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Efficient and thread-safe code loader for Ruby
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Zeitwerk is an efficient and thread-safe code loader for Ruby.

Given a conventional file structure, Zeitwerk loads your project's classes and modules on demand. You don't need to write require calls for your own files, rather, you can streamline your programming knowing that your classes and modules are available everywhere. This feature is efficient, thread-safe, and matches Ruby's semantics for constants.

Zeitwerk issues require calls exclusively using absolute file names, so there are no costly file system lookups in $LOAD_PATH. Technically, the directories managed by Zeitwerk do not even need to be in $LOAD_PATH. Furthermore, by design, Zeitwerk does only one single scan of the project tree, and it descends into subdirectories lazily, only if their namespaces are used.

The library is designed so that each gem and application can have their own loader, independent of each other. Each loader has its own configuration, inflector, and optional logger.

Zeitwerk is also able to reload code, which may be handy for web applications. Coordination is needed to reload in a thread-safe manner. The documentation below explains how to do this.

Finally, in some production setups it may be optimal to eager load all code upfront. Zeitwerk is able to do that too.


Main interface for gems:

# lib/my_gem.rb (main file)

require "zeitwerk"
loader = Zeitwerk::Loader.for_gem
loader.setup # ready!
# loader.eager_load, optionally

module MyGem
  # ...

Main generic interface:

loader =
loader.setup # ready!

The loader variable can go out of scope. Zeitwerk keeps a registry with all of them, and so the object won't be garbage collected.

Later, you can reload if you want to:


and you can also eager load all the code:


It is also possible to broadcast eager_load to all instances:


File structure

To have a file structure Zeitwerk can work with, just name files and directories after the name of the classes and modules they define:

lib/my_gem.rb         -> MyGem
lib/my_gem/foo.rb     -> MyGem::Foo
lib/my_gem/bar_baz.rb -> MyGem::BarBaz
lib/my_gem/woo/zoo.rb -> MyGem::Woo::Zoo

Every directory configured with push_dir acts as root namespace. There can be several of them. For example, given


Zeitwerk understands that their respective files and subdirectories belong to the root namespace:

app/models/user.rb                        -> User
app/controllers/admin/users_controller.rb -> Admin::UsersController

Implicit namespaces

Directories without a matching Ruby file get modules autovivified automatically by Zeitwerk. For example, in

app/controllers/admin/users_controller.rb -> Admin::UsersController

Admin is autovivified as a module on demand, you do not need to define an Admin class or module in an admin.rb file explicitly.

Explicit namespaces

Classes and modules that act as namespaces can also be explicitly defined, though. For instance, consider

app/models/hotel.rb         -> Hotel
app/models/hotel/pricing.rb -> Hotel::Pricing

There, app/models/hotel.rb defines Hotel, and thus Zeitwerk does not autovivify a module.

The classes and modules from the namespace are already available in the body of the class or module defining it:

class Hotel < ApplicationRecord
  include Pricing # works

An explicit namespace must be managed by one single loader. Loaders that reopen namespaces owned by other projects are responsible for loading their constants before setup.

Nested root directories

Root directories should not be ideally nested, but Zeitwerk supports them because in Rails, for example, both app/models and app/models/concerns belong to the autoload paths.

Zeitwerk detects nested root directories, and treats them as roots only. In the example above, concerns is not considered to be a namespace below app/models. For example, the file:


should define Geolocatable, not Concerns::Geolocatable.



Loaders are ready to load code right after calling setup on them:


This method is synchronized and idempotent.

Customization should generally be done before that call. In particular, in the generic interface you may set the root directories from which you want to load files:


The loader returned by Zeitwerk::Loader.for_gem has the directory of the caller pushed, normally that is the absolute path of lib. In that sense, for_gem can be used also by projects with a gem structure, even if they are not technically gems. That is, you don't need a gemspec or anything.

