Ruby User's Guide

Global variables

A global variable has a name beginning with $. It can be referred to from anywhere in a program. Before initialization, a global variable has the special value nil.

ruby> $foo
   nil
ruby> $foo = 5
   5
ruby> $foo
   5

Global variables should be used sparingly. They are dangerous because they can be written to from anywhere. Overuse of globals can make isolating bugs difficult; it also tends to indicate that the design of a program has not been carefully thought out. Whenever you do find it necessary to use a global variable, be sure to give it a descriptive name that is unlikely to be inadvertently used for something else later (calling it something like $foo as above is probably a bad idea).

One nice feature of a global variable is that it can be traced; you can specify a procedure which is invoked whenever the value of the variable is changed.

ruby> trace_var :$x, proc{puts "$x is now #{$x}"}
   nil
ruby> $x = 5
$x is now 5
   5

When a global variable has been rigged to work as a trigger to invoke a procedure whenever changed, we sometimes call it an active variable. For instance, it might be useful for keeping a GUI display up to date.

There is a collection of special variables whose names consist of a dollar sign ($) followed by a single character. For example, $$ contains the process id of the ruby interpreter, and is read-only. Here are the major system variables:

$! latest error message
$@ location of error
$_ string last read by gets
$. line number last read by interpreter
$& string last matched by regexp
$~ the last regexp match, as an array of subexpressions
$n the nth subexpression in the last match (same as $~[n])
$= case-insensitivity flag
$/ input record separator
$\ output record separator
$0 the name of the ruby script file
$* the command line arguments
$$ interpreter's process ID
$? exit status of last executed child process

In the above, $_ and $~ have local scope. Their names suggest they should be global, but they are much more useful this way, and there are historical reasons for using these names.

Copyright (c) 2005-2008 Mark Slagell

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