Content | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11

Official Ruby FAQ

If you wish to report errors or suggest improvements for this FAQ, please go to our GitHub repository and open an issue or pull request.

Classes and modules

Can a class definition be repeated?

A class can be defined repeatedly. Each definition is added to the last definition. If a method is redefined, the former one is overridden and lost.

Are there class variables?

There are. A variable prefixed with two at signs (@@) is a class variable, accessible within both instance and class methods of the class.

class Entity

  @@instances = 0

  def initialize
    @@instances += 1
    @number = @@instances

  def who_am_i
   "I'm #{@number} of #{@@instances}"


entities = { }

entities[6].who_am_i  # => "I'm 7 of 9"          # => 9

However, you probably should use class instance variables instead.

What is a class instance variable?

Here the example of the previous section rewritten using a class instance variable:

class Entity

  @instances = 0

  class << self
    attr_accessor :instances  # provide class methods for reading/writing

  def initialize
    self.class.instances += 1
    @number = self.class.instances

  def who_am_i
   "I'm #{@number} of #{self.class.instances}"


entities = { }

entities[6].who_am_i  # => "I'm 7 of 9"
Entity.instances      # => 9          # => 9

Here, @instances is a class instance variable. It does not belong to an instance of class Entity, but to the class object Entity, which is an instance of class Class.

Class instance variables are directly accessible only within class methods of the class.

What is the difference between class variables and class instance variables?

The main difference is the behavior concerning inheritance: class variables are shared between a class and all its subclasses, while class instance variables only belong to one specific class.

Class variables in some way can be seen as global variables within the context of an inheritance hierarchy, with all the problems that come with global variables. For instance, a class variable might (accidentally) be reassigned by any of its subclasses, affecting all other classes:

class Woof

  @@sound = "woof"

  def self.sound

Woof.sound  # => "woof"

class LoudWoof < Woof
  @@sound = "WOOF"

LoudWoof.sound  # => "WOOF"
Woof.sound      # => "WOOF" (!)

Or, an ancestor class might later be reopened and changed, with possibly surprising effects:

class Foo

  @@var = "foo"

  def self.var

Foo.var  # => "foo" (as expected)

class Object
  @@var = "object"

Foo.var  # => "object" (!)

So, unless you exactly know what you are doing and explicitly need this kind of behavior, you better should use class instance variables.

Does Ruby have class methods?

A singleton method of a class object is called a class method. (Actually, the class method is defined in the metaclass, but that is pretty much transparent). Another way of looking at it is to say that a class method is a method whose receiver is a class.

It all comes down to the fact that you can call class methods without having to have instances of that class (objects) as the receiver.

Let’s create a singleton method of class Foo:

class Foo
  def self.test
    "this is foo"

# It is invoked this way.

Foo.test  # => "this is foo"

In this example, Foo.test is a class method.

Instance methods which are defined in class Class can be used as class methods for every(!) class.

What is a singleton class?

A singleton class is an anonymous class that is created by subclassing the class associated with a particular object. Singleton classes are another way of extending the functionality associated with just one object.

Take the lowly Foo:

class Foo
  def hello

foo =
foo.hello  # => "hello"

Now let’s say we need to add class-level functionality to just this one instance:

class << foo
  attr_accessor :name

  def hello
    "hello, I'm #{name}"
end = "Tom"
foo.hello         # => "hello, I'm Tom"     # => "hello"

We’ve customized foo without changing the characteristics of Foo.

What is a module function?

This section or parts of it might be out-dated or in need of confirmation.

A module function is a private, singleton method defined in a module. In effect, it is similar to a class method, in that it can be called using the Module.method notation:

Math.sqrt(2)  # => 1.414213562

However, because modules can be mixed in to classes, module functions can also be used without the prefix (that’s how all those Kernel functions are made available to objects):

include Math
sqrt(2)  # => 1.414213562

Use module_function to make a method a module function.

module Test
  def thing
    # ...
  module_function :thing

What is the difference between a class and a module?

Modules are collections of methods and constants. They cannot generate instances. Classes may generate instances (objects), and have per-instance state (instance variables).

Modules may be mixed in to classes and other modules. The mixed in module’s constants and methods blend into that class’s own, augmenting the class’s functionality. Classes, however, cannot be mixed in to anything.

A class may inherit from another class, but not from a module.

A module may not inherit from anything.

Can you subclass modules?

No. However, a module may be included in a class or another module to mimic multiple inheritance (the mixin facility).

This does not generate a subclass (which would require inheritance), but does generate an is_a? relationship between the class and the module.

Give me an example of a mixin

The module Comparable provides a variety of comparison operators (<, <=, ==, >=, >, between?). It defines these in terms of calls to the general comparison method, <=>. However, it does not itself define <=>.

Say you want to create a class where comparisons are based on the number of legs an animal has:

class Animal
  include Comparable

  attr_reader :legs

  def initialize(name, legs)
    @name, @legs = name, legs

  def <=>(other)
    legs <=> other.legs

  def inspect

c ="cat", 4)
s ="snake", 0)
p ="parrot", 2)

c < s             # => false
s < c             # => true
p >= s            # => true
p.between?(s, c)  # => true
[p, s, c].sort    # => [snake, parrot, cat]

All Animal must do is define its own semantics for the operator <=>, and mix in the Comparable module. Comparable’s methods now become indistinguishable from Animal’s and your class suddenly sprouts new functionality. And because the same Comparable module is used by many classes, your new class will share a consistent and well understood semantics.

Why are there two ways of defining class methods?

You can define a class method in the class definition, and you can define a class method at the top level.

class Demo
  def self.class_method

def Demo.another_class_method

There is only one significant difference between the two. In the class definition you can refer to the class’s constants directly, as the constants are within scope. At the top level, you have to use the Class::CONST notation.

What is the difference between include and extend?

This section or parts of it might be out-dated or in need of confirmation.

include mixes a module into a class or another module. Methods from that module are called function-style (without a receiver).

extend is used to include a module in an object (instance). Methods in the module become methods in the object.

What does self mean?

self is the currently executing receiver, the object to which a method is applied. A function-style method call implies self as the receiver.