Ruby Object Model

Learning Goals

  • Understand how Ruby manages scope
  • Understand how Ruby manages inheritance
  • Understand how Ruby manages instances


  • Scope
  • Inheritance
  • Look Up Chain
  • Superclass
  • Binding


  • What’s the difference between a class and an instance from Ruby’s perspective?
  • How are modules used as “mix-ins”?
  • How do you know what variables, methods and classes you have available at any given time?

Investigative Methods

These three methods can help you investigate the relationships between classes and modules. All methods are run on the class (i.e. String, Hash)

  • .ancestors: returns a list of modules included/prepended in mod (including mod itself). See docs.
  • .included_modules: returns a list of the modules included in mod. See docs.
  • .superclass: returns the superclass of the class. See docs.

Mapping Ruby’s Object Model

Definitions and Rules

  • Classes: store instance methods, have a superclass pointer
  • Instances: store instance variables, have a class pointer
  • Classes are also instances (of Class)
  • Classes can only inherit from one other class (its ‘superclass’)
  • Classes can include multiple Modules.
  • Modules can be mixed-in to multiple classes (mixins)


Using .class, .ancestors, .included_modules, and .superclass, diagram the ancestors and superclasses of Modules and Classes of these several commonly-used Ruby classes: Hash, Array, String, Integer, and Float.

Ruby Inheritance Diagram

Now check out some Ruby classes and Modules you don’t interface with often, but use all the time. Try using .class, .ancestors, .included_modules, and .superclass to diagram Object, Kernal, and BasicObject.

Scope with Variables & Methods

The Lookup Chain

class WoodThings

  def soft
    "superclass's superclass"

require "./wood_things"

class Furniture < WoodThings

  def soft

module ChairModule

  def soft

require "./chair_module"
require "./furniture"

class Chair < Furniture
  include ChairModule

  def initialize
    @motto = "I'm a chair!"

  def chair_type
    short = "variable"
    puts short
    puts soft

  def short

  def soft


When I call what will be my output? How could I get it to print module?

Independent Practice

How could I get to print method? How could I get to print superclass? How could I get to print superclass's superclass?


When you invoke a method on an instance, Ruby follows a pattern for locating the definition of that method.

  • Start by looking for a local variable
  • Check its class for a method
  • Look to that class’s included_modules
  • Until it finds the method, go to the superclass
  • Once you find it, create a scope for that object

After Ruby traverses modules and superclasses and locates the source of a method, a scope is created called a Binding. Binding is an actual Ruby class that captures the context in which code is executed. The binding retains the context for future use, including relevant variables, methods, the value of self (the instance in which they are operating), and some other contextual details.

class Person
  def get_name

  def get_binding

class Employee < Person
  attr_reader :name

  def initialize(name)
    @name = name

  def get_first_initial

joshs_name = "Josh"
josh =
josh.get_name                 # => "Josh"
josh.get_first_initial              # => "J"
josh.get_binding              # => #<Binding:0x007f879cc62250>
josh.get_binding.eval('self') # => #<Person:0x007fe6348454f0 @name="Josh">

As this example shows, you can access the binding by calling binding.

Paired exercise

  • Using the code above, play around to see what your binding is in various places.
  • Experiment with bindings and articulate two new things you’ve learned about how they work. You can use the docs, or just type binding.methods to see what you can do.


  • How does Ruby’s look up chain work? What is the order it checks things?
  • What are three methods you can use to learn about where a built in Ruby method gets its components?
  • Draw a diagram of where Ruby would look for the method ::new
  • What is a binding?

Additional Resources