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What does really happen when we call a method? How do the different Ruby implementations actually figure out what code to execute? What plumbing is going on under the hood to get a speedy dispatch? In this talk we will have a look at the internals of the four major Ruby implementations - 1.8, 1.9, JRuby and Rubinius, focusing on their dispatch. From look-up tables and call site caches, to inlining and what on earth is invokedynamic? Expect C, C++, Java, and, of course, Ruby code. But fear not, all will be explained!


  • Ruby 1.8 is slow because it's interpreted
  • Surprise! Ruby 1.9 is too!
  • Something like 55 Ruby implementations! (Big ones: MRI, JRuby, Rubinius)
  • Ruby implementations like bytecode

Speeding it up

  • Reduce ops -> speeds things up
  • JIT
  • Inlining
  • Search (methods)


  • rb_call0
    • search (search_method) and execute (vm_call0 and vm_exec -- looks at the bytecode)


  • Structure: Module -> MethodTable (Hash-like) -> Bucket -> CompiledMethod

    compiled_method = DeepThought.method_table.lookup(:ultimate_answer?).method compiled_method.decode compiled_method.opcodes compiled_method.literals

  • Some messages get special opcodes for optimization purposes

  • A call turns into InlineCache (lookup is done so it doesn't have to redo it, unless types change)

  • Can add native breakpoints (not slower, like in MRI)

  • Rubinius Bytecode -> LLVM IR -> Native Code

  • Does some analysis like JVM's Hotspot (at runtime)


JVM bytecode

Old: invokevirtual (uses custom runtime)

New: invokedynamic

  • Linker
    • CallSite is like Rubinius InlineCache
    • Replaces with your method lookup logic
    • Bootstrap doesn't look up anything, because it doesn't know what the method will be called on
    • No lookup logic -- it only has classes
    • The Fallback is the actual lookup logic


  • Moving to faster lookup logic across implementations
  • Fewer instructions == better
    • MRI -- what could it do better? It's adding super-instructions
  • Late binding
  • Symbols aren't garbage collected. You have user generated symbols? They'll take up more and more memory!
    • They're the same object between instances