Attribute readers

Asking for information

Remember how we initially said that people have the ability to remember their name, and tell it, when asked?

We’ve already implemented the first part of this. Our person instance now knows her name “Ada”.

Let’s look at the second part. You also remember that methods are either questions or commands. We want to add a method that implements answering the question “What’s your name?”.

And it is as simple as this:

class Person
  def initialize(name)
    @name = name

  def name

Before we discuss what this does, let’s look at how we can use our new method. We can now call the method on the person object, like this:

person ="Ada")

So this prints the name Ada, and that’s what we want: we can create a new person object, passing a name to it. Once that person has been created we are able to ask for its name, and we’ll get the name back.

How does this work, exactly, under the microscope?

Let’s walk through it, step by step:

Methods that do nothing else but return a value assigned to an instance variable with the same name are very common.

In fact they are so common that there’s a word for them: they are called “attribute readers”. By “attribute” the Ruby community means an instance variable, so an attribute reader is a method that reads an instance variable.

An attribute reader returns the value of an instance variable.

Another way of looking at this is that an attribute reader is a method that “exposes” an instance variable. It makes it accessible for others. I.e. it allows you to ask for the value of an instance variable with the same name, and does nothing but return its value. Once defined others can ask this object for knowledge that otherwise would be private, and unaccessible.

In our case the attribute reader name exposes the instance variable @name, so others can ask for it.

An attribute reader exposes an instance variable.

We don’t know why the community has chosen to use the term “attribute” here: It would be much less confusing to use the term “instance variable reader” instead. Maybe the simple reason is that programmers don’t like to type more than necessary, and this saves 8 characters. Who knows :)