Getting comfortable with rubinius’ pure-ruby internals

You probably know that Rubinius is a Ruby whose implementation is mostly written in Ruby. While that sounds nice in theory, you may not know what that means in practice. Over the past several years, I’ve contributed on and off to Rubinius, and feel that as Rubinius has matured since the 1.0 release, a lot of its promise has gelled.

One of the great things about Rubinius is that it exposes, as first-class concepts, a lot of things that are merely implicit in other Ruby implementations. For instance, Ruby methods have a variable scope which is implicitly accessible by blocks created in the scope. Rubinius exposes that scope as Rubinus::VariableScope. It also exposes Ruby bindings as richer objects that you can create yourself and use. In this post, I will talk about Rubinius::VariableScope, how it works, and how it fits into the Rubinius codebase.

For those of you who don’t know much about Rubinius, it’s a Ruby implementation whose core classes are mostly written in Ruby. Some functionality, such as the core of the object model, as well as low-level methods, are written in C++ and exposed into Ruby via its primitive system. However, the functionality is typically fairly low-level, and the vast majority of the functionality is written on top of those primitives. For example, a Ruby String in Rubinius is a mostly pure-Ruby object with a backing ByteArray, and ByteArray’s implementation is mostly written as a primitive.

For instance, String’s allocate method looks like this:

Def self. allocate
str = super()
str.__data__ = Rubinius::ByteArray. new(1)
str. num_bytes = 0
str. characters = 0
If you just want to get to the meat of the matter, feel free to skip this section and go directly to the Internals section below.

In general, Rubinius’ code is broken up into three stages. The first stage, called alpha, creates just enough raw Ruby constructs

to get to the next stage, the bootstrap stage. It defines methods like Class#new, Kernel#__send__, Kernel#raise, Kernel#clone, basic methods on Module, Object, String, and Symbol, and some classes on the Rubinius module, used for internal use. It’s a pretty short file, weighing it at under 1,000 lines, and I’d encourage you to read it through. It is located in kernel/alpha. rb.

Next, the bootstrap stage creates the basic methods needed on many of Ruby’s core classes. In some cases, it defines a simpler version of a common structure, like Rubinius::CompactLookupTable and Rubinius::LookupTable instead of Hash. It also contains Rubinius constructs like the Rubinius::CompiledMethod, Rubinius::MethodTable, Rubinius::StaticScope and Rubinius::VariableScope. Many of these methods are defined as primitives. Primitive methods are hooked up in Ruby; check out the bootstrap definition of Rubinius::VariableScope:

Module Rubinius
class VariableScope
def self. of_sender
Ruby. primitive :variable_scope_of_sender
raise PrimitiveFailure, “Unable to get VariableScope of sender”

Def self. current
Ruby. primitive :variable_scope_current
raise PrimitiveFailure, “Unable to get current VariableScope”

Def locals
Ruby. primitive :variable_scope_locals
raise PrimitiveFailure, “Unable to get VariableScope locals”

# To handle Module#private, protected
attr_accessor :method_visibility
The bootstrap definitions are in kernel/bootstrap. The file kernel/bootstrap/load_order. txt defines the order that bootstrap methods are loaded.

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Getting comfortable with rubinius’ pure-ruby internals