We often need to deal with a data from very unreliable sources. Over unreliable networks. Using unreliable foreign libraries.

Typically, parsing XML or JSON returns a hash, array, or combination of them. These hashes and/or arrays are likely to be partially fulfilled or even broken. Parsing through an invalid array leads to curly handling of all sorts of Errors and unexpected nils. I like spaghetti if and only it’s paired with bolognese.

Actually, the behaviour I expect is quite straightforward: return value requsted if the key provided contains it, or smth, having smth.empty? === true otherwise.

For example, I have a ramified hash and want to look it up current user’s rights:


The user may not being exist, policies might be not set yet, it surely may participate in no groups and, finally, admin privilege may be either set to false or completely unset. And guess what? I want to write:

show_admin_menu \
  if myhash['users'][@current]['policy']['groups']['admin'] === 'granted'

Occasionally, there is a way to hack around. To be as accurate as possible, we will not interfere the standard classes like Hash and Array. Instead of that we will produce a static function, that will inject the proper behaviour (return empty Hash/Array rather than throw an exception) in the instances. The complete code is shown below:

def weaken_checks_for_brackets_accessor inst
  inst.instance_variable_set(:@original_get_element_method, inst.method(:[])) \
    unless inst.instance_variable_get(:@original_get_element_method)

  singleton_class = class << inst; self; end
  singleton_class.send(:define_method, :[]) do |*keys|
      res = (inst.instance_variable_get(:@original_get_element_method).call *keys)
    weaken_checks_for_brackets_accessor(res.nil? ? inst.class.new : res)

Let’s dig up roots. Being called on the instance of Hash (Array is OK as all the other classes, having #[] defined), this method stores the original Hash#[] method unless it is already substituted (that’s needed to prevent stack overflow during multiple calls.) Then it injects the custom implementation of #[] method, returning empty class instead of nil/exception. To use the safe value retrieval:

a = { 'foo' => { 'bar' => [1, 2, 3] } }

p (weaken_checks_for_brackets_accessor a)['foo']['bar']
p "1 #{a['foo']}"
p "2 #{a['foo']['bar']}"
p "3 #{a['foo']['bar']['ghgh']}"
p "4 #{a['foo']['bar']['ghgh'][0]}"
p "5 #{a['foo']['bar']['ghgh'][0]['olala']}"


 #⇒ [1, 2, 3]
 #⇒ "1 {\"bar\"=>[1, 2, 3]}"
 #⇒ "2 [1, 2, 3]"
 #⇒ "3 []"
 #⇒ "4 []"
 #⇒ "5 []"

Nice, isn’t it?