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
[email protected] 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 Mark Slagell

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts.

A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License."