Debugging With Pry


We'll cover Pry, a type of REPL, and discuss how to install and use it to debug a program.


  1. Explain how Pry is a more flexible REPL than IRB.
  2. Install Pry on your computer (already installed for IDE users).
  3. Debug a program using binding.pry within the body of your file.

What Is a REPL?

You've already been introduced to REPLs through using IRB (Interactive Ruby). REPL stands for Read, Evaluate, Print, Loop. It is an interactive programming environment that takes a user's input, evaluates it and returns the result to the user.

Ruby installs with its own REPL, which is IRB, that you've already been using. Every time you type irb into your terminal, you're entering into a REPL.

What Is Pry?

Pry is another Ruby REPL with some added functionality. When you enter IRB, you are entering a brand new interactive environment. Any code you want to play with in IRB, you have to write in IRB or copy and paste into IRB. Pry, on the other hand, is like a REPL that you can inject into your program.

Pry is far more flexible than IRB. Once you install the Pry library (via the Pry gem—we'll walk through installation in a bit), you can use a binding.pry anywhere in your code.

Wait... What's 'binding'?

Binding is a built-in ruby class whose objects can encapsulate the context of your current scope (variables, methods etc.), and retain them for use outside of that context.

Calling binding.pry is essentially 'prying' into the current binding or context of the code, from outside your file.

So when you place the line binding.pry in your code, that line will get interpreted at runtime (as your program is executed). When the interpreter hits that line, your program will actually freeze and your terminal will turn into a REPL that exists right in the middle of your program, wherever you added the binding.pry line.

Let's take a look. In this repository, you'll see a file called pry_is_awesome.rb.

Instructions Part I

  1. Fork and clone this repository.

  2. Install Pry on your computer by navigating to your home directory (cd ~ in your terminal) and execute gem install pry. (You don't need to do this if you are working in the IDE.)

  3. Look at the code in lib/pry_is_awesome.rb

You should see the following code:

require 'pry'

def prying_into_the_method
    inside_the_method = "We're inside the method"
    puts inside_the_method
    puts "We're about to stop because of pry!"
    this_variable_hasnt_been_interpreted_yet = "The program froze before it could read me!"
    puts this_variable_hasnt_been_interpreted_yet


Here we are requiring pry, which you must do to use pry, defining a method, and then calling that method.

In the directory of this repo, in your terminal, run the file by typing ruby lib/pry_is_awesome.rb. Now, look at your terminal. You should see something like this:

  3: def prying_into_the_method
     4:     inside_the_method = "We're inside the method"
     5:     puts inside_the_method
     6:     puts "We're about to stop because of pry!"
     7:     binding.pry
 =>  8:     this_variable_hasnt_been_interpreted_yet = "The program froze before it could read me!"
     9:     puts this_variable_hasnt_been_interpreted_yet
    10: end
[1] pry(main)>

You have frozen your program as it executes and are now inside a REPL inside your program. You basically just stopped time! How cool is that?

In the terminal, in your pry console, type the variable name inside_the_method and hit enter. You should see a return value of "We're inside the method"

You are able to explore the data inside the method in which you've placed your binding.

Now, in the terminal, in your pry console, type the variable name this_variable_hasnt_been_interpreted_yet. You should see a return value of nil. That's because the binding you placed on line 7 actually froze the program on line 7 and the variable you just called hasn't been interpreted yet. Consequently, our REPL doesn't know about it.

Now, in the terminal, type exit, and you'll leave your pry console and the program will continue to execute.

Instructions Part II: Using Pry to Debug

In addition to exploring code inside Pry, you can also manipulate variables and try code out. This is where Pry really becomes helpful for debugging. If you have a method that isn't doing what it's supposed to do, instead of making changes in your text editor and running the tests over and over until you get it working, you can put a binding in your code and try things out. Once you've figured out how to fix the problem, you then update the code in your text editor accordingly.

Let's walk through an example together. In this repository that you've forked and cloned down onto your computer, you'll see a spec folder containing a file pry_debugging_spec.rb. This is a test for the file lib/pry_debugging.rb.

In pry_debugging.rb, we have a broken method. Run learn test to see the failing test. You should see the following:

  1) #plus_two takes in a number as an argument and returns the sum of that number and 2
     Failure/Error: expect(plus_two(3)).to eq(5)

       expected: 5
            got: 3

       (compared using ==)
     # ./spec/pry_debugging_spec.rb:6:in `block (2 levels) in <top (required)>'

So what's happening? In the second line (the line starting with Failure/Error), we can see that the test is calling the plus_two method and passing in 3 as an argument. Below that we can see that the test is expecting 5 to be returned, but that 3 is being returned instead. We remember that the return value of a method in Ruby is generally the value of the last line of the method, in this case, num:

def plus_two(num)
    num + 2

So while our method is adding 2 to num on the second line, it appears that it is not updating num. We have Pry required at the top of our spec/pry_debugging_spec.rb file so we can use it to verify this. Let's place a binding.pry in our code, right after that line:

def plus_two(num)
    num + 2

Now, run the test suite again and drop into your Pry console. Your terminal should look like this:

From: /Users/sophiedebenedetto/Desktop/Dev/Ruby-Methods_and_Variables/pry-readme/lib/pry_debugging.rb @ line 4 Object#plus_two:

    1: def plus_two(num)
    2:  num + 2
    3:  binding.pry
 => 4:  num
    5: end

[1] pry(#<RSpec::ExampleGroups::PlusTwo>)>

Let's check our current return value by typing num at the Pry prompt. You should see something like this:

[1] pry(#<RSpec::ExampleGroups::PlusTwo>)> num
=> 3
[2] pry(#<RSpec::ExampleGroups::PlusTwo>)>

By checking the value of the variable inside our pry console, we can confirm that num is still equal to 3 and, as a result, the method is returning 3.

How can we modify the code on line 2 so that the method behaves in the expected way? We need to update the value of our num variable so that it's equal to the sum of itself and 2. Play around inside your Pry console: try code that you think will update num as needed, then check the value of num to see if it worked. Once you figure it out you can type exit in your terminal to get out of Pry, update the code in your text editor, and rerun the test to verify it's passing. Be sure to remove the binding.pry!

It can take a little while to get the hang of using Pry so don't worry if it's still a little confusing. As you start working with more complex methods and data structures, you'll find it can be a very helpful tool.


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