Glossary of Terms

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Argument

A argument is an input to a method:

"well, hello!".gsub("ll", "✌️") # => "we✌️, he✌️o!"

In the example above, the strings "ll" and "✌️" are both arguments to the method .gsub.

The syntax for giving a method its arguments is to put them within parentheses immediately following the method's name; and if there are multiple arguments, then they are separated by commas.

While Ruby is pretty flexible about whitespace most of the time, remember: don't put a space between the method's name and the parentheses that contain its arguments!

Ruby does allow you to, optionally, omit the parentheses; and some Rubyists do prefer that style. So when you are reading Ruby around the internet, you will encounter things like this:

"well, hello!".gsub "ll", "✌️"

It's just a matter of taste which style you use, but definitely don't use both parentheses and a space, like this

"well, hello!".gsub ("ll", "✌️") # wrong!

Personally, I prefer using the parentheses around arguments to keep it clear what goes with what. Otherwise I get confused, especially when there's more than one method on the same line.

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Array

Array is one of the built-in Ruby classes. It is one of the two primary classes we use to represent lists of things. (The other one is Hash.)

Ruby represents the list within square brackets, with each element separated by a comma:

["doug", "alice", "carol", "bob"]

Each element of an Array can be any Ruby object — even another Array.

A blank instance of Array can be created like any Ruby object, by calling .new on the class:

a = Array.new

or by using the square bracket shorthand:

a = []

You can add elements to an array with the .push() method, which takes one argument; the object you want to add to the end of the array:

a.push("doug")
a.push("alice")
a.push("carol")
a.push("bob")

There is also a shorthand for adding elements to an array with the << ("shovel") operator:

a << "doug"
a << "alice"
a << "carol"
a << "bob"

You can also pre-populate the array in one fell swoop when you create it:

a = ["doug", "alice", "carol", "bob"]

You can then access elements in the array by position number with the .at() method:

a.at(1) # => "alice"

Notice that position numbers begin at 0, not 1 as you might expect.

There is also a square bracket shorthand for accessing elements:

a[1] # => "alice"

Read more about arrays here.

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Block

Some methods, like .gsub(), require additional data to do their job:

"well, hello!".gsub("ll", "✌️") # => "we✌️, he✌️o!"

Arguments are pieces of data that a method needs as input in order to do its job. In the above example, .gsub() needs to know which substring to replace and what to replace it with.

Other methods, like .each, require additional instructions to do their job:

our_numbers = [4, 10, 6] # Create an array of numbers
squared_numbers = [] # Create an empty array
our_numbers.each do |num| # For each element in numbers, (refer to it as "num")
square = num * num # Square the number
squared_numbers.push(square) # Push it into the squared_numbers array
end

In this example, the .each method needs to know what code to execute once per element in the array that it was invoked upon.

In order to give a method code as input (as opposed to data as input, for which we would use arguments), we use a block.

The syntax for giving a method a block is to put the do keyword after its name, and then put a matching end keyword on a line somewhere after that. Between the do and the end, we can write as many lines of code as necessary, and those lines of code will be passed to the method as input.

There is an optional syntax for blocks that contain only one line of code: rather than using do and end, you can just use { and }. So you might come across some Ruby that looks like this:

our_numbers.each { |num| squared_numbers.push(num * num) }

I am not a big fan of such "concise" code. I prefer easily understood lines of code, even if there are more of them.

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Box

When you hear me use the term "box", I mean "variable"; but this is not a technical term, and real developers (unlike me) won't know what you mean if you use it. You should use "variable" instead.

But as we know, variables are just boxes that we use to temporarily store values. We write a name on each box and use that name to refer to the value inside.

Sometimes we replace what is inside the box and throw away the old value. We use the assignment operator (=) both to put things in our boxes initially and to replace them later (never to be confused with the similar looking but completely different equivalence comparison (==)).

