Ruby Include module with arguments

Ruby Module is an easy and great way to encapsulate related methods/constants and extend a class, but sometimes I find myself really want to tell it something about the current class.

A pseudo code of my "wish" looks like this: of course it's invalid, Ruby doesn’t allow us to do so.

class Post < ApplicationRecord
  include Publishable(column_name: :published_at)
end

Recently I read a blog post about how the author learned from reading some ruby gems' implementation to allow including a module with argument. Sounds fun so I gave it a try.

When you may want to include a module with arguments?

Let's first see an example, this may not be practical but at the moment I couldn't think of other great ones so please bear with me.

module Publishable
  def publish
    update(published_at: Time.now)
  end
end

class Post < ApplicationRecord
  include Publishable
end

There's nothing wrong with this code but some may argue that the Publishable module depends on the published_at column name, if someone renames the column to published_on then it'll be broken, it's coupled to the Post class.

One way to solve it may look like this:

module Publishable
  def publish
    update(publishable_column_name => Time.now)
  end

  private

  def publishable_column_name
    raise NotImplementedError
  end
end

class Post < ApplicationRecord
  include Publishable

  private

  def publishable_column_name
    :published_at
  end
end

Now the Publishable is relying on its "host"(Post) to define the method publishable_column_name to explicitly tell it the column name, otherwise it will raise the not implemented error. But the downside is the module's requirement leaks to Post, and that's arguably break the purpose to use a module, which is to group all methods of a concept in one place.

I'm thinking this could be a use case for the technique I'm gonna show you in this blog post.

Trick: A Class Inherits From Module

How the trick work is already introduced in the article above, let's fast forward to the end result now.

class Publishable < Module
  def initialize(column_name)
    @column_name = column_name
  end

  def included(base)
    column_name = @column_name

    base.class_eval do # self is Post class
      define_method(:publish) do  
        update(column_name => Time.now) # self is Post object
      end
    end
  end
end

class Post < ApplicationRecord
  include Publishable.new(:published_at)
end

The notable things are

  • class Publishable < Module, we're not declaring a module, instead we're making a class that inherits from module
  • When we include this module, we can now initialize it with any arguments
  • The arguments will be available inside the Publishable "module", hence no the knowledge is decoupled
  • Use define_method(:publish) { } instead of def publish, latter will make you lose the context and you can't access column_name variable anymore

Why It Works?

I'm gonna borrow the code from the article, this is how Rubinius handles module and is identical to MRI Ruby:

def include?(mod)
  if !mod.kind_of?(Module) or mod.kind_of?(Class)
    raise TypeError, "wrong argument type #{mod.class} (expected Module)"
  end
  # snip
end

When we do include SomeModule, this code will be executed to check if the target is a valid module. The trick is how we could manage to pass that check, that is "something is kind of Module and not kind of Class".

class Publishable < Module
end

Publishable.kind_of?(Module) # => true
Publishable.kind_of?(Class) # => true

Publishable.new(:published_at).kind_of?(Module) # => true
Publishable.new(:published_at).kind_of?(Class) # => false

With this trick you can pass whatever dependencies from the host to the module. Hope you find it useful, and let me know if you find a good use case with it in real world 😁Not sure if it's yet another case of abusing Ruby's flexibility to driver it too far, I do concern about its possible confusion when bring to teams in which people are most likely not aware of this kind of hack.

Further Reading

These 2 gems are using the same technique, and their full implementations are really easy to read and follow.

May 28, 2016 Ruby


Qihuan Piao

Qihuan Piao

(aka kinopyo) is Chinese based in Tokyo. Software writer. He shares stories inspired him this blog. His infamous line - "I feel calm when I kill those monsters, or people (in game)" shocks his friends deeply.
He also writes in Japanese and Chinese.