Let's pry into Ruby Objects

Where is my prybar?

You are probably already familiar with irb, an interactive Ruby shell. It is pretty powerful and can help you poke around Ruby. In Rails, you might have had access to byebug and used it for debugging purposes. This is great and is standard with Rails projects. I do, however, recommend looking at pry, which is just a bit more powerful in what it can do. We’re just going to scratch the surface here.

gem install pry

The pry wiki is quite detailed with a lot of accompanying resources.

Adventure Time! Using pry to Open Objects

We’ll use a shortened example that I recently encountered. I was pretty deep in Rails and was dealing with ActiveSupport::Callbacks::CallbackChain (lets not ask why ;P). I wanted to verify if we have any around_perform callbacks set on a particular class. With my trusty pry, I can inspect what I’m working with in more detail.

pry(main)> RandomClass_perform_callbacks
=> #<ActiveSupport::Callbacks::CallbackChain:0x007fdcdddb5b20 @callbacks=nil, @chain=[], @config={:scope=>[:kind]}, @mutex=#<Thread::Mutex:0x007fdcdddb53c8>, @name=:perform>

At this point we have ActiveSupport::Callbacks included in our RandomClass. We also have an empty callback chain.

I eventually included in a module MagicCallbacks which defines our around_perform upon being included. If we were to re-inspect the class, we would see that we have a callback present.

pry(main)> RandomClass.include(MagicCallbacks)
=> RandomClass

pry(main)> RandomClass._perform_callbacks
=> #<ActiveSupport::Callbacks::CallbackChain:0x007fdce2a22b70
    @filter=#<Proc:[email protected]/Users/jalbert/Projects/example-rails/app/models/concerns/magic_callbacks.rb:7>,

We can now see that we have a callback within the @chain array! Back to the problem at hand, I was interested in programmatically determining if the class had any callbacks defined.

As I was working with an unfamiliar object, I reached for my trusty pry. I can use ls on any object and see a listing of methods and where they come from.

pry(main)> ls RandomClass._perform_callbacks
  all?     chunk        collect_concat  detect      each_cons   each_with_index   exclude?  find_index  grep      include?  lazy   max      min     minmax_by  partition  reverse_each  slice_before  sort_by  take_while  to_json                                 to_set
  any?     chunk_while  count           drop        each_entry  each_with_object  find      first       grep_v    index_by  many?  max_by   min_by  none?      reduce     select        slice_when    sum      to_a        to_json_with_active_support_encoder     zip
  as_json  collect      cycle           drop_while  each_slice  entries           find_all  flat_map    group_by  inject    map    member?  minmax  one?       reject     slice_after   sort          take     to_h        to_json_without_active_support_encoder
ActiveSupport::Callbacks::CallbackChain#methods: append  clear  compile  config  delete  each  empty?  index  insert  name  prepend
instance variables: @callbacks  @chain  @config  @mutex  @name

There is a lot of information here, but the key points to take away are:

  • Classes/Module/Variables headers are shown in the order of #ancestors.
    • Sent messages travel up from the bottom to the top until something can #respond_to? it
  • Method and variable names are listed under their owner.
    • This can quickly help you identify methods of interest.
  • If a method is redefined in a lower level, it is only shown on the lowest level.
    • For example, a parent class and child class define same method.

You can also modify the ls command with modifiers which you can learn more with ls -h.

So we can see here that we have an #empty? defined under ActiveSupport::Callbacks::CallbackChain#methods. This sounds great, and my first thoughts is I can use #empty?. My only concern is what it’s actually checking. Again, pry to the rescue with show-source.

pry(main)> show-source ActiveSupport::Callbacks::CallbackChain#empty?

From: /Users/jalbert/.rvm/gems/ruby-2.3.0/gems/activesupport- @ line 529:
Owner: ActiveSupport::Callbacks::CallbackChain
Visibility: public
Number of lines: 1

def empty?;       @chain.empty?; end

So we can see the implementation of #empty? is a one-liner, where it’s just calling @chain.empty?. Sounds legit, but let’s go further to verify this.

pry(main)> show-source ActiveSupport::Callbacks::CallbackChain

From: /Users/jalbert/.rvm/gems/ruby-2.3.0/gems/activesupport- @ line 512:
Class name: ActiveSupport::Callbacks::CallbackChain
Number of lines: 80

class CallbackChain #:nodoc:#
  include Enumerable

  attr_reader :name, :config

  def initialize(name, config)
    @name = name
    @config = {
      :scope => [ :kind ]
    @chain = []
    @callbacks = nil
    @mutex = Mutex.new
  def append(*callbacks)
    callbacks.each { |c| append_one(c) }
  def append_one(callback)
    @callbacks = nil

Yep! Just what I wanted to see. @chain is just an array to which all the callbacks are appended. So now we can do our check for any callbacks on our class by using !RandomClass._perform_callbacks.empty?.

pry(main)> RandomClass._perform_callbacks.empty?
=> false

A colleague of mine suggested the use of #present? instead a negative conditional with #empty?. This is a fair point – I personally like to avoid negatives in my conditionals. Again, I want to verify it all works as expected with this change.

pry(main)> show-source ActiveSupport::Callbacks::CallbackChain#present?

From: /Users/jalbert/.rvm/gems/ruby-2.3.0/gems/activesupport- @ line 23:
Owner: Object
Visibility: public
Number of lines: 3

def present?

I can see that #present? calls !blank?. Now let’s now follow #blank?.

pry(main)> show-source ActiveSupport::Callbacks::CallbackChain#blank?

From: /Users/jalbert/.rvm/gems/ruby-2.3.0/gems/activesupport- @ line 16:
Owner: Object
Visibility: public
Number of lines: 3

def blank?
  respond_to?(:empty?) ? !!empty? : !self

Yep! That works like I suspected it would – that method chain winds up calling ActiveSupport::Callbacks::CallbackChain#empty? in the ending.

Wrapping up

So if you are not using pry, I highly recommend it. I barely scratched the surface on what it can do for you. It is a powerful tool that can help in debugging and further digging around your codebase.