, etc.

Although Ruby can be run on any modern operating system, most Ruby code is developed on Mac OS X. In particular, Apple laptops dominate the picture at Ruby conferences, hackfests, and meetings. OSX-only tools such as Keynote and TextMate dominate the presentations.

Ezra Zygmuntowicz took advantage of this fact in a talk on cloud computing technologies (eg, chef, nanites, rabbitmq) at RailsConf 2009. He had all of the Mac users in the room download some server code, then ran some parallel-processing demonstrations from the podium, causing a chorus of Macs to "say" snippets of text.

Testing

The Ruby community emphasizes testing very strongly, putting it in the center of the development process. In fact, the definition for the Ruby language itself (including assorted variations) is captured by RubySpec, a test suite containing tens of thousands of executable "specs".

Tools and practices for "behavior-driven development" (BDD) and "test-driven development" (TDD) are also very popular. In these approaches, developers are encouraged to write tests first, verifying that they do not pass. Then, developers write enough code to make the tests pass. Once everything is "green", they are free (and encouraged) to refactor (ie, tidy up) the code.

This produces various levels of tests (eg, unit, functional, integration), giving the project a useful (and very comforting) "safety net" for changes. In many shops, "continuous integration" (CI) tools run the test suite after each code check-in. If a developer makes a change that breaks a test, the CI suite will let the developer (and maybe the entire shop :-) know about it.

Because most Ruby development is done on Rails (ie, web-based) applications, most Ruby deployment uses Linux-based PCs. The reasons are fairly straightforward. Commodity PCs make very economical servers. Also, Linux supports a variety of technologies (eg, clustering, virtual machines) that are useful for servers.

So, Rails developers have created a large number of tools for deployment, remote testing, etc. Many of these are also useful for network administration tasks, such as installing and configuring user applications.

In fact, one of the biggest differences between Mac and Ruby development is the wealth of community-based libraries, frameworks, and other tools. Instead of relying on Apple (and a handful of third-party vendors), the Ruby community develops its own infrastructure and shares it freely.

Implementations

Leopard ships with the original Ruby (1.8.6) implementation, known colloquially as MRI (Matz's Ruby Interpreter). Snow Leopard increments the version to 1.8.7. Many other variants are available or under development, including:

  • Duby - Ruby-like syntax with static types

  • ERuby - Embedded Ruby (for templating)

  • HotRuby - Ruby on JavaScript and Flash

  • IronRuby - Ruby on .NET (DLR)

  • JRuby - Ruby on Java

  • MacRuby - Ruby on Objective-C

  • MagLev - Ruby with object persistence

  • Rubinius - Ruby on Ruby and C

  • RubyCocoa - MRI with a Cocoa bridge

  • YARV - MRI, the next generation

Some of these variants change the language itself; others add features or provide access to particular run-time environments. RubySpec (the executable specification suite) provides guidance to developers of alternative implementations. Not surprisingly, RubySpec is also a critical resource as Ruby moves to new versions (eg, from 1.8.6 to 1.9 and 2.0).

The most interesting of these variants, from the perspective of a Mac developer, is MacRuby. MacRuby allows Ruby programs access to the entire range of Objective-C capabilities, including some that the base language makes difficult or impossible (eg, redefining ObjC methods at runtime). All without using a bridge (like RubyCocoa or PyObj-C).

The experimental branch, as of early July, uses LLVM to perform Just In Time (JIT) compilation of Ruby into machine code. Ahead Of Time (AOT) compilation is also in prospect, so the ability to run MacRuby code in sanctioned iPhone apps appears quite likely to present itself within a matter of months. Currently, as of beta 5, MacRuby can create a Mach-O object from Ruby source code. Stay tuned...

The Ruby Community

Rubyists are a motley crew. Some of us came because of the language itself. If so, our background may be in another dynamic language such as JavaScript, Lisp, Perl, PHP, Python, or Smalltalk. Others, who came to Ruby because of Rails, may have Java, JavaScript, and/or PHP experience. This diversity makes conversations interesting, to say the least!

Rubyists also tend to be "early adopters" of new technology, both in and out of the Ruby language. For example, CouchDB, Erlang, and jQuery get a lot of attention, despite the fact that they have nothing directly to do with Ruby. Basically, Rubyists are pretty agnostic about technology origins and implementation details, as long as it meets their needs.

This also extends to various aspects of "social computing". About a year ago, the entire Rails community switched to Git and GitHub for revision control and code exchange. Rubyists also tend to be active participants on email lists, IM, IRC, Twitter, wikis, etc. Finally, Internet-based videos (eg, screencasts, conference talks) are very popular as a way to present ideas and demonstrate technology.