Zeitwerk works internally only with absolute paths to avoid costly file searches in $LOAD_PATH. Indeed, the root directories do not even need to belong to $LOAD_PATH, everything just works by design if they don't.


In order to reload code:


Generally speaking, reloading is useful while developing running services like web applications. Gems that implement regular libraries, so to speak, won't normally have a use case for reloading.

Reloading removes the currently loaded classes and modules, resets the loader so that it will pick whatever is in the file system now, and runs preloads if there are any.

It is important to highlight that this is an instance method. Don't worry about the project dependencies, their loaders are independent.

In order for reloading to be thread-safe, you need to implement some coordination. For example, a web framework that serves each request with its own thread may have a globally accessible RW lock. When a request comes in, the framework acquires the lock for reading at the beginning, and the code in the framework that calls loader.reload needs to acquire the lock for writing.

On reloading, client code has to update anything that would otherwise be storing a stale object. For example, if the routing layer of a web framework stores controller class objects or instances in internal structures, on reload it has to refresh them somehow, possibly reevaluating routes.

Eager loading

Zeitwerk instances are able to eager load their managed files:


That skips ignored files and directories, and you can also tell Zeitwerk that certain files or directories are autoloadable, but should not be eager loaded:

db_adapters = "#{__dir__}/my_gem/db_adapters"
loader.eager_load # won't eager load the database adapters

Eager loading is synchronized and idempotent.

If you want to eager load yourself and all dependencies using Zeitwerk, you can broadcast the eager_load call to all instances:


This may be handy in top-level services, like web applications.

Note that thanks to idempotence Zeitwerk::Loader.eager_load_all won't eager load twice if any of the instances already eager loaded.


Zeitwerk instances are able to preload files and directories.


The call can happen before setup (preloads during setup), or after setup (preloads on the spot). Each reload preloads too.

This is a feature specifically thought for STIs in Rails, preloading the leafs of a STI tree ensures all classes are known when doing a query.

The example above depicts several calls are supported, but preload accepts multiple arguments and arrays of strings as well.


Each individual loader needs an inflector to figure out which constant path would a given file or directory map to. Zeitwerk ships with two basic inflectors.


This is a very basic inflector that converts snake case to camel case:

user             -> User
users_controller -> UsersController
html_parser      -> HtmlParser

There are no inflection rules or global configuration that can affect this inflector. It is deterministic.

This is the default inflector.


The loader instantiated behind the scenes by Zeitwerk::Loader.for_gem gets assigned by default an inflector that is like the basic one, except it expects lib/my_gem/version.rb to define MyGem::VERSION.

Custom inflector

The inflectors that ship with Zeitwerk are deterministic and simple. But you can configure your own:

# frozen_string_literal: true

class MyInflector < Zeitwerk::Inflector
  def camelize(basename, _abspath)
    case basename
    when "api"
    when "mysql_adapter"

The first argument, basename, is a string with the basename of the file or directory to be inflected. In the case of a file, without extension. In the case of a directory, without trailing slash. The inflector needs to return this basename inflected. Therefore, a simple constant name without colons.

The second argument, abspath, is a string with the absolute path to the file or directory in case you need it to decide how to inflect the basename. Paths to directories don't have trailing slashes.

Then, assign the inflector:

loader.inflector =

This needs to be done before calling setup.


Zeitwerk is silent by default, but you can configure a callable as logger:

loader.logger = method(:puts)
loader.logger = ->(msg) { ... }

as well as anything that responds to debug:

loader.logger =$stderr)
loader.logger = Rails.logger

In both cases, the corresponding methods are going to be passed exactly one argument with the message to be logged.

It is also possible to set a global default this way:

Zeitwerk::Loader.default_logger = method(:puts)

If there is a logger configured, you'll see traces when autoloads are set, files loaded, and modules autovivified. While reloading, removed autoloads and unloaded objects are also traced.

As a curiosity, if your project has namespaces you'll notice in the traces Zeitwerk sets autoloads for directories. That's a technique used to be able to descend into subdirectories on demand, avoiding that way unnecessary tree walks.

