Initializing objects

In the moment of birth

Let’s start over, and define a new class.

Remember how we said that objects can be thought of as two things: They know stuff, and they can do things.

Let’s define a class Person. People obviously also know things, and can do things.

Here’s how to define a shiny, new, empty class Person:

class Person

Again, that’s not a very useful class, but we can instantiate it, and create an actual, concrete person instance (object) from it:


Now, before we add any behaviour (methods) to our class, we want to be able to give it some initial data: In our case, we want the person to know its own name.

We can do this like so:

class Person
  def initialize(name)

You see that we add a method called initialize to the class, and this method accepts a single argument, which is called name. At the moment, this method is still empty. We’ll add some code to it in a bit.

The important bit to learn for you is: the method initialize is a special method with a special meaning in Ruby:

Whenever you call the method new on a class, as in, the class will create a new instance of itself. It will then, internally, call the method initialize on the new object. Doing so it will simply pass all the arguments that you passed to new on to the method initialize.

So we can now create a new person instance by calling …"Ada")

… and the string "Ada" will be passed on to our initialize method, and end up being assigned to the local variable name.

The special method initialize is called under the hood when the object has been created by the class method new.

Obviously, our initialize method does not do anything with the String passed, yet. That’s right. We’ll get to that in the next chapter.

To recap, when you call new on the class Person, and pass the string "Ada" then the method new will create a new instance of the class, and call initialize on it, passing the same argument list, which in our case is the single string "Ada".

When we create a new instance of a class by the way of calling the method new on that class, we also say that we “instantiate” that object: By calling we instantiate a new person object.