Delegate methods in Ruby and preserve self. Add behaviors to your objects without altering their superclass heirarchy.
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test test error messsage when using a class as a delegate Sep 8, 2016


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Add behavior to your objects without using extend

Do it for the life of the object or only for the life of a block of code.

Casting gives you real delegation that flattens your object structure compared to libraries like Delegate or Forwardable. With casting, you can implement your own decorators that will be so much simpler than using wrappers.

Here's a quick example that you might try in a Rails project:

# implement a module that contains information for the request response
# and apply it to an object in your system.
def show
  @user = user.cast_as(UserRepresenter)

To use proper delegation, your approach should preserve self as a reference to the original object receiving a method. When the object receiving the forwarded message has its own and separate notion of self, you're working with a wrapper (also called consultation) and not using delegation.

The Ruby standard library includes a library called "delegate", but it is a consultation approach. With that "delegate", all messages are forwarded to another object, but the attendant object maintains its own identity.

With Casting, your defined methods may reference self and during execution it will refer to the original client object.

Casting was created while exploring ideas for cleaning up ruby programs.


To use Casting, you must first extend an object as the delegation client:

actor =

Or you may include the module in a particular class:

class Actor
  include Casting::Client
actor =

Your objects will have a few additional methods: delegation, cast, and if you do not already have it defined (from another library, for example): delegate. The delegate method is aliased to cast.

Then you may delegate a method to an attendant object:

actor.delegate(:hello_world, other_actor)

Or you may create an object to manage the delegation of methods to an attendant object:


You may also delegate methods without an explicit attendant instance, but provide a module containing the behavior you need to use:

actor.delegate(:hello_world, GreetingModule)
# or

Pass arguments to your delegated method:

actor.delegate(:verbose_method, another_actor, arg1, arg2)

actor.delegation(:verbose_method).to(another_actor).with(arg1, arg2).call

actor.delegation(:verbose_method).to(another_actor).call(arg1, arg2)

That's great, but why do I need to do these extra steps? I just want to run the method.

Casting gives you the option to do what you want. You can run just a single method once, or alter your object to always delegate. Even better, you can alter your object to delegate temporarily...

Temporary Behavior

Casting also provides an option to temporarily apply behaviors to an object.

Once your class or object is a Casting::Client you may send the delegate_missing_methods message to it and your object will use method_missing to delegate methods to a stored attendant.

actor.hello_world #=> NoMethodError

Casting.delegating(actor => GreetingModule) do
  actor.hello_world #=> output the value / perform the method

actor.hello_world #=> NoMethodError

The use of method_missing is opt-in. If you don't want that mucking up your method calls, just don't tell it to delegate_missing_methods.

Before the block is run in Casting.delegating, a collection of delegate objects is set on the object to the provided attendant. Then the block yields, and an ensure block cleans up the stored attendant.

This allows you to nest your delegating blocks as well:

actor.hello_world #=> NoMethodError

Casting.delegating(actor => GreetingModule) do
  actor.hello_world #=> output the value / perform the method

  Casting.delegating(actor => OtherModule) do
    actor.hello_world #=> still works!
    actor.other_method # values/operations from the OtherModule

  actor.other_method #=> NoMethodError
  actor.hello_world #=> still works!

actor.hello_world #=> NoMethodError

Currently, by using delegate_missing_methods you forever mark that object or class to use method_missing. This may change in the future.

Manual Delegate Management

If you'd rather not wrap things in the delegating block, you can control the delegation yourself. For example, you can cast_as and uncast an object with a given module:

actor.hello_world # all subsequent calls to this method run from the module
actor.uncast # manually cleanup the delegate
actor.hello_world # => NoMethodError

These methods are only defined on your Casting::Client object when you tell it to delegate_missing_methods. Because these require method_missing, they do not exist until you opt-in.

Duck-typing with NullObject-like behavior

Casting has a few modules built in to help with treating your objects like null objects. Take a look at the following example:

module SpecialStuff
  def special_link
    # some link code

special_user.special_link # outputs your link

If your app, for example, generates a list of info for a collection of users, how do you manage the objects which don't have the expected behavior?

[normal_user, other_user, special_user].each do |user|
  user.special_link #=> blows up for normal_user or other_user

You can cast the other objects with Casting::Null or Casting::Blank:


[normal_user, other_user, special_user].each do |user|
  user.special_link #=> normal_user yields nil, other_user yields "", and special_user yields the special_link

I have a Rails app, how does this help me?

Well, a common use for this behavior would be in using decorators.

When using a wrapper, your forms can behave unexpectedly

class UsersController
  def edit
    @user =[:id]))

<%= form_for(@user) do |f| %> #=> <form action="/user_decorators/1">

Ruby allows you to hack this by defining the class method:

class UserDecorator
  def class

That would solve the problem, and it works! But having an object report that its class is something other than what it actually is can be confusing when you're debugging.

Instead, you could cast the object as a module and your form will generate properly:

class UsersController
  def edit
    @user = User.find(params[:id]).cast_as(UserDecorator) # as a module

<%= form_for(@user) do |f| %> #=> <form action="/users/1">

This keeps your code focused on the object you care about.

Check out Characterize for hooking into Rails automatically.

Oh, my! Could this be used to add behavior like refinements?

You can apply methods from a delegate to all instances of a class.

person.hello_world #=> NoMethodError

Casting.delegating(Person => GreetingModule) do
  person.hello_world #=> output the value / perform the method

person.hello_world #=> NoMethodError

By default, the delegate_missing_methods method will set delegates on instances so you'll need to opt-in for this.

class Person
  include Casting::Client
  delegate_missing_methods :class

But what happens when you have method clashes or want a specific instance to behave differently?

You can have your objects look to their instance delegates, their class delegates, or in a particular order:

class Person
  include Casting::Client
  # default delegation to instances

  # delegate methods to those defined on the class
  delegate_missing_methods :class

  # delegate methods to those defined on the class, then those defined on the instance
  delegate_missing_methods :class, :instance

  # delegate methods to those defined on the instance, then those defined on the class
  delegate_missing_methods :instance, :class

What's happening when I use this?

Ruby allows you to access methods as objects and pass them around just like any other object.

For example, if you want a method from a class you may do this:

class Person
  def hello
end #=> #<UnboundMethod: Person#hello>
# or
Person.instance_method(:hello) #=> #<UnboundMethod: Person#hello>

But if you attempt to use that UnboundMethod on an object that is not a Person you'll get an error about a type mismatch.

Casting will bind an UnboundMethod method to a client object and execute the method as though it is defined on the client object. Any reference to self from the method block will refer to the client object.

Rather than define methods on classes, you may take any method from a module and apply it to any object regardless of its class.


Casting provides a convenience for doing this.

What if my modules create instance variables on the object? Can I clean them up?


If you need to set some variables so that your module can access them, it's as easy as defining cast_object and uncast_object on your module. Here's an example:

module Special
  def self.cast_object(obj)
    obj.instance_variable_set(:@special_value, 'this is special!')

  def self.uncast_object(obj)

  def special_behavior
    "#{} thinks... #{@special_value}"

# object no longer has the @special_value instance variable

You'll be able to leave your objects as if they were never touched by the module where you defined your behavior.


If you are using Bundler, add this line to your application's Gemfile:

gem 'casting'

And then execute:

$ bundle

Or install it yourself as:

$ gem install casting


  1. Fork it
  2. Create your feature branch (git checkout -b my-new-feature)
  3. Commit your changes (git commit -am 'Add some feature')
  4. Push to the branch (git push origin my-new-feature)
  5. Create new Pull Request

Built by Jim Gay at Saturn Flyer