Loader tag

Loaders have a tag that is printed in traces in order to be able to distinguish them in globally logged activity:

Zeitwerk@9fa54b: autoload set for User, to be loaded from ...

By default, a random tag like the one above is assigned, but you can change it:

loader.tag = "grep_me"

The tag of a loader returned by for_gem is the basename of the root file without extension:

Zeitwerk@my_gem: constant MyGem::Foo loaded from ...

Ignoring parts of the project

Zeitwerk ignores automatically any file or directory whose name starts with a dot, and any files that do not have extension ".rb".

However, sometimes it might still be convenient to tell Zeitwerk to completely ignore some particular Ruby file or directory. That is possible with ignore, which accepts an arbitrary number of strings or Pathname objects, and also an array of them.

You can ignore file names, directory names, and glob patterns. Glob patterns are expanded on setup and on reload.

Let's see some use cases.

Use case: Files that do not follow the conventions

Let's suppose that your gem decorates something in Kernel:

# lib/my_gem/core_ext/kernel.rb

Kernel.module_eval do
  # ...

That file does not define a constant path after the path name and you need to tell Zeitwerk:

kernel_ext = "#{__dir__}/my_gem/core_ext/kernel.rb"

You can also ignore the whole directory:

core_ext = "#{__dir__}/my_gem/core_ext"

Use case: The adapter pattern

Another use case for ignoring files is the adapter pattern.

Let's imagine your project talks to databases, supports several, and has adapters for each one of them. Those adapters may have top-level require calls that load their respective drivers:

# my_gem/db_adapters/postgresql.rb
require "pg"

but you don't want your users to install them all, only the one they are going to use.

On the other hand, if your code is eager loaded by you or a parent project (with Zeitwerk::Loader.eager_load_all), those require calls are going to be executed. Ignoring the adapters prevents that:

db_adapters = "#{__dir__}/my_gem/db_adapters"

The chosen adapter, then, has to be loaded by hand somehow:

require "my_gem/db_adapters/#{config[:db_adapter]}"

Use case: Test files mixed with implementation files

There are project layouts that put implementation files and test files together. To ignore the test files, you can use a glob pattern like this:

tests = "#{__dir__}/**/*_test.rb"

Edge cases

A class or module that acts as a namespace:

# trip.rb
class Trip
  include Geolocation

# trip/geolocation.rb
module Trip::Geolocation

has to be defined with the class or module keywords, as in the example above.

For technical reasons, raw constant assignment is not supported:

# trip.rb
Trip = { ... }  # NOT SUPPORTED
Trip = { ... } # NOT SUPPORTED

This only affects explicit namespaces, those idioms work well for any other ordinary class or module.


"Zeitwerk" is pronounced this way.

Supported Ruby versions

Zeitwerk works with MRI 2.4.4 and above.


Since require has global side-effects, and there is no static way to verify that you have issued the require calls for code that your file depends on, in practice it is very easy to forget some. That introduces bugs that depend on the load order. Zeitwerk provides a way to forget about require in your own code, just name things following conventions and done.

On the other hand, autoloading in Rails is based on const_missing, which lacks fundamental information like the nesting and the resolution algorithm that was being used. Because of that, Rails autoloading is not able to match Ruby's semantics and that introduces a series of gotchas. The original goal of this project was to bring a better autoloading mechanism for Rails 6.


I'd like to thank @matthewd for the discussions we've had about this topic in the past years, I learned a couple of tricks used in Zeitwerk from him.

Also, would like to thank @Shopify, @rafaelfranca, and @dylanahsmith, for sharing this PoC. The technique Zeitwerk uses to support explicit namespaces was copied from that project.

Finally, many thanks to @schurig for recording an audio file with the pronunciation of "Zeitwerk" in perfect German. 💯


Released under the MIT License, Copyright (c) 2019–ω Xavier Noria.

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