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Unit 1, Lesson 21
In Progress

super in Modules

Video transcript & code

When authoring a reusable module, we may find we want to call a superclass method, but only if it exists. For instance, here's a module which defines its own #hello method. We want to be able to include it in many different classes, some of which may inherit from other classes that define #hello.

If the class it is included in also inherits a #hello method from somewhere else, the module will simply embellish its output a bit. But since the including class might not define a #hello method, the module also includes its own full implementation. The question is, how do we tell if an ancestor implements #hello?

module YeOlde
  def hello(subject="World")
    if ???
      super
    else
      "Good morrow, #{subject}!"
    end
    puts "Well met indeed!"
  end
end

The answer is to use Ruby's defined? operator, with super as its argument.

When we include this module in a class whose parent defines #hello, it uses the parent greeting. When we include it in a class with no #hello method, it uses its own greeting.

module YeOlde
  def hello(subject="World")
    if defined?(super)
      super
    else
      puts "Good morrow, #{subject}!"
    end
    puts "Well met indeed!"
  end
end

class Greeter
  def hello(subject)
    puts "Hello, #{subject}"
  end
end

class GreeterChild < Greeter
  include YeOlde
end

class NonGreeter
  include YeOlde
end

GreeterChild.new.hello("Bob")
NonGreeter.new.hello("Sally")
Hello, Bob
Well met indeed!
Good morrow, Sally!
Well met indeed!

Let's look at another situation involving the use of super in a module. Let's say we have a module which defines a #logged_send method. #logged_send acts just like a call to Ruby's #send, except it also logs the method call and arguments.

module Logged
  def logged_send(name, *args, &block)
    puts "Sending #{name}(#{args.map(&:inspect).join(', ')})"
    send(name, *args, &block)
  end
end

When we include this module in most classes it works just fine.

class Greeter
  include Logged

  def hello(subject)
    puts "Hello, #{subject}"
  end
end

Greeter.new.logged_send(:hello, "Major Tom")

But one day we add in another module which overrides #send to do something completely different. Suddenly, #logged_send doesn't work so well.

module PigeonPost
  def send(*messages)
    # ...
    puts "Your message is winging its way to its recipient!"
  end
end
class Greeter
  include PigeonPost
  include Logged

  def hello(subject)
    puts "Hello, #{subject}"
  end
end

Greeter.new.logged_send(:hello, "Major Tom")

The problem here is that when the Logged module called #send, expecting the default Object implementation of #send, it got the PigeonPost implementation instead.

How can we ensure that Logged always gets the original definition of #send? Let's take it step by step. Inside the #logged_send method, we first need to get a method object referring to the original definition of #send from the Object class.

original_send = Object.instance_method(:send)
#<UnboundMethod: Object(Kernel)#send>

This yields an UnboundMethod object. This object then needs to be bound to a specific object instance, in this case self.

bound_send = original_send.bind(self)

This results in a callable Method object.

The last step is to call the Method object.

bound_send.call(name, *args, &block)

When we put it all together and try again, things work as intended!

module Logged
  def logged_send(name, *args, &block)
    puts "Sending #{name}(#{args.map(&:inspect).join(', ')})"
    original_send = Object.instance_method(:send)
    bound_send = original_send.bind(self)
    bound_send.call(name, *args, &block)
  end
end

This isn't the most straightforward technique in the world, and I don't need it very often. But every now and then it's a real lifesaver.

Now, a few viewers are probably yelling at their screens right now, saying "you should have just used #__send__ instead!". To which I say: you're absolutely right, at least for this example. But that's a topic for another day.

Happy hacking!

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