Conference Videos

Speaking of videos, I really love the ability to attend Ruby conferences from the comfort of my office chair. I don't have to worry about missing a parallel track, never get stuck in a boring or irrelevant session, and have the ability to pause or back up when I start getting lost.

Confreaks is by far the biggest source of Ruby-related conference videos, but events such as MerbCamp and the South Carolina Ruby Conference are also recorded. My weblog entry, "Video Resources for Rubyists", has a relatively complete list.

Even when the entire conference isn't recorded for posterity (tsk!), occasional presentations may be recorded. O'Reilly, for example, commonly records keynotes. I'm hoping they will start recording all of their conference sessions, but keynotes are certainly better than nothing.

Live Conferences

Of course, videos do not provide the full conference experience. Less travel and dislocation, to be sure, but no opportunity for hallway discussions, BOFs, etc. So, taking in an occasional conference is quite worthwhile. This year, I have attended GoGaRuco (San Francisco) and RailsConf (Las Vegas); a couple of others are on my "wish list".

More than a dozen Ruby or Rails conferences are held each year. Some, like RailsConf and RubyConf, are big-tent, multi-track events; others tend to be smaller, single-track events. Both styles have their advantages and disadvantages.

About half of the Ruby and Rails conferences are held in the USA (eg, CA, DC, FL, HI, NC, NV, OH, TX, UT). Others are held around the world: Argentina (Locos X Rails), Australia (Rails Camp), Canada (FutureRuby, Ruby in the Rain), Europe (EuRuKo, Rails Konferenz, Ruby Fools, Scotland on Rails), and Japan (RubyKaigi). There are even some specialized events, such as the one-day "Ruby on OS X" conference and "erubycon" (Enterprise Ruby Conference). A web search (eg, "Conference Rails Ruby") will bring up lots of listings.

Local Groups

There are dozens of local groups for Ruby and Rails developers. Meetings often have invited speakers, but "hack sessions" and "lightning talks" are also popular. Announcements (eg, firms looking for Rails developers) are also a common feature.

Although groups are scattered around the world, the distribution is far from even. In the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, we have half a dozen groups that meet regularly and a few other events (eg, hackfests, seminars) that surface on occasion. The Ruby Brigade and Meetup pages are useful for finding (and if need be, starting) new groups.

Books

I'm a big fan of technical books, in both paper and online formats. I mark up the paper ones with errata and notes, add Post-it tabs liberally, and generally "make them my own". I find the online versions harder to read (and impossible to mark up), but much better for some kinds of searching and rapid access. So, I often get both versions.

As a MacTech reader, you're likely to be familiar with at least a few programming languages. Objective-C, in particular is de rigeur for Mac OS X application developers. So, I'm going to suggest some books that should help you get going in Ruby, without wasting your time.

Programming Ruby is the canonical "handbook" for Ruby. It contains a fairly complete introduction to the language, covers the standard classes and modules quite well, and covers a smattering of ancillary topics (eg, common add-on libraries). Versions are available for both the traditional (1.8) and upcoming (1.9) versions of the language.

The Ruby Programming Language is a definitive reference for Ruby (after all, Matz is a co-author!). It covers both Ruby 1.8 and 1.9, making comparisons as needed. I've been working my way (carefully) through the book, learning about language details I've missed in the past. I'm also working on Ruby Best Practices, which covers a lot of (deservedly) popular Ruby programming idioms.

Design Patterns in Ruby, despite its title, might well be the best introduction to Ruby for an Objective-C programmer. It begins with a slightly simplistic description of the language, then dives into assorted "design patterns". Typically, it begins with an approach that mimics that of the original (ie, in Design Patterns), but it often uses that as a starting point to discuss more and more Rubyish approaches.

The Well-Grounded Rubyist is a bit of a sleeper. The early chapters are paced pretty slowly, with rather elementary material. However, the author is able to maintain the same sedate (and unthreatening) pace as he delves further and further into Ruby arcana. So, if you really want to learn how to "do Ruby", this book is a must-read.

There are a variety of "cookbooks" for Ruby. I find them to be quite handy when I'm looking for an idiom or simply an example of how to use a particular part of the language. I use Ruby Cookbook a lot, but also dive into The Ruby Way and Enterprise Integration with Ruby on occasion. The latter book is particularly useful for topics such as LDAP and XML.

Bibliography and References

Here are citations for some of the books and web sites mentioned above:

Black, David A. The Well-Grounded Rubyist. Manning, 2009.

Brown, Gregory T. Ruby Best Practices. O'Reilly, 2009.

Carlson, Lucas and Richardson, Leonard. Ruby Cookbook. O'Reilly, 2006.

Flanagan, David and Matsumoto, Yukihiro. The Ruby Programming Language. O'Reilly, 2008.

