Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Write your javascript in ruby with rubyjs

I was inspired by Nathaniel Talbott's awesome railsconf talk to do some hacking. I had a lot of fun, and I think I came up with something worth sharing, so here it is. My willing victim was rubyjs, Michael Neumann's excellent little project I mentioned in an earlier post. If you want to play along at home, the first thing you'll need to do is fetch my code like so:
git clone git://

There are some things in my repo that haven't made it into the gem version of rubyjs yet. My hack was a little "port" of the hangman example from Tapestry. It's there in examples/hangman. You can try it here. Or if you're so inclined, you can build it your dang self by running:

rake "examples/hangman/hangman.js"

This command uses a rake rule to run the rubyjs compiler which compiles hangman.rb to hangman.js.

So let's see some code how about, hmm?

class DOMElement
def initialize(element)
@dom_element = element

def observe(event, &block)
element = @dom_element
if (#<element>.addEventListener) {
#<element>.addEventListener(#<event>, #<block>, false);
} else {
#<element>.attachEvent("on" + #<event>, #<block>);

def [](attribute)
element = @dom_element
`return #<element>[#<attribute>]`

def []=(attr, value)
element = @dom_element
`#<element>[#<attr>] = #<value>;`

def self.find_js_element(element)
`return document.getElementById(#<element>);`

def self.find(element)
dom_element = self.find_js_element(element)

# Gets an HTML representation (as String) of an element's children.
# elem:: the element whose HTML is to be retrieved
# return:: the HTML representation of the element's children
def inner_html
elem = @dom_element
var ret = #<elem>.innerHTML;
return (ret == null) ? #<nil> : ret;`

# Sets the HTML contained within an element.
# elem:: the element whose inner HTML is to be set
# html:: the new html
def inner_html=(html)
elem = @dom_element
#<elem>.innerHTML = #<html>;
return #<nil>;`


The first class you see here is DOMElement. This gives some basic dom manipulation abilities in a ruby friendly way. I got this working by looking at the work Michael had done on porting GWT to ruby and extracting the bit I wanted and "rubifying" it a little. Basically, you can find elements by id, observe events with ruby blocks, and get/set attributes and inner html. Pretty simple, but has what I need. I should probably extract this into a separate file in rubyjs in case other people want it. You can also see lots of examples of how rubyjs and javascript talk to each other here.

Then it's on to the hangman code. First it's worth looking at the html so you can see what dom elements the code refers to:

And finally here's the hangman class:

class Hangman

attr_accessor :word, :letters, :misses


def initialize
@word = "snail"
@letters = @word.split ""
@guessed_letters = {}
@letters.each { |letter| @guessed_letters[letter] = false }
@misses = 0
@scaffold_div = DOMElement.find("scaffold_div")
@letters_div = DOMElement.find("letters")
@guess_input = DOMElement.find("letter")
@guess_button = DOMElement.find("guess")
@guess_button.observe("click") do
@letters_div.inner_html = display_word

def display_word
letters.collect do |letter|
@guessed_letters[letter] ? letter : "_"

def guess(letter)
if letters.include?(letter)
@guessed_letters[letter] = true
@letters_div.inner_html = display_word
puts "You win!" if won?
@misses += 1
@scaffold_div.inner_html = "<img src='scaffold-#{@misses}.png' />"
if lost?
puts "You lost!"
@guess_button["disabled"] = true
@guess_input["value"] = ""

def lost?
@misses >= 6

def won?
@guessed_letters.values.each do |guessed|
return false unless guessed
return true

def self.main
hangman =
rescue StandardError => ex
puts ex

First you see the initialize method. Here is where we lookup our DOM elements, setup a Hash of which letters are guessed yet, and bind a block to the click event of our guess_button. Next comes the display_word method, which displays each letter or a blank if it's not been guessed.

The meat of the matter is in guess_letter, which is pretty simple. If the letter guessed is in the word we mark it, redisplay the word with the guessed letter and check if the user has won. If not, we update our miss count, display the right image, and check to see if the user lost. Won? and lost? are both trivial and not worth talking about.

Well, I had a lot of fun hacking on this. I think rubyjs has a good chance to be really useful as well as fun. It needs some love, certainly, but one of the things I did was start of woefully inadequate port of miniunit I'm calling microunit. It's in rubyjs/lib. This should make it easier and, I think, funner, to flesh out the core library for rubyjs.

For next steps I may expand on this example some. I'm thinking it would be a blast to tie to a Rails backend that gives me random words (right now it is always the same word :( ) or stores scores or some such foolishness. I could use this as an excuse to build an ActiveResource client for rubyjs and maybe a rubyjs on rails plugin.

If anyone cares about this, drop me a comment and let me know. Or if you think it's utterly stupid, tell me why. I promise to read all your comments and do whatever I feel like doing anyways :)


brainopia said...

This is absolutely cool!

I would definitely like to use something like rubyjs on rails =)

And it will be even more amazing if it will have a support for seamless integration with jquery!

May be something like

J('.some-class').each {|it| it.children().any? &:hidden? }.each do |element|
element.toggle().effect('highlight', {}, 2000)

tea42 said...

jQuery interface would be even more useful I think.

I'm still trying to understand the difference between red and rubyjs.

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