Compiled Ruby Code

Generated Javascript

Opal is a source-to-source compiler, so there is no VM as such and the compiled code aims to be as fast and efficient as possible, mapping directly to underlying javascript features and objects where possible.


nil         # => nil
true        # => true
false       # => false
self        # => self

self is mostly compiled to this. Methods and blocks are implemented as javascript functions, so their this value will be the right self value. Class bodies and the top level scope use a self variable to improve readability.

nil is compiled to a nil javascript variable. nil is a real object which allows methods to be called on it. Opal cannot send methods to null or undefined, and they are considered bad values to be inside ruby code.

true and false are compiled directly into their native boolean equivalents. This makes interaction a lot easier as there is no need to convert values to opal specific values.

Because true and false compile to their native javascript equivalents, they must share the same class: Boolean. For this reason, they do not belong to their respective TrueClass and FalseClass classes from ruby.

Strings & Symbols

"hello world!"    # => "hello world!"
:foo              # => "foo"
<<-EOS            # => "\nHello there.\n"
Hello there.

Ruby strings are compiled directly into javascript strings for performance as well as readability. This has the side effect that Opal does not support mutable strings - i.e. all strings are immutable.

Strings in Opal are immutable because they are compiled into regular javascript strings. This is done for performance reasons.

For performance reasons, symbols are also compiled directly into strings. Opal supports all the symbol syntaxes, but does not have a real Symbol class. Symbols and Strings can therefore be used interchangeably.


In Opal there is a single class for numbers; Numeric. To keep opal as performant as possible, ruby numbers are mapped to native numbers. This has the side effect that all numbers must be of the same class. Most relevant methods from Integer, Float and Numeric are implemented on this class.

42        # => 42
3.142     # => 3.142


Ruby arrays are compiled directly into javascript arrays. Special ruby syntaxes for word arrays etc are also supported.

[1, 2, 3, 4]        # => [1, 2, 3, 4]
%w[foo bar baz]     # => ["foo", "bar", "baz"]


Inside a generated ruby script, a function __hash is available which creates a new hash. This is also available in javascript as Opal.hash and simply returns a new instance of the Hash class.

{ :foo => 100, :baz => 700 }    # => __hash("foo", 100, "baz", 700)
{ foo: 42, bar: [1, 2, 3] }     # => __hash("foo", 42, "bar", [1, 2, 3])


Similar to hash, there is a function __range available to create range instances.

1..4        # => __range(1, 4, true)
3...7       # => __range(3, 7, false)

Logic and conditionals

As per ruby, Opal treats only false and nil as falsy, everything else is a truthy value including "", 0 and []. This differs from javascript as these values are also treated as false.

For this reason, most truthy tests must check if values are false or nil.

Taking the following test:

val = 42

if val
  return 3.142;

This would be compiled into:

var val = 42;

if (val !== false && val !== nil) {
  return 3.142;

This makes the generated truthy tests (if statements, and checks and or statements) a little more verbose in the generated code.

Instance variables

Instance variables in Opal work just as expected. When ivars are set or retrieved on an object, they are set natively without the @ prefix. This allows real javascript identifiers to be used which is more efficient then accessing variables by string name.

@foo = 200
@foo  # => 200

@bar  # => nil

This gets compiled into: = 200;;   // => 200;   // => nil

If an instance variable uses the same name as a reserved javascript keyword, then the instance variable is wrapped using the object-key notation: this['class'].

Compiled Files

As described above, a compiled ruby source gets generated into a string of javascript code that is wrapped inside an anonymous function. This looks similar to the following:

(function($opal) {
  var $klass = $opal.klass, self = $;
  // generated code

As a complete example, assuming the following code:

puts "foo"

This would compile directly into:

(function($opal) {
  var $klass = $opal.klass, self = $;

Most of the helpers are no longer present as they are not used in this example.

Using compiled sources

If you write the generated code as above into a file app.js and add that to your HTML page, then it is obvious that "foo" would be written to the browser's console.

Debugging and finding errors

Because Opal does not aim to be fully compatible with ruby, there are some instances where things can break and it may not be entirely obvious what went wrong.

Using javascript debuggers

As opal just generates javascript, it is useful to use a native debugger to work through javascript code. To use a debugger, simply add an x-string similar to the following at the place you wish to debug:

# .. code
# .. more code

The x-strings just pass the debugger statement straight through to the javascript output.

All local variables and method/block arguments also keep their ruby names except in the rare cases when the name is reserved in javascript. In these cases, a $ suffix is added to the name (e.g. trytry$).

Javascript from Ruby

Opal tries to interact as cleanly with javascript and its api as much as possible. Ruby arrays, strings, numbers, regexps, blocks and booleans are just javascript native equivalents. The only boxed core features are hashes.