Fulton, Hal. The Ruby Way. 2nd. Edn. Addison-Wesley, 2006.

Gamma, Erich, et al. Design Patterns. Addison-Wesley, 1995.

Schmidt, Maik. Enterprise Integration with Ruby. Pragmatic Bookshelf, 2006.

Thomas, Dave, et al. Programming Ruby. 2nd. Edn. Pragmatic Bookshelf, 2005.

Thomas, Dave, et al. Programming Ruby 1.9. Pragmatic Bookshelf, 2009.

Git - http://git-scm.com

GitHub - http://github.com

Google SketchUp Ruby API - http://code.google.com/apis/sketchup

IronRuby - http://www.ironruby.net

JRuby - http://jruby.codehaus.org

LLVM - http://llvm.org

MacRuby - http://macruby.org

MagLev - http://maglev.gemstone.com

Merb - http://merbivore.com

Rack - http://rack.rubyforge.org

Rich Morin's weblog - http://www.cfcl.com/rdm/weblog

Rubinius - http://rubini.us

Ruby APIs - http://www.ruby-doc.org

Ruby on OS X - http://rubyonosx.com

Ruby on Rails - http://rubyonrails.org

RubyCocoa - http://rubycocoa.sourceforge.net

Sinatra - http://www.sinatrarb.com

TextMate - http://macromates.com

Waves - http://rubywaves.com

YARV - http://www.atdot.net/yarv

Aloha on Rails - http://www.alohaonrails.com

Confreaks - http://www.confreaks.com

erubycon - http://erubycon.com

Lone Star Ruby Conference - http://lonestarrubyconf.com

Rails Konferenz - http://rails-konferenz.de

RailsConf - http://railsconf.com

Ruby Brigade - http://rubybrigade.org

Ruby Meetups - http://ruby.meetup.com

RubyConf - http://rubyconf.org

RubyKaigi - http://rubykaigi.org


Rich Morin has been programming computers since 1970, using a variety of languages and operating systems. He provides technical editing and writing, programming, and web development services, using (primarily) Ruby on Mac OS X.

 
AAPL
$100.22
Apple Inc.
-1.42
MSFT
$46.61
Microsoft Corpora
+0.37
GOOG
$580.07
Google Inc.
+6.97

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Capture One Pro 8.0.0.433 - RAW workflow...
Capture One Pro 8 is a professional RAW converter offering you ultimate image quality with accurate colors and incredible detail from more than 300 high-end cameras -- straight out of the box. It... Read more
Adobe Acrobat Pro 11.0.09 - Powerful PDF...
Adobe Acrobat allows users to communicate and collaborate more effectively and securely. Unify a wide range of content in a single organized PDF Portfolio. Collaborate through electronic document... Read more
Adobe Reader 11.0.09 - View PDF document...
Adobe Reader allows users to view PDF documents. You may not know what a PDF file is, but you've probably come across one at some point. PDF files are used by companies and even the IRS to... Read more
iFFmpeg 4.6.1 - Convert multimedia files...
iFFmpeg is a graphical front-end for FFmpeg, a command-line tool used to convert multimedia files between formats. The command line instructions can be very hard to master/understand, so iFFmpeg does... Read more
NTFS 11.3.62 - Provides full read and wr...
Paragon NTFS breaks down the barriers between Windows and OS X. Paragon NTFS effectively solves the communication problems between the Mac system and NTFS, providing full read and write access to... Read more
OS X Yosemite 10.10 DP8 - Developer Prev...
Note: This is a Developer Preview. You must be a registered Apple Mac Developer to download this update. You can also sign up for the free OS X Beta Program to download and preview public beta... Read more
FotoMagico 4.5 - Powerful slideshow crea...
FotoMagico lets you create professional slideshows from your photos and music with just a few, simple mouse clicks. It sports a very clean and intuitive yet powerful user interface. High image... Read more
Screenshot Path 1.2.1 - Change the defau...
Screenshot Path lets you change the folder where OS X saves screenshots. Screenshots are saved by default to the user’s desktop. This is handy for the occasional screenshot but those looking to take... Read more
Fantastical 1.3.16 - Create calendar eve...
Fantastical is the Mac calendar you'll actually enjoy using. Creating an event with Fantastical is quick, easy, and fun: Open Fantastical with a single click or keystroke Type in your event details... Read more
GIMP 2.8.14 - Powerful, free image editi...
GIMP is a multi-platform photo manipulation tool. GIMP is an acronym for GNU Image Manipulation Program. The GIMP is suitable for a variety of image manipulation tasks, including photo retouching,... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

