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Tag Archives: Edge cases

Ruby Tuples (and file scanning)

I enjoyed Andrew Pontious’s recent episode of Edge Cases podcast talking about tuples. I’m doing a lot of Ruby these days, so I thought I’d add my two cents worth about using tuples in Ruby.

It’s true that there is no separate tuple class, but Ruby arrays can do everything that tuples in Python can do.

To assign two variables, you can do:

a, b = 1, 2

Which is equivalent to:

a, b = [1, 2]

Which is equivalent to:

a = 1
b = 2

Elements not present are treated as nil, so a, b = 1 assigns the value 1 into a and nil into b.

Functions can return arrays like so:

def f(x)
  [1, 2]

def g(x)
  return 1, 2

The Ruby way to iterate a list of items is with the each method that takes a block:

[1,2,3].each { |x| puts x }

Calls the block 3 times with x having the values 1, 2 and 3 from the list. If these items are themselves arrays, then the items in those sub-arrays can be expanded out into the block variables, like so:

[[1,2], [3,4], [5,6]].each { |a, b| puts "a = #{a}, b = #{b}" }
# outputs:
# a = 1, b = 2
# a = 3, b = 4
# a = 5, b = 6

Hashes can also be enumerated this way, where each key value pair is represented as an array with 2 items:

{a: 1, b: 2, c: 3}.each { |key, value| puts "#{key} => #{value}"}
# outputs:
# a => 1
# b => 2
# c => 3

Python’s list comprehension is really great. Where in python you might write the following to select only items from a list given some condition determined by the function g(x), and return the value f(x) for those values:

results = [f(x) for x in source_list if g(x)]

Ruby achieves the same with select and map methods, which can be composed in either order according to your needs. The Ruby equivalent would be:

results = { |x| g(x) }.map { |x| f(x) }

Python’s list comprehension can only do these two things, in that order. By making the select step and the map steps separate in Ruby, they can be composed in any order. To reverse the map and select order in Ruby:

results = { |x| f(x) }.select { |x| g(x) }

This is not so easy in python:

results = [y for y in [f(x) for x in source_list] if g(y)]

Ruby also contains many more useful operations that can be done on any enumerable sequence (for example readlines from a file), just take a look at the Enumerable module docs:

So I’ve got a bit off the tuple track, so I’ll finish with yet another tangent relating to the podcast episode: Deep searching a file hierarchy for files matching an extension. Try this out for concise:


To return an array of all the .json files anywhere under the current directory. Ruby is full of little treasures like this.

I used to do quite a bit of scripting in Python until I learnt Ruby. I’ve never looked back.