If you’ve been programming in Ruby for any amount of time, you’ve probably seen an error like this:
Understanding the Exception
The meaning is actually pretty straightforward if you think about it. We’re trying to call a method called “methodname” that is not defined for the object we’re calling it on. In this case, that object is
nil isn’t special here, other classes do throw the same error:
We’re only really focusing on the case where an undefined method is called on
nil though. I just thought it was important to point out.
Anyways, probably the most common method you’ll see this happen with is:
You might see something like this when you’re pulling data out of a nested data structure you receive over HTTP or some other protocol:
In the above code, we assumed that every response would have a nested array as the third element of the outer array. Of course, this was not the case for
response3. There is no third element in
nil is returned. We then try to run the
 method on that
nil and that’s when we generate the
A Fix for Our Example
Let’s fix it:
Well, that’s pretty tedious, there must be a better way. Enter the safe navigation operator!:
A Better Fix: Safe Navigation Operator
That’s it, did you even notice? All we have to do is put a
& between our possibly-nil object, and the method being called on it. If the object is
nil, the method won’t be called, and
nil will be returned instead of an exception.
So much easier than checking every single item manually!
Thoughts for the reader:
- Is there a better way to handle this?
- Where else might you run into errors like this?