4 KEMCO Titles are Just $0.99 for a Limi...
4 KEMCO Titles are Just $0.99 for a Limited Time Posted by Jessica Fisher on September 16th, 2014 [ permalink ] KEMCO RPGs Destiny Fantasia, Infinite Dunamis, Bonds of the Sk | Read more »
Introducing Flash, the Latest Wearable F...
Introducing Flash, the Latest Wearable Fitness Monitor from Misfit Posted by Jessica Fisher on September 16th, 2014 [ permalink ] The Misfit Flash is the newly-released fitness and sleep monitor from | Read more »
Hyper Trip Review
Hyper Trip Review By Jennifer Allen on September 16th, 2014 Our Rating: :: HYPER TWITCHYUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Tough and unforgiving, Hyper Trip is a bit like Snake – if Snake was really harsh.   | Read more »
Collectible Card Game Earthcore: Shatter...
Collectible Card Game Earthcore: Shattered Elements is Set to Arrive on iOS in 2015 Posted by Ellis Spice on September 16th, 2014 [ permalink ] Polish developers | Read more »
Boogey Boy Review
Boogey Boy Review By Jennifer Allen on September 16th, 2014 Our Rating: :: PRETTY BUT BASICUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad It looks delightful but lack of Game Center support and more variety really affects the fun... | Read more »
Vizzywig 4K (Photography)
Vizzywig 4K 1.0 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Photography Price: $999.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: REQUIRES: iOS 7 on iPhone 5S with 32GB or 64GB. (Do not use iOS 8)The world's FIRST mobile 4K video capture, editing and... | Read more »
The Sleeping Prince Review
The Sleeping Prince Review By Jennifer Allen on September 15th, 2014 Our Rating: :: RESTRICTIVE KINGDOM SAVINGUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad The Sleeping Prince looks and feels great to play, but its lack of peril and... | Read more »
It Came From Canada: Terra Battle
In some way or another, most Japanese RPGs owe something to Final Fantasy. But with Terra Battle, the now-common mix of Western medieval fantasy with Eastern anime aesthetic feels earned. After all, its developer, Mistwalker, was founded by the... | Read more »
Five Nights at Freddy’s Review
Five Nights at Freddy’s Review By Rob Thomas on September 15th, 2014 Our Rating: :: FIVE FRIGHTS AT FREDDY'SUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Can you survive five nights as the new night watchman of Freddy Fazbear’s... | Read more »
Phantom Rift Review
Phantom Rift Review By Nadia Oxford on September 15th, 2014 Our Rating: :: FRIENDLY PHANTOMUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Despite a snag here and there, Phantom Rift is a well-crafted and imaginative adventure RPG.   | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

2.5GHz Mac mini remains on sale for $549, sav...
B&H Photo has the 2.5GHz Mac mini on sale for $549.99 including free shipping. That’s $50 off MSRP, and B&H will also include a free copy of Parallels Desktop software. NY sales tax only. Read more
Apple refurbished iMacs available for up to $...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished iMacs available for up to $300 off the cost of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free. These are the best prices on... Read more
13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pro offered for $100 off M...
B&H Photo has the 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $999.99 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $100 off MSRP. Read more
Free GIMP Professional Grade Graphics App Ver...
The latest 2.8.14 version of the oddly-named GIMP (acronym for: GNU Image Manipulation Program) open source, high-end image editing and creation alternative to Adobe’s Photoshop and refuge from... Read more
Apple Announces Record Pre-orders for iPhone...
Apple has released metrics showing a record number of first day pre-orders of iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, with over four million sold in the first 24 hours. Demand for the new iPhones exceeds the... Read more
10% off iPhone 6 and 6 Plus Otterbox cases
Get 10% off on popular Otterbox iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus cases at MacMall through September 19th. Use code OTTERBOX10 to see the discount. Read more
15-inch MacBook Pros on sale for up to $125 o...
Amazon has the new 2014 15″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to $125 off MSRP including free shipping: - 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $1899.99 save $100 - 15″ 2.5GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $2374... Read more
27-inch 3.2GHz iMac on sale for $1698, $101 o...
Abt has the 27″ 3.2GHz iMac on sale for $1698 including free shipping. Their price is $101 off MSRP. Read more
More To Making A Larger iPad Than Expanded Sc...
CNET’s Ross Rubin has posted a thoughtful analysis of prospects for a larger display iPad Pro, noting that Microsoft and Samsung currently have the large-display touchscreen tablet category to... Read more
SwiftKey Keyboard Finally Coming To iPhone An...
At the TechCrunch Disrupt event in San Francisco, Swiftkey unveiled the first details about SwiftKey Keyboard for iPhone, iPad & iPod touch. SwiftKey’s philosophy is that you should be able to... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.