sort{ |a, b| a <=> b }.ing with Ruby

One idiom from Perl that I’ve missed with Ruby is the ability to chain comparisons together, such as:

my @a = qw{ this is a test };

$, = ", ";

print sort { substr($a, -1) cmp substr($b, -1) || length($a) <=> length($b) } @a;
print "\n";

Which results in the output:

a, is, this, test

In Ruby, it’s a little more complicated, since Perl evaluates a zero as false, but Ruby does not. However, the nonzero? method for all Ruby Numeric objects essentially performs this conversion, for use in a boolean evaluation, returning nil if it is zero, and the number otherwise. So in Ruby, the above code would be:

a = %w{ this is a test }

puts a.sort { |a, b| (a[-1] <=> b[-1]).nonzero? || a.length <=> b.length }.join(", ")

One additional note: if you’re using this in a spaceship method (“”) for the Comparable interface, remember that it must return a numeric value, so if you chain evaluations together, the final statement should be zero, since all previous evaluations were nil (meaning that they were equal). This bit me during some recent DiffJ work, and here is an example of a corrected method:

class Java::net.sourceforge.pmd.ast::Token
  include Comparable, Loggable

  # ...

  def <=> other
    (kind <=> other.kind).nonzero? ||
      (image <=> other.image).nonzero? ||
      0
  end

That’s DiffJ opening the PMD token Java class and adding the Ruby Comparable interface to it, so tokens can be sorted in Ruby collections.

On that note, DiffJ is in rough beta status now. I’m using it for my work (refactoring and cleaning up legacy Java code), and just corrected a glitch in the Token code, ironically enough, for supporting usage in Hash objects. I’d neglected to implement the eql? method, erroneously thinking that Hash uses the Comparable code.

With that fix, the JRuby implementation of DiffJ produces the same output as the Java implementation. It’s somewhat slower, so I’ve been investigating AOT compiling of it, but that doesn’t seem to have much of an effect.

I just realized that another feature from Perl that I’ve missed (and until writing that code above, hadn’t used for 10 years) is defining the array separator with the “$,” variable. Similar to that, my RIEL library modifies the to_s method of an Array to output “, ” between elements for output, since the default is to have no space between elements.

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