Ruby on Steroids: The Magic of MetaProgramming – Method Spells

In part 1 of this journey, you were introduced to anatomy of magic(metaprogramming) and you saw some of the spells you can cast with the magic of metaprogramming. In this post, I will be showing you spells you can cast when dealing with methods.

Method Spells

The spells we will be discussing on this journey are spells we will need when working with methods.

1. alias_method

One of the most startling features of Ruby is: open classes. Ruby’s open classes means that you can change the behavior of any class at any time. You can add new methods, you can also replace the code behind an existing method.

So what if you want to modify an existing method, but you still want to use the original method in the future? Well, that’s where alias_method comes in. It is used for renaming methods in ruby. Let’s see how it works.


2. method_missing


In the example above, we created the class Person. All is fine when we called method name and name=. So what exactly happens when we called method email? Well Initially, Ruby will look for the email method in the Person class and failing to find it there, it will look for the email method in the superclass of Person class, and on up the inheritance tree. If Ruby finds the method anywhere in the inheritance tree, then that’s the method that gets called. When Ruby fails to find a method, it turns around and calls a second method. This second call, to a method with the somewhat odd name of method_missing, is what eventually generates the exception: It’s the default implementation of method_missing, found in the Object class that raises the NoMethodError exception.

However, you are free to override method_missing in any of your classes and handle the case of the missing method yourself:


3. respond_to_missing?

respond_to? is used to determine if an object responds to a method. It is often used to check that an object knows about a method before actually calling it, in order to avoid an error at runtime about a method existence. Since our object doesn’t know about these methods but are handled by method_missing, we have to override a cousin methodrespond_to_missing?

To have a consistent API when using method_missing, it’s important to implement a corresponding respond_to_missing?.


4. remove_method & undef_method

To remove existing methods, you can use the remove_method within the scope of a given class. If a method with the same name is defined for an ancestor of that class, the ancestor class method is not removed. The undef_method, by contrast, prevents the specified class from responding to a method call even if a method with the same name is defined in one of its ancestors.


5. send

send is used to invoke a method dynamically at runtime. send takes, as its first argument, the name of the method that you want to call. This name can either be a symbol or a string.

Why should you care about send method? Well, sometimes you do not know exactly what methods are going to be called.send method provides a generic way of calling any method. For example, in the method fees below, we have a lot of if/else statement. Notice that there is a direct correlation between the school parameter and the method that returns the fees for that school.


Also notice that as we add new schools, the method fees grows larger and larger. We can easily refactor fees method with send method. Let’s find out how.



You have seen some of the magic you can perform on methods. From aliasing methods to catching missing methods to responding to missing methods to removing/undefining methods and finally to calling methods dynamically via send. These are very powerful tools, but with power comes great responsibilities. You shouldn’t use them recklessly. Basically only use them if there are no better options. The same applies to other metaprogramming tools.

Ikem Okonkwo

About Ikem Okonkwo

Ruby Evangelist, .NET Advocate. Trainer at @andela. Passionate about education and lifelong learning. Loves good food and soccer.