Method Check: defined?
How would it be if, today, I blew you away with a Ruby keyword, huh? At any rate, I’ve decided to. Ga-shoom! (The wizard descends.)
defined? actually isn’t a method, as I normally uncover in a chilling episde of Method Check. But it does look like one, so no one will blame you if you’ve nailed it as a method in days of yore, what with the question mark and all. And you can dress it like a method, because Ruby’s parser allows its argument to be surrounded with parens.
>> x = 1 => 1 >> defined? x => "local-variable" >> defined?( y ) => nil
At heart, the
defined? keyword is something of a hack, a rather rare anomaly in Ruby’s syntax. Since an undefined variable is a perfectly legal argument, the
defined? keyword couldn’t be implemented as a method. Which means that this keyword is left out of Ri documentation. The Pickaxe groups it with operators. So, it often gets overlooked.
eval.c, here’s a list of possible returns from
“expression”, “super”, “assignment”, “method”, “yield”, “self”, “nil”, “true”, “false”, “assignment”, “local-variable”, “local-variable(in-block)”, “global-variable”, “instance-variable”, “constant”, “class variable” and a few other assorted keywords and global variables (such as “
As it happens,
defined? takes its argument and simply queries the symbol table to see if it is defined. If it is, you get a simple string of identification (as listed above.)
However, the Ruby parser handles the parens variation of
defined? a bit differently. Simply because it allows for complex expressions to be evaluated. But this makes for madly syruprous mayhem!
Everything contained in the parens is parsed, a node tree is built, and all nodes are scanned for the validity of their “definition” within Ruby.
>> defined?( class << String; def n; 18; end; end ) => "expression" >> String.n => 18 >> defined?( class << NonExistent; def n; 18; end; end ) => nil
Check that out. The first call to
defined? parses the code, establishes that its a valid expression, then executes the code and returns
"expression". The second call parses the code, finds an undefined class name of
NonExistent and returns
defined? is a great way to perform some parser sanity without triggering a myriad of exceptions. My one gripe with
defined? is that it will throw a
SyntaxError if the expression in the parens is malformed. But, wouldn’t it be cool if that could be sniffed out as well??
Now, go. Play with it. I’ll bet you can come up with some crazy recipes.