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Code Insight: Rubinius 2.0 and Nikita

The upcoming Rubinius 2.0 release brings a number of excellent features to Ruby. For example, the global interpreter lock has been removed, so native threads run Ruby code in parallel on multi-core or multi-CPU hardware. There is also a generational garbage collector that is much more efficient than MRI's. Additionally, the just-in-time (JIT) compiler uses the LLVM compiler framework to generate native machine code, which can significantly speed up the execution of Ruby code.

These features are fairly easy to explain, even though they are quite technical. A much harder thing to explain is why Rubinius is built the way it is. Rubinius attempts to build a consistent system for running Ruby.

In this talk, we will examine characteristics of Rubinius that define what I mean by a consistent system. Then we will look at how those characteristics support writing tools that can help with insight about code. Two of the most important questions about code are:

  • What does this code do?
  • How does it do it?

Typically, we have tests and documentation to help answer these questions. But we usually have to rely heavily on our own "mental execution" of code to help us understand it. This can be difficult in a dynamically typed language like Ruby. Consequently, some people see dynamic typing as a weakness of Ruby. Nothing could be further from the truth! Dynamic typing is flexible and powerful. What we need are better tools.

We will look at Nikita and how it can be used for code analysis, augmented documentation, profiling, and feature tours. For example, imagine you have just inherited a complex Rails application. How do you find out where certain features live in the code and how they are related? What if you could just run the feature, for example, user authentication, and then have a tool that tours you through the code that just ran, complete with the actual types seen wherever messages were sent to objects. Ruby code would suddenly become a lot more fun, right?

Brian Ford

Brian has been working on Rubinius since December 2006 and with Engine Yard since January 2008. He created the RubySpec project to improve the standards for high quality, consistent, and compliant Ruby implementations. He hopes to improve Ruby and thereby make the lives of developers even better. He enjoys whisk(e)y but will accept good wine in a pinch.

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