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Chain

"Chaining" is usually used to refer to calling multiple methods in succession in the same expression, like so:

geocoding_parsed_data.fetch("results").at(0).fetch("geometry").fetch("location").fetch("lng")

If the above reminds you of train, that's because it can often lead to a train wreck: when one step fails, perhaps by returning a nil, it can be hard to debug.

Prefer creating well-named intermediate variables over excessive method-chaining.

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Class

If we think about programming as working with data and instructions, and recognize that Ruby can work with more kinds of data than, say HTML (only text) or calculators (only integers and decimals), then you've already grasped what classes are: they are kinds of data.

Integers are a class (in Ruby they are called Fixnums). Decimals are a class (in Ruby they are called Floats). String, Array, Hash, Date, Time, Symbol, and many more are all classes in Ruby.

Even better, using the class keyword, we can define our own classes in Ruby and add them to the language, which gives us tremendous expressiveness to describe our problem domain.

For each class, we can create instances of the class — individual members — and then instruct them to do the things that that kind of thing knows how to do. For example, I can create an instance of the Array class:

a = Array.new

and then I can instruct it to do Array-like things; populate itself, sort itself:

a.push(100)
a.push(9)
a.push(-2)
a.push(4)
a.sort # => [-2, 4, 9, 100]

These object-specific instructions are formally known as methods.

Read more about classes here.

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Def

def is a keyword in Ruby that we use to define methods.

The def is followed by the name of the method you want to define, and comes within the class that you are adding a behavior to.

It is always paired with an end, so just type the end before you type anything else and forget it.

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Div

When we're writing HTML, our job is to give our content structure using HTML tags.

Whenever possible, we should choose the most appropriate HTML element that describes our content. If the piece of content is a third-level heading, for example, then choose an <h3>, not an <h6> — regardless of what font size you want it to have. Styling is secondary, and we will always override 100% of the crappy default browser styling anyway. What is not secondary is search engine rankings and accessibility, for which choosing the correct semantic elements is very important.

However, since HTML was invented for describing research papers and we are using it to create apps, there very often just isn't an element in the language to describe the thing we need. Most commonly, we need to group together a set of elements into a component — for example, a recipe — and then perhaps style it appropriately.

Well, <recipe></recipe> is not an element in the HTML language. So, instead, HTML offers us <div></div>. <div> is the generic block-level element that we use when no other element makes sense. And then we usually add a class="recipe" to it to distinguish it from all the other <div>s.

(<span> is the analogous generic inline element.)

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Do

do is the Ruby keyword we use to encapsulate blocks, along with a matching end.

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Each

.each is our bread-and-butter method for looping over arrays.

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Element

We use the word "element" to refer to each thing in an array.

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Expression

We use the word "expression" to refer to one complete Ruby "sentence": a combination of objects and methods in valid syntax which the Ruby interpreter is able to reduce to one final object.

The final object is then typically either stored in a variable for subsequent expressions to use, or output to the screen or some permanent storage.

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Fixnum

One of the built-in Ruby classes. They represent integers.

Read more about Fixnums here.

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Float

One of the built-in Ruby classes. They represent decimal numbers.

Read more about Floats here.

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Gem

In every programming language, programmers share solutions to commonly-faced problems. No one re-invents the wheel for everything.

These shared packages of code are called "libraries", generally, but in Ruby they are called gems. Rails itself is a gem (actually, it is a bundle of lots of other gems).

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Hash

One of the built-in Ruby classes. It is one of the two primary classes we use to represent lists of things. (The other one is Array.)

Ruby represents the list within curly brackets, with each element separated by a comma:

{ :first_name => "Raghu", :last_name => "Betina", :role => "Instructor" }

Each element in a Hash consists of a key/value pair. The key comes first and is separated from the value by a =>, which is called a hash rocket.

Technically, the key can be any Ruby object, but we almost always use Symbols, if we have a choice in the matter.

The value can can be any Ruby object — even another Hash, or an Array.

