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RubyBits: Triple Equals

If you thought that the === operator was something only JavaScript developers had to deal with, you were mistaken. We also have one in Ruby, even though it differs immensely in terms of functionality, from its JS counterpart.

In Ruby, the === is referred to as Case Equality, undoubtedly because it’s most common use is hidden away behind the case statement. That means that if you’ve ever used a case statement in Ruby you have been using our friend triple equals all along.

Using Case Equality

As mentioned the most common use of this operator is in the case statement, for example:

case num
when 1 then "one"
when 2 then "two"
else "nothing"
end

Behind the scenes, Ruby is actually calling 1 === num and 2 === num. You can try it yourself, go to irb and type 1 === 1, it should be true.

Case Equality on other types

Now to make it a little harder, do this (1..10) === 5. After you’ve pressed enter you should have irb saying it is true, which is both great and makes sense, since 5 is clearly in the range between 1 and 10.

Make no mistake, there is not magic here, === is an operator defined by Object to do the same as ==, but other classes can overwrite it to do whatever they please, that’s exactly what Range does.

Many other basic ruby types (or classes) do it, such as Regexp for regular expressions, /sub/ === "subvisual" should be true. Bare in mind thought that it is dependent on the order of the arguments, if you tried "subvisual" === /sub/ it would be false, since the === for String will do "subvisual".eql?(/sub/) because the regex is not a String and does not respond to to_str (see the docs here).

Another way you can use the case equality is with the Module class (of which Class inherits from), since it will behave similarly to is_a?, allowing to do Integer === 1 and have it be true.

Lambdas and Procs

Lambdas and Procs behave in an even more interesting way when combined with the case equality, by taking advantage of the fact that any Proc can be run with call method and calling it implicitly with the object being compared. For instance, Proc.new { |num| num + 2 } === 3 is equal to Proc.new { |num| num + 2 }.call(3) and both will evaluate to 5.

This can be used in a case statement to make it read a little bit better. Assuming we want to do things based on a number being even or odd, we could do this:

def even?
  -> (num) { num.even? }
end

def odd?
  Proc.new { |num| num.odd? }
end

case a
when even? then "even"
when odd? then "odd"
else "impossible"
end

Notice that I use both a lambda (using the stabby lambda syntax) and a Proc since they behave in very similar ways.

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Luis Zamith

About Luis Zamith

Has worked on the web for a while now, mainly using Ruby and Ruby on Rails. Enjoys open source and giving back to the community, having taught Rails to hundreds of people.
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