Inline Javascript

As most of the corelib deals with these low level details, opal provides a special syntax for inlining javascript code. This is done with x-strings or "backticks", as their ruby use has no useful translation in the browser.

# => "Opal: Ruby to Javascript compiler"

  console.log("opal version is:");
  console.log(#{ RUBY_ENGINE_VERSION });

# => opal version is:
# => 0.6.0

Even interpolations are supported, as seen here.

This feature of inlining code is used extensively, for example in Array#length:

class Array
  def length

X-Strings also have the ability to automatically return their value, as used by this example.

Native Module

Reposted from: Mikamayhem

Opal standard lib (stdlib) includes a Native module, let’s see how it works and wrap window:

require 'native'

window = Native(`window`) # equivalent to`window`)

Now what if we want to access one of its properties?

window[:location][:href]                         # => ""
window[:location][:href] = "" # will bring you to

And what about methods?

window.alert('hey there!')

So let’s do something more interesting:

class << window
  # A cross-browser window close method (works in IE!)
  def close!
      return ('', '_self', '') && #@native.close()) ||
             (#@native.opener = null && #@native.close()) ||
             (#@native.opener = '' && #@native.close());

  # let's assign href directly
  def href= url
    self[:location][:href] = url

That’s all for now, bye!


Ruby from Javascript

Accessing classes and methods defined in Opal from the javascript runtime is possible via the Opal js object. The following class:

class Foo
  def bar
    puts "called bar on class Foo defined in ruby code"

Can be accessed from javascript like this:

// => "called bar on class Foo defined in ruby code"

Remember that all ruby methods are prefixed with a $.

In the case that a method name can't be called directly due to a javascript syntax error, you will need to call the method using bracket notation. For example, you can call foo.$merge(...) but not foo.$merge!(...), bar.$fetch('somekey') but not bar.$[]('somekey'). Instead you would write it like this: foo['$merge!'](...) or bar['$[]']('somekey').


Since ruby hashes are implemented directly with an Opal class, there's no "toll-free" bridging available (unlike with strings and arrays, for example). However, it's quite possible to interact with hashes from Javascript:

var myHash = Opal.hash({a: 1, b: 2});
// output of $inspect: {"a"=>1, "b"=>2}
myHash.$store('a', 10);
// output of $inspect: {"a"=>10, "b"=>2}
// 2
// ""
myHash.$update(Opal.hash({b: 20, c: 30}));
// output of $inspect: {"a"=>10, "b"=>20, "c"=>30}
myHash.$to_n(); // provided by the Native module
// output: {"a": 10, "b": 20, "c": 30} aka a standard Javascript object

Be aware Hash#to_n produces a duplicate copy of the hash.

Advanced Compilation

Method Missing

Opal supports method_missing. This is a key feature of ruby, and opal wouldn't be much use without it! This page details the implementation of method_missing for Opal.

Method dispatches

Firstly, a ruby call 1, 2, 3 is compiled into the following javascript:

foo.$bar(1, 2, 3)

This should be pretty easy to read. The bar method has a $ prefix just to distinguish it from underlying javascript properties, as well as ruby ivars. Methods are compiled like this to make the generated code really readable.

Handling method_missing

Javascript does not have an equivalent of method_missing, so how do we handle it? If a function is missing in javascript, then a language level exception will be raised.

To get around this, we make use of our compiler. During parsing, we collect a list of all method calls made inside a ruby file, and this gives us a list of all possible method calls. We then add stub methods to the root object prototype (an opal object, not the global javascript Object) which will proxy our method missing calls for us.

For example, assume the following ruby script:

first 1, 2, 3
second "wow".to_sym

After parsing, we know we only ever call 3 methods: [:first, :second, :to_sym]. So, imagine we could just add these 3 methods to BasicObject in ruby, we would get something like this:

class BasicObject
  def first(*args, &block)
    method_missing(:first, *args, &block)

  def second(*args, &block)
    method_missing(:second, *args, &block)

  def to_sym(*args, &block)
    method_missing(:to_sym, *args, &block)

It is obvious from here, that unless an object defines any given method, it will always resort in a dispatch to method_missing from one of our defined stub methods. This is how we get method_missing in opal.

Optimising generated code

To optimise the generated code slightly, we reduce the code output from the compiler into the following javascript:

Opal.add_stubs(["first", "second", "to_sym"]);

You will see this at the top of all your generated javascript files. This will add a stub method for all methods used in your file.

Alternative approaches

The old approach was to inline method_missing calls by checking for a method on every method dispatch. This is still supported via a parser option, but not recommended.