A blank instance of Hash can be created like any Ruby object, by calling .new on the class:

h = Hash.new

or by using the curly bracket shorthand:

h = {}

You can add elements to a hash with the .store() method, which takes two arguments; the first is the key you want to store an object under, and the second is the object you want to store:

h.store(:first_name, "Raghu")
h.store(:last_name, "Betina")
h.store(:role, "Instructor")

There is also a square bracket shorthand for storing elements in a hash:

h[:first_name] = "Raghu"
h[:last_name] = "Betina"
h[:role] = "Instructor"

You can also pre-populate the hash in one fell swoop when you create it:

h = { :first_name => "Raghu", :last_name => "Betina", :role => "Instructor" }

You can then access elements in the hash by key with the .fetch() method:

h.fetch(:role) # => "Instructor"

There is also a square bracket shorthand for accessing elements:

h[:role] # => "Instructor"

Read more about hashes here.

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Instance Variable

An instance variable is a variable that lasts longer than a local variable; for our purposes, it is one that lasts long enough for us to use it a view template, unlike the local variables that we define in our actions.

To create an instance variable, we simply use an @ as the first letter in its name, rather than a lowercase letter like we're used to for local variables.

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Key

A key is how how an element in a hash is accessed. It is the name of a position in the list.

When storing an element in a hash, we must provide a key; unlike in an array, which automatically numbers its elements.

Similarly, when accessing an element in a hash, we must provide a key; trying to access an element in a hash by position number will result in an error.

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Label

A <label> is an HTML element that is paired with an <input> in a <form>. It is best practice to always pair every <input> with a <label>, even if you hide it with CSS, for accessibility and SEO reasons.

Each <label>/<input> pair should have matching for=""/id="" attributes, like so:

<form action="/payment/results">
<div>
<label for="apr_input">
APR
</label>
<input id="apr_input" text="text" name="user_apr" placeholder="E.g. 5.42">
</div>
<div>
<label for="years_input">
Number of years
</label>
<input id="years_input" text="text" name="user_years" placeholder="How many years to repay?">
</div>
<div>
<label for="principal_input">
Principal
</label>
<input id="principal_input" text="text" name="user_pv" placeholder="How much principal?">
</div>
<button>
Calculate monthly payment
</button>
</form>

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Loop

To "loop" is to execute a piece of code repeatedly; maybe even infinitely.

Read more about loops here.

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Method

A method is an instruction that you can ask an object to perform.

See class for more.

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Object

The term "object" is usually used interchangeably with the more formal term instance, which itself means an individual member of a class.

See class for more.

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Operator

We usually use this term to refer to things that break from the usual primary syntax of Ruby, object.method.

These are the "syntactic sugar" that Matz added, like 6 * 7 so that we wouldn't all go crazy typing 6.*(7) all the time.

There are the standard "operators" that you would expect, and a few others: the "shovel" (<<), exponentiation (**), etc.

Let me just take this opportunity, though, to once more remind you to NOT CONFUSE THE ASSIGNMENT OPERATOR = FOR THE EQUIVALENCE COMPARISON ==.

In other words when you type if, CHECK YOURSELF and DO NOT TYPE A SINGLE = IN THE LOGICAL TEST AFTER IT.

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Render

The render() method is what we use at the end of a controller action to choose which .html.erb view template to send back to the user.

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Scrape

"Scraping" refers to programmatically reading information off of websites, as opposed to reading it through APIs.

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Source

"Source" usually refers to the source code of a program.

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String

One of the built-in Ruby classes.

They represent words or other sequences of letters.

Read more about strings here.

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Symbol

One of the built-in Ruby classes.

They represent words or other sequences of letters, but are usually used only by us developers for labelling things internally within our code; usually as keys in hashes.

Read more about symbols here.

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Table

A table is the primary way we store information in our applications.

For each table, we decide what to name it, what columns to add to it, and what datatype each column can hold.

Our users can then add rows to each table and populate each cell with information.

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Value

We usually use the word "value" to refer to either the current contents of a variable, or to the return value of a method.

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Variable

Read about variables here.

Also see box.

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