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Insta-block with Symbol#to_proc

By Tim Lucas



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Something that might have slipped your radar in your Ruby readings is Symbol#to_proc, something that’s been in Rails since 0.14.4.

Using this nice little tidbit of Ruby tricky you can simplify code such as:

articles.collect { |a| a.title }
articles.sort { |a| a.created_at }



…and just in case you’re wondering why &:ruby_is_the_new_black doesn’t work in the beautiful ruby shell script you just wrote, it’s because Symbol#to_proc isn’t a standard Ruby thang. To quote Mauricio Fernandez who noted it’s recent inclusion in the upcoming Ruby 1.9:

Symbol#to_proc: first discovered by some anonymous Japanese Rubyist (fairly certain), rediscovered by Florian Groß (I saw that happen back when I wasted my time on #ruby-lang), then popula rized by Pragdave and Rails, finally adopted officially. It’s been a long journey.

“That’s nice,” you say, “but I still don’t really understand what all this Proc and block stuff is about.” Well, let me indulge you in some Ruby block mumblings.

I think the best way to describe a block if you’ve come from web-design-land is to think of it like an anonymous function in Javascript.

For example, the following piece of Ruby:

socceroos.each do |s|

is the equivalent to the following Javascript:

socceroos.each(function(s) {

The block passed to a function is signified by an ampersand:

class Team
  def each(&block)
    for player in @players

In fact, the above pattern of calling the block is so common Ruby takes it one step further, allowing you to simply write:

class MyTeam
  def each
    for member in @members
      yield member

yield member is another way of saying “call the associated block passing it the member”. You don’t even need to add &block to the parameter list.

You would have seen this pattern when dealing with ActiveRecord. The ActiveRecord::Base class allows you to specify a block when creating new instances. For example, if Player was an ActiveRecord subclass you could do the following:

@player = do |p| = "Ronaldo"
  p.nickname = "Porky"

How does ActiveRecord provide this neat API? Easy! It just checks whether you specified a block and, if so, calls the block, passing the new Player object to it.

The bare minimum logic to accomplish this would be:

class ActiveRecord::Base
  def initialize
    yield self if block_given?

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