Ruby and Python

John Dell'Aquila dellaq2 at pdq.net
Fri Nov 17 07:26:31 CET 2000


June Kim  wrote:
> Has anyone used Ruby here? or are there some documents at least
unbiased --
> yet,  Python-centric view would be okay if not too fictional.

Ruby is Smalltalk with Perlish syntax.
Python is ... (this is c.l.p., you fill in the blank)

Python and Ruby are both object oriented languages that provide a
smooth transition from procedural to OO programming styles. Smalltalk,
by contrast, is object only - you can't do anything until you understand
objects, inheritance and the sizable Smalltalk class hierarchy. By
providing procedural training wheels, Python and Ruby "fix" one of
the features that may have kept Smalltalk out of the mainstream.
The two languages differ by approaching this solution from
opposite directions.

Python is a hybrid language. It has functions for procedural
programming and objects for OO programming. Python bridges
the two worlds by allowing functions and methods to interconvert
using the explicit "self" parameter of every method def. When a
function is inserted into an object, the first argument automagically
becomes a reference to the receiver.

Ruby is a pure OO language that can masquerade as a procedural one.
It has no functions, only method calls. In a Ruby method the receiver,
also called self, is a hidden argument like "this" in C++. A "def"
statement outside of a class definition, which is a function in
Python, is actually a method call in Ruby. These ersatz functions
become private methods of class Object, the root of the Ruby class
hierarchy. Procedural programming is neatly solved from the other
direction - everything is an object. If the user doesn't grok objects
yet, they can just pretend that "def" is a function definition and
still get useful work done.

Ruby's OO purity provides a number features that Python lacks or is
still workng toward: a unified type / class hierarchy, metaclasses,
the ability to subclass *everything*, and uniform method invocation
(none of this len() is a function but items() is a method rubbish).
Ruby, like Smalltalk, only supports single inheritance, but it does
have a very powerful mixin concept: a class definition may
include a module, which inserts that module's methods, constants,
etc. into the class.

Ruby, again like Smalltalk, provides closures and code blocks and uses
them to the same good effect. The Ruby collection classes and
iterators are outstanding, much more powerful and elegant than the ad
hoc solutions that Python is sprouting (lambdas and list comprehensions).

Ruby's syntax and design philosophy are heavily influenced by Perl. It
has a lot of syntactic variability. Statement modifiers (if, unless,
while, until, etc.) may appear at the end of any statement. Some key
words are optional (the "then" in an "if" statement for example).
Parentheses may sometimes be elided in method calls. The
receiver of a method may usually be elided.  Many, many things are
lifted directly from Perl. Built in regular expressions, $_ and
friends, here documents, the single-quoted / double-quoted string
distinction, $ and @ prefixes to distinguish different kinds of names
and so forth.

If you like Perl, you will like Ruby and be right at home with its
syntax. If you like Smalltalk, you will like Ruby and be right at home
with its semantics. If you like Python, you may or may not be put off
by the huge difference in design philosophy between Python and
Ruby/Perl.

Ruby is much more complex than Python but its features, for
the most part, hang together well. Ruby is well designed and full
of neat ideas that might be mined for P3K. I'm not sure how many
Python programmers will be attracted to it though - it hasn't won me
over (yet). But it is worthy of serious study and could be a real threat
to Perl.

John Dell'Aquila





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