Milhouse on software, engineering, and Emacs.

Overriding Kernel#raise in Ruby

TL;DR: If you’ve spent more than 16 seconds in the Ruby ecosystem you probably have heard that “everything in Ruby is an object” and “every operation is a method call”. In this post I will show how can you take advantage of this fact to help you debug things like, say, acceptance tests.

(After a long time writing nothing, I come back to remember the three readers of this blog that I still live. I have at least 5 posts in the stove right now and I will release them in the near future.)


Ruby is an extremely dynamic language with a very powerful object system. Almost everything in Ruby can be {redefined,overridden}, and one of such things is the exception raising mechanism. To the surprise of many, whenever you write code like this:

raise MySpecialError, "my error message"

You’re doing nothing more than calling the raise method with the arguments MySpecialError and my error message. Like many core things such as puts, raise (and throw also) is defined in the Kernel module. In case you’re not aware of, the Kernel module is automatically included in every Ruby object.

Since Ruby allows any subclass to override/redefine behaviour of parent classes, there is nothing stopping us from redefining what Kernel#raise does, and add something useful (or not) for us:

module Kernel
  if ENV["ROBUST_APP"] == "true"
    def raise(*)
      warn "I think robustness means never raising an error"

raise "something wrong"
# => "I think robustness means never raising an error

Also, you have to note that overriding Kernel#raise doesn’t insulate you from every exception in Ruby. Not every exception is raised using Kernel#raise, (I think this has something to do with things being implemented in native code). For example:

1 + "Wont work"

# => TypeError: String can't be coerced into Fixnum
# =>         from (irb):8:in `+'
# =>         from (irb):8
# =>         from /home/renan/.rbenv/versions/2.2.2/bin/irb:11:in `<main>'
# => NameError: undefined local variable or method `asdf' for main:Object
# =>    from (irb):13
# =>    from /home/renan/.rbenv/versions/2.2.2/bin/irb:11:in `<main>'

# => NoMethodError: undefined method `no_such_method' for "jjj":String
# =>    from (irb):27
# =>    from /home/renan/.rbenv/versions/2.2.2/bin/irb:11:in `<main>'

You get the idea.

A use case for the black magic

Recently I’ve set off to write the acceptance test suite for the product I’m currently working on (I never mentioned on the blog, but last December I’ve left my job at Locaweb to join a startup called Xerpa. More on that in the future.).

One of the most frustrating things in writing this kind of tests is that they are slow. VERY SLOW. Its awfully annoying when you have to wait for 2 minutes for the test to reach that exact spot where an exception is thrown because you misspelled a css selector.

At some moment I realized that what I actually wanted was to stop whenever an exception happened and decide what to do. I solved this problem with the following code:

module Kernel
  if ENV["PRY_EXCEPTIONS"] == "true"
    require "pry"


    alias __original_raise raise
    def raise(*args)
      if IGNORED_EXCEPTIONS.include?(args.first)
        warn "Ignored exception detected. Not intercepting: #{args}"
        warn "Intercepting exception: #{args}".red
        # rubocop:disable Lint/Debugger


The trick is to call binding.pry when an error happens. By using a stack explorer plugin to pry (like pry-stack_explorer or pry-byebug) you’re able to see what was going on and inspect any variable present in the stack (Remember those cool days with VS2010 debugger? I sure do). If you never used something like pry-stack_explorer, you definitely should take a look at it. Debugging will be much more productive.

Notice also that I ignore some exceptions that I know are not worth intercepting.

As an extra, while running pry I tend to fix the problem and reload the classes in the pry repl with this dirty trick:

require "net/http"
# => true
# => #<Method:>
# => ["/home/renan/.rbenv/versions/2.2.2/lib/ruby/2.2.0/net/http.rb", 609]
load Net::HTTP.method(:new).source_location[0]
# ... a bunch of warnings about redefined constants ;)

You can replace Net::HTTP for the class you just edited the source code and :new by some valid method in the receiver. Most of the time you won’t be defining methods in your class in different files, so you’re probably set just using the example I provided.

Subverting Ruby sure is fun ;).

That’s it.